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Pitalkhora (Aurangabad)

A group of 18 caves located at Pitalkhora just about 80 kilometers from Aurangabad are one of the earliest examples of rock-cut architecture in India. Carved in the Satamala range of the Western Ghats of Maharashtra they are an early Buddhist site which dates back to the 2nd century BCE and are now a valuable source of study of the early Buddhist architecture. This is no doubt a remote place but a visit becomes worth the effort when you look at the architectural beauty of the caves.

The caves are located on a hill called Chandora. This region is  known as Khandesh This beautiful valley, which takes on the hue of melted brass in twilight, was used by the ancient Indians as a major pass on the trade route linking Ujjain – Maheshwar – Bahal with Ellora, Paithan and Ter.

Four of the caves are ‘chaityas’ and the rest are ‘viharas’. All the caves belong to the Hinayana period, but the paintings are of the Mahayana period (6th century CE). The caves are in two groups, one is a cluster of fourteen caves and the second of four.

The most important cave at the site is Cave 3, which is the main chaitya. This is apsidal in plan with a vaulted roof. Five crystal reliquaries in the shape of a ‘stupa’ were found in the structural portion of the partially rock-cut and partially constructed stupa in the chaityagriha. Today, one can see only the rock-cut base of the stupa. The original complete pillars demonstrate beautiful painting fragments of the Ajanta style. Many images of standing and seated Buddhas are clearly visible even today. The viharasfollow an ancient pattern with a hall in the centre with small residential cells along three walls. There are small benches and sometimes niches in the cells. Of these, Cave 4 is an elaborately carved vihara with pillars, pilasters, lattice windows and other decorations on the wall.

One of the most exquisite pieces of art can be seen at the entrance of Cave 4. The elaborate entrance of this cave is through a small passage with a flight of steps leading to the open space above in front of Cave 4. There are two ‘dwarapalas’ at the entrance, one on each side of the door. Their costume reminds us of the Shaka influence. In the adjacent wall, a five-hooded cobra was carved with holes in his hoods. The arrangement was made in such a manner that the water flowing through a channel behind used to get sprinkled through the cobra’s hoods. The plinth of the vihara in the wall adjacent to the entrance has a series of nine elephants ending with an almost life-size horse in profile with a male figure - a ‘chauri’ bearer. All this indeed makes for a spell-binding architectural arrangement. A striking figure of a Yaksha holding a pot on his head with an inscription on his hand was recovered along with many other fragments of sculptures in the clearance of the courtyard. Most of the sculptures are exhibited in the National Museum, New Delhi. However two important sculptures namely, a guardian Yaksha and Gajalakshmi are displayed in the Chhatrapati Shivaji Museum, Mumbai.

Distance from Mumbai: 365 kms.