Top 10 Important rock-cut caves in Indian History

The practice of creating a structure out of a rock, single rock in many cases, is known as Rock-cut architecture.

India is a host to more than 1500 rock-cut temples. Rock-cut architectures in India are most religious in nature, adorning exquisite carvings on the wall, and decorated with magnificent paintings.

Here, we look at the top 10 rock-cut caves in Indian History.

1. Jogeshwari Caves

Credits – Wikipedia

Jogeshwari Caves is dedicated to Shiva, the Hindu God. These caves are 1500 years old, and are works of Buddhist monks and Hindu priests.

The architecture belongs to the last stage of Mahayana Buddhism.

  • The Caves are the source of Brahmanical shrines from the second half of the 8th century.
  • They are located on Salsette island.

2. Kanheri caves

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Located in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai, the Kanheri Caves are one of the most visited tourist places in Maharashtra. The caves constitute a group of 109 rock-cut monuments.

  • The Kanheri Caves were built from the 1st Century BC to the 9th Century AD.
  • The Kanheri Caves are influenced majorly by Buddhism.
  • The Hinayana phase of Buddhist architecture is a major influence.
  • During the Mahayana Buddhism phase, some of the additions were done in the caves.
    • For example, Buddha’s image was added in the 5th century.

3. Bhaja caves

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A group of 22 rock-cut caves, Bhaja Caves are rock-cut caves that date back to the 2nd Century BC.

The Bhaja Caves are located in Pune, near Lonavala, Maharashtra.

  • Cut in a steep cliff face 120 m above the plain all looking to the west, these caves also house the most impressive monuments and shrines.
  • Chaityagriha, the largest shrine in the cave, is a prayer hall.
  • The Chaityagriha is further complemented with a stupa at the end.
  • The group of 14 stupas with an inside-out layout is one of the most distinct features of the Bhaja Caves.
  • The carvings in the cave also highlight percussion instruments, proving that it was also an important instrument used at least 2300 years ago.

4. Elephanta caves

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Located 10 km away from the Gateway of India at Mumbai, the Elephanta Caves are a complex of cave temples from Ancient India. The caves have influence from both Hindu and Buddhist religion.

The island where we find the Elephanta Caves was originally called Gharapuri. It was the Portuguese who renamed it to Elephanta after discovering a large elephant stone sculpture in the island.

  • Dedicated to Lord Shiva, it is still worshiped by the locals.
  • They belong to 8th century AD
  • One of the earliest examples of a Brahmanical temple, the Ganesh Gumpha, is found here.
    • It was excavated on a rock terrace.
  • Three faced-image of Lord Shiva is one of the masterpieces found in the Caves.
  • Other important findings include – Marriage of Shiva and Parvati, Ravana shaking the Kailash, and Shiva Tandava dance.
  • Ardhanariswara is also an important sculpture found in the Elephanta Caves.

5. Udaygiri caves

Credits – Wikipedia

The Udayagiri Caves is one of the oldest Hindu Cave temples found in the country.
Chandragupta II is known to have patronaged these caves, and helped in carving the magnificence from a single rock.

There are approximately 20 caves, of which one is dedicated to Jainism. The rest of the caves are dedicated to Hindu God.

  • Located in Madhya Pradesh
  • Caves contain iconography of Lord Shiva & Lord Vishnu
  • Notable monumental relief sculptures include man-boar Varaha, who is seen rescuing the earth (represented symbolically by Bhudevi).
  • Important inscriptions from the times of Chandragupta II & Kumaragupta I are seen in the caves.

6. Ellora caves

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Found in the Aurangabad district of Maharashtra, the Ellora Caves include 34 monasteries.
Buddhist, Hindu and Jaina – all influences can be seen in these caves. A World Heritage Site, this ancient monument is one of the most sought after tourist attractions in the state.

  • The caves were carved out of volcanic basalt formation and extends to over 2 km.
  • The Ellora Caves include many reliefs, shrines and frescoes.
  • Many carvings of Buddha, including saints and Bodhisattvas, are found in Ajanta Caves.
  • The caves were carved between 6th-10th century AD.
  • The Great Kailasa Temple, the largest monolithic excavation carved out of a single rock, is in the complex of the Ellora Caves.

7. Karla Caves

Credits – Thrillophilia

One of the most ancient caves, located in the state of Maharashtra near Lonavala, the Karla Caves are yet another significant example of a mix of Hindu and Buddhist style of rock-cut cave architecture.

The Karla Caves has 16 rock cut excavations. It has one of the largest rock-cut Buddhist images, sculptures and shrines within the complex.

  • Out of the 16 rock cut excavations, we find 8 with a chaityagriha.
  • The chaityagriha was carved during the Satavahana dynasty (231 BCE to 30 BCE).
  • Located in the Banaghata hills near Mumbai.
  • It has an influence from the Hinayana period of Buddhist architecture.
  • Great Chaitya Cave (Cave no. 8) is the main cave in Karla.
    • It includes a large prayer hall which dates back to 120 CE.

8. Badami Caves

Credits – Wikipedia

Lying in the mouth of a ravine, Badami lies at a place surrounded with rocky hills on both the sides.

Badami Caves are proved to have been carved out of a soft sandstone.
Pulakeshi I, Mangalesha I & Kirthivarman built four cave temples of Badami.

  • Badami Caves show the rulers being secular in nature.
  • The presence of Hinduism, Jain and Buddhist influence represents the secular nature of the rulers.
  • Cave 1 is dedicated to Lord Shiva.
  • Cave 2 and 3 is dedicated to Lord Vishnu.
  • Cave 4 is a Jain Temple.

9. Varaha Cave Temple

Credits – Thrillophilia

Dedicated to Lord Vishnu, this cave temple was built in the 7th Century AD. It is one of the finest examples of rock-cut cave architecture in India. The Varaha Cave Temple consists of iron pillars, along with masterpieces like Pallava art.

  • Some relief sculptures of Durgar, Varah and Lakshmi are also found in the cave temple.
  • It is a part of the Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram.
  • It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site inscribed in 1984.

10. Barabar Caves

Credits – TOI

The Barabar Caves are one of the oldest surviving rock-cut caves in the country.
Built by Ashoka the Great. The influence of the Mauryan Architecture is clearly visible in the cave.

They are located in Sultanpur, 20 km away from Gaya in Bihar.

  • They are carved out of huge granite rocks.
  • The caves are wood-like because of the way they are designed.
  • Under a policy of religious tolerance, the Jain sects also flourished along with the Buddhists.

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