The earliest man-made caves date back to the
2nd century BC while the latest date to the 7th century AD. The
splendid sculpture and lovely frescoes adorning these caves make
them one of the glorious monuments of India's past.
The cave temples of Ajanta, situated north of Aurangabad, were
first mentioned in the writings of the Chinese pilgrim Huen
Tsang who visited India between 629 AD and 645 AD. These caves
were discovered by the British officers in 1819 AD. The thirty
temples at Ajanta are set into the rocky sides of a crescent
shaped gorge in the Inhyadri hills of the Sahyadri ranges. At
the head of the gorge is a natural pool which is fed by a
waterfall. The excavations spanned a period of about six
centuries. The earlier monuments include both chaitya halls and
monasteries. These date from the 2nd to 1st centuries B.C. After
a period of more than six centuries, excavations once again
revived during the reign of the Vakataka ruler Harishena. The
sculptures contain an impressive array of votive figures,
accessory figures, narrative episodes and decorative motifs. The
series of paintings is unparalleled in the history of Indian
art, both for the wide range of subjects and the medium. The
caves depict a large number of incidents from the life of the
Buddha (Jataka Tales). Overlapping figures suggest that the
perspective and colors are harmoniously blended and that the
line work is sinuous. However, the identities of the artists
responsible for the execution of the Ajanta caves are unknown.
Bhimbetka is located in the Raisen District of Madhya Pradesh
about 45 km to the southeast of Bhopal near a hill village
called 'Bhiyanpur'. Bhimbetaka, discovered in 1958 by V.S.
Wakanker, is the biggest prehistoric art depository in India.
Atop the hill a large number of rock-shelters have been
discovered, of which more than 130 contain paintings.
Excavations in some of the rock-shelters revealed history of
continuous habitation from early stone age (about 10000 years)
to the end of stone age (c. 10,000 to 2,000 years) as seen from
artificially made stone tools and implements like hand-axes,
cleavers, scrappers and knives. Neolithic tools like points,
trapezes and lunates made of chert and chalcedony, besides stone
querns and grinders, decorated bone objects, pieces of ochre and
human burials were also found here.
The 6th century Shiva temple in the Elephanta caves is one of
the most exquisitely carved temples in India. The central
attraction here is a twenty-foot high bust of the deity in
three-headed form. The Maheshamurti is built deep into a recess
and looms up from the darkness to fill the full height of the
cave. This image symbolizes the fierce, feminine and meditative
aspects of the great ascetic and the three heads represent Lord
Shiva as Aghori, Ardhanarishvara and Mahayogi. Aghori is the
aggressive form of Shiva where he is intent on destruction.
Ardhanarishvara depicts Lord Shiva as half-man/half-woman
signifying the essential unity of the sexes. The Mahayogi
posture symbolises the meditative aspect of the God and here
Lord Shiva is shown in his most quiet and serene form. Other
sculptures in these caves depict Shiva's cosmic dance of
primordial creation and destruction and his marriage to Parvati.
These are rock-cut Buddhist caves situated in the Udayagiri
hills, about 6.5km from Mumbai. These were excavated during 200
BC to 600 AD and are now in ruins. They comprise of 4 caves on
the southeastern face and 15 caves on the northwestern face.
Cave 9 is the chief cave and is the oldest and consists of a
stupa and figures of Lord Buddha.
JOGESHWAR AND KANHERI CAVES
Located in the western suburbs of Bombay, it is second largest
known cave after the Kailasa cave in Ellora and houses a
Brahmanical temple dating back to the 6th century AD.
Excavated between the 1st and
2nd centuries, the Kanheri is a 109-cave complex located near
Borivili National Park in Bombay. The Kanheri caves contain
illustrations from Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhism and show
carvings dating back to 200 BC.
KARLA AND BHAJA CAVES
About 50-60 kms away from Pune, these are rock-cut Buddhist
caves dating back to the 1st and 2nd centuries BC. The caves
consist of several viharas and chaityas.