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CAVE ARCHITECTURE OF INDIA

 

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.

 AJANTA CAVES
 
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.
 

BHIMBETAKA CAVES
 
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.

 

ELEPHANTA CAVES

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.
 

MAHAKALI CAVES

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. 

     


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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