Architectural Design of Bhaja Caves
The Bhaja Caves has similar style of architecture as that of the Karla Caves.
The chaityagriha is considered to be the most attractive feature or excavation of the Bhaja Caves. The Archaeological Survey of India has labeled the chaityagriha as the most prominent aspect of the caves and one of the earliest such shrine. Characteristically, this monument is large. This structure has a large apsidal hall. As per estimations, this hall is about 17.08 m long and about 8.13 m broad. The hall is divided into a central nave and side aisles by 27 pillars. Characteristically, the pillars are plain octagons and they taper inwards, which is a requirement in case of wooden structures. It is important to note that the inward slope of pillars is imperative in a wooden structure to cope up with the outward thrust from the top. The central nave has vaulted ceiling with original wooden beams. It also has a chaitya arch and a chaitya window. Mortise holes indicate the presence of a wooden facade below the chaitya arch and also a wooden screen of the chaitya window. This facade is a fine representation of the wooden architecture belonging to the 2nd century B.C. On either side of the central arch, a series of chaitya arches, small in sizes are located over the railing patterns. The entrance of chaityagriha is completely open and horseshoe-arched shaped. The chaitygriha is also a home to some images of the Buddha.
Among the group of caves, Cave 18 is noteworthy. It is highly decorative and elaborate and is defined as a monastery. This monastery has a rectangular hall. This hall is provided with two cells each on the back and right side, while on the left side is a bench. Unlike the pillars of the chaityagriha, the pillars of this cave are octagonal shaped in the middle and have square base and top. Dvarapalas, evident as lavishly bejeweled are located at two entrances or doors, which leads to the hall from the verandah. This cave also has a front pillared verandah. This particular cave is popular for two famous sculptural reliefs in the verandah. One of the sculptural reliefs delineates a royal personage who is attended by two women and is journeying in a chariot driven by four horses, which tramples on a demolished figure. It is believed that the person in royal attire is Sun God, Surya. Another figure carrying an Ankusa (also known as elephant goad) and journeying on an elephant with his attendants, who are carrying a banner and a spear have also been illustrated in this cave. It is believed that this person is the deva of rain and thunderstorms, Lord Indra.
The group of caves at Bhaja has common features like monasteries of simple type with cells on one, two or three sides and halls with verandah. But some of the caves with exceptional features are the ones with a circular cell and a stupa inside, a circular cell with oblong verandah etc.
Another noteworthy feature of the Bhaja Caves is a group of 14 stupas. 5 such stupas are located inside, whereas 9 of them are outside an irregular excavation. This irregular excavation has been identified as a cemetery. Very elaborate carvings are visible on these stupas. They are provided with the name of the resident monks, who died at Bhaja and also have their respective titles. The names of three monks are Ampinika, Dhammagiri and Sanghdina. These names have been titled with Theras. One of the stupa shows Stavirana Bhadanta meaning the venerable reverend inscribed on it. Two such stupas have a relic box on their upper side.
Relics of Bhaja Caves
Items preserved in the Bhaja Caves are its relics. These items are of great antiquity and some of them provide archeologically and historically significant information about the Baja Caves and other items preserved in it. These authentic ancient items are the inscriptions, sculptures and old carvings of the Baja Caves.
Inscriptions of Bhaja Caves
The Bhaja Caves are also a home to many inscriptions. Eight such inscriptions have been discovered in the caves. Name of the donors are evident on some of these inscriptions. A wooden beam has two more inscriptions. They are known to be as old as 2nd century B.C. They are known to be helpful in making an estimation that the caves must have been there for at least 2200 years. There is also a cistern inscription with the name of a donor, Maharathi Kosikiputa Vihnudata, from the 2nd century AD.
Sculptures of Bhaja Caves
The sculptures of Bhaja Caves are known to be originally painted in bright colors, but were later covered with plaster. These sculptures are adorned with elaborate headdresses, garlands and jewelleries.
Old Carvings in Bhaja Caves
The Bhaja Caves have old carvings depicting a woman playing tabla and another woman performing a dance. These carvings testify to the presence or existence of tabla since ancient times. Tabla is an Indian musical instrument and is defined as a pair of small hand drums, one of which being slightly larger than the other and is played using pressure from the heel of the hand to vary the pitch.
Waterfall of Bhaja Caves
The Bhaja Caves also have a waterfall, which is located close to the last cave of the group. It is known that its water falls into a small pool at the bottom, during the monsoon season.
Since Bhaja Caves is situated in the district of Pune and Pune is one of the biggest cities in Maharashtra, it is advised that one can fly to Pune. From Pune, Bhaja Caves are reachable by road or by train. As far as railway is concerned, Malavli is the nearest railway station for local trains to reach Bhaja Caves. Bhaja Caves are near about 3 km from the Malavli station. These caves are located at a distance of about 10 km from the Karla caves. There are local buses that run from Lonavala to Karla caves, covering a distance of about 12 km in between. From Karla, Bhaja Caves are reachable by auto or even by walking. Khandala is also located close to Bhaja Caves at a distance of about 14 km. It is important to note that these caves are located on an important ancient trade route running from the Arabian Sea eastward into the Deccan Plateau (the division between North India and South India). Finally after reaching the ancient destination one would have to climb 150-200 large steps, to witness the architectural design and contents of the Bhaja Caves.
Indian Regional Monuments
Khaneri caves, Mumbai
Edakkal Caves in Kerala
Kuda Caves, Maharashtra
Khandagiri Caves, Orissa
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