Situated near Lonavala in Maharashtra, the Karla and Bhaja caves have escaped the mad rush of tourism and thus provide a much needed respite to those who desire quite and peace while exploring ancient Indian art.Dating back to the 2nd century B.C the Karla and Bhaja caves are amongst the most ancient caves in India. Belonging to Hinayana phase of Buddhism these caves are 15 meters wide and 16 meters wide and comprise of Viharas and Chaityas.
History of Karla & Bhaja Caves
India is a country steeped in religion and all three religions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism propound the concept of mediating in solitude. Hence in ancient India it was common for people to seek solitary peace and quiet that a cave offers. However when a natural cave could not be found, it was quite common to carve one out of the nearby mountains.
One such cave built during the rule of Satavahana is the Karla and Bhaja cave. They are considered to be the oldest and the largest Hinayana Buddhist Chaitya (temple) in India. Their history is reflected in the largely wood based architectural design which was prevalent during that period.
It is also interesting to note that Buddha is represented in these caves as symbols such as the lotus or the elephant which signify his birth and the Bodhi tree which signifies the place where he attained spiritual enlightenment. This stems from the desire expressed by Buddha at the time of his death that he does not choose to be deified and told his disciples that “neither the gods nor men shall see him “.
Tourism in Karla & Bhaja Caves
Karla caves are the best of its kind rock cut architecture carved out of living rock. This kind of construction of architecture can be traced to Egypt, Assyria, Iran, Greece and Palestine. Remarkable aspect of the cave is the arched roof supported by wooden beams and standing the test of time for 2000 years. The Wooden Umbrella covering the Chaitya is unique among the Buddhist caves in the world. One has to climb the Karla caves which take 20 minutes approximately.
Recently a temple has also been built with pillars from the Buddhist era. A Buddhist sculpture seated on the lion throne with magnificent carvings of three elephants is the main attraction of the place. The temple of the main cave has the sculpture of Goddess Ekvira which draws huge number of devotees from Mumbai coastal region during a fair in April and during the festival of Navratri.