Ancient Indian Architecture Part II – Cave Architecture in India



Cave Architecture
History & Origin of Cave Architecture

The western Deccan region has the early cave temples predominantly Buddhist shrines and monasteries that trace back between 100 BC and 170 AD.
Rock-cut Hindu and Buddhist sculptures can be seen in these caves many of which dates back to around the 3rd century BC during the reign of the Maurya Empire (322–187 BCE).
Types of Caves

Caves in India are usually associated with three different religions, namely Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism and reflect architectural variance in accordance with respective religions.
Buddhist Caves

Some of the finest examples of cave architecture can be found in the ancient Buddhist caves.
A greater chunk of around 1200 surviving cave temples are Buddhist.
From 200 BCE to 650 AD the Buddhist monks kept on occupying the earliest Kanheri Caves situated inside the forests of the ‘Sanjay Gandhi National Park’ in Maharashtra, India.
Hindu Caves

The Hindu caves that are located at different places across India are sort of extensions of Buddhist cave architecture with of course certain alterations in architecture and design suiting the Hindu customs and traditions.
While the mandapa hewn out of a rock is a columned hall having two or more compartments meant for the deity, the ratha is chiselled out of a monolithic rock.
Jain Caves

The Jain caves located in different sites across the Indian subcontinent marked the end of cave architecture.
Although it is difficult to trace the earliest phase of Jain cave architecture, it is generally considered to be between 6th century AD and 12th century AD.
Major Caves in India
Ellora Caves
The caves were hewn out of volcanic basalt cliff rock in the Charanandri hills with caves 1 to 12 being Buddhist, 13 to 29 being Hindu and 30 to 34 being Jain caves.
One of the most remarkable and imposing cave temples of India is Cave 16 of Ellora, the world’s largest monolithic rock excavation in the shape of a chariot called the Kailasa temple. Dedicated to Lord Shiva this temple commissioned by King Krishna I in the 8th century was built for over 17 years (756-773 CE) and exhibits deities and mythologies from Shaktism and Vaishnanism with the relief panels illustrating the two great Hindu Epics.
Ajanta Caves
Ajanta Caves are another UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for ancient Buddhist paintings. Ajanta caves are located in the Aurangabad district of the state of Maharashtra, India.
Comprising of 29 Buddhist cave monuments, excavated out of rocks, tracing back to the 2nd century BCE to around 480 CE, the site presents rock-cut sculptures and paintings of utmost brilliance.
Particularly the wall paintings of caves 1, 2, 16 and 17 form the largest body of ancient wall paintings that still exist in India.
Elephanta Caves

Situated on the Elephanta Island near Mumbai city in the state of Maharashtra, India, this site comprises of five Hindu caves and two Buddhist caves that trace back to a period between 5th century and 8th century and were excavated out of solid basalt rock.
Cave 1 also referred as the Great Cave of Elephanta is the most imposing cave of this site which is famous for its remarkable sculptures that illustrate the gradually developed Brahmanical rock-cut architecture.
Karla Caves
The Karla Caves also referred as Karla Cells or Karle Caves situated in Karli, in the state of Maharashtra, India, comprise of age-old Buddhist cave shrines excavated out of rocks. These structures trace back to a period from 2nd century BC to 5th century AD with the earliest one considered to be hewn in 160 BC.
The main cave of the site houses one of the largest rock-cut chaityas in India that is 45 m in length and 14 m in are the distinct features of the caves.
Badami Caves
This site is representative of earliest examples of Hindu temples. The monuments are highly decorated with finely etched sculptures, elaborate pillars, carved ceiling panels and ornate brackets. Vibrant sculptures depicting Hindu themes are found in the Hindu cave temples like the sculpture of Nataraja dancing Tandava in Cave 1 and that of Trivikrama in Cave 2. The most remarkably carved cave in the site is Cave 3, the largest in the complex.
Significance of Cave Architecture
These caves of ancient and medieval ages give us a glance of different architectural styles of different periods and religions. The relics, motifs, murals and sculptures of the caves not only enlighten us with a lot of information of those ancient times giving us an impression of various traditions, customs and lifestyles followed by the inhabitants but also illustrate considerable accomplishment with regard to structural engineering and artistry of those times thus attracting thousands of tourists and architectural enthusiasts round the year.

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