Bhaja rock-cut caves near Lonavala, Maharashtra - a fascinating tourist destination

Door archway, Bhaja Caves, Lonavala, Pune MH

Bhaja caves, Maharastra

Dating back to the 2nd century BC  this group of 22   rock-cut  Bhaja caves located in Pune, near Lonavala, Maharashtra are  found in steep  basaltic cliff face 120 m above the surrounding plain, all facing the west.; very much similar to those at Ajantha and Karla.

 Bhaja Caves,, near Pune, MH

Ribber Design Rafters, Bhaja Caves, 

Chaitja  Halll,  Bhaja Caves, Lonavala, 

The largest shrine is  Chaityagriha, a large prayer hall with a horseshoe-shaped entrance, mythological features and  a stupa at one end.  The chaitya at Bhaja Caves is believed to be  the earliest surviving chaitya hall, developed in the second century BCE.  The apsidal hall with stupa has  columns sloping  inwards in the imitation of wooden columns. Structurally  it was important necessary to keep the  roof up.

The group in the complex includes  14 stupas, five inside and nine outside and they represent relics of resident monks who died there.  a number of viharas that were used as residence by Buddhist monks who were also teachers of Buddhism.  A branch of Buddhism that adheres to Pali scriptures and the nontheistic ideal of self-purification to nirvana was quite prevalent and was in its earliest phase when Mauryans were ruling part of north India.  Dedicated to Lord Buddha throughout the caves, there are many nicely carved images of the Lord Buddha. The various artistic works on the cave walls symbolize  the life of Buddha -  carvings of lotus or elephant symbolic of his birth, mound, symbolic of his birth as a prince and death,  bodhi tree - under which Lord Buddha got the ultimate ''enlightenment.'' The stupas in Bhaja caves are relics of resident monks with their names inscribed in them. They were teachers of  Buddhism  and  died there.

Location of Lonavala, MH.

The interiors of rock cut caves  are well planned as to allow the beam of light of the setting sun to light up  the interior. Characteristic of elaborate sculptures with headdress, garlands, and jewelry, the carvings are not deep, almost similar to   molded terracotta features.; the theme includes mythological tales. deities, etc. A fascinating feature is the display of tabla - playing woman sculpture, a famous Indian percussion instrument (dating back to 200 BCE). A wooden beam has two more inscriptions datable to the 2nd century B.C.,  and it  indicates caves have been there for at least 2200 year.
Bhaja caves form a small cluster of  Buddhist  caves built by Hinayana sect of Buddhism. The Hindu  dynasties  helped  them build the caves  showing the religious harmony prevailing in the society. 

simple Vihara Bhaja Caves, Lonavala,Pune, MH 

Vihara Bhaja Caves, Lonavala, 

Above images:  "Vihara'', Bhaja caves-   Vihāra commonly refers living quarters for monks with an open shared space or courtyard, particularly in Buddhism. It is Buddhist monastery  and the Sanskrit word as in Pali texts,  is meant  any space or facilities for dwellings. In ancient  rock-cut architecture of India, it means a central common  hall, with small cells connected to it sometimes with  carved  stone beds. Some have a shrine cell set back at the centre of the back wall, containing a stupa in early examples, or a Buddha statue later. Rock-cut caves such as those  in Ajanta Caves, Aurangabad Caves, Karli Caves,  Bhaja  caves near pune and Kanheri Caves contain several viharas. Some included a  worship hall called chaitya The vihara  provided a comfortable  shelter for the wandering monks in ancient India during the  monsoon rainy seasons.   

Chaitya (monastic monument hall), Bhaja caves, Maharastra