Barabar Caves

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Barabar Caves
Barabar Caves - Staircase and Cave Entrance (9224886169).jpg
Coordinates 25°00′18″N 85°03′47″E / 25.005°N 85.063°E / 25.005; 85.063Coordinates: 25°00′18″N 85°03′47″E / 25.005°N 85.063°E / 25.005; 85.063

The Barabar Caves are the oldest surviving rock-cut caves in India,[1] mostly dating from the Maurya Empire (322–185 BCE), some with Ashokan inscriptions, located in Makhdumpur Block of Jehanabad district, Bihar, India, 24 km north of Gaya.

These caves are situated in the twin hills of Barabar (four caves) and Nagarjuni (three caves) – caves of the 1.6 km distant Nagarjuni Hill sometimes are singled out as Nagarjuni Caves. These rock-cut chambers date back to the 3rd century BCE, Maurya period,[2] of Ashoka (r. 273–232 BCE) and his grandson Dasharatha Maurya. Though Buddhists themselves, they allowed various Jain sects to flourish under a policy of religious tolerance.[1]

The caves were used by ascetics from the Ajivika sect,[3] founded by Makkhali Gosala, a contemporary of Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, and of Mahavira, the last and 24th Tirthankara of Jainism.[4] Also present at the site are several rock-cut Buddhist and Hindu sculptures.[5]

Most caves at Barabar consist of two chambers, carved entirely out of granite, with a highly polished internal surface and exciting echo effect. The first chamber was meant for worshippers to congregate in a large rectangular hall, and the second, a small, circular, domed chamber for worship, this inner chamber probably had a small stupa like structure, at some point, though they are now empty.

The caves were featured – located in a fictitious Marabar – in the book A Passage to India by English author E. M. Forster. These were also shown in the book The Mahabharata Secret by Indian author Christopher C. Doyle.

Caves at Barabar Hill[edit]

Barabar Hill contains four caves, namely, Karan Chaupar, Lomas Rishi, Sudama and Visva Zopri. Sudama and Lomas Rishi Caves are the earliest examples of rock-cut architecture in India,[2][6] with architectural detailing, made in the Mauryan period, and became a trend the subsequent centuries,[7] like the larger Buddhist Chaitya, that were found in Maharashtra, such as in Ajanta and Karla Caves, and greatly influenced the tradition of South Asian rock-cut architecture.[3] Barabar caves have magnanimous arches which are few in ancient history.

Barabar Caves
  • Lomas Rishi cave: The arch-like shape facade of Lomas Rishi Caves, imitate the contemporary timber architecture. On the doorway, a row of elephants proceed towards stupa emblems, along the curved architrave.[8]
  • Sudama cave: This cave was dedicated by Mauryan Emperor, Ashoka in 261 BCE. The arches of Sudama cave are of bow shape. The caves consist of a circular vaulted chamber with a rectangular mandapa.[9]
  • Karan Chaupar (Karna Chaupar):[10] Consists of single rectangular room with polished surfaces, contains inscription which could be dated to 245 BCE.
  • Visva Zopri: Reachable by Ashoka steps hewn in cliff, consists of two rectangular rooms.

Nagarjuni Caves[edit]

Nearby caves of Nagarjuna are smaller and younger than Barabar caves [11] The three caves are:

  • Gopi (Gopi-ka-Kubha): According to inscription, devoted by the king Dasharatha to Ajivika followers circa 232 BCE.
  • Vadithi-ka-Kubha cave (Vedathika Kubha): Located in crevice.
  • Vapiya-ka-Kubha cave [12] (Mirza Mandi): Also devoted to Ajivika followers by Dasharatha.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ a b Culture of peace[permanent dead link] Frontline, Volume 25 – Issue 18 :: Aug. 30-Sep. 12, 2008.
  2. ^ a b Sculptured doorway, Lomas Rishi cave, Barabar, Gaya Archived April 8, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. British Library
  3. ^ a b Entrance to one of the Barabar Hill caves Archived February 14, 2012, at the Wayback Machine. British Library.
  4. ^ Barabar Hills: Where the Buddhist Emperor Ashoka built caves for the Ajivakas
  5. ^ Rock sculptures at Barabar Archived February 14, 2012, at the Wayback Machine. British Library.
  6. ^ Architectural history
  7. ^ An overview of archaeological importance of Bihar Directorate of Archaeology, Govt. of Bihar.
  8. ^ Part of the elephant frieze over the doorway at the Barabar caves. 1790 Archived February 14, 2012, at the Wayback Machine. British Library.
  9. ^ Sudama and Lomas Rishi Caves at Barabar Hills, Gaya British Library. Archived August 22, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  10. ^ Karna Chowpar cave, Barabar Hills. Archived April 8, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. British Library.
  11. ^ Barabar and Nagarjuna Caves.
  12. ^ Gopi & Kalpi caves, Barabar, Gaya. Archived April 8, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. British Library.

External links[edit]