|Location||Bhaje, Maharashtra, India|
|Pronunciation||Bhaja or Bhaje|
Bhaja Caves or Bhaje caves is a group of 22 rock-cut caves dating back to the 2nd century BC located in Pune district, near Lonavala, Maharashtra. The caves are 400 feet above the village of Bhaja, on an important ancient trade route running from the Arabian Sea eastward into the Deccan Plateau (the division between North India and South India). The inscriptions and the cave temple are protected as a Monument of National Importance, by the Archaeological Survey of India per Notification No. 2407-A. It belongs to the Hinayana Buddhism sect in Maharashtra. The caves have a number of stupas, one of their significant features. The most prominent excavation is its chaitya (or chaityagrha - Cave XII), a good example of the early development of this form from wooden architecture, with a vaulted horseshoe ceiling. Its vihara (Cave XVIII) has a pillared verandah in front and is adorned with unique reliefs. These caves are notable for their indications of the awareness of wooden architecture. The carvings prove that tabla – a percussion instrument – was used in India for at least two thousand years. The carving shows a woman playing tabla and another woman, performing dance.
The Bhaja Caves share architectural design with the Karla Caves. The most impressive monument is the large shrine — chaityagriha — with an open, horseshoe-arched entrance; according to the Archaeological Survey of India, the chaityagrha is the most prominent aspect of the caves, and one of the earliest of the type. The chaitrya has unique reliefs from Indian mythology. Other caves have a nave and aisle, with an apse containing a solid tupa and the aisle circling round the apse, providing the circumambulation path.
Chaitygraha has some Buddha images. A cistern inscription shows the name of a donor, Maharathi Kosikiputa Vihnudata, from the 2nd century AD. A wooden beam records two more inscriptions datable to the 2nd century B.C., which indicates caves have been there for at least 2200 years. Eight inscriptions are found in the caves, some giving the name of the donors.
The sculptures feature elaborate headdress, garlands, and jewellery; they might have originally been painted in bright colors but later covered with plaster. Characteristic for early Buddhism, initially the caves had symbolic Buddha representation. After 4 A.D. Buddha was painted in physical form as well.
Near the last cave is a waterfall that, during the monsoon season, flows water into a small pool at the bottom.
These caves also provide important proof regarding the history of the Tabla, or Pushkara then called; an Indian percussion instrument, since carvings from 200 BCE show a woman playing tabla and another performing a dance.
A notable part of the monument is a group of 14 stupas, five inside and nine outside an irregular excavation. The stupas are relics of resident monks, who died at Bhaja, and display an inscription with the names of three monks, Ampinika, Dhammagiri and Sanghdina. One of the stupa shows Stavirana Bhadanta means the venerable reverend inscribed on it. The stupa particulars show the name of the monks and their respective titles. The stupas have been carved very elaborately and two of them have a relic box on their upper side. Names of monks have been titled with Theras.
- Cave VI
It is irregular vihara, 14 feet square, has two cells on each side and three on back side. The chaitya window is ornamental all over cell doors. Ploughman’s wife, Bodhi, gifted this Vihara as her name is inscribed on cell door.
- Cave IX
- Cave XII
The chaitya at Bhaja Caves is perhaps the earliest surviving chaitya hall, constructed in the second century BCE. It consists of an apsidal hall with stupa. The columns slope inwards in the imitation of wooden columns that would have been structurally necessary to keep a roof up. The ceiling is barrel vaulted with ancient wooden ribs set into them. The walls are polished in the Mauryan style. It was faced by a substantial wooden facade, now entirely lost. A large horseshoe-shaped window, the chaitya-window, was set above the arched doorway and the whole portico-area was carved to imitate a multi-storeyed building with balconies and windows and sculptured men and women who observed the scene below. This created the appearance of an ancient Indian mansion.
Chaitya is 26 feet 8 inches wide and 59 feet long, with semi-circular apse at back, and having aisle 3 feet 5 inches wide, separated from the nave by 27 octagonal shaft. 11 feet 4 inches height. The dogoba is 11 feet diameter at the floor. This resembles the Kondana Caves. The pillar has 7 different symbols of Buddha shown in floral form, buds, leaves, fan.
|Cave XII "Main Chaitya"|
- Cave XIII
This seems to be destroyed. It may have been of wood construction in ancient times. It is 30 feet long and 14.5 feet deep. It is in a rail pattern, with a few cells at the back and a bolt door system.
- Cave XIV
This cave is facing towards northern side 6 feet 8 inches wide and 25.5 feet deep, with 7 cells. Stone benches, square windows, stone beds—are observed in the cells.
- Cave XV
It can be reached by stairs to the south of Cave XIV. It is a small vihara 12.5 wide and 10 feet deep. It has two semi-circular niches and a bench on right side.
- Cave XVI
This façade has 3 Chaitya arches and the rail pattern.
- Cave XVII
It is a small vihara 18.5 feet long and 12.5 deep, with 5 cells, one of the cell has a bench in it. It has two inscriptions, one of which is damaged. Cell door inscription describes “the gift of cell from Nadasava, a Naya of Bhogwati.” One more inscription over two wells in one recess describes “a religious gift of cistern by Vinhudata, son of Kosiki, a great warrior.”
- Cave XIX
|The Four Main Sites|
|Four Additional Sites|
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- Dehejia, V. (1997). Indian Art. Phaidon: London. ISBN 0-7148-3496-3
- Michell, George, The Penguin Guide to the Monuments of India, Volume 1: Buddhist, Jain, Hindu, 1989, Penguin Books, ISBN 0140081445
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