Tuesday 18 August 2015

Karla Buddhist Caves near Pune

Karla Caves are situated about 60 km from the city of Pune. Taxi can be arranged from Pune for the to-and-fro trip. The last leg of the site involves some walking, so be prepared.

Karla rock-cut Buddhist caves

The first impression of the hillock with the caves is grand. These caves, cut out of sheer rock, are historically dated between 2 BCE and 5 CE. They remind the visitors of the grandeur and grace of Buddhist India. During the Maurya rule in India, Buddhism was the State religion.

The Chaitygruha or prayer hall with stone Stupa

The main cave is a Buddhist prayer hall (chaitya in Sanskrit) - Chaitygruha dated to 1 BCE. It is a huge cave carved within a hill. The roof of the cave is made of wood and even after 2000 years it is in excellent condition.

Sculptures on pillars

The pillars in the prayer hall have sculptured torsos of men and women, paying obeisance to Lord Buddha. There is a stone stupa in the cave. Stupas are Buddhist structures of worship, moulds basically, simple yet elegant.

The Ashoka Pillar at the entrance of the Karla Caves

There is an Asoka pillar at the entrance with 4 lions on the top. Today it is the National Emblem of India. Unfortunately the entry to the cave has been encroached upon by a kitschy modern Hindu temple which came up much later in history. Not many know that thousands of Buddhist sites, monasteries, libraries and even Nalanda University that flourished under Emperor Asoka (3 century BCE) were burned down by Brahmins in the struggle for supremacy. Buddhism was wiped out from India, reduced to remote mountain areas like Ladakh, Lahaul-Spiti and Tibet and in South to Sri Lanka. You can read more about it in B.R. Ambedkar’s essay Triumph of Brahmanism.

The wall of sculptures

In one of the caves there is a huge reclining Buddha but because of the fragile structure, it is not open to public. There are many small caves, Viharas or dormitories where monks used to rest and meditate. The caves are cool, even in high summer. There are also huge sculptures of elephants.

Buddhist sculptures at Karla

The sculptures of men and women are beautiful, a reminder of the glorious temple art in Ancient India.

Temple art at Karla

Many of the sculptures are fragments but these fragments are in a way complete in themselves. Rest is for the imagination.

The view of the area from the Karla caves

It is a puzzle why Karla caves have not got the attention they deserve.

Also read:
Wat Pho or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha in Bangkok, Thailand
The Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha, Bangkok
The Gandhara Art in Chandigarh
Jangchub Rabtenling Monastery, Himachal
Bon Monastery in Himachal
Rewalsar- An Important Buddhist Centre


Nisha said...

Though this place is worth a visit and has history to tell us, I found it poorly maintained.

The caves were stinking horribly and there was no one to answer for this condition.

How was it when you visited?

Anil Yadav said...

The place, as of now, is tidy and there are security personnel to keep a check on things. So probably now it is time for you to make the visit again Nisha?

Joyful said...

It's stunning. It amazes me what huge and complex designs and structure they built way back then. It's good to hear the place is being kept up nicely.

Anil Yadav said...

Thanks Joyful! So many structures built during that era are just amazing.

Author said...

Karla caves is a historic site. It was my first time visiting the place, the scale of it all makes you feel so tiny. However, the structure is a humble simple structure since it was meant to be a prayer hall. The timber frames add to the experience, and so does the skylight.
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