These caves were created approximately 2200 years ago and they are historic Buddhist rock-cut architecture in Deccan region. As it is near Lonavala it is a big tourist draw, but thankfully because of its classification as protected monument it is relatively well maintained compared to many other tourist attractions here.
History of Bhaja Caves
The Bhaja caves are supposed to have been built for Buddhist nuns. All the caves belongs to the Hinayana phase and have been built around 2nd century BC to 2nd century AD. They are elevated at a height of 120 meter above the surrounding plains. For the excavation of the caves, Maharathi Kosikiputa Vihnudata donated a huge amount, which can be recorded from the back wall of a donor cistern. Another two carvings craved on the wooden beam itself are still survived, which shows the existence of the caves for past 2200 years. Apart from this, it is also attested by the two Maratha forts, Lohagad and Visapur forts, that this area was also in occupation during medieval period.
Attractions at Bhaja Caves
As usual with cave culture, the Viharas present in Bhaja had served as hostels for the learning Buddhist monks. The caves are also interesting for the fact that they are one of the oldest among all caves in India. There are stupas, a common feature to all the caves, also adds to the fact that these caves, at different places, were motivated by the same motifs. The most amazing Vihara at Bhaja is in one of the South most caves. In that Vihara, there is a pillared Verandah with lots of great art work on both the walls.
The main attraction of Bhaja Caves is Chaitygriha, which is a huge Buddhist shrine. The Chaitygriha is an enormous prayer room with an open side. People say there was a wooden door earlier with lot of art work. On plan it consist of a large hall measuring 17.08 m is length and 8.13 m his width. the hall has been classified into a central nave and different smaller aisles by a straight row of 27 pillars, in a semi circle. The ceiling of the nave is domed and original wooden beams are fixed.
The pillars are plain octagon and they taper inwards, as it would have been required in wooden structures as this is a copy of an existing wooden structure. To cope up with the outward thrust from the top, The inward slope of pillars is required in a wooden structure. A stupa is placed at the back measuring 3.45 m in diameter for worship. The stupa has a salient hemispherical dome on a cylindrical drum crowned by a railing pattern and is having provision of hole on a top for inserting a wooden umbrella.
At present, the entrance of the hall is completely open. However, the evidence of mortise holes indicates the presence of a wooden frontage below the chaityas arch and also wooden screen of the chaityas window. The frontage of the Chaitygriha is highly decorated and present a true replication of a 2nd century B.C. wooden architecture. On either side of the central arch are series of miniature chaityas arches over railing patterns.
Another interesting and somewhat mysterious feature of Bhaja Caves is a semi open cave full of Stupas. The Stupas can be found around 30 meter from the Chaitygriha. It contains a group of rock-cut stupas, which is in fact a cemetery with fourteen rock-cut stupas, 9 on the outside and 5 inside.
Cave 18 is a cloister and consists of a rectangular hall with a front pillared verandah. The hall has two cells each on the back and right side, while on the left side is a bench. Unlike the pillars of the Chaitygriha the pillars have square base and top with octagonal shape at the middle. Two doors from the verandah lead to the hall. The verandah of this cloister has two famous sculptural embodiments which are most important. It depicts a royal, accompanies by four women, riding a four-horsed-chariot, running over a demon. To the left of the door is depicted a person driving an elephant with attendants. Some identifies this as Indra.
Cave 12th is a prayer hall, which represents a fantastic example of ancient Buddhist architecture. It's the biggest of all the caves, and the tilted vault is worth a interesting notice. Due to the "Dancing couple" structure, this cave is also notable.
Timings and Fees
Indian: 5 INR
Foreign Nationals: 100 INR
When to visit
How to reach
By Air - Pune is the nearest airport at a distance of around 60-km from the Bhaja caves, while one can also opt for the Mumbai international / domestic airports.
By Rail - Malavli is the nearest railway station, at a distance of 3-km from the Bhaja village. Malavli is also the first stoppage in the Lonavala, Pune railway route.
By Road - By road this place is well connected to both Mumbai Pune Express Way and the Old Mumbai Pune Highway (NH4). The caves could be reached easily from Lonavala.
The importance of Bhaja is further enhanced by the presence of two more cloistral complexes namely Bedsa located on the south face of the same hill in which Bhaja is situated and Karla, directly opposite north of Bhaja nearly 5 Km from the latter.