Bhaja Caves - Architecture and Sculptures

By : Neha Dhyani

Updated : Mar 10, 2022, 13:54

India is a marvel in itself, possessing around 1500 historical sites with remarkable old phenomenal architecture and cultural history. The Bhaje or Bhaja Caves are one of the finest examples of stone-carved architecture. They originated from the 2nd century BCE with a set of 22 rock-cut caves near Pune, India.

The caverns of the Bhaja Caves are located 400 feet above the hamlet of Bhaja on a historic trade route that runs from the Arabian Sea eastward through the Deccan Plateau. These caves are an example of Buddhist architecture in its early phases, which are said to have been sculpted by the Hinayana sect.

Bhaja Caves - Architecture and Sculptures

The Bhaja Caves and the Karla Caves have similar architectural styles. The Bhaja Caves are best known for their manifestation of awareness through wooden architecture. The Bhaja Chaitya Griha is the most famous chaitya (prayer hall) of the Bhaja Caves. According to the Archeological Survey of India, it is one of the oldest chaityas that is still in good condition.

The Bhaja caves have dark interiors; however, the windows here are fashioned in such a unique way that the daily setting sun rays penetrate the cave to illuminate the god and goddess's statues. The upward journey to reach the Bhaja Caves through the stairways are delightful to the eyes as it is replete with exquisite Buddhist architecture and sculptures.

Bhaja Caves - Art and Instruments

There are many reverential and astonishing artworks in the Bhaja Caves. The renowned 'dancing pair' in the last cave to the south is one such example. The stone artworks at Bhaja Caves are shallow, and the style is comparable to that of moulded terracottas. The figures wear ornate headdresses, garlands, and jewellery, and it is assumed that they may have been painted in vivid colours before being plastered over. There are creations of human beings and deities in the caverns' southern area. Several mythical stories are based on these paintings and statues.

On the verandahs, some wooden depictions show demons being driven over by the chariots of the royal ladies. One of other such statues depicts a woman playing the Tabla and another doing a dance, indicating that the Tabla (or Pushkara as it was then known) had been used in India for over 2000 years, rejecting the notion that the musical instrument is of foreign origin.

Bhaja Caves - The Stupas

One of the remarkable features of the Bhaja Caves is the set of 14 stupas, out of which five stupas lie within, and the other nine stupas are built outside an uneven excavation.

These stupas are the remains of resident monks who died in Bhaja - their names are inscribed over them. The monks' names and titles are displayed on particular stupas. The names of three such monks are Ampinika, Dhammagiri and Sanghdina.

In addition, the phrase "Stavirana Bhadanta" (which means honourable priest) is inscribed on one of the stupas. "Theras" are the titles that have been attributed to the monks' names.

The Bhaja Caves are abounding in wonderfully carved images of the Lord Buddha.

Some mystically depict Lord Buddha, while others are based on events that occurred during his life. There is a mound that represents his death and a throne that represents his life as a prince. Besides that, there are carvings of lotus or elephants, which represent his birth. The Bodhi Tree, under which Lord Buddha eventually gained Nirvana, is likewise carved onto the Bhaja Caves' walls.

All in all, the Bhaja Caves are a remarkable architectural commemoration of Lord Buddha.

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FAQs on Bhaja Caves

Q1. In which state are the Bhaja Caves located?

Ans. The Bhaja Caves are located in Maharastra.

Q2. How many stupas were built in the Bhaja Caves?

Ans. 14 stupas were built in the Bhaja Caves.

Q3. Which cave has similar architectural styles to the Bhaja Caves?

Ans. The Karla Caves has similar architectural styles to the Bhaja Caves.

Q4. What is the meaning of "Stavirana Bhadanta" inscribed on one of the stupas?

Ans. "Stavirana Bhadanta" means "honourable priest" inscribed on one of the stupas.