Cave Architecture

By : Neha Dhyani

Updated : May 31, 2022, 13:52

It is believed that Cave Architecture in India began during ancient times. Buddhist and Jain monks used caves as places of worship and residence. At first, the caves were excavated in western India. Some instances of this type of Cave Architecture are the Viharas and Chaityas of Buddhists.

Rock-cut designs carved on overhanging rocks from the early instances of architectural craftsmanship of human beings on such structures.

Types of Cave Architecture

In India, caves are usually associated with three different religions, namely Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism, and represent architectural variance in accordance with respective religions.

Buddhist Caves

Some of the finest instances of Cave Architecture are found in the ancient Buddhist caves, and the greater chunk of around 1200 existing cave temples is Buddhist. The earliest caves comprising cave temples associated with Buddhism include the Karla Caves, the Bhaja Caves, the Kanheri Caves, the Ajanta Caves, and the Bedsa Caves.

Hindu Caves

The Hindu caves located in different places across India are extensions of Buddhist Cave Architecture with certain alterations in design and architecture suiting the Hindu customs and traditions. The structures depict the themes from great Hindu epics like the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. The most famous features of Hindu Cave Architecture are the existence of the Ratha (chariot) and mandapa, which developed during the Dravidian period.

Jain Caves

The Jain caves situated in different sites across the Indian subcontinent marked the end of Cave Architecture. The extremely embellished sculptures of these caves show the tales of Tirthankaras of the Jain Pantheon. Elaborately painted ceilings can also be found in Sittanavasal in Tamil Nadu and Ellora in Maharashtra.

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Major Caves in India

Ellora Caves

Ellora Caves has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, situated in the Marathawada region of Maharashtra, India, which stands among the world's largest rock-cut caves. Under the ‘Archaeological Survey of India’, it has been marked as a protected monument. This site has more than 100 caves comprising temples and monasteries, with 34 of them open to the public.

Ajanta Caves

Ajanta Caves are another UNESCO World Heritage Site and are famous for ancient paintings of Buddhists. Ajanta caves are situated in the Aurangabad district of Maharashtra, India. These caves comprise 29 Buddhist Cave Architecture and are excavated out of rocks.

Elephanta Caves

These caves are situated on the Elephanta Island near Mumbai city of Maharashtra, India, and comprise two Buddhist caves and five Hindu caves that trace back to a period from the 5th century to the 8th century and excavated out of solid basalt rock and are marked as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Karla Caves

The Karla Caves are, also referred to as Karle Caves or Karla Cells situated in Karli, Maharashtra, India, and comprise age-old Buddhist cave shrines excavated out of rocks. The main cave of the site houses one of the largest rock-cut chaityas in India, which is 14 m in height and 45 m in length.

Badami Caves

The Badami caves, located in the town of Badami in Karnataka, India, house Jain, Hindu, and presumably Buddhist cave temples. These temples represent Indian rock-cut Cave Architecture, also known as the Badami-Chalukya architecture. This site represents the earliest examples of Hindu temples.

These caves of medieval and ancient ages give us a glimpse of different architectural styles of different periods and religions.

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FAQs on Cave Architecture

Q1. What is India's major Cave Architecture?

Ans. Ellora Caves are the marvels of Indian Rock-cut architecture and are one of the largest monastery-temple Cave Architecture.

Q2. Which is the oldest Cave Architecture in India?

Ans. The Ajanta Caves are considered the oldest Cave Architecture in India as per UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Q3. Which is the largest Cave Architecture in India?

Ans. Meghalaya's hills are home to India's longest general Cave Architecture - the 31.1km-long Liat Prah limestone cave architecture.

Q4. Which is the second largest Cave Architecture in India?

Ans. Belum Caves have a length of 3,229 m (10,593.8 ft), making them the second-largest cave architecture on the Indian Subcontinent after the Krem Liat Prah caves in Meghalaya.