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Saspol Caves - Buddhist caves with paintings

Main characteristics

Coordinates: 34.2503 N 77.1598 E
No: 76        (list of all attractions)
Categories:Buddhist shrines, Rock cut architecture, Petroglyphs and rock art
Values:Art, History, Archaeology
Rank:6
Address:Asia, India, Jammu and Kashmir, Leh District, in the valley of Indus, cliffs to the north from Saspol village
Alternate names:Saspul Caves
Age:the 13th - 15th century AD
Religion:Buddhism
Saspol Caves, India
Saspol Caves / abrinsky, / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Jammu Kashmir contains amazing monuments of Tibetan medieval culture and some of the most interesting ones are located in Indus valley around Saspol village. Right in the village are located Saspol Caves - amazing rock-cut temples. Four of these caves are richly adorned with paintings of Buddhist panteon from the 13th - 15th century AD, representing a fusion of Indian and Tibetan Buddhist art.

Caves are made in conglomerate rock in a cliff towering to the south-west of village. On the top of this rock there are remnants of an ancient fort. Part of the facade wall of caves has been reinforced with a wall of boulders.

There opens wide, beautiful view in Indus valley from the caves.

Interior of caves is simple - ceiling for most part has been left without changes, with large boulders perched in conglomerate. Walls though are plastered with clay and covered with bright colored paintings. Paintings consist of a large amount of smaller miniatures showing the many deities of Buddhist panteon.

Saspol Caves, paintings of Buddhist pantheon
Saspol Caves, paintings of Buddhist pantheon / abrinsky, / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Caves have rather simple planning, there have not been used columns as it is usual in Central and Southern Indian cave temples. Some caves basically are just a shelters.

Entrance in the main temple - Cave 2 - is painted with orange color. Earlier it was hard to access, now there are made stairs. Paintings in Cave 1 (counted from the west) are bleached. Cave 3 is the upper part of two-storied cave. Cave 4 is located higher than the others.

Caves have been shaped in the 13th - 15th century AD by the followers of Tibetan Buddhist school Drikung Kagyu, focusing on meditative practice. This school of Buddhism is prominent in Ladakh up to this day while in Tibet it has been replaced by other schools long ago.

Interesting feature of paintings are some miniatures showing Hevajra - one of ishta-devas (final achievement of personal meditation, fully enlightened being) and Samvara, guardian deity. In some cases there is drawn two-handed (in a case of Samvara - four-armed) form of these deities, in some - twelve-armed form. These are two parallel lineages in perception of this deity, a meeting of Indian and Tibetan traditions.

Surroundings of Saspol have numerous other monuments of history including large boulders with ancient petroglyphs.

Map

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