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Bedse Caves - legendary cliff temples

Main characteristics

Coordinates: 18.7213 N 73.5351 E
No:42        (list of all attractions)
Categories:Buddhist shrines, Rock cut architecture
Values:Art, Architecture, History, Archaeology
Rank:5
Address:Asia, India, Maharashtra, Pune district, Maval tehsil
Alternate transcriptions:Bedsa Caves, Bedse Leni, Varsha Viharas (rain caves)
Age:the 1st century BC
Religion:Buddhism
Bedse Caves, bare ceiling
Ceiling in Bedse Caves is bare, without adornment. Five columns with ornaments are visible / Meghana Kulkarni, / CC BY 2.0

If compared to many similar monuments, Bedse caves have little crowds and thus the enigmatic essence of this monument can be enjoyed in loneliness. Although the light reaches stupa in chaitya at any time of the day, it is advised to come and see caves earlier in the morning when the light reaches far inside the cave.

Cap of the column in Bedse Caves
Cap of the column in Bedse Caves / , Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Prayer hall and monastery

Maharashtra is extremely rich with ancient rock-cut cave chambers, but especially interesting is the area along the old trade route from the Kalyan port at Arabian Sea to the impressive Nane Ghat mountain pass. Here are located three groups of exquisite cave temples containing important art values. While Karla Caves and Bhaja Caves are well known, the third – Bedse Caves are comparatively little known. Bedse Caves are rather hard to access, although the final part of path is easier - here are built fine stone masonry stairs.

Bedse Caves are built at the latest in the 1st century BC (around 60 BC) – thus they belong to the oldest ones in Maharashtra. If compared with the later cave temples, Bedse Caves are much simpler and smaller, wit less furnisings.

Both main caves are facing eastwards. Nearby there is at least one more cave temple - incomplete separate cell.

Most interesting cave is chaitya (prayer hall) with exquisite stupa in it - almost reaching the ceiling. Both sides of the main hall are flanked by octagonal columns. Five columns are adorned with simple ornaments. Several ancient inscriptions are left by the benefactors of caves. Entrance in the cave is adorned with two round pillars and two semi-columns, each of them has beautiful sculptural groups on cap – humans or deities riding animals – e.g. horse, bull, elephant. The vaulted ceiling of chaitya is simple and bare unlike to later temples.

The other large cave chamber is vihara – monastery - with nine smaller cells for early Buddhist monks – Bhiku. Monks stayed here mostly during the monsoon - for some 4 months every year. Thus caves got their earlier name - Vasha Viharas - rain caves.

It is believed that monks (nuns!) here wrote the famous "Therigatha" - famous poetic scripture of religious content.

Below the caves there are located few spring-water tanks – serving as coolers for cave surroundings as well.

Bedse Caves, plan
Bedse Caves, plan / Plan by J.Burgess, 1880

Legends

Rather little is known about the history of this ancient temple and this blank spot is readily filled with diverse legends.

One legend tells that caves have been made when the mighty emperor Ashoka left his empire and went in for Buddhism. He ordered creation of several prayer and meditation places for Buddhist monks and Bedse was one of such places.

Stories tell that traders in these caves left their valuables while away. Most likely these caves were used also as guesthouses for travellers.

One of recent stories tells that Brittish officers enjoyed Bedse Caves that much that they became rather famous destination. To please the officers local authorities ordered workers to maintain caves - to clean and paint them as if these were new structures. These activities continued up to 1861. In some respects this has helped to maintain sculptures in good condition but from the other side - we do not now what ancient art values were lost under the paint layers. Locals tell that in this way there were removed remnants of ancient plaster with traces of murals.

Map

See Bedse Caves on the map of India!

 

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