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Pitalkhora Caves

Main characteristics

Coordinates: 20.3138 N 74.9921 E
No:55        (list of all attractions)
Categories:Buddhist shrines, Rock cut architecture, Petroglyphs and rock art
Values:Art, Architecture, History, Archaeology
Rank:7
Address:Asia, India, Maharashtra, Aurangabad district, 16 km north-west from Kannad, both banks of deep ravine
Alternate names:Pitalkora Caves, Pithalkora Caves, "Brazen Glen", Pittalkhora Caves
Age:around 250 BC - the 4th century AD
Religion:Buddhism
Giant stupas in Pitalkhora Caves, India
Giant stupas in Pitalkhora Caves / Vu2sga, , CC BY-SA 2.0

Once upon a time, more than 2000 years ago Pitalkhora Caves belonged to largest temple complexes of Buddhists in India and nowadays this is the largest group of Hinayana Buddhism monuments in India.

Visit to these exotic caves starts with an impressive walk through dramatic natural scenery - through impressive canyon. One can imagine, that this beautiful natural setting certainly helped to find inspiration to create the beautiful art of these ancient Buddhist temples.

Ancient temples in canyon

Pittalkhora Caves are located in remote, deep, wild river valley cut in basalt. One has to descend steep steps in deep valley and cross an iron bridge, admiring the beautiful scenery along the path. This area looks especially beautiful during the middle of winter, in rainy season, when the stream and waterfalls are full with water and soil is covered with lush greenery.

There have been preserved 11 - 14 caves up to this day. 9 caves are located in southern side of canyon and form Group I. 2 - 5 small caves are located in northern side of canyon and form Group II.

Soft basalt

Usually basalt belongs to the hardest rocks but in this part of Maharashtra it is somewhat more soft than elsewhere. Builders of caves noticed it and there were applied several technically perfect solutions to this problem, helping to preserve at least part of art treasures up to this day.

Thus, for example, in the ceiling of Cave 4 there were bored long tunnel-like openings. Water through these openings freely flowed into the cave, where it was channeled under the floor in concealed drain channel which led the water out of cave.

Unfortunately throughout thousands of years major part of former glory of caves has been lost. Especially painful is loss of most paintings. Gradual collapse of the face of cliff has removed the sculptures on the facade of this complex. Also the walls of ancient structures seem to be too thin.

To prevent further collapse of caves some of the original columns in caves have been replaced by concrete columns. On remaining pillars still can be seen remnants of murals.

History in short

The true story of creation and existence of Pitalkhora is forgotten long ago.

It is guessed that the name of caves can be identified with "Petrigala" of Ptolemy's and "Pitangalya" of "Mahamayuri", a Buddhist chronicle.

These caves belong to the oldest rock-cut cave temples in India and were developed during Hinayana period, during Satavahana and Kshaharata dynasties. It seems that later caves were abandoned to be revived again some centuries later, during Vakataka dynasty. Exquisite murals were added in this second period, in Mahayana period. Thus sculptures of these caves are created around the 1st century BC - 1st century AD, murals - approximately in the 4th century AD.

Inscriptions found in caves provide some possibilities for dating. These inscriptions have been made from 250 BC to the 3rd - 4th century AD. Two inscriptions mention "Pathitana" - Pratishtana, capital of Satavahana Empire. One inscription mentions "Dhanyakataka" - present-day Dharanikota, Andhra Pradesh.

These caves were rediscovered comparatively late, later than Ajanta Caves. First time when caves are mentioned in publication is in 1853 when Caves 3 and 4 were described.

Description of caves

Four caves in this complex are chaytya grihas - large shrines. Other 10 caves are monasteries - viharas.

Pittalkhora Caves are extremely rich with carvings, more rich than, f.e. famous Ajanta Caves. Sculptures here are similar to contemporary creations in Sanchi, Karla Caves and Pandavleni Caves.

Group I

Complex (Group I) is entered through a gate consisting of wide terrace, door of entrance is flanked by naga and guardians. Row of carved elephants support the complex. Unfortunately all sculptures are badly damaged by time. Stair leads to the main shrine - chaitya (Cave 3). Cave 1 now looks just like an enormous opening - possibly it was large monastery.

Entrance in cave is flanked by serpents and guardians. Elephants decorate the halls. Sculpted miniature chaitya windows. The unusual and beautiful sculpting includes figures of yakshas - evil spirits looking like females.

Caves 2, 3 and 4 share the same forecourt and possibly are created in one period. Dividing between caves 2 and 3 has disappeared. Cave 2 was vihara with ingenuous water drainage system to prevent damage to shrine - cave 3.

Cave 3 contains the best murals, which have been preserved on columns. In total here are 37 columns separating aisle from the hall. Inscriptions by residents of Paithan on the 10th and the 11th pillars on the right testify that these pillars were donated individually. Steps lead down to basement with some more carvings.

Cave 4 contains carvings of elephants and horses, also inscriptions left by donors. Cave contains also a carved panel depicting Buddha as a prince who is leaving his palace.

Cave 5 is heavily damaged vihara. Loose boulder contains inscription left by guild of bankers and telling about their gift. Cave 6 - vihara - contains traces of murals. Between two next viharas - caves 7 and 8 - there is unfinished rock-cut cistern.

Cave 9 is large vihara, contains remnants of plastering and murals.

Group II

Caves in Group II across the valley are chaityas and contain stupas. These stupas are twice as high as human. These extremely heavy sculptures have been moved in these hardly accessible caves from elsewhere and fixed in niches provided for them. Also the design and planning of caves does not fit with stupas - possibly these stupas were added to caves to commemorate deceased important Buddhist monks.

Cave 11 contains several stupas. Caves 13 and 14 are in very poor condition, they share the same forecourt, contain unique sculptures.

Map

See Pitalkhora Caves on the map of India!

 

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