Jammu Kashmir contains amazing monuments of Tibetan medieval culture and some of the most interesting ones are located in the 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 the Buddhist pantheon from the 13th – 15th century AD, representing a fusion of Indian and Tibetan Buddhist art.
Map of the site
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Caves are made of conglomerate rock in a cliff towering to the southwest of the village. On 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 a wide, beautiful view in Indus valley from the caves.
The interior of caves is simple – the ceiling, for the most part, has been left without changes, with large boulders perched in the conglomerate. The 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 the Buddhist pantheon.
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 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 the 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 This school of Buddhism is prominent in Ladakh up to this day while in Tibet it has been replaced by other schools long ago.
An interesting feature of paintings is 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 the case of Samvara – four-armed) form of these deities, in some – twelve-armed form. These are two parallel lineages in the 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.
- The Caves of Saspol, booklet with images, 2006. Accessed in 16 May 2010.
- Indian Archaeology, 1981 – 82 – a review, New Delhi, 1982.
- Saspol – photo gallery, Raoul Kieffer’s Travel Book, accessed in 11th July 2018.
Saspol Caves are included in the following article:
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