The Great Chaitya Cave @Karla, Pune

Chronologically this is the 9th, the Great Chaitya cave @Karla.

The 3-storied Hermitage of the Karla complex.

Based on the chronological form of the Chaitya cave by ancient Buddhist monks in the Deccan plateau of Western Ghats mountains, dated back to 120 CE this is the Great Chaitya cave, the karla or Karli cave. The Karla is the penultimate product of the Chaitya cave formation by rock-cut Indian architecture.

This is the largest Chaitya cave in India, even in South Asia and it was built and donated by the Western Satraps ruler NahapanaIn most Chaitya caves the roof timbers are replicated in stone for the visual effect but in Karla actual timber was used for purely aesthetic rather than structural reasons. In most of these cases the timber has long decayed away, such as in the Chaitya of Kanheri Caves (imitation of the Great Chaitya at Karla Caves), Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Mumbai. Here, although some were replaced under Lord Curzon in the 19th century, whereas most are the original.

The Chaitya cave(Cave No.8) is a huge in size and tangled carved in the rock which is called the Great Chaitya i.e. the prayer hall. The cave contains unusual  quantities of fine sculpture, much of it on a large scale and most of those are in completely preserved form. It’s measuring of 148 ft in length and up to 46 ft of height. 

It is exceptional for preserving original elements in wood: the prominent ribs of the roof, the umbrella  on the stupa which replicate in stone the form of examples in wood and thatch.

The outside view from the 2nd floor of the Hermitage. 

That time Buddhist monks were tended to locate their monasteries in natural geographic regions, close to major ancient trade routes which running towards the east from the Arabian Sea into the Deccan. So, the travelling traders on this route could have taken shelter in these caves. 

The Vihara cave i.e. monastery of Karla is of 3 storied. The visitors can climb upto 2nd floor using an ancient rock-cut staircase whereas the 3rd floor is prohibited to visit.  

The stairs of Vihara to go upper floor

The cave is located near Lonavla, Maharastra and it sharply marks the division between North India and South India. It's only 60 km off from the Pune city. Currently the caves are protected monument under the ASI. 

There was 2 15-meter grand pillars outside the Chaitya. Now only one pillar remains and the remaining space is occupied by a temple dedicated to the goddess Ekveera, who is worshipped most notably by the Aagri and Koli community of Maharashtra.

There is an Ashokan pillar at the front of the cave with a closed stone facade and torana ( a free-standing ornamental or arched gateway for ceremonial purposes seen in The Hindu, Buddhist and Jain architecture) in between.

There are 15 pillars on each side of the stupa which separate the nave from the aisle. Each pillar has a tall base, an octagonal shaft and highly decorated carvings capital.

The front side of the pillars’ capital represents  with two kneel elephants carrying two well ornamented figures of a male and female but sometimes with two females and in the back side there are are horses and tigers carrying a single figure only.

The entrance of the cave is featured with several number of sculptures of both males, females and animals such as tiger, lions, horses and elephants. 

The carvings in the left wall of Chaitya hall's entrance with the male and female figures. Where both the figures are highly ornamented with heavy jewelleries and the sculptures are in dancing form.

The right wall of Chaitya hall, sculptures are ornamented with anklets, large jewellery on fore head of the female figure, neckless and ear rings. A bodhisattva creature is present between the couple figures.

The sculptures of the left panel, elephants and riding Buddhas. The height of the cave is too high, its really difficult to take photo in a single shot. 

The elephant and Buddha sculptures of the right panel.

The Right verandah panel of the Karla Chaitya cave.

The names of donors are inscribed on the pillars in Brahmi script in these cave complex. Yavana (Asiatic Greek or Indo-Greek) Donor, who donated six of the pillars of the Great Chaitya and their names are Buddhist names.

The 8th & 9th pillar of the left row: This pillar is the gift of the Yavana Yasavadhana from Denukakata, circa 120 CE. The Brahmi Script "𑀬 𑀯 𑀦 𑀲" represents the word 'Ya-va-na-sa'.

The 3rd pillar of the left row: A lotus of Brahmi script had been carved. This pillar is the gift of the Yavana Sihadhaya from Dhenukataka.

In another inscription it is mentioned by a different donor that the city of Dhenukakata is thought to be Danahu near the city of Karla, where  a community of merchants called vaniya-gama are living.

The Yavanas are also donated an entire cave i.e. Cave No.17 @Budhha Leni, Nasik and Junnar caves, where are some inscriptions.

The 8th pillar of right row: based on the carvings inscription ‘This pillar is the pious gift of the lay worshiper Dhamula of Gonekaka’.

The green-view from the local train.

How to reach: You can go via car and local train. I used to go through the Pune-Lonavla local train. Get down @Malvali station and walk for 3 km to reach the cave , of course if are good enough to walk the distance otherwise book an auto rickshaw from the station. The rate can be varied based on the season as during monsoon it can be 150 - 200 INR.


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