Sunday, May 17, 2009

Early Buddhist caves

Dear all,

I came across a few fascinating articles on Buddhist monasteries that were housed in man-made caves in the western ghats of India. Most of them are located in the vicinity of the hill station city of Lonavala, "- a name that is a derivation from Lenauli (place of many caves - Lena meaning cave)", around 100 km from Mumbai (Bombay).

Most of the structural stone architecture in these caves has been very well preserved over the years and the caves seem habitable even today. This image is of a main meditation hall within a cave that is more than 2000 years old! There are more than 1000 such caves in the western ghats that were built at different periods over many centuries.
"A single Early Buddhist monastery in the Deccan region of western India might consist of several hundred separate caves which were often decorated with sculpture and finished in plaster that is carved and painted. Individual caves fell into two basic types: the cailya or chapel for congregational worship and the vihara or residential hall." "The earliest rock-cut garbhagriha, similar to free-standing ones later, had an inner circular chamber with pillars to create a circumambulatory path (pradakshina) around the stupa and an outer rectangular hall for the congregation of the devotees."

Quite possibly, work on some of these caves began during the reign of the Indian monarch, Ashoka, who embraced Buddhism and was prominent in spreading it to different parts on India and the world. Most of these caves are not as well known as the ones at Ajanta and Ellora but have beautiful intricate carvings adorning their walls. You can look at images of these caves and read a lot more about their history in the links below. Interestingly, one set of caves, called Kanheri, are located inside what today forms the national park of Mumbai.

Eary Buddhist caves of the Western Deccan

Karla and Bhaja caves

Bedse caves

Indian rock cut architecture

Kanheri caves

Hope you enjoy the grandeur of these residences for sanghas!

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