The Karla Caves, Karli Caves, Karle Caves or Karla Cells, are a complex of ancient BuddhistIndian rock-cut caves at Karli near Lonavala, Maharashtra.
The shrines were developed over the period – from the 2nd century BC to the 5th century AD. The oldest of the cave shrines is believed to date back to 160 BC, having arisen near a major ancient trade route, running eastward from the Arabian Sea into the Deccan.
The group at Karla is one of the older and smaller of the many rock-cut Buddhist sites in Maharashtra, but is one of the best-known because of the famous "Grand Chaitya" (Cave 8), which is "the largest and most completely preserved" chaitya hall of the period, as well as containing unusual quantities of fine sculpture, much of it on a large scale.
Many traders and Satavahana rulers made grants for construction of these caves. Karli's location in Maharashtra places it in a region that marks the division between North India and South India. Buddhists, having become identified with commerce and manufacturing through their early association with traders, tended to locate their monastic establishments in natural geographic formations close to major trade routes so as to provide lodging houses for travelling traders. Today, the cave complex is a protected monument under the Archaeological Survey of India.
The Karla cave complex is built into a rocky hillside around 60 kilometres (37 mi) from Pune, with large windows cut into the rock to light the cave interiors. The caves are among a large numbers of similar caves excavated in the Sahyadri Hills in the early 1st millennium CE. There are altogether 16 caves in the group, with 3 of them being Mahayana caves. Most of the caves are lenas, with the major exception being the Great Chaitya, Cave No. 8.
Great Chaitya cave
The main cave, called the Great Chaitya cave, or Cave No.8, features a large, intricately carved chaitya, or prayer hall, dating back to 120 CE. This is the largest rock-cut chaitya in India, measuring 45 metres (148 ft) long and up to 14 metres (46 ft) high. The hall features sculptures of both males and females, as well as animals such as lions and elephants.
This Great Chaitya cave, the largest in South Asia, was constructed and dedicated in 120 CE by the Western Satraps ruler Nahapana.