The Karla and Bhaja caves are among the oldest caves in India and date back all the way to 160 B.C. and are situated near Lonavala in Maharashtra. The Bhaja caves are believed to have existed from the times of Hinayana phase of Buddhism, which is of 2nd to 1st century BC. Karla Cave is the largest Hinayana Buddhist chaitya (temple) in India Travel back in time on this trip to ancient Indian rock-cut caves with the best rock-cut architecture of all times.
Bhaja Caves or Bhaje caves (Marathi: ????) is a group of 22 rock-cut caves dating back to the 2nd century BC located in Pune district, near Lonavala, Maharashtra. The caves are 400 feet above the village of Bhaja, on an important ancient trade route running from the Arabian Sea eastward into the Deccan Plateau (the division between North India and South India). The inscriptions and the cave temple are protected as a Monument of National Importance, by the Archaeological Survey of India per Notification No. 2407-A. It belongs to the Hinayana Buddhism sect in Maharashtra. The caves have a number of stupas, one of their significant features. The most prominent excavation is its chaitya (or chaityagrha - Cave XII), a good example of the early development of this form from wooden architecture, with a vaulted horseshoe ceiling. Its vihara (Cave XVIII) has a pillared verandah in front and is adorned with unique reliefs. These caves are notable for their indications of the awareness of wooden architecture. The carvings prove that tabla– a percussion instrument – was used in India for at least two thousand years. The carving shows a woman playing tabla and another woman, performing dance.
The Bhaja Caves share architectural design with the Karla Caves. The most impressive monument is the large shrine - chaityagriha - with an open, horseshoe-arched entrance; according to the Archaeological Survey of India, the chaityagrha is the most prominent aspect of the caves, and one of the earliest of the type. The chaitrya has unique reliefs from Indian mythology. Other caves have a nave and aisle, with an apse containing a solid tupa and the aisle circling round the apse, providing the circumambulation path.
Chaitygraha has some Buddha images. A cistern inscription shows the name of a donor, Maharathi Kosikiputa Vihnudata, from the 2nd century AD. A wooden beam records two more inscriptions datable to 2nd century B.C., which indicates caves have been there for at least 2200 years. Eight inscriptions are found in the caves, some giving the name of the donors.
The sculptures feature elaborate headdress, garlands, and jewellery; they might have originally been painted in bright colors but later covered with plaster. Characteristic for early Buddhism, initially the caves had symbolic Buddha representation. After 4 A.D. Buddha was painted in physical form as well.
Near the last cave is a waterfall which, during the monsoon season, has water that falls into a small pool at the bottom. These caves also provide important proof regarding the history of the Tabla, an Indian percussion instrument, since carvings from 200 BCE show a woman playing tabla and another performing a dance.
A notable part of the monument is a group of 14 stupas, five inside and nine outside an irregular excavation. The stupas are relics of resident monks, who died at Bhaja, and display an inscription with the names of three monks, Ampinika, Dhammagiri and Sanghdina. One of the stupa shows Stavirana Bhadanta means the venerable reverend inscribed on it. The stupa particulars show the name of the monks and their respective titles. The stupas have been carved very elaborately and two of them have a relic box on their upper side. Names of monks have been titled with Theras.