2000 Year Old History Lies Just 2 Hours Away From Mumbai at These Ancient Caves

Karla caves, carved from a rocky hillside, are among the oldest Buddhist cave shrines in India. It is located on the Pune-Mumbai highway at Karla, and if sources are to be believed, these are only a few among scores of other caves unearthed in Sahyadri Hills. Carved almost 2000 years ago around the 2nd century BC to the 5th century AD, this place constitutes an extensive collection of beautiful Chaityas (halls) and Viharas (monasteries) reflecting upon a journey of the past, narrating some amusing stories. A temple made of pillars from the Buddhist period has also been built recently at the entrance of the caves.
Karla Caves
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The caves are also known as Karli Caves, Karle Caves or Karla Cells. If ancient sources are to be believed, the caves were of great importance to the Mahasamghika sect of Buddhism before they became relevant to Hinduism. The caves house a Buddhist monastery which is believed to have been built there around 2nd century BC. Also known as Veluraka in the olden times, the caves house a humongous 15 - meter pillar along with a temple dedicated to Goddess Ekveera. One can spot a major ancient trade route near the caves running towards east from the Arabian Sea into the Deccan. It is so because the early Buddhists used to settle the monasteries close to the major trading routes in order to provide shelters to the travelling traders. Owing to its historic significance, the cave complex is a protected monument under the Archaeological Survey of India.

History Of The Karla Caves

Karla Caves
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Constructed over two periods ago, the first phase of Karla Caves lasted from 2nd century BC to the 2nd century AD while the second phase lasted from the 5th century AD to the 10th century. The entire cave is believed to have been created with the help of a single design except for three excavations that belong to the Mahayana phase. They were built with the help of generous donations from people belonging to all walks of life, ranging from merchants to monks, nuns and even the prince of a Marathi family. Inscriptions found here have mentions of various individuals from all over the country such as Vejamti, Sopara, Umehanakata and Dhenukakata. There are other inscriptions which hint towards the donation of land to Velluraka Samgha and hence, the ancient name of the caves 'Veluraka' can be traced back to these.

Architecture Of The Karla Caves

Karla Caves Architecture
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Karla caves are a magnificent structure bearing one of the grandest and the largest Chaityagrihas of all such monuments in India. The largest of them is 37.87 m deep from door to back, 13.87 m wide and 14.02 high. It is adorned with a number of rock cut columns which are further embellished with intricate carvings and inscriptions. An alley behind the columns gives way to a magnificent semi-circular ceiling which is the main object of worship and issupported by an array of wooden arches. The stupa has a cylindrical drum rising in two stages and it further supports a cubical 'harmika' and a seven step square - base pyramid. The cave comprises of total 16 rocks cut excavations, 8 of them are the Chaityagrihas.

One will also find the fine sculptures of males, females, and animals in the hall. A sculpture of preaching Buddha seated on a lion-supported throne exhibits spectacular carvings of three elephants. The pillars resembling the Ashokan pillar are adorned with motifs of elephants are among the key features. The entrance of the cave has a temple dedicated to the Goddess Ekvira as well.

Tips For Visiting The Karla Caves

1. Don't forget to carry water bottles, sunscreen and sunglasses for protection against the sun
2. Do not litter the premises
3. Vandalism of the site is strictly prohibited

How To Reach Karla Caves

One can reach the Karla caves through public transportation. The best option is to either hire a taxi if one is traveling from Pune or Mumbai or take a state transport bus that plies regularly from Mumbai and Pune to Lonavala and from Lonavala to Karla. Once you have reached, it takes around 20 minutes of steep climb walking to reach the caves.

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