Bhaja Caves

Bhaja Caves is a group of 22[2] rock-cut caves dating back to the 2nd century BC located in the city of Pune, India. The caves are 400 feet above the village of Bhaja,[3] on an important ancient trade route running from the Arabian Sea eastward into the Deccan Plateau (the division between North India and South India).[4] 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.[5][6] It belongs to the Hinayana Buddhism sect in Maharashtra.[2] 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.[7] These caves are notable for their indications of the awareness of wooden architecture.[2] The carvings prove that tabla – a percussion instrument – was used in India for at least 2300 years,[8][9] disproving the centuries-held belief that the tabla was introduced to India by outsiders or from Turko-Arab.[10] The carving shows a woman playing tabla and another woman, performing dance.

Bhaje Caves

The Bhaje Caves 05.jpg
Main Chaityagrha, Cave 12, with stupa
Map showing the location of Bhaje Caves
Map showing the location of Bhaje Caves
LocationPune, Bhaje,[1] Maharashtra, India
Coordinates18°43′40″N 73°28′55″E / 18.72778°N 73.48194°E / 18.72778; 73.48194Coordinates: 18°43′40″N 73°28′55″E / 18.72778°N 73.48194°E / 18.72778; 73.48194
PronunciationBhaja or Bhaje

They are some 9 km west from the Bedse Caves. Other caves in the area are Karla Caves, Patan Buddhist Cave and Nasik Caves.


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.[2][11] 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.[12]

Hindu gods Surya (left) and Indra (right) guarding the entrance of the 1st century BCE Buddhist Cave 19 at Bhaja Caves.[13]

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 the 2nd century B.C., which indicates caves have been there for at least 2200 years.[2] Eight inscriptions are found in the caves, some giving the name of the donors.[7]

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.[14]

Near the last cave is a waterfall that, during the monsoon season, flows water into a small pool at the bottom.[15]

Musical InstrumentsEdit

These caves also provide important proof regarding the history of the Tabla, or Pushkara then called; an Indian percussion instrument, since carvings from 200 BCE show a woman playing tabla and another performing a dance.

Stone carving of woman playing Tabla at Bhaje caves


Outside stupas

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.[7] One of the stupa shows Stavirana Bhadanta means the venerable reverend inscribed on it.[16] The stupa particulars show the name of the monks and their respective titles.[17] 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.[1]


  • Cave VI

It is irregular vihara, 14 feet square, has two cells on each side and three on back side. The chaitya window is ornamental all over cell doors.[1] Ploughman's wife, Bodhi, gifted this Vihara as her name is inscribed on cell door.[16]

  • Cave IX

Rail pattern ornament, broken animal figures, verandah is on frontal side. It is similar to Cave VIII at Pandavleni Caves.[1]

  • Cave XII

The chaitya at Bhaja Caves is perhaps the earliest surviving chaitya hall, constructed in the second century BCE. It consists of an apsidal hall with stupa. The columns slope inwards in the imitation of wooden columns that would have been structurally necessary to keep a roof up. The ceiling is barrel vaulted with ancient wooden ribs set into them. The walls are polished in the Mauryan style. It was faced by a substantial wooden facade, now entirely lost. A large horseshoe-shaped window, the chaitya-window, was set above the arched doorway and the whole portico-area was carved to imitate a multi-storeyed building with balconies and windows and sculptured men and women who observed the scene below. This created the appearance of an ancient Indian mansion.[18]

Chaitya is 26 feet 8 inches wide and 59 feet long, with semi-circular apse at back, and having aisle 3 feet 5 inches wide, separated from the nave by 27 octagonal shaft. 11 feet 4 inches height. The dogoba is 11 feet diameter at the floor. This resembles the Kondana Caves. The pillar has 7 different symbols of Buddha shown in floral form, buds, leaves, fan.[1]

Cave XII "Main Chaitya"
Plan of the site
  • Cave XIII

This seems to be destroyed. It may have been of wood construction in ancient times. It is 30 feet long and 14.5 feet deep. It is in a rail pattern, with a few cells at the back and a bolt door system.[1]

  • Cave XIV

This cave is facing towards northern side 6 feet 8 inches wide and 25.5 feet deep, with 7 cells. Stone benches, square windows, stone beds—are observed in the cells.[1]

  • Cave XV

It can be reached by stairs to the south of Cave XIV. It is a small vihara 12.5 wide and 10 feet deep. It has two semi-circular niches and a bench on right side.[1]

  • Cave XVI

This façade has 3 Chaitya arches and the rail pattern.[1]

  • Cave XVII

It is a small vihara 18.5 feet long and 12.5 deep, with 5 cells, one of the cell has a bench in it. It has two inscriptions, one of which is damaged.[1] Cell door inscription describes "the gift of cell from Nadasava, a Naya of Bhogwati."[16] One more inscription over two wells in one recess describes "a religious gift of cistern by Vinhudata, son of Kosiki, a great warrior."[16]

  • Cave XIX

It is a monastery with a verandah. The door has guardian figures on both sides. This cave has Surya riding a chariot and Indra riding on an elephant.[19]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Burgess, James (1880). "The caves in vicinity of Karle and the Bor Ghat". The Cave Temples of India. W.H. Allen. pp. 223–228. Retrieved 5 July 2013. bhaja .
  2. ^ a b c d e "Ticketed Monuments - Maharashtra Bhaja Caves, Bhaja". Archaeological Survey of India, Government of India. Archived from the original on 10 August 2013. Retrieved 5 July 2013.
  3. ^ "CHAPTER 20 PLACES OF INTEREST". Maharashtra Government - Tourism and Cultural Dept. Retrieved 6 July 2013.
  4. ^ "Later Andhra Period India". Retrieved 24 January 2007.
  5. ^ "List of the protected monuments of Mumbai Circle district-wise" (PDF). Archived from the original on 6 June 2013.CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  6. ^ "Bhaja Caves Visitors' Sign". 15 January 2012. Retrieved 8 October 2012.
  7. ^ a b c Ahir, D. C. (2003). Buddhist sites and shrines in India: history, art, and architecture (1. ed.). Delhi: Sri Satguru Publ. p. 191. ISBN 8170307740.
  8. ^ Pradipkumar S. Meshram, 1981, [The tabla in the Bhaja cave sculptures: A note], Indica, Volume 18, p.57.
  9. ^ Mark Hijleh, 2019, Towards a Global Music History: Intercultural Convergence, Fusion, and Transformation in the Human Musical Story, Routledge, NY, USA.
  10. ^ 1999, Parsiana, volume 22, p.49.
  11. ^ "PHOTOS: The Bhaja Caves of Pune". 5 November 2019.
  12. ^ "5000 Years of Indian Architecture". Archived from the original on 14 April 2007. Retrieved 14 March 2007.
  13. ^ Sita Pieris; Ellen Raven (2010). ABIA: South and Southeast Asian Art and Archaeology Index: Volume Three – South Asia. BRILL Academic. p. 232. ISBN 978-90-04-19148-8.
  14. ^ Behl, Benoy K (22 September 2007). "Grandeur in caves". Frontline. 24 (19). Retrieved 6 July 2013.
  15. ^ "Karla & Bhaja Caves: High-Water Mark of Buddhist Architecture". India Travelite. Archived from the original on 18 September 2013. Retrieved 6 July 2013.
  16. ^ a b c d Burgess, James; Indrājī Bhagvānlal (1881). "Bhaja Caves and their inscriptions". Inscriptions from the Cave-temples of Western India: With Descriptive Notes &c Volume 10 of Archæological Survey of Western India. Government Central Press. pp. 22–25. Retrieved 6 July 2013.
  17. ^ Schopen, Gregory (1996). Bones, stones and Buddhist monks : collected papers on the archaeology, epigraphy, and texts of monastic Buddhism in India. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. p. 175. ISBN 0824818709.
  18. ^ ASI, "Bhaja Caves" Archived 10 August 2013 at the Wayback Machine; Michell, 352;Dehejia
  19. ^ Knapp, Stephen (2009). "Karla and Bhaja Caves". Spiritual India handbook : a guide to temples, holy sites[,] festivals and traditions. Mumbai: Jaico Publishing. ISBN 978-8184950243. Retrieved 6 July 2013.


  • Dehejia, V. (1997). Indian Art. Phaidon: London. ISBN 0-7148-3496-3
  • Michell, George, The Penguin Guide to the Monuments of India, Volume 1: Buddhist, Jain, Hindu, 1989, Penguin Books, ISBN 0140081445

External linksEdit