Monday, January 19, 2009

Bhaja and Karla Caves in Lonavala.

Today was our last day of official art-site-seeing for a while, as the 5 of us (David, Brian, Ben, Sarah and myself) leave for GOA tomorrow! Wohoo!

We spent the morning in Lonavala, a town about an hour and a half car ride away from Mumbai. There are two sets of caves here: Bhaja and Karla. Baja has some of the earliest Buddhist art in India, dating back to the 2nd century B.C.E. It is a rather small complex, with only 2 caves with actual carvings, and it's located on top of a hill that overlooks a beautiful ghat (valley). Here's a glimpse of it from within one of the caves.

The caves here are Buddhist but they are pre-iconic, so there are no actual images of the Buddha. Instead, there are a lot of stupas.

The carvings that we did see, in the cave furthest from the entrace, appear to be portraits of donors, or of stories from a long long time ago (maybe mythical endevours involving elephants uprooting trees or chariots trumpling of demons...) The detail on these sculptures is beautiful. I was particularly interested in the hairdos of all the different characters.

(This elephant is brandishing what looks like a tree and walking over human figures.)

(A detail from the image abouve. The main figure has a great flower garland around his neck.)

(Three drivers on a chariot driving over a demonic looking figure.)

(The beautiful hairdos of the three drivers.)

(David exemplifying the original use for a one-person-bench carved in the rock. Good vibes by the caves.)

(A sense of the scale of the major cave in Baja. Brian and David chilling on the second floor.)

After Bhaja we went to Karla, where caves started being built in the first century C.E. Here there are images of the Buddha on the facade. However, the more attractive figures are those of the patrons of the cave, represented both in the columns within the temple and on the facade (which was sculpted later relatively to the interior of the temple.)
(The interior of the temple, where people - including David and Brian on the right - try getting a coin to rest on the wooden parasol on the top of the stupa.)

(A detail from one of the columns inside the temple. On each one, a different couple of patrons - husband and wife - is carved out sitting on top of playful looking elephants.)

(A general perspective of the columns.)

(Sexy patron couples carved on the facade of the temple.)

(These two couples have intricate hairdos as well as very thick bracelets on their arms and ankles. To me, they are reminiscent of some beautiful Aztec art I saw at a great exhibition at the Field Museum in Chicago a while back.)

Finally, these are the most colorful pictures of the day! This group of beautifully dressed women was up at the Karla cave, worshipping in a Hindu temple that has been placed RIGHT in FRONT of the main temple with the beautiful facade. An interesting adoption of the Buddhist site by the Hindus. In any case, I asked them to take a picture and they all posed very seriously and beautifully. They were accompanied by a group of men who just did not make my color standards!

(For one picture I posed with them, but could not stand up for fear of towering over them in the image :-)

(Finally, here are David and Brian surrounded by the lovely ladies - all from Maharashtra - as we made our decent from the caves.)

We leave tomorrow morning at 6.55am for Goa, and we will be spending about a week in the Southern part of the region, and slowly making our way North.

All is well and we will post soon.


  1. this is a great blog and I am hoping i have done the right thing to become part of it. it is so wonderful to return again to these sights through your eyes! we can imagine the wonder and delight you are having seeing these monuments and gaining a new perspective viewing these things in situ where there meaning and use is fully realised. ENJOY love mom.

  2. Nice post. If you are interested in Indian history and want to visit Maharashtra caves then visit They provide all information of tourist places in Maharashtra including historical places also.