Cave Architecture in Ancient India - Ancient Indian History Notes for UPSC

The art and culture are an important portion of the UPSC IAS Prelims Examination. Here in this article, we are giving important caves architecture in India. The cave architecture in India is supposed to have begun during ancient times. These caves were used by Buddhist and Jain monks as places of worship and dwelling. In the beginning, the caves were unearthed in western India. Let’s have a look at the Cave Architecture in Ancient India which is a very important part of Indian Art and Architecture.

Aspirants can find information on the structure and other important details related to the IAS Exam, in the linked article.

Aspirants should begin their preparation by solving UPSC Previous Year Question Papers now!!

To complement your preparation for the upcoming exam, check the following links:

Ajanta Caves

  • This cave is located in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra
  • It comprises about 30 rock-cut Buddhist cave monuments
  • Since 1983, the Ajanta Caves have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • All three kinds of art combined – sculpture, architecture, and paintings(mural paintings)
  • Famous fresco paintings of Ajanta are dying princess, flying apsara, and preaching Buddha.

Ellora Cave

  • It is locally known as ‘Verul Leni’
  • It is located in Maharashtra
  • This also a rock-cut monastery by the Buddhists
  • It is famous for the largest monolithic excavation in the world- the great Kailasa
  • The hills in which the caves are carved forms part of the Sahyadri ranges of the Deccan
  • It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Chaitya cave number 19 of Ajanta group

  • Built-in Gupta age
  • Cave 19 is a very elaborate rock-cut chaitya hall from the late 5th century
  • The peripheral frontage has a large horseshoe-arched window edged by figures of yakshas and Buddhas carved in relief.
  • The curved ceiling has rock-cut ribs.

Vihara cave number 16 & 17

  • Vihara is a monastery
  • There are lots of mural painting in the caves 16 and 17 which are the are epigraphs of the Vakataka Dynasty
  • The murals are uninterrupted without barriers, typically representing Buddhist tales, like ‘Jataka’ stories, which describe Buddha’s earlier lives.

Candidates can go through the detailed information on Ajanta and Ellora Caves on the given link.

Pallava Dynasty – Art And Architecture Mauryan Art And Architecture – Stupas, Chaityas and Viharas
Conservation of Heritage Sites – An Overview Art and Culture under the Delhi Sultanate
Mughal Architecture – Many are Recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Site Post-Mauryan Trends in Indian Art and Architecture – Part II

Elephanta Cave

  • It is located on Elephanta Islands in Mumbai
  • There are seven cave excavations in the Elephanta group
  • There is Trimurti of Shiva
  • The caves are carved from solid basalt rock.

Further details on Elephanta Caves are available on the linked page.

Sudama / Nyagodh Cave

  • It represents the earliest example of rock-cut architecture in India
  • It belongs to belong Maurya period
  • It is located in Barabar hills
  • The cave was dedicated by emperor Ashoka in 261 BC
  • It consists of a Rectangular chamber connected to circular chamber

Lomasa Rishi Cave

  • It represents the earliest example of rock-cut architecture in India
  • It belongs to belong Maurya period
  • This cave was carved out of a gigantic rounded granite rock
  • It has an arch-like shape frontage copying the contemporary timber architecture
  • It is located in Nagarjuni hills
  • It belongs to belong Maurya period
  • Frieze of elephants

Barabar Hills embraces the cluster of four caves, together called Barabar Caves. These four caves are Lomas Rishi Caves, Sudama caves, Vishwakarma Caves, and Karan Chaupar caves. This cluster of Barabar Caves lies around 40 km from Bodh Gaya, in the state of Bihar in India. Read in detail about these four Barbara Caves on the given link.

Bhaja Cave

  • This is the oldest Deccan rock-cut cave dated on 2nd century BC
  • It is located in Maharashtra.
  • The inscriptions and the cave temple are preserved as a National Monument
  • It is famous for its decorative frontages
  • It belongs to the Hinayana Buddhism sect
  • Stone carvings are not very deep
  • It has octagonal pillars

Go through the details of Bhaja Caves on the link provided here.

Karle Cave

  • Ancient India Buddhist early rock-cut architecture
  • It is located in Maharashtra
  • Related with the Mahasaṃghika sect of Buddhism
  • There is a pillar of the Asokan type with a huge sixteen-sided shaft rising over a platform.
  • It has a great chaitya hall

Bedse Cave

  • These are a group of Buddhist rock-cut monuments.
  • These were constructed during the reigning period of Emperor Ashoka.

Karla Caves and Bedse Caves both are located in the Maval taluka of the Pune district. These are the Buddhist caves that were excavated during the 1st century BC.

Nashik Caves

  • Located near Nashik in Maharashtra
  • It is called as Pandavleni Caves/ Trirashmi Buddhist Caves
  • It is a cluster of 24 caves carved between the 2nd century BCE and the 2nd century CE
  • It is representing the Hinayana Buddhist caves

Details regarding Nashik caves / Pandavleni Caves/ Trirashmi Caves can be read on the given link.

Udayagiri and Kandhagiri caves of Odisha

  • Earliest groups of Jain rock-cut shelters
  • The caves of Udayagiri and Khandagiri called lena or leṇa in the inscriptions
  • Hathigumpha and Ganeshagumpha are particularly well known due to art reserves of their sculptures and reliefs
  • Khandagiri offers a fine view back over Bhubaneswar from its summit.

Ratnagiri, Udayagiri and Lalitgiri, the three sites together are known as the diamond triangle of Odisha. Candidates can know in detail about the Udyagiri, Kandhagiri, Lalitgiri and Ratnagiri Caves on the linked page.

Pancha Pandava cave

  • It is located in Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu
  • It is part of the cluster of Monuments at Mahabalipuram
  • It is one of the supreme testimonials to the ancient Vishwakarma Sthapathis which is unfinished.
  • The architecture style used was the Indian rock-cut style.
  • The hills are locally known as Tiruppanmalai.

Cave temple of Mandagapattu

  • Mandagapattu is built by Mahendravarman I
  • It is a shrine which holds a significant position in the history of the architecture of the Pallavas
  • It is the oldest stone shrine in Tamil Nadu

Bagh caves

  • There were nine rock-cut caves, built-in vertical cliff soaring 45 – 50 m above the Baghani River, on the southern slopes of Vindhya Range.
  • Caves were established by Buddhist monk Dataka

Mandapeshwar Caves

  • It is located in on the banks of the Dahisar River in Borivali
  • 8th Century rock-cut shrine dedicated to Shiva
  • This is the only Brahmanical cave to be transformed into Christian cave

Junagadh Caves groups

  • Located at Junagadh district in Gujarat
  • Caves were engraved from Emperor Ashoka’s period up to 1st-4th century AD.
  • These caves are three distinct sites of rooms carved out of stone to be used as monks’ quarters

Multiple Choice Question

Consider the following Statements

  1. Famous fresco paintings of Ajanta are dying princesses, flying apsara and preaching Buddha.
  2. Ellora caves are carved forms part of the Sahyadri ranges of the Deccan.
  3. Lomasa rishi cave belongs to the Mauryan period.
  4. Bhaja cave belongs to the Hinayana Buddhism sect.

Which of the following options is correct?

A) All the above statements are true

B) Only statements 1, 2 and 3 are correct

C) Only statements 2, 3 and 4 are correct.

D) Only statements 1,3 and 4 are correct

Answer: A

Candidates can find the general pattern of the UPSC Exams by visiting the UPSC Syllabus page.

Frequently Asked Questions on Cave Architecture in Ancient India


Q 1. Are Elephanta Caves a UNESCO heritage site?

Ans. Yes, the Elephanta Caves, on Elephanta Island in Mumbai also known as Gharapuri island, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It has been a heritage site since 1987.

Q 2. What is Cave architechture?

Ans. Cave architecture is also known as Rock-cut architecture. Indian rock-cut architecture is one of the main forms of architecture seen in caves.It is the practice of creating a structure by carving it out of solid natural rock. Along with sculptures some caves are famous for painting.

Related Links

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Buddhist And Jain Architecture In India: Facts and Details Temple Architecture and Sculpture – Dravidian Style of Architecture
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