Indian Art and Culture Gk notes: Cave and Rock-cut Architecture

Indian Art and Culture GK notes: Cave and Rock-cut Architecture

Indian Art and Culture Gk notes: Cave and Rock-cut Architecture

This article contains the information about the various Caves and Rock-cut Architecture present in India as part of Indian Art and Culture. The understanding of these architectures along with the general and specific characteristics is very important as far as the Civil Services or other examination is concerned.

Cave and Rock-cut architecture: Introduction:

Indian art and culture

  • The artificial caves were mainly excavated for religious purposes.
  • Early caves were structured on wooden models i.e. standardised religious meetings consisting of thatched huts.
  • The earliest rock-cut caves in India were excavated under Ashoka and his grandson Dasarath.
  • Later caves temples and monasteries are found in most parts of India, but it is in the Western Deccan under the Satvahana rule that the maximum number of artificial caves were excavated.

Three phases of Rock-cut Architecture:

  1. 2nd century B.C to 2nd century A.D :
    • It represents early phase of Rock-cut Architecture.
    • The caves of this time were related exclusively to early Buddhism.
    • The caves represented worship of Buddha symbolically.
    • The chief characterstics of these early caves were two establishments i.e. Chaitya and Vihara.
    • Chaitya means the Prayer Hall and the Vihara means a monastery which contained accommodation for the monks.
    • Also, Wood was used in these early caves.
  2. 5th century A.D to 7th century A.D:
    • It marks the second phase of the Cave and Rock-cut Architecture.
    • virtual elimination of use of wood in the caves.
    • introduction of Image of Buddha as a dominant feature in the design.
    • The plan of the Chaitya remained almost the same.
    • The Viharas now started having image of Buddha as well.
    • The statue of Buddha sometimes assumed gigantic proportions.
  3. 7th century A.D to 10th century A.D:
      • the 3rd phase of the Rock cut architecture in India.
      • Now, the Hindu and Jains also extended the cave tradition according to their own rituals and beliefs.
      • The dominant feature of Dravidian rock-style are the Mandapas and the Rathas.
      • The Ratha which literally means a ‘chariot’ is a monolithic shrine carved out of a single rock.
      • The Mandapa is an open pavillion excavated out of rock.

    Indian Art and Culture - Mandapa
    Indian Art and Culture – Mandapa

Kanheri Caves:

  • located near Mumbai ( in Thane district of Maharashtra)
  • Two special features: flight of connecting steps, stone seats for monks to rest on.
  • Belong to Hinayana phase of Buddhism but image of Buddha in Chaitya hall present suggests later additions as well.

Jogeshwari Caves:

  • located in island of Salsette in Maharashtra.
  • belongs to 8th century A.D and represents the last stage of Mahayana Buddhism.

Montpezir (Mandapeshwar) Caves:

  • located in Borivali in Maharshtra.
  • belongs to 8th century A.D
  • only Brahmanical cave to be converted into Christian shrine.

Karle Caves:

  • located on Banaghata Hills near Mumbai
  • belongs to Hinayana period of Buddhist Architecture.
  • The Chaitya is the main feature of these caves which is amongst the largest Chaityas in India.
  • Two Giant Pillars are present which have a group of lions supporting a giant wheel.
  • The interior of the Chaitya hall consists of a sun-window which is a wonderful arrangement for the diffusion of light.

Bhaja Caves:

  • supposed to be built for Buddhist nuns.
  • located in Pune.
  • have some fine sculptures like a prince seated on an Elephant, a prince in a chariot, dancing couple and a three armed figure.

Bedsa Caves:

  • located in Pune.
  • slightly later period than Bhaja caves.
  • The Chaitya resembles the great hall of Karle but is slightly smaller.

Ajanta Caves:

  • located near Aurangabad in Maharshatra.
  • belongs to 200 BC to650 AD
  • was discovered by a Shooting party in 1829.
  • They are entirely Buddhist caves.
  • Chinese Buddhist travellers Fa-Hien and Hiuen Tsang wrote about Ajanta caves in the account of their travels.
  • Total 29 Excavations, out of which 4 are Chaityas and rest are Viharas.
  • The Hinayana and Mahayana phases are well-defined in these caves, the first one being simpler whereas the second one is much more decorative and is characterised by the images of Buddha.
  • These caves are unique as they combine three forms of art – Architecture, Painting and Sculpture.
  • No. 16 is one of the most important caves being the most elegant architecturally. The shrine has a large statue of Buddha preaching. It also contains the famous fresco of ‘The Dying Princess’.


Ellora Caves:

  • They are unique as three styles of Architecture can be found at one place.
  • It contains 12 Buddhist, 5 Jain and 17 Brahmanical caves being located side by side.
  • The 10th century Arab Geographer Masudi and the European Jean de Thevenot, who visited the temples in 1667, have written about these caves.
  • The Buddhist caves were excavated somewhere between 350 AD and 700 AD. They are simple and austere as compared to the Brahmanical caves.
  • Cave no. 10 which is the only CHAITYA at Ellora is called as Vishwakarma as a dedication to the patron saint of the craftsman.
  • The Brahmanical caves excavated between the seventh and the early eighth century.
  • Cave no. 14, also called as Ravan Ki Khai.
  • Cave no. 15 is called as Dasavatara cave.
  • The Kailasa temple built under Rashtrakuta King Krishna 1 is considered a magnificent example. It is one of the grandest monolithic excavations in the world.
  • The Third group is that of the 5 Jaina caves. Indra Sabha and Jagannath Sabha are the most interesting ones.
  • Indra Sabha means assembly hall of Indra (king of Gods).
  • Jagannath Sabha means assembly hall of Lord of the Universe.


  • located in Sittanavasal in Tamil Nadu.
  • It got its name from seven holes cut into the rock  which served as steps to help ascend the shelter.
  • It served as a Jain Shelter since 1st century B.C
  • Inside this cave there are 17 polished stone-berths each with a raised part. They probably served as beds with ‘stone pillows’ for Jains.
  • The largest of these ascetic beds contains inscriptions in Brahmi script and Tamil Language from 1st century B.C while some are from 8th century AD.
  • These inscriptions name the monks who most probably spent their lives in the isolation in this hill.
  • This site served as a site for very severe penance: kayotsarga (meditation in standing posture until salvation) and sallekhana (fasting until death).

Udayagiri caves:

  • located in Vidisha in Madhya Pradesh.
  • These are a fine example of Hindu art in India.
  • It has 20 rock-cut chambers which were excavated during the Gupta period.
  • Two of them bear inscriptions from the reign of ChandraGupta II.
  • Cave 5 i.e the Varaha Cave is the most important cave. It features rock-cut relief of boar-incarnation of God Vishnu rescuing the earth.

Nasik Caves:

  • located in Nasik in Maharashtra.
  • it is a group of 23 Buddhist caves belonging to the Hinayana period.
  • The spiritual presence of Buddha is denoted by a throne , a footstool or a foot print.
  • This group of caves also called as ‘Pandu-Lena’ or ‘Pandava-caves’.

Junagadh Caves:

  • located in Gujarat.
  • Its entrance is a fine specimen of Hindu Torana.
  • Uparkot is an ancient fortress which has many interesting Buddhist caves and was evidently the site of a Buddhist monastery in ancient times.

Bagh Caves:

  • Located in Bagh, Madhya Pradesh.
  • There are  9 sandstone Buddhist caves present here.

Undavalli Caves:

  • Located near Vijaywada in Andhra Pradesh.
  • These are 7th century Hindu cave temples.
  • The main attraction is a reclining statue of Vishnu made from single block of granite.

Elephanta Caves:

  • On the island of Elephanta off the Mumbai Harbour are located these caves.
  • The island derived its name from a giant rock-cut carving of an Elephant.
  • The Ganesha Gumpha is one of the interesting sites of these caves. The masterpiece is the three-faced image of Shiva.
  • Other sculptures: Shiva in the Tandava dance, Shiva and Parvati marriage, Ravana shaking Kailasa, Ardhanarishwara – ‘the Lord who is both male and female’.

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