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Important Caves

Udaigiri Caves

The Udayagiri Caves feature some of the oldest Hindu images and cave temples in India. They are located near the city of Vidisha, northeast of Bhopalin the state of Madhya Pradesh. One of India’s most important archaeological sites from the Gupta period, the Udayagiri hills and its caves are an archaeological site under the protection of the Archaeological Survey of India.

Udayagiri consists of two low hills immediately next to the River Bes. Located a short distance from the earthen ramparts of the ancient city site of Besnagar, Udayagiri is about 4 km from the town of Vidisha and about 13 km from the Buddhist site of Sanchi.

Udayagiri is best known for a series of rock-cut sanctuaries and images excavated into hillside in the early years of the fifth century CE. The site is notable for its ancient monumental relief sculpture of Hindu god Vishnu, in his incarnation as the boar-headed Varaha, rescuing the earth symbolically represented by Bhudevi clinging to the boar’s tusk as described in Hindu mythology. The site has important inscriptions of the Gupta dynasty belonging to the reigns of Chandragupta II (c. 375-415) and Kumaragupta I (c. 415-55).

In addition to these remains, Udayagiri has a series of rock-shelters and petroglyphs, ruined buildings, inscriptions, water systems, fortifications and habitation mounds, all of which have been only partially investigated. The complex consists of twenty caves, of which one is dedicated to Jainism and all others to Hinduism.

Bhaja Caves

Bhaja Caves is a group of 22 rock-cut caves dating back to the 2nd century BC located in Pune, near Lonavala, Maharashtra. The caves are 400 feet above the village of Bhaja, on an important ancient trade route running from the Arabian Sea eastward into the Deccan Plateau (the division between North India and South India).

The inscriptions and the cave temple are protected as a Monument of National Importance, by the Archaeological Survey of India. The most prominent excavation is its chaityagrha (Cave XII), demonstrating prototypes of wooden architecture and a vaulted horseshoe ceiling. Its vihara (Cave XVIII) has a pillared verandah in front and is adorned with unique reliefs.

These caves are notable for their indications of the awareness of wooden architecture. The carvings prove that tabla – a percussion instrument – was used in India for at least two thousand years. The carving shows a woman playing tabla and another woman, performing dance.

Karle Caves

They are similar to the Bhaja Caves but are more splendid in size.

Kondan Caves

Situated close to the Karle Caves, they consist of both Chaityas and Vihars.

Bedsa Caves

The Chaityas of the Bedsa Caves are smaller than those at Karle.

Peetalkhor Caves

They are located 50 miles away from North Finland.

Ajanta Caves

The Ajanta Caves in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra state of India are about 29 rock-cut Buddhist cave monuments which date from the 2nd century BCEto about 480 or 650 CE. The caves include paintings and rock cut sculptures described as among the finest surviving examples of ancient Indian art, particularly expressive paintings that present emotion through gesture, pose and form.

The caves were built in two phases, the first group starting around the 2nd century BC, while the second group of caves built around 400–650 CE according to older accounts, or all in a brief period of 460 to 480 according to Walter M. Spink.

The Ajanta Caves constitute ancient monasteries and worship halls of different Buddhist traditions carved into a 250 feet wall of rock. The caves also present paintings depicting the past lives and rebirths of the Buddha, pictorial tales from Aryasura’s Jatakamala, as well as rock-cut sculptures of Buddhist deities in vogue between the 2nd century BCE and 5th century CE.

Ellora Caves

The Ellora caves, are located on the Aurangabad-Chalisgaon road at a distance of 30 km north-northwest of Aurangabad.

Ellora is world famous for the largest single monolithic excavation in the world, the great Kailasa (Cave 16). The caves are hewn out of the volcanic basaltic formation of Maharasthra, known as ‘Deccan Trap’, the term trap being of Scandinavian origin representing the step like formation of the volcanic deposits. The rock formation, on weathering has given rise to the appearance of terraces with flat summits.

At Ellora, one can also have a glimpse of the channels (near Cave 32) through which the volcanic lava once flowed. These channels, due to overheating, have a characteristic brownish red colour. Similar rock was used in the construction of the Grishneshwar Temple nearby and also utilised for the flooring of the pathways at Bibi-ka-Maqbara.

Elephanta Caves

The Elephanta Caves are located on island hills about 11 km north-east of the Apollo Bandar, Mumbai and 7 km from the shore of the mainland.

In ancient period, the place was variously identified as Puri which is mentioned in the Aihole inscription of Pulakesin II.

There are seven cave excavations in the Elephanta group and these are datable from circa 6th – 7th centuries A.D. Among the cave excavations, the Cave 1 is the most impressive which represents the evolved Brahmanical rock-cut architecture. The cave is also famous for the exquisite and vibrant sculptures. On plan it almost resembles the Dumar Lena (Cave 29) of Ellora. The cave has a main entrance on the north with two other openings on the east and west respectively and a central hall with six rows of pillared columns, six in each row except on the western corner, where a shrine of lingam is provided.

Kanheri Caves

The Kanheri Caves are a group of caves and rock-cut monuments formed from a massive basalt outcrop in the forests of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, on the western outskirts of Mumbai, India. They contain Buddhist sculptures and relief carvings, paintings and inscriptions, dating from the 1st century BCE to the 10th century CE. Kanheri comes from the Sanskrit Krishnagiri, which means black mountain.

Nasik Caves

These are a group of 24 caves carved between the 2nd century BCE and the 2nd century CE, representing the Hinayana Buddhist caves. Most of the caves are Viharas except for the 18th cave which is a Chaitya. The location of the caves is a holy Buddhist site and is located about 8 km south of Nashik.

Bagh Caves

The Bagh Caves are a group of nine rock-cut monuments, situated among the southern slopes of the Vindhyas in Bagh town of Dhar district in Madhya Pradesh state in central India.

These are renowned for muralpaintings by master painters of ancient India. The Bagh caves, like those at Ajanta, were excavated by master craftsmen on perpendicular sandstone rock face of a hill on the far bank of a seasonal stream, the Baghani. Buddhist in inspiration, of the nine caves, only five have survived. All of them are ‘viharas’ or resting places of monksmonasteries having quadrangular plan. A small chamber, usually at the back, forms the ‘chaitya’, the prayer hall. Most significant of these five extant caves is the Cave 4, commonly known as the Rang Mahal (Palace of Colors). These caves were dug out by Satvahanas. These were quarried in 5th -6th century AD.

Important Schools of Architecture

Gandhara School of Art

It had developed in first century AD together with Mathura School in the sovereignty of Kushana ruler Kanishka. Both Shakas and Kushanas were patrons of Gandhara School, which is recognized for the first sculptural demonstrations of the Buddha in human form. The art of the Gandhara School was chiefly Mahayana and shows Greco-Roman pressure.

The Gandhara School of Art is also recognized as the Greco-Buddhist School of Art because Greek techniques of Art were applied to Buddhist subjects. The most significant gift of the Gandhara School of Art was the development of stunning images of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas, which were performed in black stone and modelled on equal characters of Greco-Roman pantheon. The most attribute quality of Gandhara sculpture is the representation of Lord Buddha in the standing or seated positions.

Under the Indo-Greeks and the Kushanas, the interaction of Greek and Buddhist culture flourished in the area of Gandhara, in today’s northern Pakistan, before spreading further into India, influencing the art of Mathura, and then the Hindu art of the Gupta Empire, which was to extend to the rest of South-East Asia.

Mathura School

The Mathurā school was contemporaneous with a second important school of Kushān art, that of Gandhāra in the northwest, which shows strong Greco-Roman influence. About the 1st century ad each area appears to have evolved separately its own representations of the Buddha.

The Mathurā images are related to the earlier yakṣa (male nature deity) figures, a resemblance particularly evident in the colossal standing Buddha images of the early Kushān period. In these, and in the more representative seated Buddhas, the overall effect is one of enormous energy. The shoulders are broad, the chest swells, and the legs are firmly planted with feet spaced apart. Other characteristics are the shaven head; the uṣṇīṣa(protuberance on the top of the head) indicated by a tiered spiral; a round smiling face; the right arm raised in abhaya-mudrā (gesture of reassurance); the left arm akimbo or resting on the thigh; the drapery closely molding the body and arranged in folds over the left arm, leaving the right shoulder bare; and the presence of the lion throne rather than the lotus throne. Later, the hair began to be treated as a series of short flat spirals lying close to the head, the type that came to be the standard representation throughout the Buddhist world.

Gupta Art

The excellence of the art of painting was yet another glory of the Gupta Age. The fresco-paintings on the walls and ceilings of the world-famous Ajanta caves are the brightest examples of that refined art. For millions of art-lovers from all parts of the world, Ajanta is like a place of pilgrimage.

Much of the Ajanta paintings did not survive the centuries of time. Of the 29 Caves, the paintings of 16 Caves continued to exist till last century. But most of those precious arts also got damaged or destroyed. Yet, whatever of that artistic wealth could survive till now, is considered as wonders of world art heritage.

The painters of Ajanta were at work from earlier times, perhaps from 1st century A.D. or even earlier. But it was during the Gupta period that most of the paintings were worked out. More than that, the art came to its perfection during that time. The artists were inspired by great ideals to draw their pictures in a superb way. They used bright colors. They adopted spiritual themes as well as secular as the subject matter of drawing. The scenes of their painting looked most natural, and the figures most life-like. They painted the figures of Buddha, depicted his previous births, and showed the various incidents of his life as taken from the Jataka stories. They also worked out other themes to represent the realities of life and existence.

For all these above mentioned reasons, the culture of the Gupta Age went by its unique value and excellence. Many features of that culture left there legacies for the future. The greatest works of such immortal sons of India as Kaliddasa and Aryabhatta, and the great objects of timeless appeal as Sarnath Buddha and the Ajanta fresco will continue to repres­ent the glories of the Gupta Age. They too, are like the priceless cultural heritage of India’s rich past.

Style of Temple Architecture

Nagara temples have two distinct features:

  1. In plan, the temple is a square with a number of graduated projections in the middle of each side giving a cruciform shape with a number of re-entrant angles on each side.
  2. In elevation, a Shikhara, i.e., tower gradually inclines inwards in a convex curve, using a concentric rotating-squares and circles principle.

Temples built between the 7th and the 14th centuries CE in the nagara style had mandapas (pavilions). The projections in the plan are also carried upwards to the top of the Shikhara and, thus, there is strong emphasis on vertical lines in elevation.

The Nagara style is widely distributed over a greater part of India, exhibiting distinct varieties and ramifications in lines of evolution and elaboration according to each locality. An example of Nagara architecture is the Kandariya Mahadeva.

Dravidian style temples consist almost invariably of the four following parts, differing only according to the age in which they were executed:

  1. The principle part, the temple itself, is called the Vimana (or vimana). It is always square in plan and surmounted by a pyramidal roof of one or more stories; it contains the cell where the image of the god or his emblem is placed.
  2. The porches or Mandapas (or Mantapams), which always cover and precede the door leading to the cell.
  3. Gate-pyramids, Gopurams, which are the principal features in the quadrangular enclosures that surround the more notable temples.
  4. Pillared halls or Chaultris—properly Chawadis — used for various purposes, and which are the invariable accompaniments of these temples.

Besides these, a temple always contains temple tanks or wells for water (used for sacred purposes or the convenience of the priests), dwellings for all grades of the priesthood are attached to it, and other buildings for state or convenience.

Chalukyan Art

In the cultural history of  South India, the emergence of the Chalukyas of Badami and Chalukyas of Kalyan is an important event, particularly in the field of art and architecture. They caused the excavations of rock cut temples and construction of structural temples. Having made use of the locally available red sand stone, they experimented to blend the characteristic features of the contemporary Indian architectural styles–Rekhanaga and Dravida.

Rashtrakuta Art

The Dravidian or Pallava style was adopted by the Rashtrakuta Rulers also as can be seen in the famous Kailash Temple at Ellora near Aurangabad (Maharashtra).  There are three groups of rock cut temples in Ellora – Buddhist, Jain and Brahmanical.

The Kailash Temple is a marvelous piece of rock architecture and sculpture.  It was built by the Rashtrakuta King Krishna 1 in the 8th Century A.D.  A complete hillside has been separated from a range of mountains and a huge temple excavated out of it.  The main temple is supported on the backs of elephants.  The Shikhara is elaborately carved.  The temple has an entrance gateway, a Nandi shrine and five other shrines surrounding the courtyard.   The main shrine has a large hall with beautifully carved pillars and a pyramidal Dravidian Shikhara.  Beautiful sculptures of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, episodes from the Epics and Puranas adorn the temple.  The Dasavatara gallery showing the ten incarnations of Vishnu is a masterpiece of architecture.

Pallava Art

Their chief seaport at Mamallapuram (now Mahabalipuram) later also blossomed into a great artistic centre during the reign of Narsimha Varman I. This town 37 miles South of the city of Madras, is famous for it’s marvellous cave temples and massive monolithic open air reliefs carved into the out-croppings of black granite which run through the town, forming a backbone of sorts.

One of these, strangely called “Arjuna’s penance” is a famous relief depicting the descent of the sacred river Ganga from the heavens wherein Lord Shiva consents to leash its strong torrents in his labyrinthine hair and various naga kings along with humans and animals are shown paying homage to the subdued flow which results. Another famous relief depicts the goddess Durga astride her mount the Lion in the process of triumphing over the evil forces of Mahishasur.

But the most famous Pallava structures are a group of five temples carved into the shape of raths (charriots) of the Pandavas, running from north to south one after the other. All these massively carved monoliths have on their sides, splendid examples of the elongated elegance which is a mark of Pallava art. Opinion is that the tough nature of the granite contributed to some extent for the elongated forms chararacteristic to the Pallavas.

After the death of Narsimha Varman I too, some construction was carried out at Mamallapuram and famous amongst these is the Shore Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. The design of the Shore Temple closely resembles the great Kailashnath temple at Ellora and also strongly influenced the future Chola architectures. It has a soaring tower and the inner cell is designed to permit the first eastern sunlight and the passing sailors to pay homage to the deity. L

ocal legend claims that there were once four other temples alongside of this, but they were washed away by the sea, In fact this existing temple also gives signs of melting away, from the constant onslaught of the sun and water erosion.

Chola Art

Chola Art and Architecture

The greatest achievements of the Kings of Chola Empire were in the field of Art and Architecture. The Shiva Temple at Tanjore, built by Rajaraja the Great, is the most magnificent example of the Chola architecture. It is known for its spacious courtyards and massive tower. Its tower rises to a height of 190 feet like a pyramid in thirteen successive stories. Its top is crowned by a single block of stone, 25 feet high and weighing about 80 tones. It is really a matter of great surprise as to how such a heavy piece of stone was taken to such a great height. The whole feat must have required a great technical and engineering skill.

Another beautiful specimen of Chola architecture is provided by the temple which was built by Rajaraja’s son and successor Rajendra I in his new capital, Gangai-Konda Cholapuram. This temple is known for its great size huge “lingam” of solid granite and delicate carvings in stone. These structures of the Cholas were no doubt huge and massive while looking from afar but they were decorated with minute sculptures involving “immense labor and infinite pains.”

The art of sculpture also made a great progress under the Cholas. Their temples contain some of the best specimens of carvings and sculptures. The Chola artists also made some of the rare specimens of images and statues of gods and life-like portrait-images of their kings.

Hoysala Art

The Hoysala style (AD 1050-1300) developed in the southern region of Karnataka. Hoysala art may be said to have its starting point in the temples of the early Chalukyas at Aihole, Badami and Pattadakal, but when it finally developed in the Mysore region, it manifested a distinctly individual approach which has been called the Hoysala Style.

One of the principal features of the style at its maturity related to the plan and general arrangement of architecture. An important monument is the Kesava temple at Belur (in Hassan district). Erected on the orders of Vishnuvardhana to commemorate his victory over the Cholas at Talakad, the deity of the temple—in fact, Vishnu in his Kesava form—was named Vijaya Narayana. The central building of the temple consists of the usual compartments, the inner chamber, attached to a vestibule which connects with a central hall preceded by an open pillared pavilion.

The upward progress of the shikhara over each inner chamber is radically modified by an arrangement of horizontal lines and moldings which resolve the tower into an orderly succession of tiers, diminishing them as they rise to terminate at the apex. In fact, a characteristic feature of the Hoysala temple is the comparative dwarfishness of the whole structure.

Pala School

Pala art, also called Pala-Sena art or Eastern Indian art, artistic style that flourished in what are now the states of Bihar and West Bengal, India, and in what is now Bangladesh. Named for the dynasty that ruled the region from the 8th to the 12th century ce, Pala style was transmitted chiefly by means of bronze sculptures and palm-leaf paintings, celebrating the Buddha and other divinities.

Pala-period bronzes, which were cast by the lost-wax process, consist of an alloy of eight metals. They represent various divinities and, being mainly small in size and thus portable, were intended for private worship. In terms of style, the metal images largely continued the Gupta tradition of Sarnath but endowed it with a certain heavy sensuousness. They differ little from contemporary stone sculptures of the region but surpass them in the precise definition of ornamental detail, in a certain elegant virtuosity, and in their emphasis on plasticity. The bronze sculptures from this area played an important part in the diffusion of Indian influence in Southeast Asia.

Orissa School

The Kaḷinga architectural style is a style which flourished in the ancient Kalinga region or present eastern Indian state of Odisha and northern Andhra Pradesh. The style consists of three distinct types of temples: Rekha Deula, Pidha Deula and Khakhara Deula. The former two are associated with Vishnu, Surya and Shiva temples while the third is mainly with Chamunda and Durga temples. The Rekha Deula and Khakhara Deula houses the sanctum sanctorum while the Pidha Deula constitutes outer dancing and offering halls.

In Kalinga, divine iconography existed since the mythological era. Present day research implies that idols (deities) were placed under auspicious Trees in the ancient days. And maybe today a Temple in general carries various minute details and the overall shape of some heritage tree. The various aspects of a typical Kalinga Temple include Architectural stipulations, Iconography, historical connotations and honoring the traditions, customs and associated legends.


Among the well-known places of Bundelkhand is Khajuraho, which has numerous 10th-century sculptures devoted to fine living and eroticism.

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