In the history of Indian architecture, the rock-cut cave architecture enjoyed a place of great significance because these monuments were out of the live rock (stone is not separated from the hill) over centuries. A craftsman cuts caves using primitive technology. They used only hammers & chisel manually. The level of refinement of cave architecture is of an extremely high order.
The cave architecture flourished in North as well as South India. These monuments were patronized by rulers as well as a private citizen. That contribution of individuals as much more in the progress of cave architecture. The cave architecture of India transcends religious boundaries because these monuments belong to Buddhism, Jainism, Shaivism, and Vaishnavism. These are not limited to any particular religion.
Stone Age Caves
The earliest caves in India belong to the Stone Age. Similarly, many caves have been found in Himalayas, Vindhyas & Western Ghats. Bhimbetka caves located in the Raisen district of Madhya Pradesh are the finest example. Caves of this age are natural. These were not cut by mankind. These caves are simple without any ornamentation. They are almost in their natural state. Because of this architecture significance of these caves are negligible.
Mauryan Age Caves
For the 1st time during the Mauryan Age, artificial/man-made caves emerged. These caves were cut during the reign of emperor Ashoka & his grandson Dasharatha. Four caves were cut during the reign of Ashoka in Barabar hills (Gaya district, Bihar) & 3 caves were cut during the reign of Dashratha in Nagarjuni hills (near to Barabar hills, Gaya district).
These caves were donated to the monk of the Ajivaka sect. This sect was founded by Makkhaliputta Gosala (6th century BC), contemporary of Mahavir, both of them lived together for some time. The caves located in Barabar hills are Lomas Rishi Cave, Sudama, Karna Chaupar, and Visva Jhompri.
Caves located in Nagarjuni hills are Vapiya Cave, Gopi Cave, and Vadithi caves. These caves are simple, rectangular rock-cut halls. The roof & doorway are semi-circular in some of the caves. These caves comprise 21 chambers. The front & back chamber. The front portion was used for religious congregation & the back chamber was used for residential purposes by the monks. Interior walls & roofs are polished. This polish is very much similar to polish found on the Ashokan pillar. These worlds famous caves have been described by M. Forster through his book “A passage to India” in which he described the glory of this age.
Post Mauryan Cave Architecture
The cave architecture witnessed the most remarkable progress during the post-Mauryan age. A large number of caves were nut during this period in Eastern as well as western India. Caves of this age are highly ornamented. Curved pillars are found in these caves along the walls & at the entrance. Floral, Geometrical design, animal images & human images were also used in range numbers.
Many of the cave of this age have painted on their walls, roof & pillars. The entrance to the cave is also highly decorated. For the 1st time, a multistoried cave was cut during this age. The tradition of double story cave commenced at Karley & at Ajanta, even triple storied caves were cut.
Caves in Eastern India
In Eastern India, cave architecture flourished in Odisha. A large number of caves are cut in Udaigiri – Khandagiri hills located near Bhuvneshwar. These caves were cut during the reign of king Kharvela (193 BC – 170 BC). These caves belong to Jainism. These are in form of Chaityas & Viharas. Chaitya refers to the place of worship & Vihara refers to the place of residence of monks. Viharas were also used as educational institutions.
There are 18 caves in the Udaigiri hills & 15 in Khandagiri hills. Prominent caves in Udaigiri hills are – Ranigumpha, Ganesh Gumpha, Rosai Gumpha, Hathi Gumpha, Sarpa Gumpha. The most important cave in this is Ranigumpha, because of its double-storied monastery. Hatigumpha cave contains an inscription of king Kharvela. This inscription describes the achievements of the king. It’s one of the most important inscriptions of ancient age. It informs that king Kharvela organized a successful military campaign against Magadha Empire. He brought back an image of Jaina from Magadha that was carried away by Mahapadamnanda, founder of the Nanda dynasty (193-170 BC). Prominent caves in Khandagiri hills are – Ambika Gumpha, Tentuli Gumpha, Ananta Gumpha & Tatowa Gumpha.