In Western India, large numbers of caves are cut in Maharashtra state in Western Ghat. These caves belong to Buddhism. They are in form of Chaityas & Viharas. Buddhist Chaityas were known as Layana/Lena in Sanskrit literature. These caves are found at Karley, Nashik, Junnar, Pitatkhora, Bedsa, Bhaja, Kanheri, Kondana in Western India Karley is located in the Pune district. One Chaitya & 3 Viharas are located here.
The Karley Chaitya is the most beautiful among all Chaityas. It was cut by Bhootpal Srehti (Banker) of Vaijanti in 2nd century AD during the reign of Satvahana king Pulameyi II as informed by an inscription found on the walls of these Chaityas. Double story cave was cut for 1st time at Karley. At Nashik, there are 17 caves out of which one is Chaityas & 16 are Viharas. These Chaityas are known as Pandulena. It is believed to be having used by Pandava. It was cut in 1st century AD. This Chaitya has a gallery of music. There are benches near the stupa. It is believed that magicians used to sit there for play instruments. There are 130 caves at Junnar. It is the largest cave complex in India.
Kanheri is located near Borivali, Mumbai. In ancient times it was known as Krishnagiri. Bedsa caves & Kondana caves exhibit the influence of wooden architecture. The pillars used in these caves tapper (wider at the bottom) from bottom to top. Bedsa is located in Poona district & Kondan is located in Raigarh district. In the Buddhist text Mahamayuri, its mentioned as Petangalya (13 caves). Ajanta caves began to be cut during this age.
There are 30 caves. While 29 are in a finished state but one cave seems to be incomplete. Ajanta caves are located in Aurangabad, Maharashtra. These are Buddhist caves; there are 5 Chaityas & 25 Viharas. These caves were cut from 2nd century BC – 8th century AD over 1000 years. Craftsmen worked generation after generation to cut these caves. These craftsmen were patronized by local rulers & merchants passing through the area.
Ajanta was located on the main trade route connecting North India to ports of the Western coast. The merchants used to stop at this place to take rest. They used to sit in the company of Buddhist monks to get knowledge & donations were made by them for cuttings of Chaitya & Vihara. Cave number 10 is the oldest & number 26 is last among finished cave.
Cave number 16, 17, 19 belong to the Gupta period. Early caves belong to Hinayana & later caves belong to Mahayana. Cave number 16 is the most beautiful. Cave number 16 & 17 were cut by Varahdeva. He was a feudatory (subordinate ruler) of Vakataka king Harisena (475-500AD). This information comes from an inscription found on walls of caves.
The Ajanta caves were discovered by Captain John Smith in 189 AD. He was an officer with the Madras army. While he was on hunting expedition. He came across these caves. In 1824, James Alexander made the world aware of these caves. He published details of these caves in the journal of Royal Asiatic Society. Ajanta caves were included in UNESCO’s world heritage site list in 1983.