Bedse Caves, Lonavala, Maharasthra
high-definition creative commons photographs from the remote Bedse caves, showing some of the earliest rock-cut caves in western India, including a fine Chaitya Hall and large open vihāra, together with some further information.
The Bedse Caves
The Bedse caves are one of the smaller cave complexes around the Lonavala area, it consists of one tall, and well decorated, Chaitya hall, one large vihāra, each room of which contains one or two stone beds, and some smaller chaitya and vihāra caves, and cisterns. They are less visited than some of the better-known cave groups in this area. At the foot of the hill is a broken down ticket-booth which was not in operation, probably because of lack of custom, and there was no charge for entry.
The main site is quite a steep walk up the hill, but with good views out over the countryside, so it was possible to stop and rest on the way up, and absorb the atmosphere of the sleepy countryside. This is one of the smaller sites in the area, but by no means the smallest, as there are a number of isolated cells with no Chaitya around also.
Bedse has only two major caves: the Chaitya hall and a vihāra for the monks. The Chaitya hall is carved directly out of the hill, and has very elaborate carving at the entrance way, but inside the hall itself it is quite plain, with columns of either side and a simple chaitya at the end of the apse.
The main vihāra is a large open structure, rounded at the entrance, like the Chaitya hall, with around eight cells. Inside they had stone beds, sometimes one, sometimes two. The vihāra shows signs of Hindu encroachment, as part of the back wall had been carved with figures of deities, and was covered with saffron paste where offerings had been made.
Only a caretaker and his friend were there during our visit, and I don't think the site is properly protected or maintained, but it is also not in bad condition, perhaps saved by its remoteness. As the site was very quiet and suitable, we spent some time there for meditation, which seemed to evoke times gone by.
Description from the Poona Gazetteer of 1885 
(slightly re-edited, with additions from various sources)
The two chief caves are a chapel or chaitya and a dwelling cave [vihāra] or layana, both of them with very clear traces of being copied from wooden buildings. The chapel is approached by a narrow forty feet passage between two blocks of rock about eighteen feet high.
A passage five feet wide has been cleared between the blocks and the front of two massive octagonal columns and two demi columns which support the entablature at a height of about twenty-five feet. Their bases are of the lota or water-vessel pattern from which rise shafts slightly tapering and surmounted by an ogee or fluted capital of the Persepolitan type, grooved vertically and supporting a fluted torus in a square frame over which lie four thin square plates each projecting over the one below. [The pillar and pilaster to the west are much closer fluted and more like Aśoka pillars than the pillar and pilaster to the east. The top of the pillar below the capital is clearly Assyrian [in form]. Fergusson and Burgess' Cave Temples, 229.]
On each face of the uppermost plate crouch elephants, horses and bulls with beautiful and well proportioned groups of men and women riding over them. On the pilaster to the right of the entrance are two horses with a man and woman seated on them. The whole is finely carved especially the mouth and nostrils of the horses. The woman is seated astraddle on the horse, her left hand is raised and her right hand holds her hair. She has large square earrings, a bracelet near the wrist and another near the elbow, and a double anklet, the lower with bells. The man has a globe-shaped ornament on his head.
The pillar to the right of the entrance has, on the east face of the capital, two seated or kneeling horses back to back. On the south horse sits a woman, her left hand on the horse's neck, her right fist closed and shaken at the man. The woman wears a square earring a necklace and an anklet. The man faces east and has his left hand turned back clutching a curl of the woman's hair. His right hand is on the horse's neck. He wears a necklace, which is a row of octagonal stones, and on his right arm are four bracelets and on his left two. His waistcloth is folded in bands which hang down the side of the horse. The horse has neither saddle nor bridle.
The left pillar has, on the east face, two seated elephants with a woman on the north and a man on the south. The woman is seated on the elephant and is pulled back by the man who draws her by the wrist. The left arm is bent, the hand resting on the elephant's head. The man's left hand drags the woman's right hand and his right hand is broken. The man has no hair on his face. The elephants are very finely carved. They have no tusks which were either of wood or ivory which has dropped away leaving holes. The left or south pilaster has a horse on the east and; a bull on the west. On the bull, which is finely carved, is a seated woman with her left hand on the bull's neck and her right hand on the man's shoulder. The man looks east; his left hand is on his left thigh and his right hand on the horse's neck.
The west or inner face of the right pillar has two elephants. On the north elephant is a woman seated bare to the waist. She wears heavy square earrings, a large folded necklace hanging to the breasts, a waistband, and an anklet. Her right hand rests on the elephant's temple and her left hand clutches the man's turban. On the south, that is the left, elephant, to one looking out of the cave, is a woman in front and a man behind, both looking west, that is, facing the relic-shrine. The woman has her left hand near the elephant's ear and her right hand on the man's neck. The man's right hand holds the woman's left arm to keep her from dragging off his turban. His left hand is near the waist of the woman.
The west or inner face of the left pillar has two horses. A woman is seated on the north horse and a man on the south horse. The woman's left hand rests on her hip and her right hand is raised above the horse's neck. The man's left hand is on the horse's neck; his right hand catches the woman's hair. Comparing the inner faces of the two pillars, on the left pillar the man tries to carry away the woman and on the right pillar the woman tries to take away the man.
The veranda or porch within the pillars is nearly twelve feet wide and in front 30' 2" long with two benched cells projecting somewhat into it from the back corners and one in the right end in front, with, over the door, an inscription in one line recording:
“The gift of Puṣyanaka, son of Ānanda Seṭhi, from Nāsik.”
The corresponding cell in the opposite end is only begun. Along the base of the walls and from the levels of the lintels of the cell-doors upwards the porch walls are covered with the rail pattern on flat and curved surfaces, intermixed with the chaitya window ornaments but without any animal or human representations. This and the entire absence of any figure of Buddha show the early style of the caves, probably of about the first century after Christ [ed. note: in fact almost certainly much earlier than that].
The door jambs slant slightly inwards as do also the inside pillars, another mark of its early age. The interior is 45' 4" long by 21' wide. The gallery in the sill of the great window extends 3' 7" into the cave, which, besides the two irregular pillars in front, has twenty-four octagonal shafts, 10' 3" high, separating the nave from the side aisles 3' 6" wide. Over the pillars is a fillet 4" deep and then the triforium about four feet high. All the wood work has disappeared though the pegs that kept it in its place may still be seen. [The wood work would seem to have disappeared within the last twenty years. In 1844 (Jour. Bom. Br. Roy. As. Soc. I. 438) Westergaard describes the cave as ribbed, and about 1861 a writer in the Oriental Christian Spectator (X. 17-18) found fragments of timber lying on the floor.]
On the pillars, as late as 1861, could be clearly traced portions of old painting chiefly of Buddha with attendants; but the caves have since been whitewashed and no trace of the painting is left. [About 1861 the roof had traces of indistinct paintings. The pillars were richly and elaborately painted on a ground apparently of lime. The proportions and expression of the figures was admirable. On one side of the pillars was a figure holding a sword and [also] a figure with a square white fan. On another pillar was traceable part of a cornice very minutely painted with flowers and birds, one of the birds as fresh and perfect as if fresh painted. Oriental Christian Spectator, 111. 17.]
On five of the right pillars are carved Buddhist symbols. The sixth pillar from the entrance has, about ten feet from the ground, a central and two side lotus symbols. The seventh pillar has a central wheel of the law and side flowers. The eighth pillar has a central svmbol with, above it, a Buddhist trident and below two lotuses. The ninth pillar has two taurus signs above and two lotus signs below. The tenth pillar has a sun-like circle for the wheel and trident and a lotus.
The dagoba or relic shrine has a broad fillet of rail ornament at the base and top of the cylinder from which rises a second and shorter cylinder also surrounded above with the rail ornament. The box of the capital is small and is surmounted by a very heavy capital in which, out of a lotus bud, stands the wooden shaft of the umbrella. The top of the umbrella has disappeared.
Leaving the chapel and passing a well near the entrance about twenty paces off is a large unfinished cell with in its back a water cistern. Over the water cistern is an inscription in three lines of tolerably clear letters which records :
“The religious gift of Mahābhoja's daughter Sāmadinikā, the Mahādevī Mahārathinī and wife of Āpadevanaka.”
Close by the unfinished cell is cave II. a vihāra, or dwelling cave, but unique in design with an arched roof and round at the back like a chapel. Outside, one on each side of the entrance, are two benched cells. The entrance is 17' 3" wide with a thin pilaster 3' 5 broad on each side. Within the entrance the cave is 18' 2" wide and 32' 5" deep to the back of the apse and has eleven cells all with benches or beds. The cell doors have arches joined by a string course of rail pattern and, in a line with the finiale of the arches, is another similar course. The doors have plain architraves and outside each architrave a pilaster. In the walls between the doors are carved false-grated windows. The whole cave has been plastered and was probably painted, but it is now overlaid with a coating of smoke. In the back wall of the cave in a niche is a figure of the [Hindu] goddess Yemmai thickly covered with red paint. A sati stone lies against the wall, a little to the right.
Beyond this and under steps leading up to the left is a small cell and in the stream beyond is a small open cistern (7' x 3' 6") with sockets cut in the rock. About thirty feet beyond is another plain room about 14' 8" square with a door seven feet wide.
On the rock behind a relic shrine or dagoba a short distance from Cave 1. is a weather worn inscription in two lines which records:
“The stupa of Gobhuti, native of Mārakuda, an Āranaka (and) Pedapātika. Caused to be made by Asālamita Bhaṭa, inhabitant of...”
Photographs by Anandajoti Bhikkhu
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