Karle Caves, Lonavala, Maharasthra

high-definition creative commons photographs from the Karle caves near Lonavala, a group of some of the earliest rock-cut caves in western India, including a fine Chaitya Hall, together with some further information.

The Karle Caves

The main Chaitya hall at Karle caves is around 124 ft deep, and 40 ft. high, and was carved out using the most primitive tools. The decorations here are probably the finest in the Lonavala area. There are many vihāras around the main hall, but most are not inaccessible, owing to lack of preservation, and collapsing roofs, etc.

Unfortunately, right alongside the caves - which is supposedly a protected monument - a Hindu shrine has been built for a local deity, which obscures parts of the building, and brings in vandals who write graffiti on the vihāra cave walls. As the deity, Ekvīra, is very popular here there are many devotees who visit and the quiet we found at other caves was lost. It seems this shrine was already in place at the time of the Gazetteer in 1885 (see below).

The shrine has been built right alongside the entrance to the Chaitya hall, and obscures the view considerably, but there is a railing which prevents further encroachment. While waiting to enter the caves we went to see the intrusive deity, and the swami offering puja for devotees, who was friendly and happily posed for photos.

When we entered the site we were told that monks can get in for free, but when one ex-guard arrived he demanded payment of Rs 200 each. This guard however turned out to be helpful in other ways and helped us to find and see things we would otherwise have missed, so that eventually we tipped him.

The Chaitya hall is far and away the most elaborate we came across in this area, and is finely decorated with sculptures and reliefs. Atop the thirty main columns are carvings of three and sometimes four ladies sitting on elephants. I am unsure of the significance of this design.

The verandah which forms an antechamber to the main hall is very well decorated, and worth spending time with as more details appear the longer one looks, and some of the carving is quite exquisite in places. At the front are carved couples, presumably patrons who may have commissioned the buildings.

Fanning out around from the Chaitya hall are the vihāras, which are in quite bad condition, having been subject to graffiti and neglect. Some of them are closed off and inaccessible owing to collapse of the ceilings and walls.

Although Karle is one of the most worthwhile sites in the area, and of great interest historically, it is thriving for the wrong reasons, and the large amount of visitors spoil it as a historical and heritage site.

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Surrounding Countryside and Cave Views


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The Chaitya Hall

Other Caves


Description from the Poona Gazetteer of 1885 [1]

(slightly re-edited, with additions from various sources)

The great Vehārgaon or Kārle rock temple lies within the limits of Vehargaon village, about two miles north of the village of Karle thirty-five miles north-west of Poona and about 400 feet above the plain or one-third of the way up the hill sides which form the north wall of the Indrayani valley. From the open ground in front of the temple the flat rice-lands of the Indrayani valley stretch to the south and east sprinkled with trees and broken by deep wooded knolls. Across the valley rises a broken row of steep picturesque hills, the gaps between them filled by the peaks of more distant ranges. The rounded hill most to the east is Kudava, the pointed peak to the west of it Badrasi, then a pair of forts the flat top of Visapur to the east, and to the west the rounded head of Lohogad with the long spur of the Scorpion's Sting. Then a gap in the front range shows the distant peak of Tung and further west stretches the flat plateau of Sakarpathar with in the distance the lofty rugged outline of the Morgiri or Jambhulni hills.

Cave Details

The caves consist of a large chapel or chaitya cave and several dwelling caves or vihāras some of them much ruined. The chapel cave is, without exception, the largest and finest of its class. The cave resembles, to a great extent, an early Christian church in its arrangements, consisting of a nave and side aisles, terminating in an apse or semi dome, round which the aisle is carried. The general dimensions of the interior are 124 feet 3 inches from the entrance to the back wall by 45 feet 6 inches in width. The side aisles, however, are very much narrower than in Christian churches, the central one being 25 feet 7 inches, so that the others are only 10 feet wide including the thickness of the pillars.

"Fifteen pillars on each side separate the nave from the aisles; each pillar has a tall base, an octagonal shaft, and a richly-ornamented capital on which kneel two elephants, each bearing two figures generally a man and a woman, but sometimes two females. [On the sides next the aisles are horses with single riders on each, but as is usually the case with the horse they are badly proportioned and ill executed.] They are all very much better executed than such ornaments usually are.

[Beginning from the inner end on the east that is next the dagoba the first of the right row of pillars has on the east end a ram with feet like a horse and a tail like a tiger; the second pillar on the east a horse with dew caps and an ordinary horse; the third pillar has a horse on the east and a sphinx on the west; the fourth a horse east and a bull west; the fifth a horse east and a horse west; the sixth a horse and a horse west; the seventh a horse east and a bull west; the eighth two horses the ninth a horse east and a bull west; the tenth two horses; the eleventh a bull east and a horse west; the twelfth two horses; the thirteenth two horses; the fourteenth a bull east and a horse west; the fifteenth both elephants. Over the west side of the fourteenth pillar a woman's figure is cut between the horses. The inside figures on the left row of capitals are on the fifteenth or next the door, a bull west and a horse east; on the fourteenth a bull west and a horse east; on the thirteenth a bull west and a horse east; on the twelfth a bull and a horse; on the eleventh a bull or buffalo and a horse; on the tenth a bull and horse; on the the a ball and horse; on the eighth a bull and horse; on the seventh a bull and horse; on the sixth a bull and horse; on the fifth a bull and sphinx; on the fourth a bull and horse; on the third a horse and bull; on the second a horse and bull; and on the first two horses. On the east side of the second pillar are a couple of dancing male and female figures]

The seven pillars behind the altar are plain octagonal piers without either base or capital, and the four under the entrance gallery differ considerably from those at the sides. The sculptures on the capitals supply the place usually occupied by frieze and cornice in Grecian architecture; and in other examples plain-painted surfaces occupy the same space. Above this springs the roof, semicircular in general section, but somewhat stilted at the sides, so as to make its height greater than the semi-diameter. It is ornamented, even at this day, by a series of wooden ribs, probably coeval with the excavation, which prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that the roof is not a copy of a masonry arch, but of some sort of timber construction which we cannot now very well understand."

Immediately under the semi-dome of the apse is placed the dagoba - in this instance a plain dome on a two-storeyed circular drum-similar to the Bedse relic-shrine, the upper margins of each section surrounded by the rail ornament, and just under the lower of these are a series of holes or mortices, about six inches deep, for the fastenings of a covering or a woodwork frame, which probably supported ornamental hangings. It is surmounted by a capital of the usual form, very like that at Bedse, and on this stands a wooden umbrella, much blackened by age and smoke, but almost entire. The canopy is circular, carved on the under surface, and droops on two sides only, the front and rear, the seven central boards being as nearly as possible in one plane, and those towards the front and back canted each a little more than its neighbour.

In the top of the capital, near the north-west corner, is a hole about ten inches deep, covered by a slab about ten inches square and four inches thick, doubtless the receptacle for the relic, which however has been removed. Round the upper edge of the capital are mortice holes, eight in number or three to each face, by which some coronal or other ornament was attached.

"Opposite this," to continue Dr. Fergusson's account, "is the entrance, consisting of three doorways under a gallery, exactly corresponding with our rood-loft, one leading to the centre and one to each of the side aisles; and over the gallery the whole end of the hall is open as in all these chaitya halls, forming one great window, through which all the light is admitted. This great window is formed in the shape of a horse-shoe, and exactly resembles those used as ornaments on the facade of this cave, as well as on those of Bhaja, Bedse, and at Kondane, and which are met with everywhere at this age. Within the arch is a framework or centering of wood standing free. This, so far as we can judge, is, like the ribs of the interior, coeval with the building; at all events, if it has been renewed, it is an exact copy of the original form, for it is found repeated in stone in all the niches of the facade over the doorways, and generally as an ornament everywhere and with the Buddhist 'rail,' copied from Sanchi, forms the most usual ornament of the style.

"The presence of the woodwork is an additional proof, if any were wanted, that there were no arches of construction in any of these Buddhist buildings. There neither were nor are any in any Indian building anterior to the Muhammadan conquest, and very few, indeed, in any Hindu building afterwards.

"The outer porch is considerably wider than the body of the building, being 52 feet wide by 15 feet deep, and is closed in front by a screen, composed of two stout octagonal pillars, without either base or capital, supporting what is now a plain mass of rock, but which was once ornamented by a wooden gallery, forming the principal ornament of the facade. Above this a dwarf colonnade or attic of four columns between pilasters admitted light to the great window, and this again was surmounted by a wooden cornice or ornament of some sort, though we cannot now restore it, since only the mortices remain that attached."

The verandah of the great cathedral cave had two eight-sided pillars and two pilasters. Inside of this on each end was a rail and above the rail three elephants. Above the elephants is a second railing into which have been set later seated Buddhas of about the fifth or sixth century, then a plain belt of stone with inscriptions, then a railing, above this two temple doors and two couples of men and women dancing, those on the right specially well formed and carved. Above the dancing couples is a plain band, then a rail, then two windows and two doors, again a rail, then two windows and two doors, again a rail, and, above the rail, two windows and two doors, then top rail and roof smooth and well dressed.

In the back wall of the verandah is a central door and two side-doors with horseshoe arches over each. On each side of the central doorway are a pair of male and female figures naked to the waist. The couple on the visitor's right are standing, the woman with her left leg turned behind her right leg and her hands broken. The man has his hand on her right shoulder. The woman has heavy anklets and a waistband hanging to her knee. Her right arm is broken above the elbow; her left arm is passed behind the man. The woman has heavy earrings. Her hair is plain and drawn far over her brow and there a is large round brow-mark. The man has his hair piled in ascetic or jata coils rising into a central cockscomb. He wears heavy earrings and a waistband hanging to his feet. To the visitor's right of the pair is a Buddha with an aureole and seated on a lotus throne supported by two Nagas. On each side are small figures. On each side of Buddha is a mace-bearer and a flywhisk-bearer and above them two corner figures. To the right is another man and woman much like the other pair.

Below the original rail has been cut into a group of figures, a seated teaching Buddha in the centre, two side supporters and two small cherubs in the corner above. Further east, at the end of the recess, are two figures. The man on the right has a big turban, five bracelets on the right hand, and his legs as if he was walking. The woman has many bracelets on her arm, a necklace with a central pendant like a Lingayat box, double anklets, and crossed legs with the right leg in front. To the left of the central door the first figure is a woman who stands with her feet crossed and her arms thrown up clasped palm to palm over her head with long gloves up to her elbow. Her earrings are elaborate and her necklace falls in a stomache. The man on the visitor's left has a bunch in his left hand held over his shoulder. He has three plain bracelets and his left right hand hanging by his side holds his waistband. To the left in a square frame is a central standing Padmapani, his right hand blessing and his left hand holding a lotus. He stands on a lotus throne and on either side are small worshipping figures. On each side of Padmapani are two figures. In the corners above are two small sealed Buddhas both teaching. Above are two Buddhas with a mace-bearer below. To the left are a big pair. On the visitor's right is a man with his left hand held up and open, his hair in the ascetic rolls. His waistcloth is tied in a brow on his left hip. His right hand is on the woman's shoulder. The woman, who is naked to the waist, stands leaning a little to the left with the left knee bent against the right knee. She wears a plain flat headdress which fits her head tightly, large earrings, and a heavy necklace that falls between her breasts. Her left hand rests on her left hip and her right hand falls by her side. Her lower arm is covered to the elbow with heavy plain bracelets.

Below this belt of figures is the Buddhist rail, part of which about four feet broad on the left, has been cut into a group with a seated snake-canopied Buddha in the centre. Above are two small floating figures and side attendants with single snake-canopy. Above the main frieze of figures is a belt of two groups, the Buddha to the left thinking, the Buddha to the right teaching, and with flywhisk bearers at each side. The left or thinking Buddha sits under an arch, the right or preaching Buddha has a great aureole. Above is a plain belt of rook with inscriptions and above that a rail. Then there is the great central horseshoe arch with the side space filled with cave door and window carvings.

At the left end of the verandah at the foot is a Buddhist rail, then three well-carved broken trunked elephants with excellent ears and expressions. Between the centre and the west elephant a group of a seated teaching Buddhas with side flywhisk bearers is carved on the back wall. Above the three elephants was originally a three feet broad belt of Buddhist railing cut into three groups of thinking Buddhas with side supporters. The back wall of the verandah has at the foot a central and two side doors and three bands of Buddhist railings, one close to the ground, a second on a level with the top of the doors, and the third on a level with the top of the arch. The lowest rail was the biggest. Below the top rail was a plain belt of rock. The space between the second and the third railing was originally plain. The lowest rail was given by two men and there is an inscription above it to say so. On the left is a defaced inscription.

On each side of each of the doors is a male and female figure. On the visitor's left is a man and woman in the Sātakarni style of dress with many ornaments and a broad waistbelt. Perhaps the inscriptions above the north or right pair and above the pair on the front wall are of about the same time.

The doorways were made about the same time. The images cut in the central railing are of the fifth or sixth century and below the group is a teaching Buddha and above two angels bringing a crown. A man worships a tope. Below are two deer. At the lower right corner the female figure with the high headdress is probably the woman who got the group carved. The mortar work round the central door is Marathi made by a landholder named Anna Goitrikar about 1780.

At the north or left end of the verandah at the foot is a railing, then three elephants with broken tusks, then a rail which has been cut into three groups of Buddhas. The left group is unfinished. The groups belong to the Great Way or Mahāyāna style and have, instead of flywhisk bearers, Bodhisattvas probably of about A.D. 400-500. Above is the original inscription of the maker of the cave. Above this is a band of rail pattern, then two temple doors with two well carved groups of men and women. Above this all the work is as it was originally cut, four rows of church fronts each separated from the next by a railing, the three topmost without figures. The groups of dancing men and women in the lower friezes are well carved.

In front of the outer screen stands the Lion-pillar, a plain slightly tapering sixteen-sided shaft, surmounted by a capital of the same style as those in the portico at Bedse. On this stand four lions, their hinder parts joined, but there is no hole or mortice to lead us to suppose that any emblem in metal or wood was raised over them. The pillar stood on a raised circular basement or drum, carved with the rail-pattern, but now defaced. There are indications that render it more than probable that, as at Kanheri and Kailas at Elora, there was a corresponding pillar at the opposite side, the base of which is covered by the modern Ekvīra temple. The cap of the existing pillar is connected with the screen-wall by an attachment of rock, in which is cut a large square mortice; and over the modern temple, on the south side, there remains two-thirds of a corresponding attachment with a similar mortice, as if to hold a beam horizontally across eighteen inches in front of the screen. The other pillar doubtless supported the chakra or wheel the emblem of the law.


Inscriptions at the Chaitya Cave

In the verandah and body of the great chapel cave are nineteen inscriptions.

Inscription 1

On the left end of the verandah on a deep flat moulding over the heads of three large elephants is inscription 1 which records:

"Seth Bhutapāla from Vejayanti has established a rock-mansion, the most excellent in Jambudvipa."

Inscription 2

On the lion-pillar or Sinhastambha on the left of the entrance is inscription 2 which records:

"From Agimitranaka, son of Goti, a great warrior, a Maratha (P), the gift of a lion-pillar."

Inscription 3

On the right end of the verandah below the feet of the elephant is inscription 3 which records:

"The gift of first, two elephants, and above and below the elephants a (rail-pattern) moulding by the venerable reverend (bhadanta) Indadeva."

Inscription 4

Over the right-hand side door is inscription 4 which records;

"The gift of a door by Sihadata, a perfumer, from Dhenukākata."

Inscriptions 5, 6 & 7

A pillar of the open screen in front of the verandah has two inscriptions 5 and 6. The upper inscription 5 records:

"The gift of Bhāyila the mother of Mahādevanaka, a house holder." The lower inscription 6 records:

"Sāmika, son of Venuvasa, a carpenter, a native of Dhenukākata, made the doorway, and above the door."

Inside, on the left hand fourth pillar is inscription 7 which records:

"The gift of a pillar by Sihadhaya, a Yavana, from Dhenukākata."

Inscription 8

On the left or north side of the nave on the shaft of the fifth pillar is inscription 8 which records:

"The gift of the cost of a pillar by Sātimita, from Sopāraka, out of respect for his maternal uncle the Bhadanta Dhamutaraya, by his (i.e., the Bhadanta's) disciple and sister's son Satimita, the son of Nandā, with his mother and father."

Inscription 9

Below inscription 8 in clear-cut letters is inscription 9 which records:

"The gift of a pillar containing relics, by Sātimita, from Sopāraka, sister's son of Bhadanta Dhamutaraya."

Inscription 10

On the same side on the shaft of the third pillar is inscription 10 which records:

"(The gift of) of Dhama, a Yavana from Dhenukakata."

Inscription 11

On the same side on the shaft of the seventh pillar is inscription 11 which records:

"The gift of a pillar by Mitadevanaka, son of Usabhadata from Dhenukākata."

Inscription 12

On the inner face of the gallery is inscription 12 which records:

"(Gift) of Asādhamitā, a nun ..."

Inscription 13

Outside on the upper frieze to the right of the central door is inscription 13 which records:

"To the Perfect Usabhadata, son of Dinika and son-in-law of the king Khaharāta Khatapa Nahapāna, the giver of 300,000 cows having given gold, and being a visitor to the tirth at the Banāsā river; the giver of sixteen viliages to gods and Brahmans; at the holy place Fabhāsa the giver of eight wives to Brahmans; and who caused 300,000 cows to be given; and who at Valuraka gave the village of Karajaka to the Sangha of ascetics from the four quarters residing in the lena, all dwelling there for the support during the rainy season."

[Valuraka appears to be the ancient name of the monastic establishment at Karle.]

Inscription 14

To the left of the central door and over the sculptures is inscription 14 which records:

"King Vāsithiputa, the illustrious lord (Sāmisiri) [Pulumāyi] in the year seventh (7), of summer the fifth (5) fortnight, and first (1) day. On that day Somadeva, a great warrior, the son of Vasithi and of Mitadeva the son of Kosiki, a great warrior of the Okhala-kiyas, gave a village to the Sangha of Valuraka. This gift is for the repairs of the Valuraka Lenas."

Inscription 15

Over the male and female figures to the right of the right-hand side door is inscription 15 which records:

"Gift of a pair by the Bhikshu Bhadasama"

Inscription 16 & 17

Over another pair of figures on the inner side of the right end of the outer screen or front of the verandah is inscription 16 which records:

''Gift of a pair by the Bhikshu Bhadasama"

To the left of the central door on a piece of rail-pattern carving below the sculptures is inscription 17 which records:

"... the gift of a vedika by the mother of Samana'"

Inscription 18.

Low down and to the right of the central door is inscription 18 which records:

"The gift of a vedika (rail-ornament) by the nun Kodi, mother of Ghunika. Made by Nadika."

Inscription 19

Just over an image of Buddha inserted at a later date between the central and right-hand door is inscription 19. It is dated the 19th year of Vasisthiputra's time, and records a benefaction to the Bhikshus by the talukdar of Mamala, the modern Maval.


Inscriptions at Other Caves

On the north-west of the Lion-pillar are some cells, and a water-cistern, into which a dagoba that had stood on the roof of it has fallen. North from this is a large excavation, more than 100 feet in length, but very irregular: it apparently consisted of two or three vihāras, in which all the dividing walls have been destroyed. At the north end of it are several cells, still nearly entire, three water-cisterns, and a small relic shrine or dagoba.

Above these is a vihāra, about 28 feet by 27 and 8 feet high, with four cells in each side and five in the back, six of them with benches or beds of stone as in most of the older vihāras, and in one is a ladder up to a stair leading to the cave above. The front of this cave, however, has given way. Still higher in the rock, and reached by a stair from the preceding, is another vihāra, 34 feet 6 inches by 48, but not quite rectangular, and 8 feet 11 inches high. It has three cells in the right end and five in the left, with six in the back. Across the loft end is a raised platform about 8 feet broad and 18 inches high, along the front of which there seems to have been a wooden railing or screen. On the east and south walls are two sculptures of Buddha, evidently of much later workmanship than the cave. The front wall is pierced with four openings, and the verandah 40 feet 10 inches long, 7 feet wide, and 12 feet 3 inches high, has a low screen-wall in front, on which stand four columns between pilasters. Outside this screen, at the north end, is a water-cistern, and along the front a balcony.

Further north (the lower part of the stair broken away), is another vihāra above those first mentioned. It is about 38 feet long and 17 feet deep, with two cells in each end and four in the back, five of them with stone-beds. In the front wall are a door and two windows, but the corridor of the verandah has given way. On the east wall of this cave is inscription 20 which records:

Inscription 20

"To the perfect! The king Vasithiputa the illustrious (siri) Pulimāvi, in the year (of his reign) twenty-four (24), in the third (3) fortnight of the winter (hemanta) months, the second (2) day. This meritorious gift of a nine-celled mandapa by the (Upāsaka) layman Harapharana, son of Setapharana, a Sovasaka, native of Abulāma, for the possession of the Sangha of the Mahāsanghas from the four quarters. For the continuance in welfare and happiness of father and mother and all people and living things. Established in the twenty-first year, and with me Budharakhita and his mother an Upāsikā. And in addition the meritorious gift of another passage by the mother of Budharakhita".

Inscription 21

In a recess over a water-cistern at the end of the next cave is inscription 21 which cannot easily be translated. The sense runs:

"In the fifth year and of the Hemanta-paksha (of some king possibly Pulumāyi), the female disciple of (some) Bhadanta, gave a lena; and a sister's daughter a śrāvikā (or laic)-gave a cistern for the sangha of ascetics. [With the donor several other names of relations are associated (but obliterated) with Usabhā, a female disciple."]

To the south of the chatiya cave there are also a number of excavations, the first being an unfinished hall about 30 feet wide by 15 feet deep. The next is a small room 6 feet by 7 and 6 feet high, of which the front is broken away, with a figure of Buddha on the back wall. Close to this is a water-cistern, and beyond it a vihāra, 33 feet 3 inches wide by 32 feet 10 inches deep and 9 feet 5 inches high with four cells (without beds) in the back, three in the left end and two unfinished ones in the right, all having their floors about a foot higher than that of the hall. In the middle of the back wall is a figure of Buddha, seated with his feet resting on a lotus, under which is the wheel between two deer, and behind this are two small worshipping figures. On each side are fly-whisk bearers the one on his right holding a lotus stalk in his left hand, and over their heads are vidyadhāras or heavenly choristers. This hall bears evident marks on the floor, ceiling, and side walls, of having been originally only 21 feet 6 inches deep, but afterwards enlarged.

The front wall is pierced by a door and two windows, and the verandah, 25 feet long by 6 feet 4 inches wide, has a cell at the north end and two octagonal pillars between pilasters in front, each pillar being connected with its adjacent pilaster by a low parapet or screen which forms the back of a bench on the inside, and is divided outside into four plain sunk panels, similar to several at Pal near Mahad in Kolaba, cave VI at Ajanta and others. The entrance to the approach has been by a flight of steps. Beyond this is a small unfinished room, and at the turn of the hill, facing south, is another, 8 feet 5 inches by 9 feet and 7 feet high, with a bench along part of the east wall. The front has gone, but on the wall under the caves is a fragment of an inscription (22) which records:

Inscription 22

"To the Perfect. The meritorious gift of the ascetic Budharakhita.''

A little to the east, and about 5 feet above the footpath, is another cave, 14 feet 5 inches by 13 feet 4 inches and 6 feet high, with a cell in the left wall having a bench or bed. Beyond this is a small water-cistern.


Ekvīra's Temple

The first building at the mouth of the great rock temple is the small stone tomb or samadhi of some modern ascetic. Further on a stone archway with a music room [The musicians are Poona barbers or Nhavis who state that Ekvīra's shrine was endowed with a band of musicians by one of the Peshwas about four generations ago. There are eleven men two of them bandmasters or jamadars among whom a montly allowance of £4 19s. 3d. (Rs. 49 ?) is shared. They play four times a day, at midnight, daybreak, noon, and sunset. The instruments are two big-brass drums called naubats or nagaras and two small iron drums or jils, two brass trumpets, a bigger Karna and a smaller ture, and a brass gong struck by a wooden mallet, a pair of cymbals made of kase or bellmetal, and two wooden pipes or sanais.]

Overhead leads on the right to Ekvīra's temple a small bomed building on a high plinth of cut-stone. An inscription on the west wall states that it was built in February 1866 (Maha-Shud 5, S. 1788). [The inscription runs: Shri Ekvīri Bhavani's old temple built for religious sake by Naga Posu Varlikar and Harippa Charnavir, Fajandar of Bombay, in consultation with Baburav Kulkarni on Maha Shud 5th, S. 1788 (= February - March, 1866).] According to the local story an older temple stood for four generations on the same site. The people know that the worship of the goddess dates from much earlier times. They do not know whether it is older than the Pandavs and the great rock temple. At the top of the steps that lead to the plinth stands an iron arch hung with a row of nine bells Most of the bells are of native make, but the largest, a very sweet-toned bell, is English and bears the date 1857. All of them have been presented to Ekvīra by Thana Kolis and Prabhus. [The large central bell has a roughly cut inscription stating that it was gives to Shri Bhavani Devi by Bandhanar Jivan Padam Koli and Dhondu Koli Thankar on Chaitra Shud Ashtami S. 1790 (April 1868).]

Inside of the doorway, the main hall of the temple is paved with stone and has a domed roof from which hang two rows of lamps and glass coloured balls. On the walls are some modern coloured paintings of Devi. Opposite the entrance is the shrine door with an arched blackwood frame and pannelling of thin open brass bars. Inside on a low four footed brass table stand the brass vessels that are used in the temple service and a small brass pillar on which a lighted oil saucer burns night and day. Cut in the rock behind the worship vessels is the image of Ekvīra a human face so distorted by layers of redlead that the cheek-bones stand out almost to the level of the nose-bridge and the mouth seems sunk like the toothless jaws of an old woman. The eyes, which are of silver the white covered with white enamel or mina and the pupils with black enamel, have a wild inward squint. The shoulders are draped in a robe and bodice, of which the goddess has five or six sets, some of them plain and others rich with gold thread and silk. She has also earrings, silver for every-day wear and gold for high days, a pearl nose-ring, two necklaces of gold sequins, and two masks, one of gold the other of silver, which she wears during her great festival time in March and April (Chaitra shud Ashtami and Purnima).

The temple funds are managed by a council or panch, and a ministrant or pujari. A Karhada Brahman, with a yearly salary of £6 17s. (Rs. 68?), waits on the goddess for two hours every morning. According to the local story this endowment and the appointment of ministrant were given to the family of the present holder by Nagoram a Brahman of Rahuri who repaired the temple four generations ago. Before that the office of ministrant was held by a family of Guravs. At present the service is divided between the Brahman and the Guravs, the Brahman waiting on the goddess and the Guravs cleaning the temple and performing other minor offices. The Guravs are supported by the every-day offerings, the Deshmukh having a right to all offerings made during the great month of Chaitra or March-April.

On the two chief April days, the day of no-moon and the day of full-moon, the temple is visited from 5000 to 6000 worshippers. About four-fifths of them come from the Konkan, fishing Kolis, Prabhus, Brahmans, and Sonars. Ekvīra is the Kolis' Kuldevi or family goddess and they come in parties, each family bringing in a palanquin its goddess, a silver mask of Ekvīra. Those who have made vows offer cocks and goats employing a Musalman Mula to cut the victims' throats outside of the temple. The offerers eat the flesh of the victim except that when the victim is a goat, the patil or the deshmukh has a claim to the head. The chief interest of this small temple is that, as the name Ekvīra is apparently the Dravidian Akka Aveyar or the worshipful mother, it would seem to be older than the great Buddhist temple, perhaps its local fame was the cause why this hill slope was chosen as the site of the temple. [The usual derivation of Ekvīra is that she was so called because she was the mother of the one hero Parshuram. In connection with the Dravidian origin of the shrine it is noticeable that the names of the latest rebuilders of the temple are Dravidian apparently Bombay Kamathis.]

Though all local remembrance of Buddhism is buried under the Brahmanic tales about the Pandav brothers some connection is still kept between Ekvīra and the old Buddhist relic-shrine which the people call the throne of king Dharma the eldest of the Pandav brothers. If their wish is granted, people promise to walk a certain number of times round Ekvīra's shrine. But as Ekvīra's image is out in the hill side they cannot walk round it. So on the March-April high days, a large arched wooden frame with a revolving paper lantern in the centre, is set in the body of the rock-temple six or seven yards in front of the relic-shrine. Those who have made a vow to Ekvīra make the promised number of circles round the relic-shrine which is in good repair and has the words Dharma Raja painted across the base of the tee that crowns the dome.

Priest with Goddess Ekvira
Priest with Goddess Ekvīra


Hill Top and Surrounding Areas

From the right side of the great cave a rough path clambers about two hundred feet up a bare rocky face to the flat top of the spur. This, which, except a very old and gnarled umbar tree at the end, is bare and baked, has the remains of three buildings and towards the west a slight hollow with the earth-filled mouth of an old water cistern. The building most to the end of the spur seems to have been square about 17' x 14' and of brick. It was probably either a rest-house or a temple. About thirty yards to the north, along the bare top of the spur, the ground rises about 550 feet above the Karle bungalow into a mound of rough undressed stones brick and earth 39' north and south about all earth and stone except on the west or weather side. The stones are not dressed but flat and like big bricks. The earth or clay is very stiff. The height is about nine feet above the ground that slopes to the west. A few yards further north is the site of another brick building probably a stupa most of which has been removed. The top of the mound is 550 feet above the Karle bungalow. About fifty yards further north is a flat rock which was perhaps roughly carved into a seat.

In the hills near Karle are a number of cells and rock cisterns. Thus in the hill above Devgad a little to the south-west of Karle is a half finished vihāra or dwelling cave with two roughly hewn square pillars in front with bracket capitals and in the back of the cave a door has been begun as if for a shrine. In the rising ground to the east of the village is a rock-cut pond and some cuttings as if intended as the beginning of a small cave and cistern.

Again, on the south side of the village of Sheletana is a large covered rock cistern, originally with six openings, and high up the hill to the north is a large cavern under a waterfall. In the north side is a round hole which has been fitted with a cover, and was perhaps intended for storing grain. Beside this is a small circular chamber which may have contained a structural relic-shrine or dagoba. The roof of the cave has fallen in, and there has been a great flaw in the rock, which perhaps led to the cave never being finished. At Tankve still further east are two rock cisterns, and above Valak in the face of the scarp is a small round cell as if for a relic-shrine and near it a cave without front, a slightly arched roof and a cell at the back, with a round hole near the entrance, possibly a place for holding stores. A flaw in the rock has destroyed the back of this excavation. At Ayara to the east of Bhaja and in several places to the north-east of Karle there are also excavations mostly single cells for hermits.


Photographs by Anandajoti Bhikkhu

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