Triraśmi Caves, Nashik, Maharasthra

high-definition creative commons photographs from the Trirasmi Caves near Nashik, one of the best collections of rock-cut caves in India, together with some further information.


The Triraśmi Caves

(the following is based on the Wikipedia article, extensively rewritten) [1]

The Triraśmi Caves (also known as the Pandu Caves), located around 8 km south of Nashik, Maharashtra, India, are a group of 24 caves carved between the 2nd century BCE and the 5th century CE, representing the early phase of development in Buddhism. Most of the caves are vihāras except for the 18th cave which is a Chaitya hall.

The caves were carved out for Buddhist monks with the help of donations by Buddhist Kings, merchants and local people. The name is derived from the word "Tiranhu" which is inscribed in the caves. It means "rays of sunlight", and refers to the rays of sunlight emerging from behind the caves as seen from the village.

India has approx. 1100 caves out of which 900 are found in Maharashtra. The Triraśmi caves is one of the oldest complexes carved between 2nd BCE to 5th CE. The inscriptions in all these caves are written in Dhammalipi script and the language is Prakrit. Emperor Aśoka was the first to write inscriptions in Dhammalipi.

The various inscriptions, which are extensive and of great importance historically, confirm that Nashik in that period was ruled by 3 dynasties – the Western Kṣatrāpas, the Śātavāhanas and the Abhiras. It seems there was always a conflict between them over supremacy, but all three dynasties fully supported Buddhism. The inscriptions confirm that apart from the kings, local merchants, landlords and others also supported and donated large sums for the development of these caves.

The inscriptions in cave no.10 reveal that in 105-106 BC, the Kṣatrāpas defeated the Śātavāhanas after which Kṣatrāpa Nahāpana’s son-in-law and Dinika’s son, Uṣavadata donated 3000 gold coins for this cave as well as for the food and clothing of the monks. Uṣavadata’s wife (Nahāpana’s daughter), Dakṣamitra also donated a cave for the Buddhist monks.

The caves are one of the oldest cave groups in Maharashtra. Some of the caves are large and contain numerous cells. These rock-cut caves served as vihāras or monasteries for the monastics. The caves house statues of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and various deities. Some caves are intricately connected by stone-cut stairways that join them to the other caves.

The site also has an excellent ancient water management system that is skilfully chiselled out of solid rock and there are several cisterns around the site.


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Caves 1 & 2


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Caves 3 & 4

Cave 3 is a large vihāra containing 18 cells for monks with richly carved Buddhist iconography on six octagonal columns. There are 2 inscriptions above the entrance. A chaitya is carved on the wall with the dhammachakra and bodhi tree on either side. This cave was donated by the Śātavāhana King Sātkarṇi to the monks after defeating the Kṣatrāpa Nahāpana. Queen Gotamī Balasirī also donated the produce of the village of Pisachipadak to the monks.

Cave 10

Cave 10 is a Vihāra donated by Kṣatrāpa Nahāpana's daughter Dakṣamitrā who was the wife of Usabhadatta. The vihāra is 43 feet wide and 45 feet deep. The inscriptions mertion Usabhadatta donating a farmland to the monks of Triraśmi caves along with 3000 kahāpanas (gold coins). Usabhadatta also deposited 3000 kahāpanas with the merchants and from its interest, the merchants were advised to provide the monks with robes, food and medicines. This is donated in the King's 41st regnal year.

Caves 11-24

Cave 11, 12, 17, 19, 22 and 23 have been respectively donated by writer Rāmanaka, merchant Rāmanaka, Yavana (Greek) Indrāgnidatta, Religious Officer Kriṣṇarāja and villager Dhanama; and cave 24 by Dhamacika Vudhika during the 2nd year, 6th day of the 4th fortnight of King Siri Pulumayi, son of Vaśiṣṭha.

Cave 18

Cave no.18 is the only Chaityagriha, it is 21 feet in width and 38 feet deep. The chaitya measures 5 feet, 6 inches in diameter and 6 feet, 6 inches in height. The chaitya has 10 octagonal pillars on the sides and 5 pillars around with inscription stating that this chaitya was donated by Bhattapālikā, wife of Royal Officer Agiyatānaka. The chaityagriha was used for worship and meditation.

Cave 20

Cave 20 is a largest vihāra cave, measuring 44 feet wide and 61 feet deep. The vihāra has 8 monk's rooms on each side. The inner door has 9 foot statues of Bodhisattvas Padmapānī and Vajrapānī on either side. Inside, there is a 10 feet high statue of the Buddha in Dhammacakrapravartana mudra. This cave was completed by commander Bhavagopa and his wife Vasu in the 7th regnal year of King Sātakarṇi.


Photographs by Anandajoti Bhikkhu

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