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Karla Caves, Maharashtra
The Buddhist caves at Karla, built by the Buddhist monks, are one of the finest examples of ancient rock-cut caves to be found in India. Dating back from the 3rd to 2nd century BCE, the Karla caves in Lonavla, Maharashtra, were built during the Satvahahana rulers, and hosted the Theravadin Buddhist monks in the monsoons, though however they soon turned into the all time monasteries and viharas for all the sects of Buddhism.
The centuries old Karla caves are the magnificent examples of Indian rock-cut architecture. Built from top to bottom in the form of a ladder, the early Karla caves do not depict the Buddha in His physical forms but rather in symbols. However, from the 7th century CE when the Mahayanas became more popular with their liberal thoughts, the later Karla caves do presents the Buddha in HIs physical form such as the Buddha preaching while seated on a lion-supported throne, along with magnificent carvings of three elephants.
The Karla caves comprises mainly two types of structures: Chaitya halls and viharas. The chaitya halls, which form the largest number of chaityas in the world(one being 148 feet long), were used for congregational worship whereas the viharas were the dwelling place for the monks and further included cells cut into the walls around three sides of a hall used for their residential and individual meditation. The pillars of the halls inside the caves have been carved with figures of men, women, flowers and elephants, though the pillars outside these halls have lions erected on them as their crowns, an emblem of Ashoka, the great Indian ruler.
The entrance of the caves is a temple, built some years back, and the temple is further accompanied by an ancient pillar. The doors and windows are other wonderful examples of the golden architecture, with their panels carved with sculptures of couples embracing each other.
By Air : The nearest airport are at Mumbai(120 kilometers) and Pune(55 kilometers).
By Rail : The nearest rail heads are at Pune and Mumbai, at a distance of 55 and 120 kilometers respectively. A local train can also be taken to Bhaja village, 5 kilometers from the Karla town.
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