Why You Should Go To The Barabar Hill Caves In Bihar

How have the Barabar Hill Caves from the 3rd Century BCE influenced the temples of modern day
The entrance to the Barabar Hill Caves
The entrance to the Barabar Hill Caves

When Chanakya took Chandragupta Maurya under his tutelage nobody could have predicted that India would witness its first ever dominant conqueror. At its zenith under Ashoka, the Mauryan Empire was to said have been the largest to ever exist in the Indian subcontinent. The kingdom, under Ashoka, enjoyed decades of harmony and peace establishing itself as a constant force in the continent. 

The capital of this great empire lay near the modern day city of Pataliputra, Patna. A strong influence to this day, Mauryan inscription give an insight into life before modernisation. Such is there power that the Lion Capital of Ashoka, the sculpture of four Asiatic lion standing back to back, has been adopted as the Emblem of India. Great Mauryan stupas are spread across the Indian subcontinent and sites such as Sarnath still stand today. Hundreds of pilgrims make their way to Bodh Gaya, heavily influenced by Ashoka, which is the place where Gautama Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment. 

Not too far from this sacred destination lies the the Barabar Hill Caves. The oldest dating rock-cut caves from the times of the Mauryans contains rare Hindu and Buddhist scriptures. Containing four caves - Karan Chaupar, Lomas Rishi, Sudama, and Visvakarma - the caves are said to have had a great influence on the rock-cut architecture of the country.

Karan Chaupar Cave

Encapsulating a single rectangular room with polished walls, the Karan Chaupar cave contains inscriptions dating back to the 3rd Century BCE. The inscription, located at the entrance to the cave, speaks of the Buddhist practice of retirement (Vassavasa) during the monsoons. The scriptures also suggest that this particular segment of the Barabar Caves was reserved for Buddhist monks.

Lomas Rishi Cave

This is recognisable because of its elaborately-decorated door consisting of a row of elephants which seem to proceed towards the stupa emblems. Two rooms make up the Lomas Rishi Cave. The architecture used on the entrance door characterise the form of the Chandrashala or the Chaitya arch. This specific feature is momentous as many temples built in the feature will utilise the similar sort of architecture. Interestingly, the Lomas Rishi cave has no inscription of Ashoka due to it being incomplete. Several theories have done rounds as to why this segment couldn't be finished. The first says that persistent structural rock slide problems meant that further addition to this landmark couldn't be made. On the other hand, historians say that this segment of the cave was constructed near the end of the Mauryan Empire, under the reign of the last Emperor, and believed to have halted after his assassination.

Sudama Cave

Close to the Lomas Rishi cave, the Sudama cave has a vaulted chamber with a mandap within it. The first cave of the series as described by the inscriptions found on its entrance, the ceiling of the cave is arched. The interior walls of the place are unique and create a mirror effect. Furthermore, the surface also reverberate sounds, creating a long-lasting echo phenomenon. This trait is evident in all of the four caves to favour the melodies sung by the Buddhist monks.

Visvakarma Cave

Also called the Viswa Mitra, it is accessible through the steps of Ashoka. Two rectangular rooms make up the formation of the cave. The inscriptions at the entrance dedicate this segment of the erection to the Ajivikas. While the cave was consecrated by the legendary King, it is the only cave in the series not consisting of post-Ashoka inscriptions. 

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