Did you know there are more than 10,000 sites around India where you can see ancient murals carved into rock chambers and cave walls? Much like ancient art galleries, they offer a glimpse into the lives of our ancestors. From imposing paintings to intricate rock-cut sculptures, these age-old caves are a treasure trove of ancient stone art. History and art buffs can have a field day exploring these heritage sites. There are many caves spread across India. Here are a few of the most popular ones that you must tick off your travel bucketlist.
Housing ancient monasteries, these incredible caves in Aurangabad take you through 30 rock-cut Buddhist cave monuments. The paintings in these caves depict the life and times of Lord Buddha and pictorial tales from Aryasura's Jatakmala. Some are rock-cut sculptures of Buddhist deities.
UNESCO has termed the expressive paintings of Ajanta as masterpieces that influenced Indian art in the years that followed. The paintings here are known for depicting life-like emotions through the use of gestures, poses and forms.
Located in Maharashtra's Aurangabad, the Ellora Caves are also a Unesco Heritage Site like Ajanta. Home to one of the world's largest rock-cut monastery temples, the caves are known for their attractive artwork, which dates back to the period between 600-1000 CE.
One of the caves here houses the world's largest monolithic rock excavations. Also present are various sculptures that depict gods and goddesses from different mythologies. You will marvel at relief panels drawn from the two Hindu epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata.
One of the earliest examples of excellent rock-cut architecture in the Western Ghats, the Kanheri Caves in Mumbai are a sight to behold. Housing a collossal Buddha statue that dates back to the period between the 5th and 6th centuries, they are believed to have influenced the Elephanta caves, off the coast of Mumbai.
The cave art here is influenced by Kushana and Gupta art styles. Buddhist monks and traders used these caves as stopovers and places for meditating. As the royal patronage reached new heights, the caves were further embellished with exquisite rock sculptures.
Tucked away in the Sihaychal Ranges, the Aurangabad Caves constitute 12 impressive rock-cut Buddhist caves. These belong to the 6th and 7th centuries and house remarkable carvings and sculptures, which confirm to the Tantra tradition of Buddhism.
The caves showcase sculptures of Buddhist deities, including Nandikesvara, Varaha, Ganesha, Manjusri, Avalokitesvara among others. Look out for the sculptures depicting Lord Ganesha and Goddess Durga as these are really impressive and stand as a testament to the religious harmony observed during that age.
Located near Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh, the Satkunda rock paintings are said to be more than 5,000 years old. The paintings here are predominantly pictographic and depict the life of forest-dwelling tribal communities of the region.
Scenes of daily activities like hunting have been painted using figural and geometric patterns. Some paintings also depict the flora and fauna of the region. The Satkunda rocks have a resemblance to the Bhimbetka rock shelters.
The twin hills of Udayagiri and Khandagiri near Bhubaneswar, Odisha, are one of the earliest examples of Jain rock-cut architecture in eastern India. The ancient names of the twin hills of Udayagiri and Khandagiri are Kumari and Kumara parvatas respectively. . There are total 33 rock cut caves on both the hills out of which 18 caves are excavated on Udayagiri hill while 15 are on the Khandagiri hill. While most caves are single storied, a few are double storied too. They were essentially dormitories for Jain monks.