BY NEHA HEGDE
The Barabar Hill Caves are the oldest surviving rock-cut caves in India, since the Mauryan Empire (322–185 BCE), located in the Makhdumpur, Jehanabad district, Bihar, India. It is 24 km north of Gaya. Some of these caves are with Ashokan inscriptions and are the remains of the lost Ajivika sect.
These caves are set of seven rock-cut caves. Their names such as – “Lomas Rishi Cave”, “Sudama Caves”, “Karan Chaupar cave”, and “Vishwamitra Cave” are the names familiar to the epics which are named from the oral folklore through the ages.
The Barabar caves are carved out from granite, each has two chambers and a highly polished surface. The inscriptions on the “Sudama Cave” tell that these four caves on Barabar hill were assigned to Ajvika monks by the great Mauryan King Ashoka in 261 BCE.
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Ajivika is an Indian ascetic sect that emerged about the same time as Buddhism and Jainism, it lasted until the 14th century.
Lomas Rishi Cave
Lomas Rishi Cave is significant because of its elaborately-decorated door consisting of a row of elephants that progress towards the ‘Stupa’ emblems. It constitutes of two rooms. The architecture used on the entrance door characterizes the form of the Chandrashala or the Chaitya arch which are also used in Ajanta and Ellora caves and other ancient architectural structures. Interestingly, the Lomas Rishi cave has no inscription of Ashoka due to it being incomplete. There are several as to why this segment couldn’t be finished. The first says that persistent structural rock slide problems meant that further add to this landmark couldn’t be made. Historians also say that this segment was constructed near the end of the Mauryan Empire, under the rule of the last Emperor, and believed to have stopped after his death.
Karan Chaupar Cave
Confining with a single rectangular room with polished walls, the Karan Chaupar cave contains inscriptions of the 3rd Century BCE. The inscription, which is located at the entrance to the cave, focuses on the Buddhist practice of retirement (Vassavasa) during the rainy season. The scriptures also suggest that this particular segment of the Barabar Caves was reserved for Ajvika monks.
Want to read more in Hindi? Checkout: उत्तर-पश्चिम चीन में 3,500 साल पुराने मकबरे में मिले सूर्य पूजा के संकेत
The Sudama cave has a vaulted chamber with a ‘Mandapa’ within it. In the first cave of the series as per the inscriptions found on its entrance, the ceiling of the cave is arched. The interior walls of this cave create a mirror effect. Also, the surface of the cave re-echoes sounds. This trait is found in all the four caves in Barabar to favor the melodies sung by the Ajvika monks who resided.
Also called the Viswakarma Cave, it is approachable through the steps of Ashoka. The cave consists of two rectangular rooms. The inscriptions at the entrance dedicate this segment of the raising to the Ajivikas. While the cave was declared sacred by the legendary King, it is the only cave out of four caves which are not consisting post-Ashoka inscriptions.