Maharashtra is one of the most popular states in Maharashtra and for a good reason. There are many things one can explore in the western state - historical monuments, natural wonders, hill stations, beaches, temples, cuisines and so forth. Tourists come to these places from all over the world, including local tourists. One of the best things you can explore is the many caves in Maharashtra.
There are many caves in Maharashtra you should explore this summer. These caves have a historical and religious significance, along with being major tourist attractions in the state. We have compiled a list of the best caves you can explore if you live near Mumbai and Pune, or want to come to Maharashtra from anywhere in India and the world.
8 Best Caves In Maharashtra
1. Ajanta Caves
If you have heard of the phrase "famous caves in Maharashtra", then Ajanta Caves have crossed your mind. It is located in the Aurangabad District. It is a collection of approximately 31 Buddhist caves located near the river Waghur, which is near Aurangabad.
The caves have paintings as old as 1500 years old and are famous for its sculpture and murals. The caves are said to be 2000 years old and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The site is named after a neighbouring mediaeval village.
These caves were carved out of rocks during two phases - first around 2nd century BCE under Theravada Buddhism and the second around 460 - 480 CE under Mahayana Buddhism. The caves have Chaityas - praying halls and Viharas - assembly halls. The caves were rediscovered in 1819 by Captain John Smith. The point from where he saw the caves is known as 'View Point'.
One of the main attractions in the caves is the paintings. These paintings depict the life of Buddha, his past life and depictions of other Buddhist deities. Caves 1,2, 16 and 17 are renowned for their paintings. The paintings depict Jakata tales and Avadana tales. Caves 9 and 10 are praying halls - Chaitya Grihas of Theravada Buddhism and Caves 19 and 26 are chaityagrihas of the Mahayana period.
These caves should be on your list if you want to explore Maharashtra to its fullest.
2. Ellora Caves
Ellora Caves dates back to 1500 years and is one of the best archaeological sites in Maharashtra. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and consists of 100 caves, out of which 34 are open to the open.
The site has caves dedicated to the Hindu, Buddhist and Jain faith. Ellora Caves are especially renowned for its exceptional monolithic Kailash Mandir shrine. The caves were carved between the 6th century and 10th century AD. Out of the 34 caves, 17 belong to Hinduism, 12 below to Buddhism and 5 belong to Jainism.
The Buddhist caves numbered 5, 10 and 12 have significant artwork. Cave 10 is a Prayer Hall and Caves 11 and 12 are the only multistoried elaborated Buddhist monasteries in India. Hindu Caves are numbered 13 to 29, with 15,16,21 and 29 being the most significant.
Cave 15 is a Shaiva Monastery while Cave 16 is the Kailash Mandir, a monolithic structure carved out of one single rock. The Jaina caves are numbered 30 to 34. These are considered to be one of the best caves in Maharashtra and are worth the visit.
3. Karla Caves
If you want to explore caves near Pune, the Karla Caves is the one for you. It is located in Maval Taluka of Pune District and is 8 Kilometres away from Bhaja. The caves were excavated between the 1st century CE and to 5th - 6th century CE.
There are 15 caves in total and is considered to be one of the most important rock cave sites in India. The main Chaityagriha (Prayer Hall) is one of the largest in India. The sculptures can be observed from the Verandahs as well as the pillar capitals of the Chaityagriha.
The cave pillars have inscriptions in Brahmi script and Prakrit script. There are many sculptures in the verandah of the chaityagrihas, including that of Buddha and Bodhisattva. The shrine of goddess Ekvira was constructed in front of the Chaityagriha after the caves were deserted.
4. Elephanta Caves
Elephanta Caves are one of the best caves in Maharashtra and attract tourists from all around the world. The caves are located 10 kilometres away from Mumbai in the Elephanta Islands and can be accessed by the 40 - 45 minute boat ride from Gateway To India.
Elephanta Island is surrounded by palm, mango and tamarind trees and is also home to ancient cave temples. This site was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. The Island was once the capital of a powerful local kingdom. Today it has 3 small villages occupied by fishermen.
The Island has been named Elephanta because of the life-sized elephant sculpture unearthed there. There are two hills on the Island, Gun Hill and Stupa Hill. Gun Hill is the main hill where 5 Shaiva caves were excavated in the 6th century CE. Stupa Island has the remains of a Buddhist stupa.
The main cave on the Gun Hill is considered to be a masterpiece in architecture. It is the largest cave and is affiliated with the Pashupata Sect of the Shaiva System.
These caves are considered to be one of the most iconic tourist attractions near Mumbai and if you visit the city, you shouldn't miss them.
5. Bhaja Caves
Bhaja Caves is another famous cave site near Pune. It is located 56 Kilometres away from Pune in the Maval Taluka of the Pune District. There are 25 Buddhist caves at the site. They were excavated from 2nd Century BCE to 2nd Century CE. There is one Chaityagriha (Prayer Hall) and the rest are Viharas (residential caves). The Viharas are at two levels, with one that has some sculptural decorations.
There is a stupa gallery along with the other caves. It consists of 14 rock-cut stupas that bear the inscriptions with the name of the monks. There are also some rock-cut tanks at the site.
6. Lenyadri Caves
Lenyadri Caves are one of the most famous caves in Maharashtra. These caves are also known as Ganesh Pahar Caves. The caves date between the 1st century and the 3rd century AD. They belong to the Hinayana school of Buddhism. The site consists of 30 caves. The caves are located in Junnar, which is near Pune.
Caves 6 and 14 are Prayer halls, known as Chaityagrihas and the rest are residential blocks - Viharas. There are several rock-cut water cisterns.
The most famous is Cave 7 - Lenyadri Ganesha Temple. It was originally a Buddhist Vihara that was later used as a Ganesh temple. It is also known as Girijatmaj Temple - since Girijatmaj is another name for Lord Ganesha.
If you visit Pune, you shouldn't miss out on these caves!
7. Bedse Caves
Bedse Caves is located near Pune and is 45 kilometres northwest of the city. It is one of the many caves in Maharashtra and was excavated around the 1st Century BCE.
The cave site has two finished and two unfinished caves and some rock-cut cisterns along with a memorial stupa. The Chaityagriha is carved up using stone screen and the pillars in the verandah are known for their beautifully carved images of animals and riders. You should visit these caves.
8. Aurangabad Caves
Aurangabad Caves are the 12 rock-cut Buddhist shrines located in Maharashtra. These caves were dug out during the 6th and 7th centuries. These caves are located in Aurangabad and are one of the most famous caves in Maharashtra.
The caves are known for their Hinayana style stupa, Mahayana artwork and Vajrayana goddesses.
With these many caves in Maharashtra, you have plenty to explore when you come to visit the state! Check out our blogs to know more about vacations, sites and getaways!