Barabar Caves – First Ever Caves Of India – Historical Places In Bihar

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Map of hill on which Barabar Caves are located
Map of hill on which Barabar Caves are located

Barabar Caves, Gaya, Historical Places in Bihar.

Recently visited Barabar Caves as part of my first ever trip to Bihar. Excavated caves are spread across Indian hills. The traveling monks of various sects like Jains, Buddhists and Ajivikas used them. To stay during the rainy season when they could not travel. The cave architecture or cave temples over a period of time became an art in themselves. We see some of the most evolved ones at Ajanta and Ellora.

Way up the hill, Barabar Caves, Bihar
Way up the hill, Barabar Caves

Beginnings of Cave Excavation.

Like many other beginnings, the beginnings of cave excavation also lie in Bihar. Located a few km’s off Gaya on Barabar and Nagarjuni hill. These are the earliest known caves that were excavated during the reign of Ashoka and his grandson Dasaratha. Barabar hill has 3 caves and Nagarjuni hill has 4, and together they are called Satghar. These caves are the beginning of the cave chaitya grihas, which goes through complex developments over next 1000 years and 1200 halls.

Rock Hill in which first ever caves at Barabar were excavated, Bihar
Rock Hill in which first ever caves at Barabar were excavated

Sudhama, Karna & Lomas Rishi Caves.

The three Barabar caves are called Sudhama, Karna, and Lomas Rishi caves. First and third are Chaitya halls and the second one is a dwelling unit. The roof and the walls of the caves are very well polished. That is supposed to be similar to the polish found on Ashoka pillars. I happened to visit many Ashoka pillars in recent past. I can tell from first-hand experience that the polish inside these caves is far better than any of the pillars. This could have been because of the fact that these caves were shielded all the time. While pillars were exposed to all kinds of damages natural and man-made.

When you put your hands on the walls of the caves, it feels as if they have been polished just yesterday. And all your reasoning would refuse to believe that this was done 2400 years ago. You look at the circular Chaitya part of the cave. And wonder how they would have scooped out the rock to make a near perfect dome.

Lomas Rishi Cave, Barabar Hills, Buhar
Lomas Rishi Cave, Barabar Hills

Lomas Rishi Cave.

The doorway to the Lomas Rishi cave is the only one that is carved. It has the ornamental features that provided the norm for the facades of the later rock-cut caves. The entrance arch has a pair of concentric lunettes, upper one decorated with latticework. And the lower filled with rows of exquisitely carved elephants paying homage to stupas. This work is inspired from wooden prototypes. As that was the popular media for art before the stone, which was just beginning to be the medium for the expression of art. High polish and sharp chiseling make this an exquisite piece of art.

Polished interiors of Barabar Caves, Bihar
Polished interiors of Barabar Caves

Drive to the Hill.

As you take a detour from Patna-Gaya main road, you need to travel a road that looks going nowhere. Then you see a lone hill standing in the middle of fields and you wonder how would this narrow delicate road take you there. We were well escorted on this journey. But I wonder how much courage would you need to go alone on this lonely hill through a lonely road. I did not even see any public transport going to the hill. Though once you reach there you see reasonable infrastructure in terms of a guesthouse, an abandoned museum and broad roads leading to the caves on top of the hill.

On way to Barabar Caves
On way to Barabar Caves

Shiva Temple.

There is a Shiva temple on top of the hill across the hill from Barabar hill. We were told that during Shivaratri lot of people visit this temple. And for a month or so a fair that is hosted here. There are well-defined steps leading to this temple as well. We could not visit the Naragjuni hill but I assume caves there are very similar to Barabar caves.

If you are traveling between Patna and Bodh Gaya, it is worth a small detour. To see the beginning of an architectural style at Barabar Caves.

Recommend you to read following travel blog posts of Places to visit in Bihar. They are also the Historical places in Bihar.

  1. Bodh Gaya – Where Buddha achieved Enlightenment.
  2. Patna – Current day version of Pataliputra.
  3. Nalanda – Ancient seat of Learning.
  4. Rajgir – Host of Buddhist councils.
  5. Vaishali – Birthplace of Lord Mahaveer.
  6. Mithila’s Madhubani artist Ganga Devi.
  7. When I became a catalyst by destiny.
  8. Banka Bihar – First Impressions.