The Barabar caves are the oldest surviving rock -cut caves in India, apparently dating from the Maurya Empire (322–185 BCE), located in the Bela Ganj Block in Gaya district, Bihar, India. Earlier this month, I was on a work trip to Gaya region and after a long day of field visits, the site co-workers insisted to take me to these caves. Having no prior knowledge of these caves, I was in two minds to visit. However, the description by the co-worker of the stunning artistry & work from Mauryan times generated enough curiosity in me to finally make the visit. I was glad to visit the stunning Barabar caves, which are an amazing example of sculpting & engineering work in the ancient Mauryan times.

Flight of stairs leading to Barabar caves

The path to the caves is via concrete flight of stairs and it is not a steep climb for healthy adults. On first look, the caves look very average from outside and that is the surprise factor about them. The caretaker came up on our request and opened the first door gate. As we entered and our eyes adjusted to low light, I saw a polished granite hall, it was shining as if it had been just polished a day before.

First cave entry door in the Barabar group of caves

Hindu, Buddhist and Jain influenced carvings
Inside the caves – polished granite chambers

The ‘Barabar Caves’ are they are called popularly,  are located in the twin hills of Barabar and Nagarjuni.  As per the caretaker (and google information I could find later on), these rock-cut chambers date back to the 3rd century BC, Maurya period, of Ashoka (273-232 BCE). The caves were used by ascetics from the Ajivika sect, founded by Makkali Gosala, a contemporary of Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, and of Mahavira, the last and 24th Tirthankara of Jainism.

The caretaker told us that most caves at Barabar consist of two chambers, carved entirely out of granite, with a highly polished internal surface and having an interesting echo effect. The first chamber was meant for worshippers to congregate and the second, a small, circular, domed chamber for worship. The carving  and cutting of the Barabar caves from inside lazor sharp and completely comparable to the laser cutting of present times (yes I’m not joking, it was smooth as silk)

The Barabar Hill which I visited, contains four caves, namely, Karan Chaupar, Lomas Rishi, Sudama and Visva Zopri.

Way to Sudama cave
Barabar Caves from outside
Ancient Mauryan Inscriptions

Lomas Rishi cave: This cave has the most elaborate carving on the entry door. On the doorway, a row of elephants proceed towards stupa emblems, along the curved architrave.

Entry door of Lomas Rishi Cave
Ceiling carvings inside Lomas Rishi Cave
Inside Lomas Rishi Cave
Barabar Caves from outside
View from top of Barabar Hills

The barabar caves visit left me stunned and completely in awe of our heritage; there are so many such historical structures in my country which are so less known. I wish all of us Indian learnt to respect and pride on our archaeological heritage.

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