The enormous 1st century chaitya cave at Karla is also known as Karli and Karle. It’s considered to be the best preserved rock cut Buddhist prayer hall in India, although in my mind the examples at Ellora and Ajanta come pretty close.
Karla is 28km south of Matheran, on one side of the Mumbai-Pune expressway. It’s not easy to locate, we had to keep stopping to ask for directions. Upon arriving at Karla take the track up the hillside until you reach a large car park. From there it’s a steep 20 minute walk ascending around 500 steps to reach the caves, with fine views and the obligatory stalls selling you…well, I’m not quite sure, in Oct 2013 most of them appeared to be closed !
Upon arriving at the court in front of the caves, there’s a small blue Hindu shrine to the right of the entrance. This intrigued me, not only because of the the colour, but the repeating fish motifs on the railings which I imagine have some significance.
Thanks to some subsequent correspondence on Facebook the mystery is solved ! The temple called the Ekvira Aai Mandir and is dedicated to the Goddess Ekvira who is worshiped by the fishermen community of Maharashtra. The temple was initially constructed in the 2nd century B.C. with alterations continuing up to the 10th century A.D.
On either side of the cave entrance there are carved images of the cave’s donors.
Inside is a long horseshoe-shaped chamber, with two rows of columns and a stupa at the far end, capped by an inverted pyramid and a carved wooden umbrella. You can still see the original teak wood embedded into the ceiling ribs.
Remember to keep looking up to admire the carvings, and keep reminding yourself that all of this was carved out of solid rock. It’s a staggering thought, the labour and time it must have taken to plan and complete.
Look out for ancient script has been carved into some of the pillars, I need to do some more research into what they may have to say.
There are other Buddhist Caves nearby that could be included on a days outing from Mumbai or Pune. They are Bhaja and Bedsa, although currently they remain on my “todo list”…
Karla Caves are open daily, 9am – 5pm.
If you’re interested in using any of my photography or articles please get in touch. I’m also available for any freelance work worldwide, my duffel bag is always packed ready to go…