Bhandara Caves are a small set of modest Buddhist excavations located on Bhandara Hill near Induri, 36 km north-west of Pune in Maharashtra.
This archaeological site completely escaped the surveys performed by Alexander Cunningham and his associates back in the 19th century, the existence of the site was first published in Indian Archaeology 1957-58 :
16. EARLY BUDDHIST CAVES, DISTRICT POONA.-Sri R. L. Bhide reported the existence of rock-cut Buddhist caves comprising a chaitya and three viharas (pi. LXXXI A) in the Bhandara hill, near Induri. These caves, so far unnoticed by antiquarians, are well-known as Vithoba-Rakhumaichi Leni to the local people, who hold them in great reverence on account of their having been frequented by the saint Tukaram.
The caves are clearly marked on Google maps. Access is most easily achieved by parking near the Bhandara Dongar Temple on top of the hill, and then looking for the path that drops a little and then heads south along the western side of the hill. Finding the path can be a little tricky, you need to look for it behind the first building on your left as you reach the temple complex. I believe this building is regarded as a library.
The map above should help you locate the caves, note that it has been rotated so north is to the left. Click on the image to view a larger version of it.
The original report on this site stated there were four caves, but it appears there could be as many as six although a few of them are now in a ruinous state due to collapsing of the hillside. The first cave you come to is the largest and most complete, and now houses a shrine of Hindu deities Vitthal Rakhumai (as also reported in 1957).
It is said that this cave was often frequented by Saint Tukaram, and today monks from Varkari Sampradaay stay in the cave and tend to the shrine. Sadly, on my visit this cave was locked 😦 As for who Saint Tukaram was, my next blog post on Bhamchandra Caves will shed a lot more light on that.
The main other excavation still visible at Bhandara Caves is perhaps the most impressive; an open cell in an elevated position containing a 3m wide stupa with a band of rail pattern.
There must have been some wooden stairs installed here to take the devotees up to the stupa and you can still scramble up to the stupa platform with some care taken.
Sockets in the floor and in the three sides of this chaitya suggest that there was once a wooden/stone verandah sheltering the stupa. This configuration of chaitya is in fact very rare for the region. Having been exposed to the elements for many centuries now, the dome of the stupa is now partially damaged on the top.
Shortly beyond the chaitya is another cave, again in an elevated position, with a single door and cell.
In front of the caves are a couple of cisterns that have been capped by concrete.
There is a complete absence of any inscriptions at Bhandara Caves, but based on architectural elements it is believed these excavations started in the 2nd century AD.
The village of Navlakh Umbre is close to these caves and was once at the junction of several ancient trade routes. These most likely also connected this site to other nearby Buddhist cave complexes such as Bhamchandra, Nanoli and Ghoradeshwar (Shelarwadi).
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