Pitalkhora – The Other Ajanta

Pitalkhora is not heard of by many. It is because of its remote location, deep inside the Indhyadri range of the Western Ghats. The caves of Pitalkhora, though mostly dilapidated, are known for their artistic merit.

In Maharashtra, unlike North India, the ingenious basalt rock provided a good raw material to go for cave architecture. Inaccessibility of common people mainly due to hilly terrains and dense forest, the hillsides of Indhydri provided ideal backdrop for meditation by Buddhist monks during the rainy seasons.

Pitalkhora caves are amongst the earliest Buddhist caves in Maharashtra. They were located close to the trade routes connecting Sopara in Konkan coast with Pratisthana (modern Paithan) and Ujjain. The first series were excavated during the period between the 2nd century BC and 2nd Century AD. The second period was during the Mahayana Period (5th – 6th Century AD). There are 13 caves out of which the cave no 3 is a chaitya. The cave no 4 is the largest vihara. Both were excavated in the Hinayana Period. Buddha is shown in beautiful paintings in cave no 3; however they belong to the Mahayana Period. The chaitya has a vaulted roof imitating the contemporary wooden huts.

One of the highlights of the cave 4 is the sculptured facade. A series of elephants on the plinths is one of the early prototypes of similar features at Kailash Temple in Ellora. The entrance is flanked by dwarapalas.

Pitalkhora today looks haunting, but it is the other Ajanta and therefore must be included in the list of all heritage enthusiasts.


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