Caves of India – Barabar Caves
September 3, 2011
Some things cannot be explained in words. At least at this moment, I’m falling short of words. Words to explain the magical echo effect inside India’s oldest surviving rock cut caves. Imagine a few monks chanting mantras inside a hall where the echo returns after about 2-3 seconds. After finishing one chant, when the second one is started, the echo of the previous chant reaches your ears, and this echo doesn’t die till it repeats a couple of times. The magical effect cannot be explained in words. At one point of time it feels that several people are chanting. You need to be there to experience the Barabar Caves.
We started from Patna at about 11 in the morning. It took us about 90 mins to reach Kawadol. Kawadol is about 2 Km from the Barabar Hills. It is believed that the ‘Shilbhadra Mahavihar‘, mentioned by Huen Tsang is todays Kawadol. On our way it was getting difficult for us to believe that the place where the road was leading us to, will be able to impress us. Well, the road proved us wrong. The first sculpture / carvings of Gods and Goddesses made us feel good. When we moved further, suddenly the excitement increased manifolds.
There are numerous rocks having the carvings on the rocks. Mostly of Hindu Gods and Goddesses and a few showing Buddha.
The Archelogical Survey of India has excavated out a sculpture of Lord Buddha in Bhoomisparsha Posture.
It is believed that these sculptures and carvings date back to 800-1200 AD. In Kawadol, while parking the car, I forgot to apply the handbrakes. When we were exploring the place around, my eyes suddenly fell on the car. It was not at the place where I had parked it! We rushed to discover that the car had drifted down. Somehow it did not fall in the canal adjacent to the road! The photograph below is enough to explain the situation.
The villagers helped us pull back the vehicle.
After taking a few more shots, we left for Barabar. Through narrow lanes we reached Barabar. Barabar was crowded. The Temple on the hilltop is of religious importance and many devotees come during the month of Sawan visit the temple. It may not sound good, but this has left the place i.e. the road leading towards the cave and the temple very dirty.
Anyways, after climbing the stairs, we reached the small tea-stall of Nandu, the caretaker of the caves. He had the keys.
And then one after one we entered the caves. Sudama cave was the first one. Built during Mauryan period of Ashoka the Great. The inscriptions suggest that the cave dates back to 252 BC. This cave was built for Ajivikas.
The caves are very dark. Sunlight entering through the door was not enough to lighten up the place. Even our flashlight was not much of use! For a moment, it’ll resemble any normal cave. Then, slowly when the eyes start adjusting itselfto the darkness, you’ll discover superb granite polish. Polish which has survived 2300 years and still looks better than the best finished marble polish today! Mauryan Technology continues to amuse us. A granite polish surviving 2300 years is not a joke. The chamber resembles a hemisphere mounted on parallel walls. this chamber leads to another smaller one. In fact one of the walls of the first chamber has the door that leads to the second one. This wall is common to both the chambers. Two longer walls of the first chamber extend as the wall of the second chamber. It is in this cave that the magical echo can be experienced. When we tried to chant out ‘om’, it was simply superb. It is very difficult to imagine, how this cave was designed to such a perfection.
The next cave is the Lomash cave. It has a beautifully carved arch at the entrance. This cave dates back to 450-300 BC. The finishing is not as good as Sudama Cave. Reasons are still unknown.
When we started entering the caves, some of the pilgrims followed. In fact when we tried out the echo, they also started trying out making different sounds. I became impossible for us to stay there for long. We decided this much was enough and we’ll return to discover more of the caves and the other caves in Nagarjuna Hills about 2-3 Km from Barabar Hills.
While talking to Nandu, we came to know about the existence of a couple of pillars somewhere up in the hill. Accompanied by Nandu, we walked through the jungle and climbed through the rocks. The pillar was similar to the ones we had discovered in Kawadol.
We went up further till we reached a point from where the whole valley was visible. It was a wonderful experience. We even saw a couple of deers down below in the jungle. The serenity of the place made us sit there for sometime to enjoy the silence.
I strongly believe that there must be more remains in this area which needs to be excavated. Archeological Survey of India should act immediately to work in this area.
For those who want to be at this place sometime soon
Location: Barabar is about 70-75 Km from Patna and about 30-35 Km from Gaya.
Places to Stay: Hotels in Gaya are pathetic considering the tariff. One can plan a trip to Bodhgaya. Stay there as hotels are far better in Bodhgaya. And Plan a day’s visit to Barabar. There is a tourist guest house in Barabar too. But, I’m not sure about the availability of power, water and food as Barabar is a remote location. One can stay in Patna too. One can find a good hotel in Patna.
Conveyance: You need to hire a SUV, because road condition is not very good. It has improved a lot. But It’ll be difficult without a SUV or ambassador. Hire one from Patna or Gaya, wherever you are staying. Please see the route map.
Things to see: The six caves in Barabar and Nagarjuna hills, Patharkuwa(n) well, Carved rocks on the way to the shiva temple, carved rocks in Kawadol etc.
Things to do: Explore the forest nearby. Go to the hilltop. Feel the walls of the cave by touching. And most importantly, chant something and feel the effect of the magical echo.
Things to carry: Flashlights. Take good shoes for hiking. Wear full trousers and full shirts. Take some knife to cut out thorny plants the road through the forest. We didn’t do this and ended up having bruises. Thanks to the thorny plants.
Why to visit: It is the oldest surviving rock cut cave in India. More than 2300 years old, these caves have retained the superfine granite polish. The technology that was used is a suspense till now. It is a place of historical, architectural and religious importance. There must be more than thousand rock carving in these mountains. The area is still not much explored. Away from the chaos of life, this place can detoxify you for some time. Most importantly one should visit to experience and understand the importance of the place and spread the word before it erodes from our memory. Then generations to come will have to wait for some other archeologist to excavate and rediscover the glory. More number of visits will attract the attention of the tourism department to conserve the rich heritage.
I’m going back to the caves for sure to explore further. Anyone in?