India is home to some of the most stunning historical monuments, forts, palaces, temples, and breathtaking natural landscapes with rich and diverse cultural heritage. That’s not all. From north to south and from east to west, the country also has numerous mysterious caves which are just waiting to be explored. Many of them have stunning sculptures and carvings, while some have stalagmites and stalactites on them. And many of them are also one of the finest examples of various types of architecture of the ancient times.
Below is a list of some of the most mysterious caves in the country. Exploring them will not only treat you to a leisure trip but will also give you a better and detailed understanding about India’s heritage.
1. Undavalli Caves, Andhra Pradesh
The Undavalli Caves is a perfect example of the Indian rock-cut architecture. It is located about 6 km from Vijayawada. Originally, it was a Jain cave known to be one of the greatest testimonials to the ancient vishwakarma sthapathis. The caves are made of sandstone and were made between the 4th and 5th century AD. One can find a huge and stunning statue of Vishnu in a reclining position in the largest cave.
The main cave here represents the Gupta architecture that were basically rock-cut cells made into sandstone hills. The first floor of the cave is Jain-style and the place also has a Buddhist monastery.
2. Elephanta Caves, Maharashtra
The Elephanta Caves are a group of beautifully and skillfully sculpted caves located on the Elephanta Island off the Mumbai coast. The island consists of two groups of caves: 5 Hindu and 2 Buddhist. The Hindu caves contain rock-cut stone sculptures dedicated to Lord Shiva. The rock-cut architecture of the caves are said to date between the 5th and 8th centuries. No one knows who built the caves. The Portuguese took control in 1534. To preserve the beauty and treasure of the caves, the UNESCO has included it in its list of the World Heritage Sites.
3. Ellora Caves, Maharashtra
Ellora is one of the largest rock-cut monastery-temple cave complexes in the world. A UNESCO World Heritage Site situated in Maharashtra, the site presents monuments and artwork of Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism from 600-1000 AD. The site features over 100 caves, of which only 34 caves are open to public. These consist of 12 Buddhist caves, 17 Hindu caves, and 5 Jain caves.
It is said that these caves were built during the rule of Chalukya and Rashtrakuta dynasties. The most popular one is Cave 32, which is also called ‘Indra Sabha’ and is basically a smaller version of the Kailash temple.
4. Borra Caves, Andhra Pradesh
Located in the Ananthagiri hills of the Araku Valley in Visakhapatnam district, Andhra Pradesh, the Borra caves are one of the largest in India. It is also known as ‘Borra Guhalu’. Standing at an elevation of 705 meters, these caves display a variety of speleothems in different sizes and shapes. Having a depth of 80 meters, the caves are also considered to be the deepest in the country. It is said that William King George, who was a part of the Geographical Survey of India, discovered the caves in 1807.
5. Ajanta Caves, Maharashtra
The Ajanta Caves are about 29 rock-cut Buddhist cave monuments which date from the 2nd century BC to about 480 or 650 BC. It is located in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra. The caves include paintings and rock-cut sculptures which are described as among the finest surviving examples of ancient Indian art.
The caves constitute ancient monasteries and worship halls of different Buddhist traditions carved into a 250 feet wall of rock. The caves also present paintings depicting the past lives and rebirths of the Buddha, pictorial tales from Arya Sura’s Jatakamala, as well as rock-cut sculptures of Buddhist deities. It is believed that these caves served as a monsoon retreat for monks, as well as a resting site for merchants and pilgrims in ancient India.
6. Bhimbetka Rock Shelters, Madhya Pradesh
The Bhimbetka rock shelters are a UNESCO World Heritage Site demonstrating one of the earliest traces of human life on the Indian sub-continent and the beginning of the Indian Stone Age. Situated in the Raisen district in Madhya Pradesh inside the Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary, the caves also display the early traces of dance.
It is said that some of the Stone Age rock paintings found among the Bhimbetka rock shelters are some 30,000 years old. Two particular paintings, one that shows a man being hunted by a wild boar and the other where Nataraj is shown dancing holding a trident, are particularly interesting.
7. Amarnath Cave, Baltal, Jammu and Kashmir
Amarnath cave is a Hindu shrine situated at an altitude of 3,888 m in Jammu & Kashmir. It forms an important part of Hinduism, and is considered to be one of the holiest shrines. The ice stalagmite, which formed inside the cave and symbolizes the Shiva linga, is what attracts tourists from all over. Every year, thousands of pilgrims flock to this stunning place braving the extreme climatic conditions to offer their prayers and pay their respects. It is said that this is the spot where Shiva told his consort Parvati the secrets of life and eternity.
8. Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves, Orissa
The Udayagiri and Khandagiri are a set of man-made and naturally created caves located near the city of Bhubaneswar in Odisha. These caves have a high archaeological, historical and religious importance. The caves are filled with number of intricately decorated sculptures and formations. It is said that these caves were initially formed as a residence for Jain monks during the reign of King Kharavela.
9. Vaishno Devi, Jammu and Kashmir
Vaishno Devi temple is one of the most popular Hindu temples dedicated to the Goddess Mahalakshmi. It is located at the Trikuta Mountains in Jammu and Kashmir. Vaishno Devi shrine, located inside a cave, is visited by millions of pilgrims every year. The sanctum here is situated at a height of 5300 feet above sea level and the idol of the main deity is a stone structure which represents three goddesses – Saraswati, Kali and Lakshmi. The three deities symbolize creativity, preservative and destructive features of the Mother.
10. Badami Caves, Karnataka
The Badami caves are situated in Badami, a small town in Bagalkot district in Karnataka. They are a complex of four Hindu, Jain and possibly Buddhist cave temples. They are considered the perfect representation of the Indian rock-cut architecture, especially the Badami Chalukya architecture. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the cave temples represent some of the earliest known examples of Hindu temples. All the caves have been numbered as per their creation. Cave 3 is said to be the largest and most intricately carved cave in the complex and is dedicated to Vishnu.
The architecture of the caves is an inspiration from the Nagara and Dravidian style and each cave has a mandap, beautiful pillars, a majestic verandah and a sanctorum.
Do visit them.