Among the oldest Buddhist rock-cut cave shrines in India, Karla caves are located about 60 km from Pune. Built into a rocky hillside, the cave complex is located on the Pune-Mumbai highway at Karli near Lonavala.
The caves were constructed over two periods. The first phase lasted from 2nd century BC to the 2nd century AD and the second phase lasted from the 5th century AD to the 10th century. The cave complex is a protected monument under the Archaeological Survey of India.
According to inscriptions found in the complex, Karla’s ancient name was Veluraka. The caves are believed to be among the scores of other caves excavated in the Sahyadri Hills. Bhaja, another centre of Buddhist activity, is eight km south of Karla.
The caves stood near a major ancient trade route, running eastward from the Arabian Sea into the Deccan. The early Buddhists used to locate their monasteries in natural geographic formations close to major trade routes which also helped in providing lodging for travelling traders.
Though not as elaborate as Ajanta and Ellora; Karla’s chaityagriha is the grandest and the largest of all such monuments in India. The Karla complex consists of 16 rock cut excavations of which cave 8 is the chaityagriha. Thechaityagriha is the most prominent and dominates the other excavations.
Chaitya Hall: The largest such hall in India, it is 37.87 m deep from door to back, 13.87 m wide and 14.02 high. Sculptures of both males and females, as well as animals can be seen in the hall.
The stupa at the rear of the chaityagriha was the object of worship. Huge lion pillar stands in front of the chaityagriha.The pillar resembles the Asokan pillar.