The Buddhist heritage of Maharashtra is characterized by the number of caves the state possesses. Undoubtedly, Maharashtra boasts the largest number of caves; most of them have Buddhist roots. Caves take tourists back in time. They might be surrounded by darkness inside, but present an illuminating and awe-inspiring experience to the travellers. Bestowed with architectural and artistic wonders, these caves act as a protector for the treasure trove of Buddhist heritage. Three of the famous Buddhist caves i.e. Ajanta, Ellora and Elephanta are even regarded as world heritage sites.
Many of the Buddhist caves in Maharashtra contain the finest carvings and murals of the country. If one observes the carvings in detail, one can find out a lot about the bygone Buddhist era. One can proudly say that the state has to its credit the oldest and the finest cave complex in the form of Ajanta Caves. An ancient Buddhist art gallery stored within a cave, Ajanta is a masterpiece of mural representation based on the life of Buddha and many Jataka tales. Believed to be created by monks living under cave shelters in 2nd century, the murals here depict pure devotion. That is why the final product of Ajanta Caves even after thousands of years still is admired for its beauty and unique heritage.
Another renowned Buddhist cave complex in Maharashtra is Ellora Caves. The second of the world heritage site in the series, Ellora Caves display the coexistence of three faiths under the same cave shelter complex. Based on excellence of rock-cut architecture, the cave complex features 34 caves dedicated to Buddhist, Hindu and Jain religion. The structures here can be interpreted as viharas or monasteries and rock-cut temples. Out of all the attractions in Ellora, Kailashnatha is undoubtedly the centerpiece of the complex. Carved of the single rock, the structure here is believed to be inspired by Mount Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva and is the prime attraction of Ellora caves.
Another Buddhist cave in the state is Kanheri Caves. Located near Mumbai, Kanheri Caves depict the Buddhist influence. The cave complex here also features Buddhist monasteries, congregation halls, stupas, and intricate rich Buddhist reliefs; Kanheri was an important Buddhist settlement in Konkan coast. The Pithalkhora cave in the Western Ghats of Maharashtra is a 3rd century Buddhist site consisting of 14 rock-cut cave monuments. Made of basalt completely, the caves are presently in ruins and have the remains of chaityas and monasteries.
Junnar Caves also deserve mention when it comes for Buddhist Heritage Caves. The caves have a Chaitya hall with circular dome ceiling and lie within the first group here, known as Tulija lena Group of caves. The second group, i.e. Ganesh Lena cave is also very beautiful and attracts a lot of tourist population. It also has a vihara or monastic shelter featuring many small cells and chaityas.
Elephanta cave complex is another cave treasured on an island 9 km offshore Mumbai. It displays a unique blend of Hindu and Buddhist Cave Temples. The larger group here comprises of five Hindu caves and the smaller group here has two Buddhist caves. Predominantly based on basalt rock cuts, the caves here are renowned for three faced Shiva statue depicting his role as an inceptor, nurturer and destroyer of existence. It is also a world heritage site.
Similarly, there are many other cave complexes in Maharashtra that illustrate the presence of Buddhism in the region since ancient times. To know more about Maharashtra Buddhist Heritage, tourists can visit the above mentioned locations to understand the elaborate world of ancient caves in India.