Buddhist Caves of Western India (Forms and Patronage)
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Buddhist Caves of Western India (Forms and Patronage)

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Item Code: NAK202
Author: Y. S. Alone
Publisher: Kaveri Books
Language: English
Edition: 2016
ISBN: 9788174791825
Pages: 520 (Throughout B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 11.0 inch X 9.0 inch
Weight 1.9 kg
About the Book

The study of western Indian Buddhist caves has always been concerned with the chronology of the caves based on the political chronology of ruling dynasties. The present work is an attempt to a broader concern with the visuality and its pattern of architectural and decorative designs such as how a particular pattern of articulation was evolved? How did the artisans work in the society with the available tradition/skill and what was the role and politics of patronage? How the early Mahayana developments can be traced within the region itself?

It also presents a critic of consciousness of interpreters as reflected through their subjective positions. It's an endeavor to question many normative interpretations that have been produced in recent past. It moves away from the concept of homogeneity of tradition and attempts to understand difference in tradition and theoretical formulations. The book is also an attempt to see Ajanta and western Deccan caves very differently from the conventional perspectives.

About the Author

Dr. Y. S. Alone is a Professor in Visual Studies in School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Previously he worked at Department of Archaeology, Deccan College Post- Graduate Research Institute (deemed university) Pune and at the Department of Fine Arts, Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra. He has published several research papers in journals and chapters in edited volumes on Ancient Indian Art and critic of Walter Spink, Buddhist caves in western India, critic of modern Indian art, popular neo-Buddhist visual culture, interpretative frame-work of Dr. Ambedkar and social sciences. He has lectured widely in India and abroad mainly in China at Shenzhen University, Dunhaung Research Academy, Buddhist Research Institute Hangzhou. He was nominated as ICCR chair visiting Professor in Shenzhen University PR China. He has been member of various Government Committees and has been advisor of NCERT textbook on History of Art for class XI.



The study of western Indian Buddhist caves has always been concerned with the chronology of the caves. The focus of study was more closely on the political chronology of the Satavahanas, Traikutakas, Vakatakas, and the Konkan Mauryas. The caves are broadly classified as Hinayana caves where there is no Buddha image and the Mahayana caves with the Buddha images. The Mahayana Buddhist caves in the western Deccan are dated to fifth and sixth century AD, and therefore the sources of their development may be traced outside the western Deccan. Thus there has been a complete disregard for the creative magnitude of the artisans. The present work is an attempt to proceed from the earlier studies on western Indian caves to a broader concern with the visuality and the pattern of its architectural and decorative designs, such as, how a particular pattern of articulation had evolved? How did the artisans work in the society with the available tradition/skill and what was the role of patronage? How the early Mahayana developments are traced within the region itself?

Artistic activity is a form of reasoning in which perceiving and thinking are intertwined. The past is seen in the present while opting for any particular mode of articulation, giving a new dimension to the activity of evolving pattern, shape, and ways of unifying in the space. These fundamental questions of art are perceived in a wider social context in order to analyze the early western Indian Buddhist Caves and its subsequent developments.

I do not claim that the book will ever resolve issues of chronology of both the Thervadins as well the Mahayana cave excavations. But an attempt has been made to review and analyze the material evidences with fresh and open mind. At times, consciousness of an art-historian or the archaeologist gets reflected by defining subjective positions in the analytical frameworks, nevertheless, knowledge produced over a period of time and which is now being disseminated may not be very objective for unfolding the layers of understanding as well as the governing phenomenon by which a historical past has been reconstructed. It's an endeavor to question many normative interpretations that have been produced in the recent past. While religion is often studied as homogeneity of tradition which produces hegemonic historicism and fails to see difference in theoretical formulations, thereby dismissing the conflict, differences and impositions as ground realities in the historical past. This book is also an attempt to see Ajanta and western Deccan caves very differently. Though the discussion on Ajanta caves is limited, I am sure it will open up further possibilities as well as formidable critiques as it questions the very premises of chronology and religious developments in the western Deccan.

I am deeply indebted to Prof R Champakalakshmi for her guidance, encouragement, and forcing me to expand the scope of my inquiry. I wish to record my deep sense of gratitude to Late Shri M N Deshpande, ex-Director General, Archaeological Survey of India, who greatly encouraged me from time to time. Discussing western Indian Buddhist caves with him have always been a very delighting experience. I am grateful to Prof. S. K. Thorat, Prof. Vimal Thorat, Prof. Romila Thapar, Prof. Devangana Desai, Prof. M.K. Davalikar, Prof. WaIter Spink, Dr. Gary Tartakov, Prof. B. D. Chattopadhyaya, Prof. R. K. Kale, Prof Ratan Parimoo and Prof. Shivaji Pannikar. I especially thank Dr. A P Jamkhedkar and Prof. Deepak Kannal for sparing their valuable time and discussing many issues on western Deccan caves. Prof. Deepak Kannal has been associated with all my research endeavors and ensured his active involvement. I also thank Late Dr. Shobhana Gokhale for her kindness to take me to some of the cave sites for wonderful on site discussion and inscriptional studies as well as agreeing for some of my observations. Dr. Gauri Lad of Deccan College Post-Graduate Research Institute was kind enough to confirm some of my readings of the Sanskrit texts. I also thank Mr. B. D. Borakar, Dr. Rekha Borkar, Dr. Eknath Pachpinde, Akabar Padamsee, Bhanu, Vidya Vaidya, for their support and active participation in number of field works in the area. Late Mrs. M. N. Deshpande was very generous and was always supportive in this project. Dr. Rajshekhar, IAS, and Neerja, IAS, have always been very supportive and made all necessary arrangements to give final shape to this work. Their contribution to all my projects has always been very valuable including their support during my academic career. Jawahar IAS, has equally been supportive in all the endevours.

I am also thankful to National Museum Library, New Delhi, American Institute of Indian Studies at Gurgaon in Haryana (formally located at Varanasi UP), Deccan College Post-Graduate Research Institute Library, Pune, Asiatic Society Library Mumbai, Archaeology Survey of India Library New Delhi, Indira Gandhi National Centre of Art's Library New Delhi. I am thankful to my friends who have been associated with this book mainly D. Shyambabu, Pradeep Pachpinde, Late Rajeshwar Rangari, R. P. Koche IPS, Dr. Yagati Chinnarao, Dr. Vijayshree, Dr. Umakant, Dr. Shailesh Darokar, Dr. Ravi Patil, Dr, Rajesh Kharat, Mrs. Bharati Rajesh Kharat, Dr. Jaya Jose Dr. Manjari Thuse-Bhalerao, Vikas Bhagatkar, Rahul Kamble, Dilip Ingole, Dr. Ram Viranjan, Dr. Shubhangana Atre, Vishvanath Kamble, Mr. Sarovar Shende, Dr. Narendra, Mr. Kishor and Nivedita Singh, Hridesh Somkunwar, Mr. Vishnu Saxena and Prof. D.K. Lobiyal. I thank Mr. Raju Telang and Girdhar Meshram for their kind help in Pune and elsewhere. I also thank Mr. Pramod Sukhadeve, Miss Shaminder Hundal for their help. I thank Late Shri S. H. Rathore for helping me in many ways. I take this opportunity to thank Prof. Vasant Shinde, Director, Decean College Post-Graduate Research Institute Pune and Dr. Srikant Ganavir of the same institute for their all time support and active help. Dr. Srikant Ganavir, Dr. Manjari Thuse-Bhalerao, and Sudharak Owle provided me some visual material as well, without their help, this book would not have been completed. This book is dedicated to my parents Late Shri. Somaji Alone and Late Shrimati Dayabai Alone who made me to realize importance of education and social responsibilities. My family members have always been very supportive and were actively involved with my research projects especially my brothers and sisters Rajdatta Alone, Tashkand Alone, and Mrs. Purnatai Chandekar, Mrs. Rama Waghmare. My brother Shri Vidhyadhar Alone made some plan drawings and also desired to make site maps for many cave sites. But due to my displacement from Deccan College Post-graduate Research Institute, Pune, it could not be materialized. My wife Saroj has been very considerate who supported me in the phase of uncertainties of life and never complained about it. My son Sayash and Amogh helped in many ways in the preparation of this book. Lastly I thank Dr. Rani Ray (Pishi) for giving constructive suggestions, she has been greatly engaged with the preparation of this book. And Finally I thank Mr. Rakesh Goel for giving [mal shape to this book and agreed for whatever I suggested. However, the responsibility for any errors of facts and arguments remains mine alone.


Periodization in Art History has always been made in the context of political dynasties. It has indeed, disregarded the creative nature of artwork, and produced blanket terms like Mauryan Art, Sunga Art, Satavahana Art, Vakataka Art etc. However, there are implied categories of convenience in such denotations, for assigning date brackets but more often than not, they are passive terms not providing much explanation for the relationship between the maker and the beholder. Such categorizations of art and architectural monuments in historical studies, have grown out of an emphasis on the dynastic history of ancient India. These studies have one common objective i.e. to label a particular work of art or a monument after a particular dynasty. Thus, the entire idea of understanding a particular object of art in its historical context is completely neglected. It is, indeed, true, as will be shown subsequently, that the documentation and possible periodiza ion were major areas of concern in earlier studies. The trend continued for a long time even after the exploration of considerable evidences, in the form of inscriptions and other archaeological data. Therefore, the understanding of art and architectural monuments remained isolated confining itself to a physical description or making note of dynastic affiliations.

A work of art is a product of a particular situation, and comprises numerous extrinsic and intrinsic factors. The intrinsic factors are related to the formal qualities, such as, the attitude and a set of conventions that are attached to the visual tradition, whereas the extrinsic factors are concerned with patronage, religion and society. To analyze these twin factors, the historian has to explore various source material. In such an exercise, to fix a particular mode of visual language into a specific category would result in reducing the very existence of art and architectural monuments to their very generic category. Art is also a site of social facts that needs to be understood in various ways. Visual language is different from the canonical structures of written language. It transforms lengthy verbal data into a simple pictorial form. Thus, to explain the matter in a more meaningful way, it may be said that the articulation of visual language has no fixed rules, like the grammatical structure of the written language. Any discourse on visual language has to be made, taking into account the realm of its historical context.' which crosses the boundaries of political power and becomes a part of the social fact. By going beyond narrow concerns of dynastic affiliations, a wider meaning of the visual language can be understood in relation to a particular historical situation as social facts. At the same time, merely evaluating aesthetic quality of work of art would result in its isolation from the overall understanding of the historical situation in which creative mind works. Thus, inquiry into the analysis of pictorial language has to be linked to the other fields of inquiry.

Chronology is an integral part in any historical inquiry. It is not my intention in the present work to go into the question of chronology once again. Instead, I make an attempt to depart from exclusive chronological problems to the wider understanding of different issues that are involved in the making of art and architectural remains in western India. The period of inquiry is from second century BC to AD/ CE fourth century. It is fairly a long period when many rock-cut cave monuments were excavated. Traditionally, two distinct phases are considered in the western Deccan Buddhist cave tradition i.e. the Thervadins or Hinayana phase and the Mahayana phase. The Thervadins/Hinayana phase is generally indicated by the absence of Buddha image whereas the Mahayana phase is identified by the presence of the Buddha images. Though this framework of categorization of the Thervadins/Hinayana and the Mahayana phases, itself is highly problematic, not only in the case of western Deccan but also at all other sites, no watertight compartments between the two are reflected in the visual manifestations. It is generally observed that the pictorial tradition is a fact of historical continuity. However, historical continuity should not be equated with the homogeneity of tradition and cultural practices. There are pictorial representations of Manushi Buddhas (adi-Buddhas) with the depiction of their respective trees and an inscription without a human figure at the Sanchi gateways, which later tradition acquires a human figure, therefore, distinction between the two i.e. Thervadins/Hinayana and Mahayana becomes a difficult process. Besides, the Pali textual tradition informs us that though the Buddhavamsa mentions twenty-four adi-Buddhas the text such as the Digha-Nikaya mentions only the later seven Manushi Buddhas (adi-Buddhas). The conception of the Bodhisattva that exists in the Pali literature itself is continued in the later literature of Buddhism. Nevertheless, the emergence of the Buddha image became a matter of debate among the arthistorians as it was viewed from a singular perspective of mere material evidence, interpreted from the narrow sense of current nationalist cartographies, despite the fact that pictorial prototypes or visual formulae existed within the larger pictorial tradition, requiring a fresh thinking. It may also be observed that the idea of Boddhisttava exists in the Pali Thervadin tradition and the fact that Mahasanghikas have been termed later as the Mahayanist, shows the changing nature of the Buddhist Sangha that did not function like a water- tight compartment. Bhadant Ananad Kauslyana' observes four important criteria for any sect being deemed as belonging to Buddhist sect-I. No Buddhist sect can believe in divinity 2. No Buddhist sect can believe in the existence of soul. 3. No Buddhist sect can believe blindly in the texts. 4. No Buddhist sect can deny theory of dependent origination. Thus tradition needs to be studied from these perspectives and historical -reconstruction of the past has to be made along those lines.

In the case of western Deccan, there is a lacuna of evidences, hence, the present criterion of identification i.e. presence of image of Buddha (though a problematic criterion), is acceptable. The rock- cut cave excavations of the Thervadins/Hinayana and the Mahayana phases have been analyzed, in all previous studies, more with a concern for chronology. But knowingly or unknowingly, these two different phases were treated as separate from each other as if there was no relation between the two and they were two different representations. However, in the present work, an attempt has been made to establish a link between the Thervadins/Hinayana and the Mahayana Buddhist caves in the region, which may be termed as the 'missing-link'. The problem of a link between the two has not been seen moreover in isolation but in terms of the gradual progression of art and architectural language within region itself; whence the profusely decorated imagery in sculpture, architecture and paintings at Ajanta and elsewhere in fifth-sixth century AD/CE were not achievements over time.

The Mahayana phase in western Deccan has been thought of so far as fifth century AD/CE development. The assumption is based on certain inscriptional evidences existing at Kanheri and Ajanta. There is also one more criterion for this assertion, that is, the notion of 'golden age theory'. Social historians discarded the notion of 'golden age' theory but in art-historical enquiries, it has remained in focus, while studying the developments in fifth and sixth century Indian art. It has also been termed as 'classical age/classical art'. Such terms' have emerged out of certain kind of historicism and have been adopted in the art historical investigations without critically evaluating its validity and its possible method, as it is inadequate to explain other periods of history. It negates the relationship between historical material and cultural production. In the case of western Deccan caves as the Mahayana, development is assigned to the fifth century AD/CE, the entire exercise resulting in searching for the possible sources for the growth of the Mahayana imagery outside western Deccan. The principle idea of enquiry in the present analysis is centered on exploring varied evidences to trace the earlier Mahayana caves activity within the region itself. Though the question is confined to a particular geographical area, nevertheless, it has not been approached with a closed mind as certain distinct elements borrowed from outside western Deccan, that can easily be ascertained from the pictorial and iconographic conventions has been made note of. Such assimilations always result in the eclectic nature of visual language. The underlined principle in this case is an attitude, and the ideas that are involved in the representation of art and architectural monuments. An image gains importance because it has the capacity of expression. Consequently, the power of an image lies in the power of religious and social institutions. In the present case, it is the bond between the Buddhist Sangha and its patrons that constitutes the power of image and monument in art and architecture. The history of patronage becomes central. Patronage is an important factor in the making of the monument, but the visual language is not governed solely by the economics of patronage exclusively. Such narrow generalization would result in reductionist arguments. The information with which artisan works may not be available to the beholder but the reading of an image or a monument largely depends on the cultural norms that are involved, from time to time. Conventions, evolve through cultural practices. Artisans work with conventions and arrive at certain visual formula which reflect their mind and attitude to decorative vocabulary, it is a quest for choice of certain motifs in order to weave them together to make impressive visual patterns.

It has become pertinent to discuss briefly the historiography of the study of western Indian caves very selectively. Early years of the colonial administration was marked by the documentation of the monuments in western Deccan, it provided impetus to studies on Buddhist caves. Interestingly, the colonial archaeology in the case of western Deccan, has a touch of exoticism, though there is a difference between the approaches of James Furgusson and Jass Burgess.

The first voluminous work on the rock-cut caves of India appeared in 1880, co-authored by James Ferguson and Jass Burgess.' For the first time, western Indian caves were thought of in terms of the overall development of the cave architecture in India. Ferguson describes the caves of eastern India, including Bihar and Orrisa/Odisha. A lot of significance is attached to this book as it was for the first time the extensive documentation was done on the rock-cut caves of India. While writing an introductory note for the entire volume, like other Englishman, Ferguson promoted a diffusionistic principle to explain the spread of the cave activity. At the same time, he could not desist from .adopting a monogenesis view of the art. As an Englishman, he formulated his observations within the confines of the classical notion and wrote that 'the Indians borrowed the idea of using stone for the architecture purposes from the Greeks or to speak more correctly, from the Western foreigners bearing the Greek appellation of Yavanas, it is equally certain that they did not adopt any of the forms of Greek arch, or any- details from the same source? The concluding remarks are noteworthy as it shows his hesitancy in accepting 'monogenesis' notion of art while doing so. It had already become possible for the Europeans to see the other cultures based on the non-classical norms precisely because the Romanticism in Europe had broken the existing standards of judgments (as against the classical norms) to the more grotesque and unrealistic imaginative world. Jass Burgess, in his Introduction to the Western Indian caves, maintains the view that the cave architecture in India cannot be a concept borrowed from the Egypt or west Asia, as there are no similarities in detail and there is a distance in their respective dates. 4 Burgess's system of classification is based on the typological variations, mainly the stupa or topes, the ornamental rails, the stambha or lats, the chaitya halls or temples, the viharas or monasteries, the podhis or cisterns. 5 The pattern for the regional distribution of the caves is based on the close proximity of the cave sites to major cities like Bombay and its surrounding regions for convenience of survey from their main administrative headquarter. Burgess also suggests date brackets for each group of caves which though imprecise, is found useful in the next century for the chronological studies of the monuments. On the other hand, the caves of Thanala-Nadsur, Nenavali- Khadsamala have been described by Henry Cousen. M. G. Dikshit's (though he never published his work) was the first attempt in the academic world as doctoral thesis where the use of the evidence of the existence of the cave monument are made as important indication of Buddhist settlement in western Deccan.? Buhler, Bhagavanlal Indrajit, E. Senart, H. Luder, P. N. Chakravarty studied the inscriptions and its paleography and later V. V. Mirashi and Shobhana Gokhale made significant contributions.

Immediately after Independence, M. N. Deshpande? cleared the magnificent caves of Pitalkhora. In the report, he put the inscription of Pitalkhora close to that of Bhaja and dated them to the second century BC on paleographic grounds. Many sculptures at Pitalkhora were unearthed. Later, Deshpande also discovered a few inscriptions at Bhaja. Another important contribution was the clearing of the cave site at Thanala-Nadsur cave-complex. In the lecture, organized and published by Vidarbha Samshodhan Mandal on Thanala-Nadsur caves and PanhaIe-Kaji, he proposed the identification of the cave-hill with Srihana- mountain of Nasik inscription. Extensive analysis of the chaitya, vihara and the memorial stupa cave was done together with chronological indication. For the first time, caves of Panhale-Kaji's Natha-smpradaya were discussed and later a monogram was published on Panhale-Kaji caves. With extensive field knowledge, he also attempted to suggest a sequence of excavation of the western Indian rock-out chaityas. In the keynote address to Ajanta Seminar (1992), Deshpande made some interesting observations and arguments regarding the possible grouping of the caves and the sequence of chaitya excavations. The grouping was done on the basis of Satavahana's political geography. In a published monogram on Panhale-Kaji, the caves were described in detail; apart from identifying the late Hinayana caves, he also assigned the Mahayana phase to AD/CE fourth century. 12 This is very significant, as for the first time, the Mahayana cave activity in the western Deccan was shifted from the fifth century AD/CE to fourth century AD/CE. So far it had always been maintained that the Mahayana rock-cut cave activity in the region started in the fifth century AD.

Making an evolutionary study of Indian Architecture Percy Brown's 'Indian Architecture' in 1959 gives due importance to the Buddhist caves and the stupas.? He too follows J. Burgess's argument that the rock-cut architecture evolved from possible wooden architecture. One of the illustrations in his book shows a Toda semi-circular hut to explain the evolution of facade designs and he thus incorporates anthropological data in analyzing the development of cave architecture. Percy Brown is probably the first who thought of cave architecture not in terms of structural architecture but more in the form of sculptural activity where a positive rock is carved out and a negative space is created, which itself becomes a positive utilitarian space.


  Preface vii
  List of Figures xiii
  List of Plates xvii
  Transliterations Keys xvii
  Introduction xxviii
1 The Background condtion 1
2 Patronage 36
3 Art and Architecture: Early Caves 59
4 Art and Architeture: Locating Early Mahayana Caves and Ajanta 196
5 Epilogue 229
  Appendices 235
  Appendix I: Walter Spink and Ajanta's Chronology  
  Appendix II: Notes on Measurements of Caves  
  Select Bibliography 246
  Index 261
  Plates 277

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