Since the dawn of history man has been using caves as shelter to protect himself from natural forces and predatory animals. He would express himself by painting on the cave walls and roof using natural colours. He would paint the scenes from his daily life such as hunting, dancing etc. as murals in the caves. Initially he dwelled only in naturally occurring caves such as caves at Bhimbetka but as kinship evolved to kingship and kings and rich nobles started giving patronage to different religions, ascetics started using caves as a place to do penance and to meditate. Caves were used for spiritual purposes as their isolated location away from populous dwelling places provided a peaceful environment for the yogi to meditate.
Royal Patronage to Caves:
As Mahajanapads evolved during the Mauryan rule, Bindusara gave patronage to Jainism while his son, Ashoka gave patronage to Buddhism and Ajivika sect. This royal patronage to religious sects was important as religion influenced the social fabric and legitimized King’s rule. The royal patronage thus financed rock-cut shelters such as at Barabar rock cut caves, Ajanta and Ellora, rock-cut Kailash temple at Ellora etc.
The caves used by Buddhist monks to live came to be known as Viharas and those used for worship were called Chaityas. Rock- cut caves at Ajanta and Ellora were cut in such a way so as to have a long pillared hall at the end of which would be a stupa where relics of Buddha’s personal items were kept. The construction of long pillared halls was an architectural achievement at those times as caves would be constructed inside out.
The ‘Mara theme’ in cave 26 at Ajanta depicts commotion in Buddha’s mind when he was about to attain enlightenment. It is a beautiful work of sculpting and a symbol of spiritual knowledge prevalent in those times. Similarly, Lomarishi caves at Barabar has a façade at its entrance that adds to the beauty of the cave and symbolizes the art and architectural proficiency of those times.