well known as Ajanta yet also interest are the rock-cut caves
of Pitalkhora in the Satamala range of the Sahyadri hills.
There are thirteen caves, set high up on the hill, overlooking
picturesque ravines. Many of the caves contain carvings and
paintings that date from the 1st century B.C. to the 5the
century A.D. They were discovered after Ajanta and are first
mentioned in a publication of 1853 where Caves 3 and 4 are
Many of the carvings as well as the paintings have been damaged
by the weather and vandals. The caves appear to be of the
early Hinayana period of Buddhism and are contemporary to
the other rock-cut Buddhist temples in western India. They
were probably excavated and carved during the Satavahana-Kshaharata
regimes. There appears to be a subsequent period of desertion
and re-occupation much later in the 5th century A.D. during
the Vakataka rule. In the Hinayana Buddhist period no images
of Buddha or Bodhisattvas (celestial beings personifying the
virtues of Buddha and attending to the needs of the people)
appear in places of worship and none can be seen in the caves
of Pitalkhora except for the paintings in Cave 3, which belong
to the later phase of occupation.
Because of their locations the caves have been divided into
two groups. Caves 1-9 face north and east and are adjacent
to each other. These are in Group I. On the other side of
the hill, facing southwards are Caves 10-14 which make up
Many of the caves have crumbled and are badly damaged. Cave
1 looks like a huge natural opening. There are indications
of cells and door supports and it may have formed an extensive
Vihara or monastery.
Caves 2, 3 and 4 share the same forecourt and are presumed
to be of the same period. The dividing wall between 2 and
3 has disappeared, 2 was a Vihara and has an interesting rock-cut
drain which prevents water from flowing into Cave 3 which
was a prayer hall.
The best paintings are in Cave 3. These appear on the pillars
and side walls. 37 pillars used to separate the aisle from
the hall and these were donated individually as inscriptions
on the 10th and 11th pillars, on the right, indicate. The
donors of both these pillars were residents of Paithan. Steps
lead down to a basement containing several carvings. Rare
crystals and other reliquaries were found in the stupa here.
has a number of carvings of elephants and horses as well as
inscriptions about donors. Among the detached rock is a carved
panel depicting Buddha as a prince, leaving his palace. This
is the only scene from the life of Buddha that has been found
The damage Cave 5 was a Vihara and contains an interesting
inscription on a loose boulder which mentions a gift by a
guild of bankers. Caves 6, 7 and 8 were all Viharas. 6 has
some traces of painting on the walls. Between 7 & 8 there
is an unfinished rock-cut cistern. Cave 9 was an extensive
Vihara and still has remnants of plastering and painting.
On the other side of the hill is Group II. The caves here
are Chaityas or chapels for prayer and contain stupas. Cave
11 has several stupas possibly excavated at different times.
Cave 13 and 14 share the same forecourt and contain some very
unique sculptures but are both in a crumbled and damaged condition.
Because of its remoteness Pitalkhora has few visitors and
having reached the caves one can almost imagine that one has
in fact discovered them. And there may in fact be more to
Pitalkhora is 78 kms from Ajanta and can be visited
by car, but the climb up the hill has to be done on foot.