It was the last day of my trip to Bodhgaya and my train was in the evening and with nothing else to do in the morning I decided to have a quick trip to Gaya Museum, as I wanted to view one very important painting that as per records was present in that museum. The museum from outside looked huge and I was surely expecting a treasure trove of information. All my hopes were completely dashed once I entered the museum complex. It practically had nothing much. Some stone busts and statues of historical importance but the rest were just unrelated objects.
By mistake, I had dared to even ask the guard if there were any washroom in the vicinity and I was taken to an obscure corner of the building where you had a toilet which I am sure had historical importance as I am sure it had not been cleaned for decades.
With nothing else to do, I had to go somewhere to kill time as I had already checked out of the hotel. So the only option left was for a trip to Barabar Caves.
How to Reach Barabar Caves
After quite a bit of negotiation with multiple auto drivers, I finally managed to convince one for Rs. 800 for a round trip which includes a waiting time while a visit the caves.
One thing you need to note that Barabar Caves is that it is technically not in the Gaya district but comes under Jahanabad. It took a little more than an hour for me to reach Barabar Caves. Though most of the journey was on the highway, the auto was hardly hitting a max speed of 45 kilometers per hour. I am sure it would have taken just half an hour if I had opted for the taxi but in that case, the price would have shot up several folds.
Exploring Barabar Caves
There is no entry fee for Barabar Caves however there was a counter at the parking lot, which issues an Rs. 20 parking fee tickets. I am not sure this is official or not but anyways gave the money. The confusion starts here, as there are no particular directional signage, just some random signboards with no proper directional guidelines.
Therefore, what I did was to use my common sense, I saw a huge iron gate, and after getting confirmation from a local walked straight in. After walking around 100 meters, I came across a temple, which had a cow happily chewing straws. A lone Sadhu sat there guarding and managing the temple. My ultimate goal was to reach the cave site so I took the concrete path that was going up the hill. Logically this seemed to be the only way to the caves.
A ten-minute climb will take you to the top and on to the left, you will find the first cave. There are no guides thus, you are left to your best imaginations. The entrance to the cave was also locked with a huge iron gate. By luck, a gentleman appears from nowhere who looked like a sadhu with a motor mouth. He came forward as an unofficial guide with the key to the gates blocking the entrance to the gates. I knew this was the only way to get inside the caves and was sure that he would be expecting a tip at the end of the trip, which honestly I did not mind since he had the keys.
There are four caves at Barabar; three of them are together in one cluster and the other a little further away with no proper defined pathway.
Karan Chaupar Cave
Lomas Rishi Cave
Karan Chaupar Cave
When you climb up this would be the first cave that you would come across. What you first see is the small rectangular doorway of the cave along with stone carves motifs towards the right section of the cave. At the entrance to the cave, you would find an inscription in Brahmi script which when translated has the following two translations. Historians refer to Ashoka as Priyadarsin thus, it can be safely said that these caves were built during his reign. The year 19th of Ashoka’s reign was 250 BC.
“In my 19th year of reign, I, King Priyadarsin, offered this cave of the very pleasant mountain of Khalatika, to serve as shelter during the rainy season.” – Translation by E. Hultzsch, 1925.
“When King Priyadarsin had been anointed 19 years, he went to Jaluṭha and then this cave (called) Supriyekṣa, was given to the Ajivikas.” – Translation by Harry Falk, 2007.
On one side of the cave, there is a stone bench which as per historians must have been used for sleeping. These caves were built for Buddhist monks for meditation and resting purposes. The walls within the cave have a mirror polish finish.
If you go past Karan Chaupar cave towards the left then the first cave would be Sudama Cave. This cave has two sections, with one section being a long rectangular room with another smaller room towards the front, which has a semi-circular room.
The interiors on the main rectangular room have an almost mirror-polished finish so much so that the sunlight reflects within the cave. It feels as if a machine was used to get this mirror finish but in reality, only hand tools with manual labor were used to get this level of polish. Just speaking aloud inside the cave and fell the sound circulating the room, it is just magical.
Similar to Karan Chaupar cave this cave also has an inscription at the entrance written in Brahmi script which translates to:-
“By King Priyadarsin, in the 12th year of his reign, this cave of Banyans was offered to the Ajivikas.”
I have already mentioned earlier that Priyadarsin is about Ashoka and his 12th year is the year 257 B.C. Ajivikas are a person who is commonly referred to like people who meditate and have no free will thus it’s for the Buddhist hermits or monks who inhabited these caves for meditation.
Lomas Rishi Cave
Out of all the four caves at Barabar, this has one of the most beautiful entrances which has been carved on stone arches which are known as Chaitya arch” or Chandrashala. So when you reach the entrance to the cave take your time out to see the intricate stonework.
On top, you can see inscriptions (in Sanskrit) which reads:-
“Om! He, Anantavarman who was the excellent son, captivating the hearts of mankind, of the illustrious Sardula, and who, possessed of very great virtues, adorned by his own (high) birth the family of the Maukhari kings,— he, of unsullied fame, with joy caused to be made, as if it were his own fame represented in bodily form in the world, this beautiful image, placed in (this) cave of the mountain Pravaragiri, of (the god) Krishna.
The illustrious Sardula, of firmly established fame, the best among chieftains, became the ruler of the earth; -he who was a very Death to hostile kings; who was a tree, the fruits of which were the (fulfilled) wishes of (his) favourites; who was the torch of the family of the warrior caste, that is glorious through waging many battles; (and) who, charming the thoughts of lovely women, resembled (the god) Smara.
On whatsoever enemy the illustrious king Sardula casts in anger his scowling eye, the expanded and tremulous and clear and beloved pupil of which is red at the corners between the uplifted brows,— on him there falls the death-dealing arrow, discharged from the bowstring drawn up to (his) ear, of his son, the giver of endless pleasure, who has the name of Anantavarman.”
The cave has one large rectangular room with mirror smooth finish walls and a smaller oval-shaped room with a curved roof.
As per some historians, this cave was built during the life of Brihadratha the last Maurya dynasty emperor however, some claim that the cave must have been built during the reign of Ashoka and the ornate gate was added later.
The above three caves are together and the only exception is Vishwakarma Cave with lies around 150 meters from this place. You need to take the small-unmarked road (right from Karan Chaupar cave) and walk around 70 meters until you reach huge rock and boulders. Once you reach the rocky ground you would see steps cut into the rock front, which is known as “Steps of Ashoka” with these you climb up and go further down until you almost reach the end of a cliff. Take a sharp right turn down and you will reach this place.
This is the smallest of the four cave and has a distinct feature. Instead of a doorway, it has a room like a section in the front with a small passage and then a half-hemispherical room.
The inscription out here reads (Brahmi script):-
“By King Priyadarsin, in the 12th year (260 BC) of his reign, this cave of Khalatika Mountain was offered to the Ajivikas”
Some locals say that there is a short cut from Vishwakarma Cave through which you can directly reach back to the parking lot so I did try out few options but could not track it. So I would advise you to go back the way you have come instead of risking slipping down from a steep rock face.
Around two kilometers from Barabar caves, there is another hill which is known as the Nagarjuni Hill and this place has three caves. I offered the auto driven an additional 100 Rs. for an extended trip which he had agreed but unfortunately by then, it was late afternoon and the winter sun was setting in fast.
My auto driver was more excited than I was and encouraged me to carry on with my quest. The auto had to be stopped a little away from the main entrance since the road ahead was damaged and there was no way the vehicle could go forward.
I had to walk the next five hundred meters and by now, it was getting late, as I had to get back to Gaya so I decided to get an overall view of this place with a promise to return someday.
Nagarjuni Caves consists of three caves with one to the south and the rest two towards the north. I could only spot the Gopika Cave, which was towards the south, and due to time, the restriction could not visit Vadathika Cave and Vapiyaka Cave since they are towards the north, which I had skipped.
I would recommend that you come to this region with a full day plan and come as early as possible so that you can cover both Barabar Caves as well as Nagarjuni Caves. If you want to enjoy the beauty of these caves then you need to spend time at each one of them since each one has its unique features. So I am sure I will again visit this region of Bihar as I need to complete the tour of Nagarjuni Caves.