Posted on: 9 February 2015

Plan of the Barabar Caves and an elevation of the entrance to the Lomas Rishi Cave, Gaya, Bihar - 1814

Pen-and-ink drawing of the plan of the Barabar Caves and an elevation of the entrance to the Lomas Rishi Cave at Gaya in Bihar, dated 1814. Inscribed on front in ink: 'Gya.' The excavation of the Lomas Rishi cave has been both architecturally and epigraphically dated to around 250 BC, when the area was ruled by the Mauryan king, Asoka. Asoka was a Buddhist who ruled almost the whole of what we now call India, in the third century BC. These caves were used by the AJIVIKAS, a sect which thrived under Asoka's policy of tolerance towards all faiths. The sect believed that life was entirely predetermined by destiny, and practiced asceticism at remote locations like these caves.

The cave consists of two chambers, the first allowing worshippers to congregate in a large rectangular hall and the second providing a focus for their worship in a small, circular, domed chamber. This chamber probably held a small stupa-like construction at one point, however now stands empty. The Barabar caves provided a prototype for the larger Buddhist Chaitya halls that were built in Maharasthra such as Ajanta or Karli, and were very influential to the tradition of South Asian rock-cut architecture. They are also the setting for the opening of E.M. Forster's 'A Passage to India'. This drawing depicts the plan of the caves and elevation of the Lomas Rishi cave which has a very elaborate doorway imitating the elevation of a hut with sloping timber supports, curved eaves and a pot finial. The curved architrave is sculpted with a frieze of elephants moving towards stupas.

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