Chaitya Hall at Karla Caves
Karla is situated in Maval Taluka of Pune on the Pune-Mumbai highway, about 60 km northwest of Pune. The location of Karla is also important for its rich embellishments, it is on the ancient highway connecting seaports of Kalyan and Sopara to the cities located inland. The other nearest centre of great Buddhist activity is Bhaja, which is 8 km south of Karla. The caves are excavated nearly 100 metres on a high spur of the chain of hills on the north flank of the Indrayani valley. The chaitya hall also known as chaitya griha ,is the most prominent and hence it dominates the remaining excavations.
Karla Caves are rock-cut monuments from the Buddhist era dating two thousand years old. Location of the caves may have been of strategic importance since it was a major trade route during that era connecting the Arabian Sea and the Deccan region on the eastern end. The Complex consists of 16 rock cut excavations of which the grandest and the most dominant structure is the Chaitya-griha. A wide and flat open area in front of the chaityagriha could have provided an ideal place for large gatherings of the followers of Buddhism.
The chaitya hall at Karla is the biggest of its type in the whole of India. The hall measures 37.87 m deep from door to back; 13.87 m wide and 14.02 high. This chaitya hall consists of an apsidal hall with a front verandah. The apsidal hall is divided into a nave and two aisles by two rows of pillars which meet at the rear behind the stupa in a semicircle thus forming the apse.
The pillars are executed with great ingenuity and vigour which reflect the sculptural art of the period. The pillar consists of a stepped pyramidal base surmounted by a pot, octagonal shaft over it, the capital of inverted flower vase member, a neck of closedamalaka and an inverted stepped pyramid over which lies a dosseret decorated with animal sculptures with riders. The pillars behind the stupa which are seven in number are plain octagons without any decoration.
The roof of the aisles is flat, while the pillars of the nave support a simple architrave over which rises a barrel vaulted roof which ends in a semi-dome over the stupa in the rear.
The side walls of the verandah and inner face of the screen wall are extensively decorated with sculptures. The front wall of the verandah is also profusely decorated which is executed in two parts. The lower portion consists of a row of railing pattern and above which is six mithuna figures rising up to the level of the lintels. The portion above the doorways is decorated with a series of miniature chaitya windows imitating the huge chaita window.