The oldest rock-cut architecture of India- Barabar caves, Bihar

I discovered Barabar caves when I read E M Forster’s, ‘Passage to India’. It was one of the recommended books, as part of the preparation for Verbal Ability in CAT. So, naturally I didn’t read the book then. I didn’t read it in MBA either. Because let’s admit it, who reads books (other than the ones that one has to) during college. I read the book in 2017, seven years after I post graduated, and five years after buying it on my Kindle.

The book has many hooks but one of the essential plot developments is the visit of a bunch of people to Marabar Caves (based on Barabar caves). Something interesting happens inside the caves in the book – a woman hears voices and gets so confused that she imagines things & makes the life difficult for somebody outside the caves. I know what you are thinking. Women, huh! Always good at imagining things. I would have agreed with you & said – yes – had I not have visited Barabar caves a while back, with family. These are not caves; these are a pack of stories buried inside the gorgeous rock-cut structures, also called caves.

Before I talk about Barabar caves a bit more, let me share another fun fact with you. It’s not just because of the book, Barabar caves have been popular ever since.

Do you know why?

Well, you must. This is plain GK. Once in a while, take a break from social media & learn something about this incredible country. Okay?

So, here it is: Barabar caves also happens to be the oldest rock-cut architecture of India, dating back to the 3rd century BCE. Oh yes, you read that right. Wait, it gets interesting. India alone has got over 1500 rock-cut structures such as Ajanta, Ellora, Khandgiri, Badami, Karla, Mahabalipuram, and of all these, the oldest structure is situated near Gaya, Bihar – the magnificent Barabar Caves. By the way, if you didn’t know, India had a really cool scene of rock-cut architecture back then. And even today, if you think of rock-cut architecture and talk about Jordon, Egypt, Cappadocia, it’s impossible to not take India’s name in the same breath. Just throwing it out there, for your West-loving, Indian-domicile mind & body.

Let’s come back to Barabar caves now. Situated at a distance of 24 kms from Gaya, the caves are located in the twin hills of Barabar & Nagarjuni. And may I say, it’s splendid. As you spend time in and around the premises, you begin to believe that priceless treasures can indeed be found in the most simple-looking places.

Glimpse: Tour of Barabar Caves

The place has got four caves: Lomas Rishi Cave, Sudama Cave, Karan Chaupar & Visvakarma Cave. Out of the four, the most famous cave is Lomas Rishi Cave, primarily because of its entrance & the door. It’s believed that this cave was probably not finished because of the missing Ashoka inscriptions – which you will find in the rest of the caves. Here are some fun facts about the caves:

  1. All caves have a beautiful polished interior where you could see yourself quite clearly (do not forget that this is not a mirror). Exception – Lomas Rishi Cave
  2. The plane surfaces of the cave interiors create a beautiful sound effect which is why reverberates & amplifies. So no more reaching up to the mountain tops to hear your voice echo; you could sit in Sukhasana here & chant maybe, and hear your voice echo
  3. You can find Ashoka inscriptions inside the caves (except Lomas Rishi Cave). You probably might not be able to make sense of it, but fret not. Just next to these inscriptions, you will find something really legible like Ravikant weds Munia & Surendra with his pierced heart & 9 digit mobile number
Visitors Logbook
This is the real deal!

There is an oldie who takes care of the place. He is a really decent guy who would clean the entire place, maintain the caves & would also give you guided tours. When we were about to leave, he shared the glamorous part of his life – the interviews that he has given to a lot of news channels & the media coverage that he had received.

When I asked him, “What’s that one thing that you would like to change about the place?”.

He responded in his humble, polite way, “Maybe, this place should have a ticket.”

And I agree with him. This guy solely looks after the whole place, and this place is cleaner than my drawing room.

Gaya is one of the few places that hold high religious significance in Hinduism, Buddhism & Jainism. And the place has got some really good Yoga retreats. So, planning a visit to Gaya, Bihar will offer many benefits. Add one more to that list – the trip to India’s oldest rock-cut architecture. It’s just an hour away from Gaya & you can make a day trip out of it!


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