Bhaja Caves: Along the Trade Route
As hundreds of people make their way up and down the Mumbai – Pune Expressway each day, little do they realise that they are travelling along what was once an ancient trade route, used by travelers 2000 years ago! This is the Bhor Ghat, a strategic mountain pass that connected the Deccan to the ports on the Konkan coast. The route was used by merchants and caravans for hundreds of years and that is why you will also find a cluster of rock cut caves all along the way. The Volcanic Basalt rock of the Deccan Traps, were ideal ground for Buddhist, Jain and even Shaivite caves that you see all the way from Ajanta and Ellora in the North to Elephanta, an island just off Mumbai.
Commerce and religion went hand in hand in ancient India. Traders were the greatest patrons of Buddhist and Jain temples and monasteries. It is not surprising then that just 3 kms off the old trade route, now the Expressway, near Lonavala are the Bhaja caves. These are a group of 22 rock cut caves that date back to the 2nd Century BCE. They are among the oldest caves in Western India and predate the famous Kanheri caves in Mumbai. The Bhaja caves however, can’t be seen in isolation. In the surrounding area there are others – at Karle, Bhedse and Kondhane, all of which formed a network of Buddhist cave-monasteries extending from Nashik and Junnar all the way to Kanheri, near the Mumbai coast. So why were they built here?