Aurangabad is situated in a valley watered by the river Dudhna between the Sihyachal and Satara range of hills. The old name of Aurangabad is Khirki which means a ‘window’ or ‘entrance’. The Aurangabad caves (19°55’; 75°30’) remained unknown for a long time. Dr. Bradley gave an account of these caves in a report to the Nizam Government in 1850. Dr. James Burgess described the caves extensively in Vol. III of the Reports of the Archaeological Survey of Western India during 1875-76.
The caves were hewn at a height of nearly 70’ from the ground level. The rock formation in the hill is not entirely suitable for excavation in the Sihyachal range. Hence at many places the rock surfaces have collapsed, developed cracks. This was the reason that many of the caves were left unfinished. The excavators also took great care to avoid the faulty and lose rock mass.
In all 12 Buddhist Caves (1 chaityagriha and 2 viharas) are excavated in basalt rock of Deccan trap which fall into three separate groups. The first group consists of caves 1 to 5; the second from 6 to 9 located to the east of the first group at a distance of nearly 500 m; and third from 10 to 12 which are plain and unfinished cells 1 km further east of the second group. The caves are datable from circa 3rd century AD to 7th century AD and are noted for their architectural and sculptural beauty. The authors and period of the third group is difficult to determine in the absence of any identifiable features.
Among the first group, Cave 4 belongs to the early phase, i.e., Hinayana phase. The remaining is assignable to the Mahayana phase. Cave 4 is a
chaityagriha, the front portion being collapsed as also the pillars the stumps of which survive now. The evidence indicates it having a rectangular hall with an arrangement of 17 pillars dividing it into a nave and side aisles. The pillars are plain octagons most of them are reconstructed now. A series of stone ribs on the roof of the nave indicates wooden imitation. The stupa is placed at the rear of the hall which has a high cylindrical drum, bulbous dome, mounted by a
harmika with the usual railing decoration over which is the inverted stepped pyramid pattern. The nature and shape of the stupa indicates a date of not earlier than 3rd century A.D. to the
The remaining caves of the first cave group are devoid of any early character as that of Cave 4. Cave 1, the westernmost among the group is an incomplete cave of which only the portico and pillars are finished. The pillars are fashioned and the ornamentation resembles those at Ajanta. Three panels depicting Buddha attended by Padmapani and Vajrapani could be seen in the verandah. Also to be seen is the relief of seven Buddhas in preaching attitude, and Padmapani & Vajrapani flanking them.
Cave 2 is a square shrine with a circumambulatory (pradakshinapatha) around. On plan it resembles the structural temples of the period which is uncommon in rock-cut examples. It has a square shrine, a colonnade and a porch. A colossal image of seated Buddha in preaching attitude is housed in the shrine, the entrance of which is attended by Avalokitesvara on either side. They carry the stalk of a lotus, on which is shown the Dhyani-Buddha Amitabha. Several figures of Buddha in low relief and some attended by Vajrapani and Padmapani are seen on the walls of sanctum, porch and processional path.
Similar to Cave 2 is Cave 5, which also has a shrine with a circumambulatory passage. The façade of this cave is missing.
Among the first cave group, Cave 3 is the prominent and largest one. This is a huge monastery, the plan resembles with those at Ajanta. On plan it consists of a pillared verandah with cells on either end, a square pillared hall with two cells on two sides, a pillared porch, and a shrine. The pillars of the square hall are arranged in a square and are richly carved with floral and geometrical designs. Carvings are also noticed on the architrave above the pillars, in one example, the
Sutasoma Jataka can be seen.
The second cave group is located nearly 500 m east of the first group and it contains many unfinished caves. The nature and formation of the rock being unsuitable for cave excavation many have been left unfinished. Among the caves, Cave 7 is important for its rich sculptures and detailed representations. On plan it consists of a pillared verandah with pillared chapels on either side housing Hariti and Pancika in right chapel and a panel of six goddesses in left chapel flanked by Padmapani on left and Buddha on right; a central door leads into a square hall and a shrine with circumambulatory passage. To the left of the central door is seen a large sculptural panel of Avalokitesvara in the attitude of saviour of Eight Great Perils of fire, robber, fetters, shipwreck, lion, snake, elephant and demon. The walls of the sanctum are rich and exquisitely carved, which are the best specimen at Aurangabad Caves. The central image is a colossal seated Buddha in preaching attitude. The entrance of the shrine is guarded by a sculptural panel with a goddess at the centre, probably Tara, flanked by female figures. The side walls of the sanctum have two more interesting compositions. The right wall has probably the figures of Lokesvara and Tara, both in standing posture while the left has a beautiful and superb composition of a dancing female in the midst of six seated female musicians playing different musical instruments.
The other noteworthy of the second cave group are Cave 6 and Cave 9. Cave 6 has a sanctum, a pillared porch and verandah, the latter having cells on either side. Apart from the central sanctum which houses the Buddha image, three cells on either side of the sanctum are also seen here. Of the three cells, two have an image of Buddha on either side of the sanctum.
Cave 9 has group of three shrine complexes approached from a long oblong verandah. The important panel here is Buddha in
mahaparinirvana (similar to that of in Cave 26, Ajanta Caves) which is located on the left wall of the verandah.