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Lenyadri Group of Caves, Junnar


Junnar (19°10’ N; 73°53’ E), Taluka Junnar, district Pune is located at a distance of 96 km from Pune and on the southern bank of river Kukdi. Another river namely Mina flows 5 km towards the east. The location of Junnar is also ideal, for, it is in the transitional zone between the Sahyadris and the broad plains to the east. It is encircled by a series of hills, on all sides, namely Sivanei and Tulja hills on the west; the Sulaiman on the north and east; and Manmodi on the south. It is also not far from Naneghat, a vital pass in the Western Ghats which connects the sea ports of Sopara, Kalyan and Thana with the cities and towns of the mainland like Nasik, Paithan, Ter, etc. Naneghat has yielded many label inscriptions and low relief sculptures of the members of Satavahana dynasty like Simuka, the founder of the Satavahana dynasty; Sri Satakarni, his wife Nayanika; her father Tranayakira and her sons Hakusri and Satavahana. There are various identifications of this place as an ancient city mentioned in contemporary accounts. One such identification is Minnagara, the capital of Nahapana.

Junnar has the largest number of excavations numbering over 200 independent excavations and spread over the four hills. All the excavations belong to the Hinayana phase and are datable from mid 3rd century B.C. to late 3rd century A.D. The presence of largest number of rock cut excavations, a large number of inscriptions enabling a paleographical study makes Junnar a prominent site for the study of rock cut architecture. Here there are 24 inscriptions, which provide useful paleographical data for the relative dating of the caves. The donors include members of the royal family as well as commoners, which also includes Yavanas (Greeks). One particular inscription from the Manmodi group mentions the name of a minister of Maharathi Nahapana (c. A.D. 119-124).

Junnar group of caves are further classified into various sub-groups depending upon the location of these excavations. They are:

(a) Tuljalena located on the Tuljabai hill, 5 km west of Junnar. This is the smallest group here at Junnar with 11 caves datable from circa 1st century B.C. to 1st century A.D. These caves are situated together in a row and face roughly east-north east.

(b) Manmodi group of caves located on the Manmodi hill situated to the south-southwest of the town. The monastic complex was known as Gidha-vihara (Gridhra-vihara) and the hill as Manamukuda in ancient inscriptions. The cave group consists of nearly 40 individual excavations excluding the cisterns. They are located in three distinct groups known as:

(i) Bhimasankar group, southeast of Manmodi hill, in which one cave has the donor inscription of Ayama, the minister of King Nahapana dated in the year 46 (A.D. 124).

(ii) Amba-Ambika group, to the north of Bhimasankar, known such due to the carving of figures of Tirthankaras and Ambika, the latter Sasanadevi of 23rd Jaina Tirthankara, Neminatha.

(iii) Bhutalinga group, nearly 200 m west of the Amba-Ambalika group.

(c) Sivaneri group of caves located to the southwest of the town, in five separate groups at varying heights of the steep Sivaneri hill, the birth place of Chhatrapati Sivaji. There are nearly 50 caves in this group, a majority of them small and plain.

(d) Lenyadri or Ganesh lena group.

The Lenyadri or Ganesh lena group is the main group and located 4 km north of Junnar across the river Kukdi. The hill is variously known as Sulaiman Pahar and Ganesh Pahar, the latter due to the location of a Ganesha shrine, the latter due to the location of a Ganesha shrine in one of the caves, which is a later addition. The sthalapurana calls it as Lenyadri and an ancient inscription gives the name of this hill as Kapichita (Kapichitta). There are nearly 40 caves in this group of which the main group of 30 caves are located in a line and stretch from east to west, all facing south and overlooking the valley of Kukdi river.

The caves are numbered from east to west and among them Cave 6 and 14 are chaityagrhas and the remaining are viharas (monasteries) of which Cave 7 is the larges and also houses the image of Ganesha. The remaining monasteries are small in size which has two or three cells, in some cases with a front verandah. They range in date from 1st century to 3rd century A.D.

Cave 6 is the main chaityagrha of the Lenyadri group of caves. Although of smaller dimensions when compared to Ajanta, Karle, Bhaja, Bedsa, etc. it is significant as one of the earliest examples of Hinayana chaityagrha. On plan, the chaityagrha consists of a pillared verandah and an apsidal hall divided into a central nave and side aisles by row of sixteen pillars. The hall measures 13.3 in length; 6.7 m in width and 7.6 m in height. The hall is preceded by a pillared verandah and entered by a plain and large doorway measuring 1.8 m in width and 2.79 m in height. The stupa is located at the rear and consists of a drum with a moulding below and railing above, a globular dome and a corbelled dome with a railing at the base. A donatory inscription datable to 2nd century A.D. mentions it as a gift of a native from Kalyana (modern Kalyan near Mumbai).

Cave 7 is a huge vihara and the largest excavation at Junnar. The cave is located to the right of Cave 6 to its west. On plan the vihara consists of a large hall with cells on three sides, entered by a central door from a pillared verandah the latter approached by a flight of steps. The central door is flanked by a window on either side. The hall measures 17.37 m in length; 15.54 m in width and 3.38 m in height and it has traces of plaster and paintings. There are 20 cells in total with varying dimensions, 7 cells in either of the side walls and 6 cells on the rear wall. The two central cells of the rear wall has been converted into one during later period and at present a Ganesha image is consecrated for worship. The verandah has six pillars and two pilasters (half-pillars) and in elevation it consists of an octagonal shaft placed over benches and back rest and topped by an inverted ghata, compressed amalaka in between two square plates, inverted stepped pyramid and finally crowned by a bracket of addorsed animal figures. The pillars support an architrave from which projects eaves relieved with a railing resting on beams and rafters.

Cave 14 is also a chaityagrha, with flat ceiling and devoid of pillars. On plan it consists of a hall and a pillared verandah. The hall measures 6.75 m in length; 3.93 m in width and 4.16 m in height. The stupa with a base diameter of 2.6 m is placed at the rear and consists of a base with three steps, the brim being decorated with railing pattern, followed by a cylindrical drum, a square harmika with railing pattern and an inverted stepped pyramidal abacus. The chhatri is carved on the ceiling here. The pillars of the verandah consist of octagonal shafts resting on ghata base over a stepped pedestal and topped by an inverted kalasa, corbelled abacus. The pillars support the architrave from which imitation of wooden rafters could be seen issuing supporting the eaves. A donor inscription on the back wall of the verandah is in characters of 2nd century A.D.

One more chaityagrha is also located in a separate group of small caves, situated at a distance of nearly 2 km from this group.

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