Entrance to the Lomas Rishi Cave, Barabar Hills, Gaya, Bihar - 1865
Photograph of the entrance to the Lomas Rishi cave taken by Alexander E. Caddy in 1895. The excavation of this cave has been dated both architecturally and epigraphically to around 250 BC, when the area was ruled by the Mauryan king, Asoka. Asoka was a Buddhist who ruled almost the whole of what we now call India in the third century BC. However these caves were used by the AJIVIKAS, a sect which were allowed to thrive under Asoka's policy of religious tolerance. The sect believed that life was totally predetermined by destiny and practiced asceticism at locations like these caves. Along with the other cave-temples in the Barabar hills, the Lomas Rishi cave, provided a prototype for the larger Buddhist Chaitya halls that are found in Maharasthra such as Ajanta or Karli and were very influential to the tradition of South Asian rock-cut architecture. The area is also the setting for the opening of E.M. Forster's 'A Passage to India'.
The Lomas Rishi cave consists of two chambers, the first allowing worshippers to congregate in a large rectangular hall, the second providing a focus for their worship in a small, circular, domed chamber. This chamber probably held a small stupa like construction at one point however now stands empty. Both chamber were carved entirely out of granite and have an arch-like faÃ§ade imitating contemporary timber architecture. The internal surface of the cave is highly polished. The sculptured doorway imitates a hut-like structure with sloping timber supports, curved eaves and a pot finial. A frieze of elephants proceeding towards stupa emblems is sculpted along the curved architrave.
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