Sunday, February 06, 2011

Junagadh, the Buddhist centre of Gujarat

Junagadh, the Buddhist centre of Gujarat
Times of India

Junagadh has always been an important part of Gujarat's history. In fact, the recorded history of the state gets its first mention here in the form of Ashoka's edict. Apart from the edict, the place has many caves which are more than 2,000 years older with the construction period ranging between 1st and 4th century AD.

'Buddhist caves' around Uparkot are rooms carved out of stone to be used as monks' quarters, hence the name. They all are a little over 2,000 years old.

Baba Pyare caves lie close to Modhimath. The caves have a unified plan with a spacious court and a chaitya hall. The pillars and doors of the caves suggest a clear impact of art traditions of Satavahana's period and are dated to as back as 1st–2nd century AD on the basis of their architecture. There are 13 rooms in three stories cutting into the rock, about 45 meters high and are adorned with carvings of Buddhist symbols. They are in better shape than the Khapara Kodia caves.

The oldest caves at Khapara Kodia belong to 3rd-4th century AD and are plainest of all cave groups. These caves are situated along the edge of the ancient Sudarshan Lake (which no longer exists) and the northern side of Uparkot. The rectangle western wing and the 'L' shaped wing, used by the monks as a monsoon shelter, are the important parts of the caves. They were carved into living rock during the reign of Emperor Ashoka and are considered the earliest monastic settlements in the area. On the basis of many scribbling and short cursive letters on the wall, as recorded by Burgess, the caves have been dated to circa 3rd– 4th century AD.

Among all the Buddhist caves, the ones at Uperkot are the most important. Situated north–west of Jami Masjid, the cave group is in three tiers, with all members of each galleries shown in semi-relief, but only two storeys having regular floors. This group of caves are assigned to 2nd–3rd century AD.

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