The Ranthambore Safari Tours

Exploring the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve's Caves

Exploring the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve's Caves

First detailed exploration by the ASI :

Knowing that the ASI would be exploring the area for nearly a fortnight in June, I went to the forest to learn more about the caves built on the Bandhavgarh Hills' sandstone hillocks. The region contains 42 caves that span a distance of more than 5 kilometres. Wildlife tourists from all over the world visit this tourism zone on a regular basis. As you walk through the woods, you will notice the human imprints of man-made caves, sculptures, the famous Shesh Shaiya, a reclining statue of Lord Vishnu, and rock-cut rooms (such as Badi Gufa or the big cave) in the Tala range, which houses the best of Bandhavgarh forest and wildlife. The guides discouraged tourists from visiting this location in June of this year due to the risk of encountering wild elephants. A splinter herd of elephants led by an aggressive tusker had wandered to this location. They chased some gipsies during the safari drive, scaring the safari operators.


"Because the archaeological sites and statues are on a hillock, and the road leading to them is narrow, and if you are confronted with an elephant, you don't have time to reverse your vehicle," a gipsy driver explained, describing his encounter with a tusker. For the past three years over 50 elephants have made the tiger reserve their home. During the exploration, the ASI discovered several new caves. The explorers were the first in the last 1000 years to enter these caves. The ASI also discovered an intriguing aspect of Bandhavgarh archaeology. It was revealed that the ASI's founder, Alexander Cunningham (1814-1893), never visited Bandhavgarh. Joseph Beglar, one of his prominent archaeological assistants, did not visit the forest. "These two distinguished archaeologists had visited nearly every archaeological site in India." These monuments would have been known long before they visited Bandhavgarh, according to ASI personnel. It was first visited by an Indian archaeologist and epigraphist, MP Chakravarty, around 1934. He was sent by the then-Bandhavgarh Baghela ruler. The current exploration began in 2021, thanks to the initiative of former Union Minister of Tourism Prahalad Patel.


As people had hardly any authentic knowledge about these structures, one would mostly find false information about them. "The most likely purpose of these caves was for meditation purposes of the sages who visited this area, as well as some other purposes," according to one website. Others mentioned the caves as home to various rulers' armies. According to another website, "they are strategically located at the base of the fort and visible from some key areas of the fort." However, the ASI believed that the caves were from the second century CE when Buddhism flourished in the area and the Magha dynasty ruled. It means they are almost 1800 years old. Bandhavgarh was a major trading centre at the time. Kausambi's business thrived (in present-day Uttar Pradesh). The caves and shelters were built on the lower slopes of Bandhavgarh and other hills to house traders and merchants. "Inscriptions in caves also show that the cave-shelter was intended for traders," an ASI source said. Some of the caves even had the names of businessmen carved on them.


To survive in the jungles, the traders would undoubtedly hunt animals. There are also animal images in several caves. The caves were only discovered in "good condition" because they became part of a protected forest area in the late 1960s. The names of merchants from various parts of the country are even mentioned in the caves. The Kalchuris - Kalchuri of Ratapuri and Kalchuri of Tripuri - followed the Magha dynasty. Bandhavgarh's last rulers were the Baghelas. A Sharqi sultanate coin was also discovered in one of the caves. When the Lodhis attacked Bandhavgarh and Jaunpur in the 14th century, Bandhavgarh sided with the Sharqis. Hussain Shah Sharqi, the founder of Rag Janunpuri, was friendly with Raja Ramchandra Singh Vaghela and Raja Man Singh of Gwalior. All three were music and art connoisseurs.


Pushparaj Singh, the scion of Rewa royals, is clearly enthusiastic about the ASI's work and has been closely following it. "The first of the caves were built during the Buddhist era by Buddhist pilgrims and traders who used this place while travelling from South to East and the soft stone available here could help them to chisel and carve the rock easily," he said. However, the majority of these caves are located at the foothills of the Bandhavgarh plateau.","The second were the Kalachuri, who were carving masters who contributed the Dashavatara of Vishnu with the Majestic Shesh Shaiya and Shiv Linga statues on the plateau's midway point." The remaining sculptures are located on the plateau's crest. They also built major water tanks and about four water bodies on top, resulting in a major attempt at water conservation in the sixth and eighth centuries."


Pushparaj said that “Lastly the Baghelas who came and made the Karan Pole gate, mid way to the top of the Fort, 3 temples over a passage of time period divided into 3 segments depicting the orignal Solanki style prevalent in Patan Gujarat, the old Baghela style of step dome and lastly by later Baghela at Bandhavgarh, which has large heavy stone beams upon which roof is made of slab stones". "This same style was carried in Rewa, while making the Mahamrityunjay temple at Fort Rewa", the Rewa royal explained . "More details  about the exploration of caves would  come  once we finish the work and prepare  a report. The  conservation work will be done with the support of the forest department", said Shivkant Bajpeyi , Superintending archaeologist , Jabalpur.

Photo Courtesy: Google

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