The main Chaitya hall at Karle caves is around 124 ft deep, and 40 ft. high, and was carved out using the most primitive tools. The decorations here are probably the finest in the Lonavala area. There are many vihāras around the main hall, but most are not inaccessible, owing to lack of preservation, and collapsing roofs, etc.
Unfortunately, right alongside the caves – which is supposedly a protected monument – a Hindu shrine has been built for a local deity, which obscures parts of the building, and brings in vandals who write graffiti on the vihāra cave walls. As the deity, Ekveera, is very popular here there are many devotees who visit and the quiet we found at other caves was lost.
The shrine has been built right alongside the entrance to the Chaitya hall, and obscures the view considerably, but there is a railing which prevents further encroachment. While waiting to enter the caves we went to see the intrusive deity, and the swami offering puja for devotees, who was friendly and happily posed for photos.
When we entered the site we were told that monks can get in for free, but when one ex-guard arrived he demanded payment of Rs 200 each. This guard however turned out to be helpful in other ways and helped us to find and see things we would otherwise have missed, so that eventually we tipped him.
The Chaitya hall is far and away the most elaborate we came across in this area, and is finely decorated with sculptures and reliefs. Atop the thirty main columns are carvings of three and sometimes four ladies sitting on elephants. I am unsure of the significance of this design.
The verandah which forms an antechamber to the main hall is very well decorated, and worth spending time with as more details appear the longer one looks, and some of the carving is quite exquisite in places. At the front are carved couples, presumably patrons who may have commissioned the buildings.
Fanning out around from the Chaitya hall are the vihāras, which are in quite bad condition, having been subject to graffiti and neglect. Some of them are closed off and inaccessible owing to collapse of the ceilings and walls.
Although Karle is one of the most worthwhile sites in the area, it is thriving for the wrong reasons, and the large amount of visitors spoil it as a historical and heritage site.
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