Karla Caves, located at a distance of 11 km from Lonavala Hill Station
in Pune District
, contains the largest chaitya (cave temple) in the country. These cave structures are believed to have been built by Buddhist monks around the years 100-125. They exhibit the Buddhist ideas of simplicity. The site was chosen in conformance to the Buddhist prescription that a Buddhist monk should not live either too far or too near to a human settlement.
The distinguishing feature of the chaitya hall is its façade screen made of teak wood. The hall was constructed by cutting into the solid rock. It measures 40 m in length, 15 m in height and 15 m in breadth. At the farthest end, there is a magnificent ‘stupa’ containing a wooden umbrella on the top. The hall contains 37 octagonal shaped pillars, with each one having a water-jar shaped structure at the base. Some pillars have capital containing images of elephant kneeling on bell shaped structures. At the entrance of the cave there is a horseshoe-shaped arch and enormous fifty-foot-high columns, topped with glorious lion sculptures, on both sides.
Apart from the ‘chaitya’ hall the caves contain ‘viharas’, which are residential areas of the monks, constructed by cutting cells into the walls. The base of the cave structure contains sculptures of elephants endorsed with metal ornaments and ivory tusks.