Barabar Caves: Who built them and what were the caves used for?

About 35 km northeast of Gaya (Bihar state), there is a low rocky ridge about 3 km long in the middle of the totally flat yellow-green plain. In its central part, there is a group of rocky hills known for the most ancient man-made caves in India which are called Barabar. Except that it is very difficult to call them “ordinary caves” for anyone who has been there…

The precision and thoroughness of the construction of the rooms are striking. The walls are even, the geometry is correct, the scale is perfect. The entrance is a simple and perfectly rectangular opening.

About a mile and a half away from these caves to the east is another location of similar caves belonging to the same historical period as Barabar, the rocky hill of Nagarjuni.

Barabar Caves
Barabar Caves

More often than not, both of these places are mentioned under one generalizing name: “The Barabar Caves.” The Barabar group consists of four caves and the Nagarjuni group of three.

Officially, the caves date back to the time of the great Mauryan Empire: they were constructed during the reign of Emperor Ashoka (268-232 B.C.) and his successor Dasharatha (232-225 B.C.). Along with the two Son Bhandar caves at Rajgir, they are the oldest cave temples in India.

On the south side of the cliff, the western (first on the way) cave, which is situated almost symmetrically about the longitudinal axis of the cliff with Karan Chaupar, is called Sudama. The first structure is a hall measuring 10 m by 5.8 m and 3.6 m high, the eastern wall of which is straight.

To the east of Sudama is the Lomas Rishi cave. Lomas Rishi, like Sudama, consists of two rooms (rectangular and circular), but for some reason, its construction was not completed, so on the plan, the second room looks not circular, but oval – it simply was not completed.

Barabar Caves
Barabar Caves

Even judging by the inconclusive dimensions (length 10-11.1 m, width 5.2 m, diameter of the circular chamber 5.2 m), it seems that Lomas Rishi was conceived as a copy of Sudama. The reasons why this cave was not completed are unknown.

On the surface of the massif, there are curious rectangular notches in the rock. Their purpose is also unknown.

There is absolutely no doubt that all of these caves are a single complex of one group of builders and had a similar “function”. But what was it?

Barabar Caves

For modern architects, these “caves” most of all resemble shelters or bunkers. And they are made at a very high-quality level. But what kind of tragedy unfolded in ancient India? Did the shelters help those who built them? Why do some of them remain unfinished? Unfortunately, there are more questions than answers.

Legends in these places have preserved rather vague memories of a “battle of the gods” in which humans were also involved…

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