Pitalkhora Caves: Monasticism and Landscape

Much like other students said in their blog posts, one of the most striking aspects of our trip to India was how much more there was to learn from being physically present at the various monuments compared to reading about them. I was most struck by this at Pitalkhora. Set into the rolling hills of Aurangabad, Pitalkhora seems to illustrate the monastic ideal perfectly. It is easy to picture the hills covered in green flora during the rainy season and to imagine the caves as active sites of worship. Being physically present at the caves at Pitalkhora helped me better understand the message that Pia Brancaccio described in her text the connections between religion, commerce, and agriculture in her text “Buddhist Caves of the Deccan: Art, Religion and Long-Distance Exchange in the 5th and 6th Centuries.” Looking out from the deep-set caves of Pitalkhora I felt the connection to the natural landscape that she describes. Upon viewing the beds and benches of the caves, I can see how clergy residing in those caves were closely tied to use the natural landscape, using it for for irrigation and agriculture. In fact, given how isolated the caves were, domesticating the surrounding landscape was surely necessary. Finally, the ornately painted and well preserved pillars inside the cave gave color to Pia Brancaccio’s words. The lush garden was not in contrast with the stone-carved caves, but rather in harmony. Both the landscape and the caves were magnificent in their own way, coexisting together with the monks to connect the two. While Brancaccio laid the groundwork for my understanding of monastic connection to local landscape, my visit to Pitalkhora solidified it. This was surely my favorite single site visit of the whole trip.

The Caves of Pitalkhora looking out onto the hilly landscape.
Ornately painted pillars o the Pitalkhora caves.

Brancaccio, Pia. “Buddhist Caves of the Deccan: Art, Religion and Long-Distance Exchange in the 5th and 6th Centuries.” In Living Rock: Buddhist, Hindu and Jain Cave Temples in the Western Deccan, edited by Pia Brancaccio, 93-107. Mumbai, India: Marg Quarterly Publications, 2013.

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