Pitalkhora was an early Buddhist site, similar in age to Ajanta; it has first century BC sculpture remains, and fifth century painting remains. The story of Pitalkhora is shrouded, but the site has yielded many unusual sculptures, including wonderful yaksa figures.

Pitalkhora, right bank, general view of cave remains. There are several viharas and a caitya hall, with bits of sculpture and paint.

Little remains at Pitalkhora today. The cliff has fallen away dramatically since antiquity, and most of the carvings that existed on the face of the cliff fell with it. Careful viewing of the cliff reveals only scraps remaining intact (at the top right of the above photograph, look close- there are some caitya windows.) Most of the caves are in very poor preservation. There are a few bits here and there.

Pitalkhora's main gate, with its naga, door guardians, and elephants.

The main gate to the site from the gorge consists of a wide terrace, with the naga and guardians flanking the door, and a row of elephants "supporting" the complex. There is also a stair leading directly to the caitya. The area had covered drains, a complex of viharas, a caitya hall, and two smaller caves across the gorge with stupas in them.

Remains of an elephant's head at Pitalkhora.

The sculptural remains at Pitalkhora include animal motifs, miniature caitya windows, the elephants and guardians, and yaksa figures.


Slab on the terrace at Pitalkhora, showing miniature caitya windows.


Winged animals in a vihara at Pitalkhora.

Entering Pitalkhora through the gate, you arrive at several large vihara remains. The walls of the viharas were often made too thin, and have mostly broken away. Weaknesses in the cliff itself, seen in large cracks in the back walls of cells, attests to the demise of Pitalkhora since antiquity.

The Gate at Pitalkhora, with door guardians.

One of the viharas of Pitalkhora, with the walls broken away. It is likely that the people building Pitalkhora were unfamiliar with stone, thus making the walls far too thin; or perhaps the cliff was much weaker than anticipated.
A cell in Pitalkhora. In the large viharas, the cells are carved with elaborate moldings, and often include beds of the living rock, some carved like these. The large crack in the back of the wall attests to the weakness of the cliff stone.

The elaborate carving above doors, in cells, and around common rooms may be a mark of the wealth of the community, or of its patrons. There is much more such carving at Pitalkhora than at Ajanta.




Carving over a door in a vihara at Pitalkhora- images include lattice and common animal motifs of horse, bull, elephant, and lion, as well as fantastic animals.

The caitya of Pitalkhora is also crumbling. Many of the pillars have been replaced with cement to prevent collapse. The surviving pillars have remains of fifth century paintings, similar to late painting at Ajanta.

Painted pillars in the caitya at Pitalkhora.
The painted pillars of the Pitalkhora caitya. The cement blocks of a replacement pillar are in the center.

Steps from the terrace to the caitya with yaksas and pegasus, Pitalkhora.

The caitya was reached by its own steps from the terrace, and is flanked by viharas. To the right are smaller viharas, mostly in ruinous condition; to the left are the larger, carved viharas.


Across the gorge from these remains are three little caves, with stupas inside. One is a small caitya hall.

The two stupa caves at Pitalkhora. The small caitya hall is below and to the right of this photograph.


The stupas in these caves are very interesting. They are about twice human height. There are several in the cave to the right in this photograph. They are not apparently monolithic with the cave, but moved into the niches provided for them.

The right stupa cave. Remains of a stupa to the left, in a niche; remains of a stupa in front, observable from across the gorge, but half crumbled away; and a third stupa seen peeking behind, in fair preservation.

The stupas do not match carving around them; parasols carving in the ceiling are not centered on the stupa below. We suspect that these were reliquaries for important community monks, added to the caves as important persons died.

The crumbled front stupa in the right stupa cave.
The parasol over the better preserved stupa in the right stupa cave, not centered over the stupa itself.


Unfortunately, I do not have photos of the other caitya, or the other caves or viharas. If you would like to share your photographs of Pitalkhora, or sculptures removed from the site, please contact me.


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