Karla Caves are a complex of ancient Buddhist rock-cut cave shrines developed over two periods – from the 2nd century BC to the 2nd century AD, and from the 5th century to the 10th century. The oldest of the cave shrines is believed to date back to 160 BC. Located in Karli village near Lonavala, Maharashtra States, the caves lie near a major ancient trade route, running eastward from the Arabian Sea into the Deccan. Karli’s location in Maharashtra places it in a region that marks the division between North India and South India. Buddhists, having become identified with commerce and manufacturing through their early association with traders, tended to locate their monastic establishments in natural geographic formations close to major trade routes so as to provide lodging houses for travelling traders.
The caves were historically associated with the Mahasamghika sect of Buddhism, which had great popularity in this region of India, as well as wealthy patronage. The caves house a Buddhist monastery dating back to the 2nd century BC. The monastery was once home to two 15-meter grand pillars. Now only one of these remains and the remaining space is occupied by a temple dedicated to the goddess Ekaveera, who is worshipped most notably by the Koli community of Mumbai.
The caves at Karla are believed to be some of thousands of similar caves excavated in the Sahyadri Hills in the early 1st millennium AD.
Karla is just 120 km from Mumbai and a day return trip is recommended to see the caves.