Bagh Caves of Madhya Pradesh are counted amongst the finest specimens of Buddhist art and architecture in India. Located 50 km west of Mandu, this cluster of five caves falls on the road between Indore and Vadodara. The word ‘cave’ is incongruous, as these cave sanctuaries have not been naturally formed, but are actually rock-cut structures carved by the ancient artisans of the country. Bagh Buddhist Caves, like the caves at Ajanta, find shape on a perpendicular rock face of a hill.
These five Buddhist caves are situated on the bank of Baghini River and lie approximately seven km from the village of Bagh, in the Kukshi Tehsil of Dhar District. According to legends, before being discovered, they served as home to many tigers. Hence, they got the name ‘Bagh’, which means ‘Tiger’ in Hindi. Later, these caves also served as residential places, meditation centers and religious congregation sites for Buddhist monks.
Thus, one can notice preponderance of Buddhist mysticism in these cave sanctuaries. There are residential cells inside, along with a large central cell enshrining a Buddhist stupa at the back end, which served as the ‘chaitya’ or prayer hall. Bagh Caves also hold numerous sculptures of Buddha and Boddhisattvas within their precincts. A painting of the Bodhisattva ‘Padmapani’ housed here exemplifies the Padmapani figure found in Ajanta.
Apart from this legendary painting of Padmapani, there are some traces of ancient murals and frescos by master painters of India. They exhibit vivid imagination and inventive spurts of these ancient painters and have striking resemblance to the paintings of Ajanta. In fact, these paintings are just a feeble glimpse of the rich paintings and frescos that once embossed its roofs and ceilings. Nevertheless, they are what still entail the popularity of the Bagh Caves.
Until recently, Bagh Buddhist caves were roughly assigned to 7th century, on the basis of their architectural style and style of painting. However, a copperplate grants inscription traced back the date of some of these caves to the 4th or 5th century A.D. Today, only five of the nine caves have survived the carnage of time and they still stand tall as one of the most marvelous vestiges of Indian rock-cut architecture. The beautiful delineation of art that finds expression in these caves makes them stand out as one of the most popular tourist draws of Madhya Pradesh.