The Barabar caves in Bihar are the oldest rock cut caves in India. They also happen to be the only built remains of the lost Ajivikas religion, that was once as popular as Buddhism and Jainism. Around 24 km north of Bodhgaya in Jehanabad district of Bihar, this spectacular set of 7 rock-cut-caves are located which dates back to the third century BC . These are situated on the twin hills of Barabar and Nagarjuni.
Carved in granite, each of the caves has two chambers with highly polished surfaces, there are no sculptures and embellishments present in any of these caves. Barabar caves are also known for their architecture and these are the very caves which saw the caves of the Chaitya Arch in the stone for the first time. The inscriptions found here tell us that the caves belong to the Mauryan era, that is from 322 to 185 BC. The inscription in the Sudama cave tells that the four caves on Barabar hill were assigned by king Ashoka to Ajivika monks in 261 BC.
Baba Siddnath Temple also known as the Shiva Temple and originally known as Siddheshwar Nath Temple, is located at one of the highest peaks in the range of the Barabar hills. The temple was built during the Gupta period in the 7th century A.D.
Who were these Ajivikas
It is believed that this religion emerged in the indo-gangetic plains 2500 years ago , it was a time of social turmoil, through a new way of thinkers, who rejected conventional vedic beliefs and traveled from place to place preaching their old philosophies. Many great religions traditionally grew after this which were turned as Nastic Darshana or heterodox philosophies as they didn’t believe in the vedas. Some like Buddhism and Jainism transformed into thriving religions, while others perished, Ajivikas is one such religious tradition. The founder of the Ajivikas faith was a preacher named Makkhali Gosala, a contemporary of Gautama Buddha and the companion of Mahavira who later went his own path. Ironically, since all the Ajivikas text has been lost, the only sources we have a Buddhist and Jain texts, which don’t paint a very pretty picture of these rival sets. Ajivikas believed that there was no free will and everything that has happened, is happening and will happen is entirely preordained and nothing could change it.
The Barabar caves were later occupied by the Buddhist, Jains and Hindus.
Today, the Barabar caves are a popular tourist destination for visitors to Gaya, but most are unaware that what they are looking at as the caves gaze at these caves. This cave stands as the proof of the once prevailing religious sect Ajivikas.