Guided by these considerations and the architectural indications, It is probable that we may assume the Tiger and Serpent caves to be the oldest of the sculptured caves in these hills. The former is a capriccio certainly, not copied from any conceivable form of stone architecture, nor likely to be adopted by any people used to any so intractable material as stone in their constructions. It is, in fact, a mass of sandstone rock fashioned into the semblance of the head of a tiger. The expanded jaws, armed with a row of most formidable teeth, form the verandah, while the entrance to the cell is placed where the gullet in a living animal would be. There is a short inscription at the side of the doorway, which according to Prinsep reads "Excavated by Ugra Aveda" (the antivedist), which looks as if its author was a convert from the Brahmanical to the Buddhist religion. Before the first letter of this inscription there is a well-known Buddhist symbol, which is something like a capital Y standing on a cube or box, and after the last letter is swastika.1 These two symbols are placed at the beginning and end of the great Aira inscription in the Hâthi Gumpha, though there their position is reversed, the swastika being at the beginning, the other symbol at the end. The meaning or the name of this last has not yet been ascertained, but it occurs in conjunction with the swastika very frequently on the earliest Buddhist coins.2 The probability, therefore, is that these two inscriptions cannot be far apart in date, and as the jambs of doorway leading into the cell of the Tiger cave slope considerably inwards, there seems no reason for doubting that this cave may not be only slightly more modern than the Aira inscription in the Hâthi cave here, and contemporary with the Aśoka caves in the Barabar hills.
The same remarks apply to the Sarpa or serpent cave. It is only, however, a small cubical cell with a countersunk doorway with jambs sloping inwards at a considerable angle. Over this doorway, in a semicircular tympanum, is what may be called the bust of a three headed serpent of a very archaic type. It has no other sculptures. Its inscription merely states that it is “the unequalled chamber of Chulakarma.”
There is a third little cell called the Pavana, or purification cave, which bears an inscription of the same Chulakarma3, but is of no architectural significance. All these, consequently, may be of about the same date, and if that is the age of Aśoka, it makes it nearly certain that the Hâthi Gumpha, with its Aira inscription, must belong to the earlier date ascribed to it above. If for no other reason at least for this, because after carving these, and a great number of small neatly chiselled cells, apparently of the same age, which exist in these hills, some inscribed, some not, it is impossible to fancy any king adopting a rude cavern, showing no marks of a chisel, as a suitable place on which to engrave his autobiography.
Besides these smaller caves which, though numerous, hardly admit of description, there are six larger Buddhist caves in these hills, in which the real interest of the group is centred. Their names and approximate dates may be stated as follows:
The Ânanta, on the Khandagiri hill
The Vaikuntha. Two-storeyed.
No inscriptions. 150-50 B.C.
Râni kâ Nûr. Two storeyed.
No inscription; 1st century B.C.4
Ganeśa. One storey.
No inscription; 1st century A.D.
- 1. J. A. S. B ., vol. vi. p. 1073.
- 2. J. A. S. B., and Thomas's Prinsep, vol. i. Plates XIX. and XX.
- 3. These inscriptions, and with the information here retailed, are abstracted from Prinsep's paper in the sixth volume of his Journal, pp. 1072 et seq., and Plates LIV. and LVIII.
- 4. In his work on Buddha Gaya, just published, Babu Rajendralâla Mitra, at p. 169, assigns these caves to "the middle of the fourth century before Christ," say 350 B.C., or about three centuries earlier than I place it.