Bagh – Mysterious World of Paintings


Different dating proposed by various scholars are, James Fergusson 350-450 CE, J Burgess 450-500 CE, V Smith 550-600 CE, J Anderson puts 375-475 CE, M B Garde 6th-7th century CE. Except M B Garde, the other earlier scholars were mainly dependent on the style and architecture of the cave for their dating. M B Garde takes help from a solitary leftover of an inscription which was found painted on the wall of portico of caves 4 and 5. On the paleographic grounds, it was assigned to 6th or 7th century CE which he took as the roughly dates of the caves.

In the due course, in 1982, discovery of twenty-seven copper-plate charters revived the interest in the study of these caves. All these charters were issued from Valkha which probably was the region under which Bagh was located. This is the position of G S Ghai and Archana Verma, however V V Mirashi identifies Valkha with Vaghli, a village in north Maharashtra.

Out of these twenty-seven charters, thirteen refer to the reign of Bhulunda, five to Svamidasa, five to Rudradasa, three to Bhattaraka and one to Nagabhatta. These charters are dated between years 38 and 167 of an unspecified era. There is no unanimity across scholars on the identification of this era, R C Majumdar, D C Sircar, G S Ghai, K V Ramesh, S P Tewari, R R Haldar and few others take this as the Gupta era while V V Mirashi identifies as the Kalachuri-Chedi era, you can observe that the balance is in favor of the Gupta era.

With the acceptance of the era to be the Gupta era, it was easy to assign a more definitive date to these excavations, which came to be the fifth century CE. Walter Spink further narrow this down and states that these caves were excavated in between 467-475 CE.

These chiefs, who issued the above charters, ruled for more than a century. The earliest one was Bulunda, who ruled from year 38 to year 59 (358-379 CE). After him came short reigns of four chiefs, ruling from year 63 to year 134 (383-454 CE), in which ruled Svamidasa, Rudradasa, Bhattaraka and Nagabhatta. The last and the sixth chief, Subandhu, ruled from year 135 to year 167 (455-487 CE).

All the above donors are referred as Maharaja and meditating in the feet of Paramabhattaraka in their grants. This suggests their feudatory status and most probably the overlord to whom they were meditating would be the Imperial Gupta house. However, was the rule of the Guptas extended this region during year 38 of their era?

Samudragupta is known to have conquered the eighteen forest regions and probably Valkha could be one of these. However Mirashi does not agree with this possibility. He states that the rule of the Guptas in the south region of Narmada was not possible during this period as this region was under the Saka satraps as evident from their coins. The latest coins of Rudrasimha are dated to Saka year 310 (388 CE). During the rule of Chandragupta II, Saurashtra was under the Gupta sway as he exterminated the Saka rule from western India. His inscription dated to the Gupta year 82 is the earliest reference suggesting that Malwa region came under the Guptas during Chandragupta II.

S K Tiwari mentions that the first ruler Bhulunda is not a Sanskrit name hence it could be a name of some tribal chief. He suggests a possibility that when Samudragupta conquered this region, he placed Bhulunda who was the chief of this region under his patronage. However after the reign of Bhulunda, the next rulers like Svamidasa, Rudradatta etc were either of the Indo-Aryan origin or people from the same tribe but took Sanskrit names. No relationship between these rulers is specified in any of their grants, also no specific name of their overlord is given.

Tiwari further suggests that the tribal region of Valkha was located in the ancient Anupa country. The grants are donations of lands to an individual Brahmana, or a group of Brahmanas or to a deity. A land donation is recorded to a statue of a deity known as Bappa Pishachadeva which suggests that the worship of devils or evil spirit was prevalent in Valkha which further supports the habitation of the tribal population in the region. Another grant issued by Maharaja Bhulunda records a donation to land of mother goddess.

Walter Spink, quoting references from Dasakumaracharita, identified the character Visruta in the play with Subandhu. Spink tells that Visruta was a princely son of a minister of the (Gupta) king of Magadha. This also helps in identification of the era used by Subandhu in his charters to be the Gupta era.

Spink tells that after the fall of the Vakataka viceroy in Vidarbha region, Subandhu schemed his way into a position of power at Mahishmati, thus he became the protector of whatever was remaining of the power and prestige of the Vakataka house.

General Epigraphs – This section provides details of those epigraphs which cannot be assigned to a specific monument.

  1. Bagh Cave plates of Subandhu – Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum vol IV – written in Sanskrit, in the western variety of the South Indian alphabets – undated – the inscription refers itself to the reign of Maharaja Subandhu who granted a village situated in the pathaka of Dasilakapalli. The grant was made for providing the materials for the worship of Buddha and maintain an alms-house in the vihara called Kalyana, for repairing the broken and dilapidated portions of the vihara and for supplying clothing, food, medicines, beds and seats to the Community of Venerable Monks hailing from all the four directions. The vihara named Kalyana was said to be constructed by some Dattataka. This order was issued from Mahishmati which was evidently the capital of the king.
  2. Brahma image inscription – Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum vol VII part II – written in Sanskrit, script is Nagari – This statue was discovered by M B Garde in Bagh town and now it is housed in the Gwalior Archaeological Museum – dated to Vikrama year 1210 (1154 CE) – The object of the inscription is to install an image of Brahma by Bhabhini, a sister of the Mandalika Yashodhavala, on Thursday, the thirteenth of the bright half of Jyestha in the (Vikarama) year 1210. H V Trivedi suggests that Yashodhvala could be the subordinate ruler under the Chalukya king Kumarapala.

How to Reach – M C Dey has written his exertion to Bagh in a very interesting manner. He traveled in a tanga from Mhow to Bagh via Dhar and Sardarpur. Not much is changed in this route, as I also took the same route because this is the only route if you coming from Indore or Mhow. However lot has been changed about the towns.

Dey mentioned Sardarpur as a small village comprises of ten-twelve mud houses, now Sardarpur is a town of considerable importance. However not much is changed about Bagh, except the Bagh print industry which has given Bagh is due importance in recent times. Many residents are employed in this industry however agriculture is still the main occupation of the people.

Bagh is about 97 km from Dhar, a major town in Madhya Pradesh, and about 150 km from Indore. If you try to use public transport then you need to change at many places to reach Bagh village. There is no transport from the village to the caves. It is advisable to take your own conveyance. The nearest railway-head and airport is Indore.


  1. Chattopadhyaya, Brajadulal (2005). Studying Early India – Archaeology, Texts and Historical Issues. Orient Blackswan. New Delhi. ISBN 9788178241432.
  2. Dey, M C (1925). My Pilgrimage to Ajanta and Bagh. Thornton Butterworth. London.
  3. Dutt, Sukumar (1962). Buddhist Monks and Monasteries of India. Motilal Banarasidas. New Delhi. ISBN 9788120804982.
  4. Fergusson, James (1880). The Cave Temples of India. Munshiram Manoharlal. New Delhi. ISBN 9788121502511
  5. Haldar, A K (1923). The Buddhist Caves of Bagh, published in the Burlington Magazine vol 43, No 247
  6. Marshall, John (1927). The Bagh Caves. Swati Publications. New Delhi.
  7. Mirashi, V V (1944). An Ancient Dynasty of Khandesh published in the Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute vol XXV. Pune.
  8. Pande, Anupa (2002). The Buddhist Caves of Bagh. Aryan Books International. New Delhi. ISBN 9788173052187
  9. Spink, Walter (1976). Bagh: A Study published in Archives of Asian Art vol. 30. University of Hawai’i Press. Honolulu
  10. Tiwari, S K (2002). Tribal Roots of Hinduism. Sarup and Sons. New Delhi. ISBN 9788176252997.
  11. Verma, Archana (2007). Cultural and Visual Flux at Early Historical Bagh in Central India. Archaeopress. Oxford. ISBN 9781407301518.
  12. Talim, Meena (2014). Bagh Caves: Paintings and Sculptures. Buddhist World Press. New Delhi. ISBN 978380852362
  13. Transaction of the Literary Society of Bombay vol II. London.
  14. The Journal of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society vol V. Bombay.
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