In the year 1843 I read a paper to the Royal Asiatic Society on the Bock-Cut Temples of India,1 in which I embodied the results obtained during several journeys I had undertaken between the years 1836 and 1842 for the purpose of investigating their history and forms, together with those of the other architectural antiquities of India. It was the first attempt that had then been made to treat the subject as a whole. Many monographs of individual temples or of groups, had from time to time appeared, but no general description, pointing out the characteristic features of cave architecture had then been attempted, nor was it indeed possible to do so, before the completion of the first seven volumes of “Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal” in 1838. The marvellous ingenuity which their editor James Prinsep displayed, in these volumes, in deciphering the inscriptions of Asoka and other hitherto unread documents, and the ability with which Tumour, Kittoe, and others who were inspired by his zeal, hastened to aid in his researches, revolutionised the whole character of Indian archaeology. The history of Buddha and of early Buddhism, which before had been mythical and hazy in the extreme, now became clear and intelligible and based on recognized facts. The relation, too, of Brahmanism and the other Hindu religions to Buddhism and to each other were now for the first time settled, on a basis that was easily understood and admitted of a logical superstructure raised upon it.

When all this was done the remaining task was easy. It only required that some one should visit the various localities where the caves were situated, and apply, the knowledge so amassed, to their classification. For this purpose I visited the eastern caves at Katak and Mahavâllipur, as well as those of Ajaṇṭâ, Elurâ, Karlê, Kanheri, Elephanta, and others in the west, and found no difficulty in seeing at a glance, to what religion each was dedicated, and as little in ascertaining their relative ages among themselves. A great deal has been done since by new discoveries and further investigations to fill up the cartoon I then ventured to sketch in, but the correctness of its main outlines have never been challenged and remain undisturbed.

One of the first works to appear after mine was the “Historical Researches” of Dr. Bird, published in Bombay in 1847,"2 but which from various causes—more especially the imperfection of the illustrations —was most disappointing. Though this has been almost the only other work going over the same ground, the interest excited on the subject, led to the formation of a Cave Commission in Bombay in 18483 for the purpose of investigating the history of the caves and taking measures for their preservation. One of the first fruits of their labour was the production, in August 1850, of a Memoir on the subject by the late Dr. Wilson, in the introductory paragraph to which he made the following statement, which briefly summarises what was then proposed to be done :—

“The Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland having, on the suggestion of James Fergusson, Esq., to whom we are so much indebted for the artistic and critical illustration of the architectural antiquities of India, represented to the Court of Directors of the East India Company the propriety of taking steps for the preservation, as far as possible, of the Cave Temples and other ancient religious memorials of this country, and for their full delineation and description, before the work of their decay and destruction has made farther progress, that honourable body has promptly responded to the call which has been addressed to it, and already taken certain steps for the accomplishment of the objects which are so much to be desired.4 With reference to the latter of these objects, it has determined to appoint a general Commission of Orientalists to direct its accomplishment in the way which may best tend to the illustration of the history, literature, religion, and art of ancient India. Preparatory to the commencement of the labours of that Commission, and the issuing of instructions for its researches, another of a local character has, with the approbation of the Government of India, been formed by the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society to make such preliminary inquiries about the situation and extent and general character of the antiquities, which are to be the subject of investigation, as may facilitate its judicious commencement and prosecution.”5

This first Memoir was prepared by Dr. Wilson for the Bombay Cave Commission just referred to, in order to sketch the extent of the information then available on the subject, and to call forth additions from persons possessed of special local knowledge.

In September 1852 he read to the same Society his Second Memoir, containing short notices of the Aurângâbad Caves and of a few others that had been brought to light during the preceding two years.

Previous to this, about July 1851, Lieutenant Brett had been employed to take facsimiles of the inscriptions from the caves,--a work strongly commended in the Court's despatch No. 13 of 4th May 1853. Beduced copies were made to accompany Dr. Stevenson's papers on the inscriptions,6 but Lieutenant Brett's engagement was closed about the end of 1853, and his original copies were sent to England. In April 1856, Vishnu Shâstri Bâpat was engaged to continue Lieutenant Brett's work, and having some knowledge of the ancient characters and of Sanskrit, it was expected he would be serviceable in preparing translations also. Results were promised from time to time, but delayed till September 1860, when it was reported that the Pandit had translated 88 inscriptions into Marathî; but he died next year, and no results of his work were ever published; while the Commission itself ceased to exist early in 1861. It had, however, stirred up officers in different parts of the country to send in accounts of the antiquities in their districts, and among these the contributions of Sir Bartle Frere, Captain Meadows Taylor, Dr. B. Impey, Dr. Bradley, Sir W. Elliot, Mr. West, and others were valuable additions to our knowledge. At its instigation, also, the caves at Ajaṇṭâ, Aurângâbad, and Elephanta were cleared of accumulations of earth and silt.

The fresco paintings in the Buddhist caves at Ajaṇṭâ being of very special interest, Captain Robert Gill was appointed by the Madras Government to make copies of them in oils. The work was one of considerable labour, but in the course of eight or ten years he sent home full-size copies of about thirty fresco paintings, many of them of very large size. The greater number of these paintings were exhibited in the Crystal Palace at Sydenham, where they were most unfortunately destroyed by fire in 1866. Five of them only escaped, having remained in the stores belonging to the India Office, and consequently were not exhibited.

From the time that Major Gill had been first appointed to copy them, till the destruction of his work, much of the fresco painting in the caves had fallen off or been destroyed. Still sufficient was left to make it desirable to secure fresh copies of what still remained, and in 1873 Mr. Griffiths, of the School of Art in Bombay, was engaged to make fresh copies. He has already spent three seasons at Ajaṇṭâ with some of his students, and has copied, with great fidelity, a considerable number of the fragments that still remain in a sufficiently perfect state, to make it worth while to reproduce them.7

Meanwhile the Secretary of State for India in Council in a despatch, dated in November 1870, proposed a survey of the architectural antiquities of “Western India, and especially of the Cave-temples; but no progress was made till 1873, when the Hon. J. Gibbs, C.S., prepared a minute on the subject in which he sketched a scheme for the Archaeological Survey, and to him chiefly belongs the credit of carrying into effect the objects of the despatch.

The drawings for this work have been collected during the six seasons since the Archaeological Survey of Western India was commenced, and some of them, with others not reproduced here, have appeared in the three volumes of reports already published. There is, however, a very large collection of careful drawings illustrative of many details of sculpture, especially at Ajaṇṭâ and Elurâ, which could not be reproduced in this work;8 and it is hoped a further selection from them may form a prominent feature in, if it does not constitute, the next volume of the Survey Reports.9 If presented on a sufficiently large scale, these drawings would be most interesting to all engaged in the practice of art, as well as to all amateurs. With the frescoes of Ajaṇṭâ and Bâgh, and perhaps a very few other additions, they would form a very complete illustration of Buddhist art in sculpture, architecture, and painting from the third before our era to the eighth century after it.

One of the objects proposed at the time this survey was sanctioned was, that I, conjointly with Mr. Burgess, should, when the proper time arrived, write a general history of Cave Architecture in India. A scheme for this work was submitted to the Duke of Argyll, then Secretary of State for India, and sanctioned by his Grace in 1871. In order to carry this into effect Mr. Burgess remained at home, in Edinburgh, during the season 1877-78 to write his part, which forms practically the second part of this book; but, owing to various causes it is not necessary to enumerate here, the whole of his part was not set up in type till just before his return to India in October last. The whole of my share, which forms practically the first part, was ready at the same time, and we were thus able to exchange parts and go over the whole together before his departure, and I was left to “make up” the whole and pass it through the press, which I have done during the past winter.

This arrangement, though inevitable under the circumstances, has, I fear, been in some respects unfavourable to the uniformity of the work. There is little doubt that if Mr. Burgess had been at home and in daily communication with me during the time the work was passing through the press, many points of detail might have been discussed and elaborated with more completeness than has been possible at a distance. There is, however, really nothing of importance on which we were not agreed before his departure. Had this not been the case, a better plan would probably have been to postpone indefinitely the appearance of the book. Had I been a younger man, I might possibly have recommended this course, especially if I had felt confident that the Indian Government would at any future period have sanctioned the necessary outlay. The abolition, however, of the establishment at Peckham, the dispersion of the India Museum, and other symptoms of economy in matters relating to literature and art, seem to render it expedient to proceed while there is the opportunity.

Supposing these personal difficulties had not existed, the work might certainly have been made more perfect if its publication had been delayed till the survey was complete, or at least more nearly so than it now is. At present our knowledge of the subject is rapidly progressive, and anything like completeness is consequently impossible. Since, for instance, Mr. Burgess’ return to India in October last, two facts have been brought to light which have revolutionised our chronology of the old pre-Christian caves in the west, and gives our knowledge of them a precision that was not before attainable. One of these is the discovery of inscriptions in the Mauryan character (they have not yet been deciphered) in the caves at Pitalkhorâ. The other the discovery of the very old Vihâraat Bhâjâ, described in the Appendix. With two such discoveries in one season there is every probability that others of great if not of equal importance may be made, and give the history of the western caves a precision it cannot now pretend to possess.

One of the weak points in the chronology of the western caves arises from our inability to fix the dates of the Andhrabhṛitya kings, but in his last letter Mr. Burgess informs me that he has collected an immense number of inscriptions at Karlê and elsewhere, which he is examining with the assistance of Mr. Fleet, Dr. Bühler, and the Pandits, and he hopes to make even this point quite clear. In fact, if the survey is carried on for another couple of years, which I earnestly hope and trust it will be, and with the same success which has hitherto attended its operations, there will not be a single cave in Western India whose date and destination may not be ascertained with all the requisite certainty, nor any antiquities of importance in the Bombay presidency that will not have been investigated and described. Meanwhile, however, the present work may, at all events, serve to direct attention to the subject, and to some extent at least, supply a want which has long been felt by those interested in Indian archæology.

In order that readers may know exactly what part each of us took in the preparation of this book, it may be as well to explain that I wrote the whole of the first part (pp. 161), with the intention that it should serve as a general introduction to the whole, but at the same time Mr. Burgess contributed a certain number of pages, between 5 and 10 per cent, of the whole, even in this part.

In like manner the whole of the second part has been written by Mr. Burgess (pp. 162 to 512), but during its passage through the press I have interpolated even a greater proportion of pages on the various subjects of which it treats. Thus, as I have no reason to suppose there is any difference of opinion on any material point, the work may fairly be considered a combined production, for the whole of which we are jointly and severally responsible. I selected the whole of the woodcuts, and all the new ones were executed under my superintendence by Mr. Cooper. The whole of the plates, except the first, are reduced copies of a few from among the mass of drawings prepared by Mr. Burgess and his assistants during the progress of the survey, and were specially selected by him for this work to supply a want that had long been felt. At the present day photographs and sketches of almost all the caves can be had by anyone who will take the trouble to collect them, but correct plans and architectural details, drawn to scale, can only be procured by persons who have time at their disposal, and instruments and assistants which are only available for such a survey as that conducted by Mr. Burgess. The plates have been very carefully executed in photo-lithography by Mr. Griggs, under Mr. Burgess' superintendence, and serve to place our knowledge of the cave architecture of Western India on a scientific basis never before attainable.

The woodcuts of the Raths at Mahavâllipur are taken from a beautiful series of drawings of these curious monoliths prepared for me, at his own expense, by Mr. R. Chisholm, of the Public Works Department at Madras. I only regret that owing to various untoward delays tkey reached me so late that I was not able to avail myself of them to a greater extent than I have done.

James Fergusson.

20, Langham Place, 
March 1880.

NOTE. A word should be said about the mode of spelling Indian names adopted in this work. The rules recently adopted by Government for spelling names of places, and for the transliteration of Sanskrit and other Indian words, have generally been adhered to, but well established names have not often been interfered with. Where, however , they have been spelt in a variety of ways,—and what Indian name has not ?—as Iloura, Yeloora, Elura, Elora, Ellorah, Elloora, Veroola, &c, a compromise approximating to the local pronunciation has been used, as Elurâ, or the vernacular name has been adopted in Romanised form, with the broad or long sounds of vowel letters marked by a circumflex or caret, as Bhâjâ, Karlê, Stivpa, &c. The cerebral letters ṭ, ḑ ṭh, ḑh, ṇ, need not disturb though they hardly convey much meaning to the English readers. They are the hard sounds of these letters and in constant use in our own language; ṛ has been used freely for ḑ, as to many ears the sounds approximate closely, being formed with the tip of the tongue on the palate, and Ś has a decidedly more delicate aspiration than sh.

Adjectivals are formed in the Indian language by lengthening the vowels, thus from Śiva is formed the word Śaiva, denoting anything relating to Ś iva or a member of the sect devoted to him; so from Vish ṇ u is formed Vaishṇava; from Buddha—Bauddha ; from Jina—Jaina; and from ŚaktiŚâkta. “Buddhist” has, however, been generally used throughout this work instead of Bauddha, as it has from long use become so much more familiar to English ears than its more correct Indian synonym.—J.B.

  • 1. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. viii., pp. 30 to 92, and afterwards republished with a folio volume of eighteen lithographic plates from my own sketches of the caves.
  • 2. Dr. Bird, in the preface to his Historical Researches, says:—

    “The Court of Directors have at length responded to the Royal Asiatic Society's representation of the duty imposed on us, as a nation, to preserve the relics of ancient art, and have accordingly sent out orders to each presidency that measures be adopted to keep them from further decay. They are also about to institute an Archaeological Commission for investigating the architectural character and age of the several monuments; an inquiry which, though long neglected, and left to other nations, less interested than ourselves in India, is likely to aid in dispelling the mist which for centuries has enveloped the historical age of these excavations and the object of their structure."

  • 3. The Bombay Cave-Temple Commsssion consisted of the Rev. Dr. J. Wilson, F.R.S., President; Rev. Dr. Stevenson, Vice President; C. J. Erskine, C.S.; Capt. Lynch, I.N.; Dr. J. Harkness; Venâyak Gangâdhar Shâstri; and Dr. H. J. Carter, Secretary, and was appointed in terms of a resolution (No. 2805) of 31st July 1848 of the Government of Bombay.
  • 4. Despatches No. 15 of 29th May 1844, No. 1 of 27th January 1847, and No. 24 of 29th September 1847; also despatch of Lord Hardinge, No. 4 of 19th April 1847.
  • 5. Jour. Bom. B. R. As. Soc. vol. iii. pt. ii. p. 36.
  • 6. Jour. Bom. B. R. As. Soc, vol. v. 
    Y132. b
  • 7. These copies are now in this country, principally in the British Museum, and a small portion in the India Museum, South Kensington.
  • 8. After this work had been almost wholly written Dr. Ed. W. West and his brother Mr. Arthur A. West placed in my hands a very large collection of notes and drawings from the Rock-Temples of the Bombay Presidency, collected and prepared by them whilst in India, with full permission to make any use I chose of them. I have used one of these plans and part of another, but I still hope to examine them more carefully and perhaps to make further use of so valuable a collection.—J.B.
  • 9. Three volumes of Reports of the Survey and a collection of 286 Pali Sanskrit and old Canarese inscriptions have already been published. The Reports contain accounts of the Cave Temples at Bâdâmi, in Kâṭhiâwâṛ, at Dhârsinva, Karusâ, Ambâ, and Aurângâbad. Accounts of other groups had also appeared either separately or in the Indian Antiquary.