The Karla Caves or Karle Caves are a complex of ancient Indian Buddhist rock-cut cave shrines developed over two periods – from the 2nd century BC to the 2nd century AD, and from the 5th century to the 10th century. The oldest of the cave shrines is believed to date back to 160 BC.
Located in Karli near Lonavala, Maharashtra, the caves lie near a major ancient trade route, running eastward from the Arabian Sea into the Deccan.
Karli's location in Maharashtra places it in a region that marks the division between North India and South India.
Buddhists, having become identified with commerce and manufacturing through their early association with traders, tended to locate their monastic establishments in natural geographic formations close to major trade routes so as to provide lodging houses for travelling traders.
The Karla cave complex is built into the difficult terrain of a rocky hillside, with large windows cut into the rock to light the cave interiors. The caves are believed to be some of thousands of similar caves excavated in the Sahyadri Hills in the early 1st millennium AD.
The main cave features a large, intricately carved chaitya, or prayer hall, dating back to the 1st century BC. This is among the largest rock-cut chaityas in India, measuring 45 metres (148 ft) long and up to 14 metres (46 ft) high. The hall features sculptures of both males and females, as well as animals such as lions and elephants.
Within the complex are a great many other carved chaityas, as well as viharas, or dwelling places for the caves' monks. A notable feature of these caves is their arched entrances and vaulted interiors. The outside facade has intricate details carved into it in an imitation of finished wood. The central motif is a large horseshoe arch. There is a lion column at the front, with a closed stone facade and torana in between.