Cave 1 is probably the grandest vihara (monastery) at the site and was sponsored by emperor Harsisena himself. Harisena started this cave in about 466 CE when all the best spaces along the scarp were already gone. This explains this cave’s low priority location, at the extreme eastern end of the site, where the nature of the scarp offered many problems. The facade and porch were completed by 475-76 CE and the hall and shrine by 476-77 CE. Harisena died suddenly in 477 CE and so his own cave was neither finished nor dedicated, nor even used for worship. Perhaps this is why the cave’s painted decoration doesn’t show a trace of soot from oil lamps or incense. The cave consists of a verandah, a hall, group of cells and a sanctuary. The facade is elaborately carved with relief sculptures and decorative carving.
Every inch of the cave was originally painted including the pillars and the sculptures but much of the painting has peeled off. Its iconographic program is focused upon themes connected with kingship. For instance, carvings of the hunt, battles and erotic dalliance adorn the rich facade and the carvings emphasize royal virtue. The cave contains some of the masterpieces of painting. The two most famous are the paintings of protective bodhisattvas Padmapani and Vajrapani on either side of the entrance to the shrine. Besides this, it depicts Sibi, Samkhapala, Mahajanaka, Maha-ummagga, Champeyya Jatakas and the scene depicting Temptation of Mara.