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The Ajanta Caves

The Ajanta Caves



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The 30 caves at Ajanta lie to the north of Aurangabad in the Indhyadri range of Western Ghats. The caves, famous for their temple architecture and many delicately drawn murals, are located in a 76 m high, horseshoe-shaped escarpment overlooking the Waghora (tiger) River. The Ajanta Caves are listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Site.

Cave 1

This is a vihara (monastery), therefore squarish in plan consisting of an open courtyard and verandah with cells on each side, a central hall sided by 14 cells, a vestibule and garbha griha (inner sanctum). Though located at a less than an ideal position of eastern extremity of the ravine its beautifully executed paintings, sculptural and architectural motifs make this cave truly fit for a king; for this is the “regal” cave patronised by Emperor Harisena.

It contains the famed paintings of Bodhisvattas Padmapani and Vajrapani along with a seated figure of Buddha in dharma chakra pravartana mudra in the sanctum. Other notable features include murals that depict Sibi, Samkhapala, Mahajanaka, Mahaummagga, Champeyya Jatakas and temptation of Mara.

Cave 2

This vihara consists of a porch with cells on either side, a pillared hall bound by ten cells, an antechamber and garbha griha. Most importantly this cave contains two sub-shrines. Buddha in the main shrine is flanked by two yaksha figures (Sankhanidhi and Padmanidhi) on the left and two others (Hariti & her consort Pancika) on the right. Beautifully decorated cave walls and ceiling portray Vidhurapandita & Ruru Jatakas and miracle of Sravasti, Ashtabhaya Avalokitesvara and the dream of Maya.

Cave 3

This is an incomplete vihara consisting only of a pillared verandah.

Cave 4

The largest vihara in Ajanta has its façade richly ornamented with sculpted figure of Bodhisvatta as a reliever of eight great perils among others. As usual, the construction follows the basic pattern of a pillared verandah with adjoining cells leading to a central hall sided by another group of cells, an antechamber and finally garbha griha. An interesting geological feature here is notable on the ceiling which gives a unique impression of a lava flow.

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Cave 5

This is an unfinished excavation that proceeded only to carve out a porch and for the most part an incomplete interior hall. By the standards of Ajanta this structure is denuded of any architectural and sculptural motifs save the ornate door frame detailing female figures of makaras.

Cave 6

This two storied structure is referred to as Cave 6 Lower and Cave 6 Upper. Both stories contain an enshrined Buddha. The pillared porch, if there was any, of Cave 6 Lower does not survive today. It is also believed that the upper floor was an afterthought when the excavation of the lower level was well underway. There are some striking examples of murals preserved in the shrine and antechamber of the lower cave. In both the caves, Buddha is seen in various moods.

Cave 7

This vihara consists of two small porticoes supported by octagonal pillars with eight cells, a central hall rather oblong in shape and the garbha griha with Buddha in preaching pose. Sculptures abound, one of the more notable panels depicts a seated Buddha sheltered by Naga Muchalinda (the many-headed snake king).

Cave 8

Perhaps the earliest monastery, belonging to the Satvahana phase of excavation, this cave is located at the lowest level and a major portion from the front of the structure has been swept away by a landslide. Few architectural details survive but, importantly, the sanctum does not contain an image of Buddha.

Cave 9

Excavated in the 1st century BCE, this is one of the oldest chaitya (prayer halls) in Ajanta. The nave is flanked by aisles on either side separated by a row of 23 pillars with the stupa at the far end. The ceiling of the nave is vaulted but that of the aisles is flat. The stupa stands on a high cylindrical base at the centre of the apse. Signs of wooden rafters and beams on the ceiling, façade and tapered octagonal pillars show an adherence to the contemporary wooden architectural style. The paintings here belong to two different eras - the first being at the time of excavation while a repainting of the cave interior was carried out in the later phase of activity, around the 5th century CE.

Cave 10

This is the earliest chaitya in the cave complex having been built in 2nd century BCE. The nave is separated from the aisles by 39 octagonal pillars with the stupa being located at the apsidal end. Having been repainted in the later phase the cave contains paintings from two different periods. The scenes depict worship of Bodhi tree and stories from Sama and Chhaddanta Jatakas. The heavy begriming of the surface reveal that it was in use together with cave 9 over the centuries, though perhaps not continuously. A Brahmi inscription reads that the façade was a gift of “Vasithiputa Katahadi.”

Cave 11

This is a vihara, datable to the early 5th century CE, typically consisting of a pillared verandah with four cells, a hall with six cells and a long bench and the garbha griha which, besides the image of Buddha in preaching attitude, also contains an unfinished stupa.

Cave 12

Paleographically datable from the 2nd to 1st century BCE, this vihara was probably excavated slightly after Cave 10. The front of this monastery has collapsed completely. Only the central hall with four cells in each of its three inner sides remains. Each cell is provided with double beds with raised stone pillows. The cell frontage is ornamented with chaitya window motifs above each door. An inscription records this monastery to be a gift of a merchant named Ghanamadada.

Cave 13

This is a rather small vihara from the first phase, possibly 1st century CE, consisting of a central astylar hall with seven adjoining cells distributed on three sides.

Cave 14

Excavated above cave 13, this is an unfinished vihara. Though initially planned on a large scale it hardly progressed beyond the front half. A beautiful depiction of Salabhanjika (a woman breaking a branch of a Shorea tree) on the top corner of the doorway is to be noted.

Cave 15

This vihara was excavated around the middle of the 5th century CE. The plan follows the general vihara format of pillared porch with a cell at each end, an astylar hall accompanied by eight cells, an antechamber and finally a sanctum sanctorum with a sculpture of Buddha.

Cave 15A

This peculiar numbering is due to the fact that this was hidden under the rubble when the caves were being counted. This is the smallest vihara in Ajanta belonging to the early phase of excavation. It consists of a small central astylar hall with one cell on each side. Inside, the hall is relieved following the chaitya window pattern.

Cave 16

It is one of the largest excavations located at the centre of the arc of the ravine. An inscription records it to be a gift of the imperial Prime Minister Varahadeva. The colossal hall is surrounded by 14 cells. The garbha griha contains a sculpted figure of Buddha in pralamba padasana mudra. Some of the finest examples of murals are preserved here. Narratives include various Jataka stories such as Hasti, Maha Ummagga, Maha Sutasoma; other depictions include conversion of Nanda, miracle of Sravasti, dream of Maya and other incidents from the life of Buddha.

Cave 17

An exemplary collection of paintings and architectural motifs is preserved in this vihara. Excavated under the benefaction of local feudatory Lord Upendragupta, this monastery typically consists of a pillared verandah with cells on either side, a large central hall supported by 20 octagonal pillars and bounded by 17 cells, an antechamber and the garbha griha with an enshrined image of Buddha.

Among the murals the profoundly poignant illustration of Chhaddanta Jataka, exquisite ornamentation of pillars and pilasters, the sublime depiction of graceful beauty of a lady looking at herself in a mirror and the evocative retelling of subjugation of Nalagari by Buddha are some of the highlights. Many Jataka stories are depicted here including Chhaddanta, Mahakapi (in two versions), Hasti, Hamsa, Vessantara, Maha Sutasoma, Sarabha miga, Machchha, Mati Posaka, Sama, Mahisa, Valahass, Sibi, Ruru and Nigrodhamiga.

Cave 18

This was mistakenly counted as a cave. It is a porch with two pillars having moulded bases and octagonal shafts.

Cave 19

The façade of this chaitya is splendidly decorated with various carved figures and decorative motifs. Buddha offering his begging bowl to his son Rahul is depicted close to the entry door. Also, two life size yaksha figures are sculpted on either side of the chaitya arch. Inside, the apsidal plan divides the space into a nave separated by a colonnade of 17 pillars from aisles with the apse at the terminal end housing the stupa. A standing figure of Buddha is carved at the front of the stupa whose umbrella-like crown almost touches the vaulted roof. The triforium is elaborated with figures of Buddha in different poses. The aisle walls still preserve some very beautiful mural paintings. Interestingly, the courtyard outside is flanked by two side porches.

Cave 20

Possibly donated by Upendragupta, this vihara consists of a verandah with a cell on each side and the interior hall is flanked by two cells on each side. The garbha griha houses Buddha in preaching attitude. A sculptural panel of note here depicts seven Buddhas accompanied by their attendants. Most interestingly, the central hall is astylar and the antechamber advances into the hall.

Cave 21

This vihara consists of a verandah with restored pillars, a hall with 12 pillars accompanied cells in equal numbers. Out of these 12 cells, four are supplied with pillared porches. Buddha in dharma chakra pravartana mudra is sculpted in the garbha griha and traces of paintings on the wall show Buddha preaching a congregation.

Cave 22

The central hall of this vihara is astylar in form bounded by four unfinished cells. Carved in the back wall of the shrine Buddha is depicted in pralamba padasana mudra. Painted figures of Manushi Buddhas with Maitreya can also be noticed here.

Cave 23

Though unfinished this vihara is renowned for its intricately carved pillars and pilasters and naga (snake) doorkeepers. The whole structure comprises a verandah with cells at each end, an astylar hall with four cells, an antechamber with side cells, and the garbha griha.

Cave 24

Another incomplete vihara but the second largest excavation after Cave 4. The garbha griha houses a Buddha in pralamba padasana mudra but the cells bounding the central hall are unfinished.

Cave 25

An unfinished excavation at a higher level, the astylar central hall is not bound by any cell, also it is devoid of a garbha griha.

Cave 26

This chaitya is famous for its striking depiction of Mahaparinirvana (demise) of Buddha on the left aisle wall along with the assault of Mara during Buddha's penance. Quite comparable to cave 17 but of grander and more elaborate design, an inscription on the front verandah records it to be a gift of Buddhabhadra, a friend of Asmaka minister Bhavviraja. The façade, inner pillars, trifolium, and aisle walls are all skilfully decorated. The stupa has a sculpted figure of Buddha in pralamba padasana mudra.

Cave 27

Possibly a part of Cave 26, this two-storied structure is a vihara. The upper storey is partially collapsed while the lower storey consists of an inner hall with four cells, an antechamber and garbha griha with an enshrined image of Buddha.

Cave 28

This is an unfinished vihara whose pillared verandah was only excavated before being abandoned. The cave is now inaccessible.

Cave 29

An unfinished chaitya, located at the highest level between Cave 20 and 21. This cave too is now unreachable.

Cave 30

This vihara was discovered during debris clearance between Caves 15 and 16. A small structure with a narrow opening, the inside hall is bounded by three cells.

Rediscovery & Preservation

After centuries of neglect and desertion, the caves were accidentally discovered by John Smith, a member of a British hunting party in 1819 CE. With growing popularity within a few years of its rediscovery the once nondescript ravine became a soft target for unscrupulous treasure hunters. Before long, however, Indian antiquarian, archaeologist and architectural historian James Fergusson took a keen interest in their study, preservation and categorisation. It was he who commissioned Major Robert Gill to make reproductions of the paintings and together with James Burgess also numbered the caves.

Major Gill worked on 30 large scale canvases from 1844 to 1863 CE. These were displayed at the Crystal Palace in Sydenham, however, most of these paintings were soon destroyed in a fire in 1866 CE. John Griffiths, principal of the Bombay School of Art, was next commissioned to make copies of the paintings from 1872 CE onwards. It took him thirteen years to complete the project, but disaster struck yet again and well over a hundred canvases were incinerated in 1875 CE at the Imperial Institute.

Over the following decades Lady Christiana Herringham, Kampo Arai and Mukul Dey made noteworthy attempts at copying the paintings.

  • Following the initiative of Ananda Coomeraswamy and William Rothenstein, Lady Herringham undertook the project and arrived at the site in 1910 CE. She was assisted by a team of contributors which included contemporary Indian artists Nandalal Bose and Asit Kumar Haldar among others. Lady Herringham worked mainly during the winter of 1910 – 1911 CE. The completed pictures were exhibited in 1915 CE by Indian Societies of Calcutta and London.
  • Kampo Arai arrived in Santiniketan in the year 1916 CE; later he too proceeded to study and make copies of the murals of Ajanta. By a curious turn of fate his reproductions too were ruined while in storage at the Tokyo Imperial University following the earthquake of 1923 CE.
  • Through an independent initiative noted Indian artist and photographer Mukul Dey visited Ajanta in early 1919 CE where he spent the next nine months making copies of the paintings. The experiences and adventures of this trip are fondly recollected in his book My Pilgrimages to Ajanta and Bagh.
  • The celebrated Indian archaeologist Ghulam Yazdani worked tirelessly for many years from around 1920's CE for restoration and conservation of the caves and also made a comprehensive photographic survey of Ajanta.

Over a century and a half has passed since comprehensive scholarly studies were first undertaken at Ajanta. Any attempt to list the countless individuals whose unflagging pursuits to record, decipher and understand the many untold mysteries of the site, would be grossly incomplete. Nonetheless, pioneering work of a few individuals do stand out from a background of a teeming multitude. So, the following lines record the names of the historians and archaeologists whose patient work has illuminated many a dark niches and made it available to laity and connoisseurs alike.

  • In the field of epigraphy, it was James Prinsep who first reproduced a few of the many inscriptions (over ninety has been recorded) in 1836 CE. Bhau Daji translated and added upon this collection when he visited the caves in 1863 CE. Other significant attempts that followed were by Bhagwan Lal Indraji, Georg Bühler, B Chhabra and Vasudev Vishnu Mirashi.
  • Chronological study of Ajanta has become conterminous with Walter M Spink. Over a prolific career spanning five decades or more, he has meticulously reconstructed phase by phase the excavations of the later era under Vakataka Emperor Harisena. His comprehensive research has significantly reduced the arbitrariness of the dates and shed light on the many sociological and political influences that shaped the course of history in Ajanta.
  • Dieter Schlingloff is widely recognized for his extensive study of the murals of Ajanta. Identification of the many tales of Jataka, their interpretation, iconographic significance and ties with Buddhist religion has been his life work. In many cases he has also received the able support of Monika Zin.
  • Under Manager Rajdeo Singh, chief conservationist of ASI, over the last decade and a half, a painstaking restoration of the paintings of the caves 9 & 10 has been undertaken with marked success. Some of the murals that have lain hidden under grime, dust and misguided restoration efforts of a century ago can now be appreciated in their full beauty.

Though much has been irreparably damaged, a few debatable and, in all possibility, misplaced inferences have been drawn, it is through the combined efforts of many artists, archaeologists, historians, conservationists, geologists and antiquarians that the caves of Ajanta with all its grandeur and compassionate attitude continue to enthral and comfort the nameless many.


An Introduction to the Ajantā Caves

You will find in this book the architectural history of the caves as well as a retelling of the Buddhist legends painted on the walls.

The history section includes the chronological development of four Ajanta caves: Caves 1, 2, 16 and 17. This is a new account of the chronology of the Ajanta caves based on the latest research carried out by the author.

The narrative sections include short summaries of 84 Buddhist legends that are painted on the walls of the Caves 1, 2, 9, and 17. The short summaries are based on the pioneering research work carried by D. Schlingloff and his predecessors. The descriptions follow the nearest known versions of the stories, many of them from still very obscure Buddhist scriptures.

At least one photograph of each of the preserved painted legends has been reproduced. In total there are 284 colour photographs, which also include some examples from architectural details, scultpures, inscriptions, ground plans, and motifs.

A short introduction of our current understanding about the prevailing political and cultural background is also given.

The book is intended for the advanced researchers, educators, students, and such general readers who seek an in-depth understanding of the history of the Ajanta caves and the paintings.


Ajanta cave history

In the past, academics divided the caves into three groups, but it was rejected due to the evidence and research. According to that theory, from 200 BCE to 200 AD, one group, the second group was considered to be of the sixth century and the third group was of the seventh century.

The expression cave temple used by the Anglo-Indians for the viharas was considered inappropriate. Ajanta was a type of college monastery. Hiuen Tsang states that Dinnag, a famous Buddhist philosopher, who was the author of several texts on logic, lived here.

It is yet to be substantiated by other evidence. At its peak, the Viharas had the ability to accommodate hundreds. Teachers and students used to live here.

It is very sad that no cave of Vakataka Charan is complete. It was because of this that the ruler Vakataka dynasty suddenly became powerless, which also put his subjects in trouble. For this reason, all activities were interrupted and stopped suddenly. This time was the last period of Ajanta.

The images and maps of Ajanta remain ancient in India. The caves of Ajanta and Ellora are one of the ancient and beautiful caves of India. The images in these caves are taken in the old times.

Today the caves are in the care of the Archaeological Survey of India. Masterpieces of India are built in Ajanta’s caves, which gives India a high honor. Ajanta’s caves are in the Aurangabad district located in Maharashtra.


These 12 interesting facts about the Ajanta Caves will leave you stunned!

The Ajanta Caves in Aurangabad are definitely worth a visit, aren't they!

Photograph courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

The Ajanta Caves are one of the oldest UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India. The carvings and paintings at Ajanta date back to the beginning of the era of classical Indian art. Th Ajanta caves along with the ones ta Ellora are some of the most beautiful caves in India. These caves are some of the most mesmerizing ones in the country, especially with paintings that take us back in time all the way between the 2nd century BC and 6th century AD. The caves are now protected by the Archaeological Survey of India. The caves of Ajanta are home to some of the most magnificent masterpieces of Indian art. Located in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra, the Ajanta caves are one of the places history and and culture enthusiasts will enjoy an excursion to. Here are 12 facts about the Ajanta Caves that will inspire you to visit Aurangabad now!

DON&rsquoT MISS More stories on History and Heritage

Photograph courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

1. It is believed that several Buddhist monks spent a significant amount of time at the Ajanta caves during the monsoons as they were forbidden from travelling during that particular period of the year. This was the time when the monks put their creativity and time to use and painted the walls of the caves.

Also Read

2. It was only in 1819, when Jon Smith, who belonged to the 28th Cavalry accidentally chanced upon the horse-shoe shaped rock while hunting a tiger in and around the Deccan Plateau region. The entrance to the cave like structures intrigued the British official enough to make them cross the Waghora River in the vicinity and reach the caves. Soon, archaeological experts excavated the sites and the news of discovery of these caves spread like wild fire making it an instant hit among European travelers.

3. Apart from the stunning paintings and sculptures, there were also huge Buddhist mounds like stupas built, massive pillars intricately detailed carvings on the ceilings and walls made big news, giving the Ajanta caves the status of a heritage site.

4. It was soon studied that there were over 30 caves in the cave complex out of which one part of the complex was developed during the Satvahana period and the other was done during the Vakataka period. After closely studying several of these artefacts, historians and archaeologists speculated a connection between the Vakataka dynasty that ruled the region to the Gupta dynasty of north India!

5. During the first phase of construction, the sanctuaries known as the Chaitya-grihas were built in the canyons of the Waghora River. Caves 9, 10, 12 and 15 A were built in the first phase during the Satavahana dynasty.

6. The second period of construction was carried out during the rule of Emperor Harishena of the Vakataka dynasty. Close to 20 cave temples were simultaneously built which resemble the modern day monasteries with a sanctum in the rear end of the structure.

Photograph courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

7. Towards the end of the reign of Harisena, these caves were abandoned and eventually forgotten through the centuries. The dense forests were partly to be blamed for camouflaging these caves.

8. The Ajanta caves are home to paintings and sculptures that depict heavy influence of Buddhist philosophy and religious teachings of the Buddha. Various incidents from the life of Gautam Buddha and the Jataka Tales are represented and recreated on the walls of these caves. Scenes from the royal court of the respective eras are also painted.

9. Through his life, Buddha was against the idea of sculpting and painting images of him. He preached that life was a process through which one must overcome desire in order to attain salvation or nirvana.

ALSO READ Our Aurangabad travel guide

Photograph courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

10. However, after Buddha&rsquos death, his followers who wanted to worship him, decided to paint his images so that they had something to hold on to while spreading the faith and teachings of the Buddha.

11. At the entrance of the first of Ajanta caves, you will be greeted by a tall image of the Buddha. The doorway to the cave is decorated with auspicious motifs and the cave has numerous sculptures and paintings of Bodhisattvas Padmapani and Vajrapani carvings of princesses, lovers, maids and dancing girls scenes depicting the Persian Embassy, Golden Geese, Pink Elephants and Bull Fights.

12. Though the caves are over 2,000 years old, the Buddha statues had been added close 600 years later.


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Ajanta Caves History

As far as the history and origin of the Ajanta Cave Temples is concerned, one can say that they were discovered in the year 1819 (19th century AD). The caves were discovered by British soldiers by accident, when they went on a hunting expedition in the Deccan Plateau. One of the soldiers was generally looking down from a height, when he suddenly saw a rock - in the shape of a horseshoe. Obviously, he became curious and his curiosity increased when he saw the entrance of a cave, inside the rock.

The entire group of soldiers then descended from where they were earlier standing. After venturing across the ravine of the Waghur River, the soldiers came across an entire group of caves. Situated so far from inhabitation and left unexplored for such a long time, they had become covered by bush, shrubs, earth and stones. This had resulted in making them even more concealed. All the caves were empty, except for a few - whose inhabitants comprised of herds of goats, looking for shelter.

Soon after the British soldiers went back to their bases, they informed the Government of their discovery. The Government summoned archaeologists, who were entrusted with the task of carrying excavations at the site, which is today known as the Ajanta Cave Temples. Since that time, numerous unearthings have been undertaken at Ajanta and they have come up with amazing findings. Till date, 30 caves have been found in Ajanta, of which some are still unfinished. All of them stand adorned with paintings on verandahs, inner walls and ceilings.


Ancient history of Ajanta caves in Maharashtra

Ajanta Caves – Ajanta Caves Maharashtra’s Ajanta Caves have rich historical significance in India’s history. The Ajanta Ellora caves were the major Buddhist monuments of the second century. There are many examples of Buddhist architecture. In some paintings and crafts, you can also find living illustrations. The Ajanta and Ellora caves are in Aurangabad, Maharashtra . In 1983, UNESCO declared it as a World Heritage Site.

You will also find many Buddhist religious arts and scriptures in Ajanta Ellora caves. Over time, these caves grew to influence modern Indian art. It took two stages to build these caves. The first phase of building Ellora caves began in the 2nd century BC and the second phrase began during the period 460–480 CE. Many Chinese Buddhist travelers have mentioned Ajanta and Ellora paintings in their texts. These were Chinese travelers who traveled to India during the period of Akbar in the 17th century.

Ajanta and Ellora Caves

Ajanta merged with Ellora Caves. Ellora Cave is one of the major attractions for tourists in Maharashtra. The same style of Ajanta is also available in other parts such as Ellora caves, Aurangabad caves, Sivelani caves and Elephanta caves. In some caves in Maharashtra, a similar style came into existence. You can also get Ajanta Express train services from here .

Ajanta painting talks about Jataka Tales. The Jataka tales are Buddhist legends related to the birth of Buddha. All these temples also contain ancient morals and cultural ends. Some stories and tales are also available in Hindu and Jain texts. These also depict the sacrifices Buddha made and his avatars. Various life examples of Buddha are also available in the stories.

Ajanta Cave Paintings

Ajanta Ellora cave paintings have graffiti paintings. These paintings have survived from the early and later periods as well. Various pieces of caves speak of fragmented sculptures that are unique. These pieces also talk about the Satavahana period.

The other four caves have preserved frescoes that prominently represent Indian culture. Caves 16 and 17 are available in caves 1 and 2. Some paintings are also examples of ‘dry fresco’ for dry plaster. According to the literary texts, you will come to know about the Gupta period.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bakker, Hans. The Vakataka Heritage: Indian Culture at the Crossroads. Groningen: Egbert Forsten, 2004.

Behl, Benoy. The Ajanta Caves. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1998.

Jamkhedkar, A. Ajanta. Mumbai: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Parimoo, Ratan, et al., eds. The Art of Ajanta: New Perspectives. 2 vols. New Delhi: Books and Books, 1991.

Schlingloff, Dieter. Studies in the Ajanta Paintings. Delhi: Ajanta Publications, 1987.

——. Guide to the Ajanta Paintings, vol. 1: Narrative Wall Paintings. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1999.

Spink, Walter. "The Archaeology of Ajanta." Ars Orientalis 21 (1992): 67–94.

——. Ajanta: A Brief History and Guide. Mumbai: Lavanya Publishers, 1994.

Yazdani, G. Ajanta: Monochrome Reproductions of the Ajanta Frescoes Based on Photography. 1930–1955. Reprint, Delhi: Swati, 1983.

Zin, M. Guide to the Ajanta Paintings, vol. 2: Devotional and Ornamental Paintings. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 2003.

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Ajanta Caves

Ajanta Caves - 30 Caves Where History Prevailed While Time Slept.

Image courtsey: indiaplaces.com

Believed to be built between 2 nd century B.C. and 4 th Century A.D., Ajanta caves are located about 100 kilometers from Aurangabad district of Maharashtra state in India . The rich carvings, murals and sculptures of these caves offer real surprise to the visitors who flock to these caves in large numbers. Primarily built as a Buddhist monastery Ajanta is the premium tourist location in India not only for the rare sculptures it offers but also for the unique preservations of a culture that once prevailed. In a sense Ajanta caves preserved India ’s history by placing it in its lap and protected it from predators of all hues for sixteen long centuries.

(By“predators” it is meant about the tribal-thugs from the neighboring Afghanistan and surrounding areas who come on horse-back with weapons and get engaged in loot and kill spree in which destroying the invaluable works of art was done just for pleasure. The precious materials generally stored in places of worship acted as a lure for these barbaric tribes. Gazni, Ghori etc were well known aggressors who routinely looted Indian temples and destroyed the sculptures by routine).

Captain John Smith finds his place in Indian history.

It seems strange that these wonderful caves were lying un-noticed for centuries surrounded by tall mountains, thick forests and a river that glides and occasionally jumps down through a series of water falls. The Ajanta caves were discovered by Capt. John Smith a British soldier who happened to be there on course of an expedition. Mr. John Smith was lucky enough to enter in to the pages of Indian history through the discovery of this treasure cove. That was in 1819 long, long after the disappearance of Buddhism from this part of the land, and India was being ruled by the “British East India Company”.

A Buddhist education center.

Image courtsey: indiaplaces.com

These caves altogether 30 in number are located in the shape of a horse-shoe and contain all the characteristics of Buddhist architecture. They were intended to be monastery and contain “Chaitya” (prayer-hall) and “Viharas” (residential facilities for monks). Cave numbers 9, 10, 19, 26, and 29 belongs to the “chaitya” prayer-hall sections and 1, 2, 16, and 17 are “vihara” or monasteries.

A work which took more than four centuries.

As the construction of these caves took four long centuries the change in the architecture style that occurred between these long periods is visible in the 1 st and 2 nd phases of construction. The first phase built in the Mahayana period of Buddhism is rich with flourishing works of art esp. interior paintings. The antechamber of the door-way is adorned with finely etched “Bodhi-Satvas” are known as “Padmapani” (bears flower in hands. Padma = lotus, pani = hand) and “Vajra-pani” (which bears diamond in hands vajra = diamond).

Image courtsey: arizonahandbook.com

The Mahayana phase is rich with religious imageries of supernatural beings where as the other phase the “Hinayana” is devoid of such beauties. Some characters and events of the “Jataka” tales appear on the walls of these caves. Buddha in most of the postures appears in these sculptures. Caves 9, 10, 12, and 15 come within the Hinayana phase.

Image courtsey: members.tripod.com

The sculptures and the murals well depict the way of life that existed in that time. Numerous sculptures of Yakshas, Kinnaras, Gandharvas, Apsaras (all mythological characters with supernatural powers believed to visit world from heaven and interacted with human beings) etc add some add some touch of surrealism to the entire atmosphere.

Want to know more about the life that existed in that bygone era ask it to the numerous water falls in the Wagura River that murmur while passing nearby the caves they could tell a thousand stories, no historians or archaeologists can.


UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Ajanta Caves have been an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983 and are rightly considered one of the most valuable heritage sites of Ancient India. Many of the original paintings have been recreated for visitors to get a better visual idea. Along with the nearby Ellora Caves, these caves attract huge throngs of domestic and foreign tourists annually. Hopefully the increasing awareness among tourists and the energetic management of the site will ensure that his heritage is well preserved in the years to come.


Watch the video: THE AJANTA CAVES, India - a musical tour (August 2022).