Ajanta Caves

Ajanta caves are images and tales interpreting the life of Gautama Buddha carved out from huge rocks between the 2nd BC and 6th century AD. This rock-cut Buddhist cave monument is situated around 100 kilometers from Aurangabad city in Maharashtra; it traces the evolution of Buddhist architecture.

Historically, the first Buddhist cave monuments date from the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, and splendidly decorated caves got added during the Gupta dynasty between the 5th and 6th centuries AD. Interestingly, these lost heritages were discovered in 1819 not by a Buddhist monk or hermit, but by an East India Company officer who had gone hunting near these caves.

The Ajanta wall paintings include kings, slaves, common people, children & animal figures along with flowers and plants. Some paintings also have fruits, birds, and animals. Thus through the skillfully painted art and sculptures of the Ajanta one could get to know about various facets of the ancient life of people and their religious beliefs of the period vividly described.

One would find one of the greatest artistic works of human art in these thirty rock-cut caves. Barring the five caves; Nos. 9, 10, 19, 26, and 29 which are chaityas or magnificent prayer halls embellished with paintings and sculptures representing scenes from the life of the Buddha, the rest are viharas monasteries for Buddhist monks who spread Buddhism during that period. Cave Nos. 1,2,16 and 17 demand attention for their sculpture, and architectural painting of unique beauty and skill.

While in its entirety, the murals executed on the ceilings, pillars, and walls depict in the form of narratives, a subtle exercise in self-realization brings alive the glorious chapter of events from the life of the Buddha through fables. For example Cave No. 10 perhaps Ajanta’s earliest excavation symbolizes paintings of the mid-second century BC featuring symbols of the Buddha as the Stupa and the Bodhi Tree.

However, It is disheartening that there are few unfinished caves. Though incomplete, they are imposing structures of surreal beauty as though it is an unknown secret in the midst of a lonely planet. A row of Buddhist caves was cut into the secluded mountain face offering one of the most interesting chapters of ancient Indian art history. In deference to the piety and spiritual regard for these caves, a silence pervading the surrounding is respected even by the Waghora River flowing silently below.

Significantly the sculptures and the beautiful Apsara paintings are considered masterpieces of Buddhist religious art having great artistic influence centered on Bodhisattvas, Jataka tales, and incidents from the life of Gautama Buddha-founder of Buddhism. Although most of the paintings belong to the 2nd century BC and continued until the 6th century AD, were accomplished using the mud plaster tempera technique, still some are partially intact and merit appreciation for their novelty. It bears testimony to the talents of artists and artisans who have skillfully toiled on limited available implements during that period prompting UNESCO to recognize Ajanta as the world’s greatest historical monument.

Spanning a period of nearly 700 years or so with a gap of four centuries, Ajanta illustrates an uninterrupted history of the growth of the religious, architecture particularly Buddhist architecture of various facets of that era.

One of the premier destinations, Ajanta caves is best-visited post monsoon by rail and road when lush green nature is in full glory.