Ajanta Caves – tour, history, picture, information, painting, facts
In 1819,a party of British officers out hunting the hills north of Aurangabad came across some caves (Ajanta caves). It was a spectacular setting; a horseshoe shaped cliff overlooking a steep tumbled in a series of cascades around the hills, were thick forests.
In the facade was awe-inspiring, exploration of the interiors of the Ajanta caves, many of which clogged with debris was mind boggling. For the party had stumbled on a piece of art created over 2000 years ago and which as was determined later had fallen into disuse many centuries ago. That was the accidental discovery of Ajanta caves.
Ajanta caves,29 in all virtually, trace the evolution and development of Buddhism in India. Created out of Hard Rock with the barest of implements, the cave range between the 2nd century BC and 7th century AD.
With the conversion of emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BC began the golden age of Buddhism. However around 2nd century AD Buddhism split into sects, Hinalaya, or the old system which had limited appeal and Mahanaya,a religion which was aimed at the masses.
Ajanta caves cover both the systems. During the heydays the colony of Ajanta caves was a living entity with monks and scholars, pupils and artists.
Though, in later centuries the Ajanta caves and their inhabitant suffered persecution under Muslim ruler, much have survived of the original glory.
The third rock-hewn at Ajanta caves, cut into the scarp of a cliff, are either chaityas (chapels) or viharas (monasteries). Most of these are so that a flood of natural light pours into them at given times of the day. Both of the facade and the inside of the chambers faithfully reproduce the structural patterns known to those ancient builders.
On the walls are paintings, many still glowing with their original colours. The outer walls are covered with brilliant executed sculpture. Here ancient Indian art attained the zenith of its development and revealed a dynamic rhythm of life.
The Buddhist theme of the Ajanta caves painting depicts a vibrant world of many centuries ago. It recounts the life of Lord Buddha and the tales of his previous earthly experiences. You see in them the elegant timber built interiors of spacious palaces, halls peopled by bejewelled princesses, retinues of attendants, mendicants and market places, celestial musicians and fur capped foreign emissaries on unknown mission. War-horses in colourful trapping, monkeys, peacocks and elephants and host of other images dominate the world of these unknown artists.
The antiquity of these Ajanta caves and paintings ranges between the 2nd century BC and 8th century AD. The work was completed in two phases, the first lasting between the 2nd century BC and 2nd Century AD and second beginning from 5th or 6th AD. Despite the long interval of time which separate these paintings, there is a remarkable unity of conception and design.
Although the dominant theme is religious, the painting in their range and treatment are really an epic of life over a span of almost a thousand years. Here in vivid colours, a whole era comes alive. The artistry is unsurpassable, The Buddha in meditation smiles as you move to the right and has altogether different mood when seen from other side.
No matter where you see them from, the celestial nymphs always seem to look down at you smilingly. Walk back a few steps and a panel becomes a throng of disciple listening to a sermon.
Only four of the Ajanta caves, number 1,10,19,26 are Chaityas or sanctuaries and the rest are Vihars or Monasteries. The Ajanta caves are profusely painted on the inside and carved. However, not all have survived the ravages of time and invaders.
The paintings were executed after the rock wall was covered with plaster of clay, cow-dung and rice husk and smoothed with coat of lime. Colours used were derived from vegetable and mineral origins. Some of the paintings were damaged when the British applied shellac in an attempt to revive and preserve the gloss of the painting.
The Ajanta caves at present, are numbered from west to east.
Number One is Vihar with a facade of six carved pillars. This cave contains a huge image of Lord Buddha. Other interesting features of this cave are a strangely carved pillar showing four deer with a single head; painting narrating the tale of King Sibi; scene from Buddha’s life; a painting of Padampani, considered a masterpiece and the most widely used fresco to represent Ajanta caves; and paintings of Vajrapani.
Cave number two is noted for the ceiling decoration and murals relating the final birth of Buddha. The paintings depict his mother and Queen Maya’s dream of an elephant with six-tusks.
Number four, the largest of Vihars at Ajanta caves is noted for its sculpture detailing various themes.
Cave Number 10, a chaitya is believed to be the oldest amongst the Ajanta caves.
The most interesting feature of cave number 16 is the painting of ‘The Dying Princess’ on which an art critic commented,’ for pathos and sentiments and unmistakable way of telling its story,this picture cannot be surpassed in the history of art.’
Cave number 17 has the largest number of best preserved paintings. The paintings here narrate various stories from the life of Buddha.
Other noteworthy Ajanta caves are 19,24 and 26 which are dominated by sculptures.
Open from 0900-1730 hrs.
Charges for showing the light inside the caves are levied extra. Guides are available at the caves.