(Last Updated on : 20/02/2014)
Ajanta Caves in Maharashtra are considered as masterpieces of the Buddhist art and they have had a great influence in the development of art in India. Hence, UNESCO has considered these caves as a World Heritage Site since 1983. The paintings on the walls and ceilings dramatically reflect the sophisticated achievements of the very apogee of India`s so-called Golden age, generally associated with the Gupta Empire
. The creativity of the sculptures depict various human and animal forms and even make them expressive makes the cave paintings at Ajanta one of the high watermarks of artistic creativity. The Ajanta Caves are a unique artistic creation and its sanctuaries devoted to different religious illustrate the spirit of tolerance that was a characteristic of ancient India.
The Ajanta Caves are meticulously cut in the bent arm of the Vagha River, where it pushes its way through the broken and rough hills of the northern scarp of the Deccan, and into the Berar, and also the levels of the Tapti valley. Even during hot weather condition there are pools in the riverbed, while a few minutes` rain will send the river into spate for hours, filling the gorge and the caves with noise of waters.
These Buddhist rock-cut caves are about 107 km away from the city of Aurangabad
nestled in a panoramic gorge, in the form of a gigantic horseshoe, overlooking a bend of the Waghora River in northern Maharashtra. These caves were carved between the 2nd century BC and the 5th century AD and are yet known for its stunning paintings and sculpture, since they are all very well preserved. It was only in the 19th century that they were discovered and they depict the story of Buddhism
, spanning a period from 200 BC to 650 AD. Their beauty and antiquity distinguish them as one of the treasures of Indian, and indeed world, art.
The caves of Ajanta can be classified into two distinct phases: The earlier Hinayana phase, in which the Buddha was worshipped only in the form of certain symbols. And the later Mahayana phase, in which the Buddha was worshipped in the physical form.
Two kinds of Ajanta Caves:
: They are Twenty-Seven and depict different forms of Buddha.
: They are unfinished & some of them are accessible.
Thus, depicting the sculptures and paintings of the earliest Buddhist architecture
, the Ajanta caves includes a set of 29 caves, which are numbered according to their sequential location along the cliff face, which does not correspond to the order in which they were constructed. These caves comprise of Chaitya Halls or shrines and Viharas or monasteries. The more prominent Hinayana caves are those numbered 9, 10 (both chaityas), 8, 12, 13 and 15 (all viharas), whereas the Mahayana monasteries include 1, 2, 16 and 17, while the chaityas are in caves 19 and 26. In ancient times, each cave was accessed from the riverfront by individual staircases.
Ajanta is a world in itself, shut in and aloof. In the spring, when the rains have broken and everything is green, its beauty is surpassing and appealing. To the north are the two fine hill-forts of Baithal-Wadi and Abasgarh dominating strategic points, undoubtedly ancient. But there is no sign of a town or village of any size near by. The old pilgrims must have made their camp on the green bank at the turn of the river below the caves, where there is now a car-park. Four miles away is the Ajanta Ghat, the ancient highway to Asirgarh
and the north. Southward lie Aurangabad, Paithan
, Junnar, Thana, and the ports of Salsette, once thronged with the shipping of the African and Arabian trade
History of Ajanta Caves
Chaitya halls were dedicated to Lord Buddha
and were considered as the places of worship. These were large, rectangular chambers separated by rows of pillars into a central nave, surrounded by aisles on three sides, for circumambulation during prayer. It also had a sanctuary opposite the entrance. As it was dedicated to Buddha, it included many sculptures and paintings depicting the various incarnations of Buddha. The viharas, whereas were used by Buddhist monks for meditation and the study of Buddhist teachings. These were rectangular shaped halls with series of small cells attached on two sides. The side opposite the entrance contained an image of Buddha or a votive stupa.
The murals that surround the walls and ceilings of the caves depict the epic of Lord Buddha and various divinities of Buddhist. Out of these, the most important art forms are the paintings of the Jataka
tales, which tells the stories about the previous incarnations of the Gautama Buddha
. They also include the sculptures of Buddha that stand calm and serene in contemplation. These elaborate paintings and sculptures have a lot of exclusiveness since they have withstood all the ravages of time. One can also find in the caves a sort of illuminated history of the times - street scenes, court scenes, cameos of domestic life and even animal and bird studies come alive on these unlit walls.
These wall paintings and sculptures have been chiselled from rough rocks by the primitive inhabitants during the first and second century B.C. The art work is of great finesse and represents the level of skill the people of those times had. The popular Assembly Rock or Chaitya are examples of the ecclesiastical forms, but were undoubtedly derived from the apsidal halls of the secular communities and guilds which play so prominent a part in early Buddhist literature. They are found in the Caves Nos. IX and X at Ajanta.