(Last Updated on : 28/09/2013)
Paintings of Ajanta caves
are mainly based on the episodes drawn from the life of Lord Buddha
. These paintings are regarded as some of the finest frescoes and have widened their influence worldwide. Ajanta caves are the treasure house of delicate paintings. Some of them also portray scenes from Jataka
tales. Celebrated for its archaic wonder and laced with a series of carved artistry, Ajanta cave paintings echo the quality of Indian creativity in perhaps the subtlest way.
With the optimum illustration of the age-old Buddhist architecture
, Ajanta cave is indeed an awe-inspiring site. Nowhere else in Indian art but at Ajanta, such a complete statement of indivisible union is found which is referred to as sacred and secular art. The temples are excavated out of batholitic cliffs on the inner side of a seventy-foot valley in the Wagurna River vale, at a site where beauty dropped her image.
Features of Paintings of Ajanta
In Ajanta wall-paintings, there is a profound modification from the art of early Buddhism
. The Ajanta paintings stresses on religious romanticism with lyric quality, a reflection of the view that every aspect of life has an equal value in the spiritual sense and as an aspect of the divine. The paintings are done by covering the rough surface of the wall with a layer of clay or cow dung mixed with chopped straw or animal hair. When this has been smoothed and levelled, it is given a varnish of fine white clay or gypsum and it is on this ground that the painting is done. It is notable that the plaster ground was kept moist throughout the application of the dye. A burnishing process gave a lustrous finish to the whole surface.
Ceiling Paintings of Ajanta
Paintings of Ajanta date from the late Gupta period
to early Chalukya period
, that is, the late fifth to early seventh century. The most famous paintings at Ajanta caves are in 'Cave I'. The shape of the cave is a square hall with the roof supported by rows of pillars. There is a rock cut image of a seated Buddha at the back of the shrine. The most unusual feature of the cave is parts of the complete decoration of the flat ceiling. There are scenes carved from the life of Lord Buddha as well as a number of ornamental motifs. On the left hand side of this cave there is a standing figure of Bodhisattva
with a blue lotus
. The figure of the Bodhisattva worthy of detailed analysis. Following the principle of hieratic scaling, it is enormously larger than the attendant figures; this device not only serves an iconographical function but provides a dominant vertical axis around which the composition literally revolves. The pose of the body contrives to communicate a feeling of convincing grace and movement that is carried out in the exquisite tilt of the head and the gesture of the hand. The parts of the face and body are drawn with reference to the shape of certain forms in the animal and vegetable world, which by their beauty and finality recommended themselves as more appropriate than any fleeting human model for creating the imagined superior and eternal anatomy of a God.
Moreover, in the paintings of Ajanta there are beautifully drawn female figures of dusky complexion wearing towering head-dresses that strongly resembles the sophisticated mukuta, crowning the Bodhisattva himself. This is a representation of the Shakti
or female of the Bodhisattva, one of the many indications of the intrusions of Hindu concepts into Buddhism
. The paintings of the ceiling of Cave I at Ajanta is executed in a more flat, enhancing style and the space is divided into a number of adjacent panels square and rectangular in form, which are filled with subjects and showy designs. The extremely restricted palette used here, and the silhouetting of the figures against a light background sprinkled with rosettes, give the panel a very flat, textile-like character. These are perfect instances of the Indian artist's aptitude to conceptualise the essentials of natural forms and turn them to enhancing organisation.
Wall Paintings of Ajanta
The fragments of wall decoration surviving in the porch of Cave XVII are unfortunately more damaged than the paintings of Cave I. This shrine bears an inscription of the last quarter of the fifth century, which may be assumed to correspond with the period of the wall-paintings. One of the subjects on the back wall of the veranda represents Indra
and his followers of celestial musicians flying to hail the Lord Buddha at the time of his visit to the Tushita Heaven. The implication of continuous, effortless flight is conveyed by the direction of the bent legs and by the jewels sweeping backward over the breast of the God, who is distinguished from his companions by his light colouring and magnificent crown. In addition to the noble exquisiteness of the God, the wonderfully animated figure of a flute-player at the right, half turning to seek a glimpse of Indra is noticeable. Behind Indra are gigantic clouds, conventionalised by striated curving lines of ultramarine blue of varying thickness against a nacreous white background. This detail illustrates with what immense breadth and confidence the figures are drawn.
Another painting in the wall of Cave XVII exemplify a portion of the Visvantara Jataka in which the chief episode demonstrates the princely hero announcing to his wife the news of his expulsion from his father's kingdom. At the right of the masterpiece, in a pavilion with orange walls and red pillars, swarthy lord grasps his swooning companion; her drooping pose is pronounced by the bend of her head, and the relaxation of every limb emphasises her agony. This detail of the fresco is an illustration of how in Indian painting states of mind or moods are, as in a play, precisely indicated by poses and gesture and glances. This is exactly what is implied in the 'Six Limbs of Painting' mentioned above and in all later treatises on the art of painting. The anxiety of the princess is revealed by the way in which she clings to her lord for support. The Lord of the princess appear again with umbrella-bearing attendants in the part to the left of this detail, the wonderfully characterised figure of a beggar with bowl and crooked staff is worthy of notice. Behind this group is a boldly patterned background of exotic foliage, in the rich variety of its greens suggesting European tapestry design.
Another magnificent painting in Cave XVII is a picture of a king talking smilingly to a golden goose. Even the painting of mother and child before Buddha draws attention. This painting is a fine representation of simplicity and poverty. There are several pieces of stone in hand of the child and one piece of stone in the hand of the mother. The child is naked and the mother is wearing a thin cloth. According to some scholar it is the picture of Yashodhara and Rahul. The expression of seriousness on the face of mother and simplicity on the face of the child has been marvellously represented.
Paintings of Ajanta for its simplicity, vivacity and variety have reached the pedestal of the classical art of India. The beauty of the paintings, the simplicity of the representation and those vivacious and varied designs make Ajanta paintings a chronicle, ideally engraved in colours.