(Last Updated on : 06/09/2012)
Ajanta Cave 16 is a popular and renowned for the work of sculptor and frescoes. Beyond Ajanta Cave 15A
is a door flanked by an elephant
in relief on either side or facing the sculpture of a naga king seated on his coils. A stairway to the left leads to the front court of Cave 16, one of the most beautiful monasteries at Ajanta cave
, combining elegance and architectural vigour. Its significance is enhanced further by an inscription incised on the left side-wall outside the verandah, furnishing the history of its excavation. The inscription records the dedication of the magnificent dwelling (vestna), excavated in the hill, for the use of the best of ascetics by Varahadeva, the minister of the Vakataka king Harishena (circa AD 475-500). We are further told that the dwelling was adorned with windows, doors, and beautiful picture-galleries, statues of celestial nymphs, ornamental pillars and stairs and had a shrine (chaitya-mandim) and a mandapa. It was also provided with a large reservoir and a dwelling of the lord of the nagas. The cave bears out all the details given in the inscription.
The hall has twenty pillars. Except the middle pair in the front and back rows, which have square bases and shafts first octagonal, next sixteen-sided and then square, they are plain slightly-tapering octagons without any base. The pillars of the front and back rows have bracket-capitals. The front aisle is longer than the others, and its ceiling is carved in imitation of wooden rafters and beams, their ends again supported by the bracket-figures of dwarfs (ganas), musicians and flying couples. These figures are shown in varied moods, a few groaning under weight, some serious, others taking it lightly and still others enjoying it. Especially interesting are the two flying couples, noted for their graceful poise and features. On three sides of the hall are fourteen recessed cells.
There is no antechamber leading to the shrine, which has two side-aisles with pillars and pilasters - again a novel feature- The side-aisles are lighted by a door and a window above it from the back side of the hall. The front pillars of the shrine, with fluted rectangular shafts, are richly carved.
The gigantic image of Lord Buddha
in teaching attitude, seated in the pralamba-pada, posture, is carved in high relief and has a circumambulatory passage round it. The back-slab is carved with the upper parts of attending chamara-bearers, makara
s and gaja-vyala motifs.
To the left of this monastery at a higher level, approached by a flight of steps, is a large cistern with a narrow mouth. Unfortunately most of the paintings have disappeared now. Of the few surviving compositions, the piece immediately after the front pilaster of the left wall of the hall is noted for the masterly depiction of the pathos and sentiments in the fainting of a beautiful .princess at the sight of a crown held by a servant. She is identified with Sundari, the wife of Nanda, the latter's conversion forming the subject of this panel. On his first visit to Kapilavastu
Buddha went for alms to the house of his half-brother Nanda, who was at that time busy in helping his wife in her toilet. When Nanda came out to meet Lord Buddha, the latter gave him his begging-bowl and took him to the monastery, where, much against his will, he was ordained.
In order to cure Nanda of his lovesickness Buddha took him to heaven and showed him beautiful nymphs, promising them to him if he practised his religious exercises. On return Nanda applied himself rigorously to self-control and practice of religious life with the sole object of attaining the nymphs. The ridicule of other monks, however, brought him to his senses and ultimately he became an arhat. Though the panel is much damaged, Nanda's tonsure, his sorrow at his forcible ordination and his journey through the air in the company of Buddha are easy of identification. After the scene of Nanda's conversion abruptly comes a panel containing seated figures of Buddha in two rows. This painting was done at a later date. Beyond this is a panel representing Buddha seated in teaching attitude on a simhasana decorated with lion-heads. The flying female above the head of Buddha is notable for her movement and modelling.
In the damaged painting on the back wall to the left of the shrine, between the cell-door and the door of the left aisle, can be recognized the Miracle of Sravasti. Next is painted an elephant-procession, signifying some royal visit, of which hardly anything substantial remains. On the back wall to the right of the shrine, above the door of the right aisle and the cell-door, is depicted Buddha preaching to the congregation.
The right wall is devoted to the illustration of incidents from the life of Lord Buddha. Though the painting is much darkened and effaced, some of the incidents can be easily made out, e.g., Sujata's offering of payasa, the offering of Trapusha and Bhallika, Lord Buddha with his begging-bowl on the street of a town (Rajagriha), a royal (Bimbisara
's) visit, Gautama's first meditation during the ploughing festival, the prediction of Asita, Gautama at school and his practice of archery. To the extreme right of the panel can be seen the sleeping figure of Maya, to the left of which in a circular pavilion, is a royal couple, apparently Suddhodana and Maya, conversing over the prospect of the dream which the latter had. The three-dimensional effect of the pavilion is noteworthy.
Of the Jatakas, two can be recognized on the front wall of the hall near the left corner and the left wall of the front aisle. The first depicts the Hasti Jataka, where Bodhisattva, born as a benevolent elephant, flung himself down to death from the top of a precipice to serve as food to hungry travellers, who are seen in the left panel making a feast on the elephant
's carcass. The second shows certain episodes from the Maha-Ummagga Jataka (no. 546), where the supernatural child Mahosadha adjudicated disputes.
On the top is the tank of Mahosadha, who is talking to a group of four persons. Below this, a little to the left, is the representation of the "riddle of the son", where Mahosadha was called upon to settle the dispute between a woman and a goblin over the motherhood of a child. Mahosadha asked both of them to drag the child towards herself; the mother seeing the child in pain, desisted from her effort, and this enabled Mahosadha to find out the real mother. A popular version of this story, in which the judge ordered the boy to be cut into two, so that the disputants could have equal parts, is depicted here. Lower down, to the right, is the 'riddle of the chariot', where two persons claimed a chariot, and Mahosadha declared the rightful owner by a simple test. The adjoining pilaster delineates the 'riddle of the cotton-thread', where a woman stole a ball of thread belonging to another when the latter was bathing in the tank of Mahosadha. Mahosadha asked what object had been put inside the ball, and thus the rightful owner was identified. Fragments of the Maha-Sutasoma Jataka, also represented in Ajanta Cave 17 can be seen on the architrave above the front pillars of the verandah. A lion is seen licking the feet of a sleeping person.
From the traces of the painting on the ceiling of the central nave it is clear that the design differed from others in its having bigger panels filled in with concentric decorative bands.