| Location: 99-km From Aurangabad, Maharashtra
Significance: World Heritage Site
Total Caves: 30
Dates Back to: 2nd Century BC To 6th Century AD
Ajanta caves are located 99-km away from Aurangabad district in the state of Maharashtra. Ajanta caves were carved out from the 2nd century BC to 6th century AD. They were hidden in the midst of a lonely glen with a streamlet flowing down below. They were scooped out into the heart of the rock so that the pious Buddhist monk could dwell and pray.
These are the caves that the followers of Lord Buddha, embellished with architectural details with a skilful command of the hammer over the chisel, with sculpture of highest craftsmanship and above all, with the paintings of infinite charm. The entire course of the evolution of Buddhist architecture can be traced in Ajanta. During this time, images of Buddha interpreting his different life stories and several types of human and animal figures were carved out of rock in-situ.Portraying The Contemporary World
All sections of people of the contemporary society from kings to slaves, women, men and children are seen in the Ajanta murals interwoven with flowers, plants, fruits, birds and beasts. There are also the figures of 'Yakshas', 'Kinneras' (half human and half bird) 'Gandharvas' (divine musicians), 'Apsaras' (heavenly dancers), which were of concern to the people of that time.
When the echo of the chisel faded, the world forgot these cave temples, which were hidden for a long time under the thick undergrowth until a company of British soldiers accidentally discovered them in the 19th century.
Chaityas And Viharas
The Ajanta caves are dedicated solely to Buddhism. The caves including unfinished are thirty in number of which five (9, 10, 19, 26 and 29) are "Chaitya-Grihas" and the rest are "Sangharamas" or Viharas (monasteries). The caves 1, 2, 16 and 17 can be ranked high among the greatest artistic works of the contemporary world.
The 30 Chaityas and Viharas have paintings, which illustrate the life and incarnations of Buddha. The artist has lent his creativity in each work with an overwhelming sense of vitality. These paintings have survived time and till date the numerous paintings glowing on the walls make atmosphere very vibrant and alive. The contours of these figures leave the visitor spell bound.
In Cave 1 , Prince Buddha is depicted delicately holding the fragile blue lotus, his head bent sideways as if the weight of his ornate jewelled crown is too heavy for his head. His half-closed eyes give an air of meditation, almost of shyness.
One can also see the court scene in cave number 1, which is believed to be of conversion of 'Nanda', a fellow prince like Buddha who had decided to join Buddha's monastic order. It is in the female figures in the paintings of Ajanta that one sees the true mastery of the artist. Magnificent array of colours, hairstyles, poses and costumes can be seen in the paintings. Women in the paintings lean against the wooden pillar of a mandap, or hall, and look on at a group of female musicians accompanying a dancer.
Cave number 2 , which is one of the better-preserved monasteries with a shrine, shows how sculpture, paintings and architectural elements were used together to enhance the atmosphere of piety and sanctity.
The ceiling and wall paintings illustrate events associated with Buddha's birth. The scenes include Maya, Buddha's mother standing in the garden at Lumbini, a scene where Mahajanaka Jataka, the queen and her attendants can be seen. In cave number 2 Buddhist icons were sculpted according to a set of codified rules that used symbolic hand gestures and motifs such as the wheel, the deer, the throne and sacred Bodhi tree. Each represents a stage of Buddha's life.
The figure of the seated Buddha in the pose that depicts the teaching of the principles of the Middle Path is in the inner shrine of cave number 2. Also one can see varying hand gestures to depict the scene of Miracle of the Buddhas. A sculptured frieze of the miracle of "Sravasti", when Buddha multiplied himself a thousand times can be seen in cave 7 .
There are several Chaitya Grihas or prayer halls at Ajanta. The plan consists of a central nave with pillars, behind which is a circulatory passage. The hall is often apsidal in plan or with a curved back wall, possibly taken from a wooden design. Within the curved end a stone miniature Stupa, or emblem of Buddha, was carved to serve as the focal point of the prayer hall.
In cave 17 one can find the paintings that depict stories from the Jatakas or tales of the previous incarnations of Buddha and also Buddha with his right hand raised, with the palm facing the viewer, which is a symbol of "Abhaya" - reassurance and protection.
Buddha is shown seated in "Padmasana" - the lotus pose of meditation. He is often shown with his hair tied in a topknot surrounded by a halo of light, representing nirvana or enlightenment.
At one end of the Veranda is a scene identified by scholars as the scene from the "Vishvantara Jataka", of a prince who gave away his belongings in alms. This scene provides interesting information of contemporary wooden architecture, costumes and a glimpse of courtly life.
The best surviving examples of a rock cut Chaitya Griha can be seen in cave 19 at Ajanta. The elegant porch is topped by the distinctive 'horseshoe' shaped window - flanked by 'Yakshas' or guardians, standing Buddha figures and elaborate decorative motifs. The interior of the cave is profusely carved with pillars, a monolithic carved symbolic Stupa and images of Buddha, which heralded the introduction of Mahayana phase.
In cave 26 , Buddha is seen seated under a Bodhi tree at Bodhgaya, meditating, when Mara and her voluptuous daughters attempted to tempt him. Buddha touched the earth with his left hand to witness his enlightenment. The "Parinivana" (ultimate enlightenment or liberation) came when Buddha left the world- as depicted in the 7m (23ft) image of the reclining Buddha in cave number 26.
Ajanta provides a unique opportunity to study the early phases of Buddhist sculpture, painting and architecture, which later influenced artistic traditions in Central Asia and the Far East.