20° 33′ 8.56″ N, 75° 42′
Location of Ajanta Caves in India
The Ajanta Caves (Ajiṇṭhā leni; Marathi: अजिंठा
लेणी), Maharashtra, India are 29 rock-cut cave monuments which
date from the 2nd century BCE. The caves include paintings and sculptures
considered to be masterpieces of both Buddhist religious art (which depict
the Jataka tales) as well as frescos which are reminiscent of the Sigiriya
paintings in Sri Lanka. The caves were built in two phases starting
around 200 BCE, with the second group of caves built around 600 CE.
Since 1983, the Ajanta Caves have been a UNESCO World
Heritage Site. The caves are located in the Indian state of Maharashtra,
near Jalgaon, just outside the village of Ajinṭhā(20°31′56″N 75°44′44″E
/ 20.53222°N 75.74556°E / 20.53222; 75.74556). Caves are only about
59 kilometers from Jalgaon Railway station (on Delhi - Mumbai, Rail line
of the Central railways, India); and 104 kilometers from Aurangabad (From
Ellora Caves 100 Kilometers).
Ajanta caves, Maharashtra
Rediscovery by Europeans
Cave Five, Six & Seven
Cave Nine,Ten, Eleven
Caves eighteen and nineteen
Cave twenty one, twenty four, twenty six & twenty
The first sanctuaries (known as chaytia-grihas)
were built during the Satavahana dynasty in the canyons of the Waghora
River. Murals preserved from this time belong to India
2. Second Period
Overview map of Ajanta
Caves; Date 21 March 2010 by Daarznieks
Scholars disagree about the date of the Ajanta
Caves' second period. For a time it was thought that the work was done
over a long period from the fourth to the 7th century AD, but recently
long-time researcher Walter M. Spink declared that most of the work took
place over short time period, from 460 to 480 CE, during the reign of Emperor
Harishena of the Vakataka dynasty. Some 20 cave temples were simultaneously
created, for the most part viharas: monasteries with a sanctuary
in the structure's rear centre. Each of cave temples seem to be patronised
by influential authority, numerous best available artists have been involved
in the work with fruitful rivalry between the neighbouring construction
According to Spink, the Ajanta Caves appear to have
been abandoned shortly after the fall of Harishena c. 480 CE. Since then,
these temples have been abandoned and gradually forgotten. During the intervening
centuries, the jungle grew back and the caves were hidden, unvisited and
On 28 April 1819, a British officer for the Madras
Presidency, John Smith, while hunting tiger, accidentally discovered the
entrance to one of the cave temples (Cave No. 9) deep within the tangled
undergrowth. Exploring that first cave, long since a home to nothing more
than birds and bats and a lair for other, larger, animals, Captain Smith
wrote his name in pencil on one of the walls. Still faintly visible, it
records his name and the date, April 1819.
Shortly after this discovery, the Ajanta Caves became
renowned for their exotic setting, impressive architecture, historic artwork,
and long-forgotten history.
|4. Cave One
Painting of Padmapani
from Ajanta Cave No. 1 - V c. 450-500
Painting of Vajrapani
from Ajanta Cave No. 1
The first cave was built on the eastern end of the
horse-shoe shaped scarp. According to Spink, it is one of the latest caves
to have begun on site and brought to near-completion in the Vākāţaka
phase. Although there is no epigraphic evidence, it has been proposed that
the Vākāţaka king Harisena may have been the benefactor of this better-preserved
cave. A dominant reason for this is that Harisena was not involved initially
in patronizing Ajanta.
This cave has one of the most elaborate carvings on
its facade with relief sculptures on entablature and ridges. There are
scenes carved from the life of the Buddha as well as a number of decorative
motifs. A two pillared portico, visible in the 19th-century photographs,
has since perished. The cave has a front-court with cells fronted by pillared
vestibules on either side. These have a high plinth level. The cave has
a porch with simple cells on both ends. The absence of pillared vestibules
on the ends suggest that the porch was not excavated in the latest phase
of Ajanta when pillared vestibules had become a necessity and norm. Most
areas of the porch were once covered with murals, of which many fragments
remain. There are three doorways: a central doorway and two side doorways.
Two square windows were carved between the doorways to brighten the interiors.
Porch of Cave 1 by RK
Each wall of the hall inside is nearly 40 feet
(12 m) long and 20 feet (6.1 m) high. Twelve pillars make a square colonnade
inside supporting the ceiling, and creating spacious aisles along the walls.
There is a shrine carved on the rear wall to house an impressive seated
image of the Buddha, his hands being in the dharmachakrapravartana mudra.
There are four cells on each of the left, rear, and the right walls. The
walls are covered with paintings in a fair state of preservation. The scenes
depicted are mostly didactic, devotional, and ornamental. The themes are
from the Jataka stories (the stories of the Buddha's former existences
as Bodhisattva), the life of the Gautama Buddha, and those of his veneration.
|5. Cave Two
Painting, Cave No. 2
Cave 2, adjacent to Cave 1, is known
for the paintings that have been preserved on its walls, ceilings, and
pillars. It looks similar to Cave 1 and is in a better state of preservation.
Cave 2 has a porch quite different from Cave one. Even
the facade carvings seem to be different. The cave is supported by robust
pillars, ornamented with designs. The size and ground plan have many things
in common with the first cave.
Ajanta Caves Porch of
Cave 2 by Jonathanawhite
The front porch consists of cells supported by pillared
vestibules on both ends. The cells on the previously "wasted areas" were
needed to meet the greater housing requirements in later years. Porch-end
cells became a trend in all later Vakataka excavations. The simple single
cells on porch-ends were converted into CPVs or were planned to provide
more room, symmetry, and beauty.
The paintings on the ceilings and walls of this porch
have been widely published. They depict the Jataka tales that are stories
of the Buddha's life in former existences as Bodhisattva. The porch's rear
wall has a doorway in the center, which allows entrance to the hall. On
either side of the door is a square-shaped window to brighten the interior.
The hall has four colonnades which are supporting the
ceiling and surrounding a square in the center of the hall. Each arm or
colonnade of the square is parallel to the respective walls of the hall,
making an aisle in between. The colonnades have rock-beams above and below
them. The capitals are carved and painted with various decorative themes
that include ornamental, human, animal, vegetative, and semi-divine forms.
Painting from the Ajanta
Paintings appear on almost every surface of the
cave except for the floor. At various places the art work has become eroded
due to decay and human interference. Therefore, many areas of the painted
walls, ceilings, and pillars are fragmentary. The painted narratives of
the Jataka tales are depicted only on the walls, which demanded the special
attention of the devotee. They are didactic in nature, meant to inform
the community about the Buddha's teachings and life through successive
births. Their placement on the walls required the devotee to walk through
the aisles and 'read' the narratives depicted in various episodes. The
narrative episodes are depicted one after another although not in a linear
order. Their identification has been a core area of research since the
site's rediscovery in 1819. Dieter Schlingloff's identifications have updated
our knowledge on the subject.
Some believe that the art work has erroneously been
alluded to as "fresco", rather than mural, and assert that the technique
and process used to produce this kind of artwork is unlike any other artwork
found in the art history of other civilizations, including within the history
of South Asian art.
|6. Cave Four
Ajanta buddha statue
Aurangabad Maharastra, India
சிலை , அஜந்தா குகை கோவில்கள்
, மகாராஷ்டிரா , இந்தியா
"This is the largest monastery planned on a grandiose
scale but was never finished.An inscription on the pedestal of the buddha's
image mentions that it was a gift from a person named Mathura and
paleographically belongs to 6 th century A.D. It consists of a verandah
, a hypostylar hall, sanctum with an antechamber and a series of unfinished
cells.The sanctum houses a colossal image of Lord buddha in preaching pose
flanked by Bodhisattvas and celestial nymphs hovering above.The rear wall
of the verandah contains the panel of Litany of Avalokiteśvara"
Lord buddha in preaching pose flanked by Bodhisattvas,
Cave 4, Ajanta
|7. Cave Five,
Six & Seven
The T-shaped porched doorway is the only feature because
the scooping did not go beyond it. The exuberant carvings are evident here
and the jambs and the lintems seem to be of later century.
This was the first important cave of the Mahayana phase.
The sculptors were probably copying wooden prototypes, or wanted stable
supports, so they included one central pillar in their lower story. The
simple octagonal pillars are bare, unlike the pillars of other caves, which
have capitals and bases. There extensions at the end of the front and the
rear aisles to enable pilgrims to circumambulate the Buddha's throne. There
is a Buddha image in the lower cave 6. He is sitting with his feet squat
on the base, in a rigid pose, only enlivened by the gestures of his hand
and the flying couples above him. There could be circumambulation around
the Buddha's shrine. This is a late cave, because, instead of attendant
bodhisattavas, there are attendants Buddha. The porch doorway is simple
with not much carved decoration except attached female figures. There is
a medallion in this cave in the colonnade of the shrine vestibule. The
couple in the medallion is skillfully carved, but the medallion itself
Bhikshu with Lotus : The painting of Bhikshu in this
cave in the middle, done about 5th century, is almost like a relief. There
is the rhythmic vitality in the line and boldness of drawing. The painting
is almost like a sculpture. The folds of the garment, the rounded belly,
and the calm on the face suggest a devote worshipper.
The verandah of this cave must at one time have been
elaborate. The ceiling was obviously painted. The carving is simple.
|8. Cave Nine,
Cave no. 9 in Ajanta
Caves, India. Date 23 December 2010(2010-12-23) - by Marcin Białek
This cave has a Chaitya gathering hall. There are
two early paintings, which survive. Frieze Of Animals And Herdsmen Naga
Worshippers Giant Horseshoe Window
There is a Giant Horse-Shoe Window on the façade.
The carving of this window suggests that it copied a wooden structure of
the same time. The pillars and the slanting eight-sided columns are also
copied from wooden structures of earlier times.
This is of about the same time as cave 9. It has a
similar shape. The large chaitya gathering hall is 28.5m X 12.3m wide and
11m high. It has a stupa shrine at the ambulating passage around the symbolic
King With His Retinue: The paintings in this cave show
resemblance with the relief carvings at sanchi in central India of the
2nd century BC. The painting on the left wall shows the King with his Retinue,
worshiping the Buddha tree. The royal party stops at the stupa and then
passes through a gateway. SHAD-DANTA JATAKA: On the right wall are the
series of large wall paintings. One shows the Shada-danta jataka, with
the Buddha in his elephant incarnation. This is a crowded scene, but each
figure is clearly distinguished from the other. The whole crowd is in movement.
ELEPHANTAS IN JUNGLE: In one scene are shown Elephantas in the jungle,
with a six-tusked elephant, which is supposed to be a previous incarnation
of the Buddha. The animals are beautifully drawn and the large space of
the forests, with its thick foliage and trees, is contrasted to the houses
on the side. PRINCESS AND TUSK: In the second scene, the princess, seated
on a stool, is shown fainting, because the six tusks of the elephant are
brought to the king. The queen has wished that the elephant be killed.
Now that his tusks are brought before the court, she faints at sight of
them. The drama is manifestly painted. THE BUDDHISATTVA ON THE PILLAR:
One of the earliest masterpieces of the 1st century BCE. or 1st century
CE. has the simplicity, tenderness and grace of the early archaic art of
Ajanta. The gracious figure in the pink and buff cloak surrounded by green
aureole is emerging to cast blessings on mankind. Two monks kneel by his
feet and the flying angels above his black head indicate that they are
going to lift him to heaven. The umbrella on the top is symbolic of the
protection he offers to all. BUDDHA AND THE ONE-EYED MONK: The painting
Buddha and the one-eyed-monk show the devotion of the followers of the
Enlightened one. The face and figure of the Buddha here as well as of the
monk seem to be echoes of the heavy physical types of Gandhara art of northwest
India. Only the flowing draperies have softened their contours. The aureole
on the buddha's head and the closed eyes show a dreamy calm. SHYAMA JATAKA:
The Shyama-Jataka on a wall in this cave relates the story of where the
bodhisattava was born as son of two blind parents, a hunter and his wife.
TRANSITION FROM HINAYANA TO MAHAYANA: The Buddha in
shrine of cave 11 is one of the earliest images at Ajanta. The important
fact about this Buddha is that it is attached to a stupa. This means a
compromise between stupa worship and image worship. This cave is interesting,
because it shows the transition from the earlier Hinayana to the later
Mahayana Buddhist phase of worship. The round stupa has the images of the
Buddha to its bare girth.
|9. Cave Sixteen
The porch doorway of cave 16 set a pattern for the
later doorway. Of course, the later once are more complex. Here two Goddesses
stand on neatly carved pilasters The Buddha figure in the shrine is of
about the same time as the Buddha in the shrine of the cave 6 (lower) and
cave 11 as the Buddha in cave 16 seated with his heavy feet down the base,
it is more than life size and fairly uncommon. Lions and other active animals
support the throne. Bodhisattvas stand behind him. This cave gives a good
view of the ravine. From the large verandha we enter a hall. There are
six cells on each side.
GIANT STATUE: There is a Giant Statue of Buddha in
the abhayamudra, or teaching gesture, in the inner shrine. DYING PRINCESS:
One of the finest paintings in the world art is on left wall. This shows
the wife of Gautama's cousin, Nanda. The Dying princess is suffering from
the shock of hearing that her husband has become a monk. Some great master
paints the sad drama. Notice the bent head of the princess and the tense
female attendants. BUDDHA WITH A BEGGING BOWL: On another wall is the Buddha
with a begging bowl PRINCE SIDDHARTH STRETCHING THE BOW: Still another
painting shows Prince Siddharth Stretching the bow THE DECENT OF THE BUDDHA:
The Descent of Buddha from the Tushita heaven is another masterly panel
THE SUTASAMA JATAKA: The Sutasama Jataka narrates the story of the previous
incarnation of the bodhisattva and the son of the king of indraprastha
named sutasama. The prince is trained in all the arts and sciences by a
guru at Taxilla. One-day Sutasama was seized by a man-eating dacoit. The
prince promised him he would come back and be eaten after he had offered
flowers to the Enlightened one. And he did as he promised. The cannibal
was surprised to see Sutasama. He who had once been a fellow student of
the bodhisattva at Taxilla and then king of Benares was converted, and
he became a king of Benares again.
The porch doorway of cave 17 is similar to that of
cave 16, with which it is contemporary. But the seated couples on both
the doorjambs and lintels improve on cave 16. Above are the seven Buddha's
of the past with maitreya it seems the left side of the door was painted
by different artists, using different colors from the apinter of the right
half of the door. The T-shape shrine doorway has goddesses, supported by
pilasters. This doorway is highly decorative. The plan of this cave is
simple and severe. The pillars in both the porch and interior are arranged
in a strict order. All the pillars were painted. The pillars near the shrine
have intricate carvings. The Buddha in the shrine is seated in the Yogasana.
His hands are held in the Dharmachakra mudra, or teaching gesture. There
are bodhisattva attendants holding flywhisks. The dwarfs bring garlands.
Devotees appear with offerings. The circumambulatory passage around the
image shows it is a relatively early cave. The pilasters at the right hand
of the porch of this cave are fairly simple. This cave was in transition
from Hinayana to Mahayana. So some survivals of symptoms of floral and
geometric paintings can be seen on pilasters.
APSARAS AND FLYING SPIRITS: This large grotto has many
paintings of the mature 5th century. The love of happiness radiates through
the pictures. The earth has become heaven. The Apsars and the Flying Spirits
float across the sky. Lovers sit in the air houses. INDRA AND THE APSARAS:
The famous painting Indra and the Apsaras, in the panel above the doorway
of this cave, is a lovely fantasy. All the paintings seem to illustrate
the beauty of nature and human love and happiness as described by the poet
of Ujjain, Kalidasa at the 4th century CE. ROYAL PROCESSION: There is a
magnificent painting showing a king and queen with their attendants going
in a royal procession. There are colorful umbrellas over their heads and
trees in the background. Some women are looking at them through the window.
SHAD-DANTA JATAKA: There is another version of the Shaddanta jataka, which
also appears in cave 10. PRINCE SIMHALA: Prince simhala, who conquered
Lanka, rides on a white elephant at head of the army. THE BUDDHA RETURNS:
The Buddha returns as a beggar and meets the wife and child in a poignant
|10. Caves Eighteen
Entrance to cave no.
19 in Ajanta Caves complex, India. by Marcin Białek
Princess looking in mirror: The Ajanta masters
shown human lives in all its varied colors. One of the scenes, always preferred
in Indian painting, has been of sringara, showing the decoration
by the women of her body. In one of the most exquisite paintings in this
cave, a Princess is looking in her mirror, after she has done her
One of her female attendants holds a tray of toilette utensils. The other
holds a flywhisk in her hand. A little child is looking on from below.
Cave 19 is a Chaitya gathering hall, with many paintings
and sculptures. They are mostly disfigured.
Chaitya Hall: The same donor as of Cave 17 patronized
this cave. It was scooped at the same time. It is the chaitya gathering
hall for worship. The carving is intricate. The facade is elaborate, with
pilasters, which were to be copied in other caves later. There are heavy
bodied, strong, somewhat squat yakshagana guardians, flanking the
right and the left side of the main arch. The wrinkles of their hair fall
like fountains while they are profusely garlanded and bejeweled. On the
base of the big stupa at the center of the chaitya hall are dancing dwarfs.
Buddha: The solemn Buddha standing above is
contrasted with the moving urchins below. Under the arched Chaitya window
are sculptured images of the Buddha in the niches. The forecourt has fallen.
There is a second aisle towards the nave. The columns have square bases,
round shafts, and rich bands of carvings on bracket capitals.
Standing Buddha: There is a Standing Buddha
on the tall stupa. The stupa itself is crowned with an umbrella that nearly
touches the roof.
Naga king: There is a Naga king with his queen
and attendants, with highly finishing carvings.
The aboriginals and the lower caste people, who became
Buddhist, brought snake worship with them. The nagas, or snakes, were given
human from, except for the hood of snakeheads, which was put round their
heads. There was a superstition that the worship of nagas brings rain.
Even nowadays peasants consider snakes auspicious.
|11. Cave Twenty one, Twenty
four, Twenty six & Twenty seven
The interior view towards left aisle shows mature sense
of the use of space. The pillars are well carved and the remains of plaster
show that there were paintings on the ceiling.
Chaitya Hall: This is also a Chaitya gathering
hall of the 5th-6th century AD. The verandha opens in to a court. There
is a colonnade inside, composed of 26 pillars. This forms the aisles. One
can go round the cylindrical stupa in circumambulation. The walls have
relief carvings. Also, the round stupa is decorated.
Buddha in Parinirvana: On the left wall, by
the verandah, is the large statue of dead Buddha. The Buddhist calls this
sleeping figure the Buddha in parinirvana.
Temptation of Buddha: On the same wall, further
ahead is a relief sculpture of Temptation of Buddha by the Demon Mara.
Pillar style: Unfinished pillars of the front
aisle are worth noting for the evolution of the pillar style. The earliest
pillars are simple, roughly shaped on four sides. Post Mahayana period
they were tapered into octagonal form.
Pilaster: The pilaster at right end of porch
elaborates piece of work, even though the cave 24 remained unfinished.
There are small groups in the medallion.
Porched Doorway Upper right corner: The splendid
T-shaped doorway came very late in the 7th century. The interior of the
cave was left unfinished because patronage at Ajanta had ceased by that
Chaitya Horseshoe Arch: The Chaitya horseshoe
arch of this 5th century cave is imposing. There are various fine images
of the Buddha sculpted with rare skill.
Sravasti Miracle: The circumambulatory passage
is full of them. Mostly they represent the sravasti miracle. This miracle
was based on the legend when the Buddha revealed himself in all his various
forms on the skies above the village of Sravasti.
Nagas, Nanda, Anupananda: At the bottom of the
relief, the Nagas, Nanda and Anupananda are shown holding the stem of the
lotus. This lotus is the cosmic axis on which the Buddha is seated.
Goddess: There is a goddess on the bracket of
the first pillar on left in the interior. She is standing under a fully
blossomed tree. Underneath is a lunette of a family group.
Buddha Head: There is a vital Buddha head with
curly hair and large ear lobes in this cave. Family group:There
is a family group with profuse floral decoration around it, which shows
the ideal human family of that time.
Naga Dwarpala: There is a Naga Dwarpala on the
outer flank of the shrine. This cave follows many elements from cave 20.
For instance, the Naga here is similar to a Naga Dwarpala in cave 20. This
is a late 6th century work; the carvings being not as firm as in cave 20.
Porched Doorway: The porched doorway of cave
27 is also derived from the shrine doorway of cave 2. The decorations show
the new fashion for splendor of the later centuries.Ajanta
Caves, Ellora Caves, Aurangabad Caves
Caves, India: Brief Description - UNESCO World Heritage Site - UNESCO.org
page - Ancient City of Sigiriya - UNESCO.org
Caves: Advisory Body Evaluation - UNESCO International Council on
Monuments and Sites. 1982
Spink, Walther M. "Ajanta: History and Development," 2005.
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