Ajanta is one of the most spectacular hand crafted caves in India. Located about 100 kilometers from Aurangabad city and 300 kilometers from Mumbai in the State of Maharashtra, these manmade temples into the huge granite hillside are some of the most elaborate in the world.
Here you can find the most elaborate pillars, statues and meditation rooms carefully crafted and worshipped by generations of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain monks.
The rocks that stand perpendicular on the Waghora river banks are testimony to some of the most stunning and astonishing frescoes in the world. Chains of dazzlingly colorful, ravishing paintings adorn the chiseled walls of this amazing cave.
Though the Ajanta caves held the fascination of excavators for over six centuries, most of the lavish and stylish caves were dug out and carefully chiseled with human figures during the Mahayana Buddhism period, between 465 and 500 AD.
“Moon among princes” as he was called, King Harishena of the Vataka dynasty was instrumental in the creation of at least 29 caves dug in the huge rock mass that is shaped like a horse-shoe.
Ajanta caves were discovered in the fourth decade of 19th century by an Englishmen. The hidden mystery of the wonderful and mesmerizing paintings of these caves were then brought forth to the world by many scholars and enthusiasts.
Most of the paintings in these caves elaborate on Buddha’s life and teachings, spanning through many of this incarnations. The rocks here are cut into the shapes of Vihara, Stupa and Chaitya, three of the most significant Buddhist religious places.
UNESCO declared these masterpieces of Buddhist art to be a World Heritage Site since the year 1983. The sophisticated achievements of the very essence of the Gupta Dynasty referred to as the Golden Age of India is reflected in the wall and ceiling paintings in a dramatic manner.
Ajanta caves can be classified into two phases namely the Hinayana phase and the Mahayana phase. Hinayana is the earlier phase when symbols were used to worship Buddha as compared to the later Mahayana phase when he was worshipped in the physical form.
The two distinct types of Ajanta caves include the finished and unfinished caves. There are 27 finished caves that depict different Buddha forms apart from which there are many unfinished caves. Only certain unfinished caves are accessible.
A total of 29 caves in Ajanta are numbered depending on their sequential location along the face of the cliff. Viharas or monasteries and Chaitya halls or shrines form an important part of these caves. The most prominent Hinayana Chaitya caves include the caves numbered 9 and 10 and the Hinayana Vihara caves include caves 8, 12, 13 and 15.
Caves numbered 1, 2, 16 and 17 are the Mahayana monasteries and caves 19 and 26 are the Chaitya Mahayana caves. Individual staircases on the river front were used to access these caves during ancient times.
Dedicated to Lord Buddha, the chaitya halls were used as places of worship. These rectangular chambers are huge in size. In these chambers, you can find a central nave separated by rows of pillars. Aisles that allow for circumambulation during prayers surround this area.
Opposite the entrance you can find a sanctuary dedicated to Buddha where there are numerous paintings and sculptures that depict his various incarnations.
Buddhist monks used the viharas to study Buddhist teachings and to meditate in solitude. Viharas are halls shaped rectangular that contain small cells on two sides. There is a votive stupa or an image of Buddha on the wall opposite the entrance.
The walls and ceilings of these caves are surrounded by murals depicting Buddha and various Buddhist divinities. Paintings of Jataka tales are the most attractive among them. These paintings, apart from illustrating the previous incarnations of Lord Buddha as Bodhisattva also contain serene and calm poses of Buddha in quiet contemplation.
The caves also take you right back to those ancient times with its elaborate depiction of a cameo of domestic life, street scenes, court scenes, birds and animals.
© 2010 Abiyoyo SL