Ajanta Caves are situated in the Aurangabad district of Maharashtra. It is located 102 km away from its district headquarters. It was carved out of 300 rock-cut from 2nd century BC to nearly 650 AD. As per the Archaeological Survey of India, Ajanta Caves are the protected monuments and the “finest examples of surviving Indian arts of sculptures and paintings”.
These caves are also the spectacular pieces of Buddhist spiritual art representing the portraits of Jataka tales and figures of Buddha. According to legends, the caves were established in two stages, first phase started from 2nd century BC along with the second phase of development from 400 AD to 650 AD. Mr. Ajanta Caves are also a World Heritage Site under UNESCO since 1983.
The site of Ajanta Caves was once deeply forested with small hills in ancient times and again it was seriously forested when the Caves were relinquished. It was then rediscovered in 1819 by a British officer’s group during hunting. These Caves are the Buddhist monastic structures which include different and distinctive monasteries. The caves are marked 1 to 28 as per their positions starting from the entry along the path. Some of the caves are unfinished, few are hardly begun and rests of the others are basically little worshiping places having customary numbering like “9A”. At the time of numbering, the cave 15A was concealed under rubbles. Apart from it, a number of waterfalls from the narrow hill openings flow down. These waterfalls are very much detectable from outside the caves.
The caves are the biggest example of early Indian wall-paintings which are said to be related to the 5th century paintings of Sigiriya in Sri Lanka, though the longevity from painting areas of modern India are very little. The complex architectural carvings of the caves are very exceptional and many figure styled sculptures relates to local art which can also be found in close by accessible sites such as Ellora Caves.
These paintings and sculptures on Buddha’s life which are now world famous, belong to the rich and ritualistic Mahayana period of Buddhism. The copies of these paintings were shown in the exhibition at Crystal Palace in London in the year 1866. But, they were shortly got ruined in a fire over there. Later, in 1933, the copies were again published and was fabricated in four volumes, which were brought out by the then Hyderabad State’s director of Archaeological department, Ghulam Yazdani. Since then, Ajanta Caves have emerged as an epicenter of interest for Buddhism, Indian art and history world over.
The walls and ceilings of the Ajanta Caves are framed with exquisite carvings and paintings that depict the life of Lord Buddha. Among all the 29 caves, five belong to the Hinayana sect (9, 10, 12, 13 and 15A) while the rest are Mahayana caves. The Ajanta Caves were mostly used by the Buddhist monks for their philosophical and residential purposes which include monasteries and prayer halls.
The monks, who used to live in these caves, used the locally available apparatus such as chisel and hammer to carve out the images of Buddha and his incarnations on the cave walls. The Prayer halls are built in elaborated architectural forms inspired by religious beliefs. The Ajanta cave paintings also comprise of different designs, geometrical patterns and Buddha’s birth scenes to name a few.
While at the Ajanta Caves, a short walk from below the Cave 8 & 27; and a further uphill climb will takes you to the spot where the British first saw the caves. You can also see the horse shoe shaped gorge from there.