The Magical Ajanta Caves – History, Architecture, Art and Beyond

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The Magical Ajanta

My earnest request to everyone is to visit this place at least once in a lifetime. You will get to see a marvelous human architecture and it will definitely be an experience of a lifetime. I had to convince my husband for long to make this trip happen. And now, he is in love with Ajanta. I am fortunate enough to visit Ajanta twice. My maiden visit was in the year 2002 when I was in college. Earlier, I used to do a fair amount of research before visiting a place. That’s something I learnt from my father. But this time with my 2 year daughter I could not manage to do the same. And I knew that as I would stand in front of the caves I will be blank. That’s the magic of Ajanta.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Ajanta caves essay the story of the unimaginable prosperity of ancient art and architecture. Undeniably the most popular tourist attractions in Maharashtra and I know this going to be very difficult for me to write about this eighth wonder of the world. It is 55 kms from Jalgaon and 105 kmns from Aurangabad city. You should dedicate an entire day for Ajanta caves to explore and understand the history and capture some beautiful snaps. The caves acquired their name from the neighboring Ajintha village. Ajanta caves were declared as the World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1983.

Brief History: Ajanta caves are one of the finest examples of early Buddhist architecture, cave-paintings and structures. There are 30 rock-cut caves. The monuments of the caves date back to 2nd Century. The caves are cut from the southern side of a cliff in a horse-shoe pattern. This helped the painters and sculptors to use the movement of the sun accordingly to do their work. Large mirrors were used to reflect sunshine into the dark caves. These caves are built in two distinct phases of Buddhism – first, from 2nd century B.C to 1st century AD and the second from 5th to 6th century AD. The caves are of two kinds – Chaitya Grihas or halls or shrines and Viharas or monasteries. Out of thirty caves, only 5 are Chaitya Grihas (caves 9,10,19,26 & 29) and rests are Viharas or places to stay. All the cave paintings and sculptors are inspired from the life of Budhha and Jatakas.

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View of the caves from the entrance

The horse-shoe shaped caves overlook the gorge. Each cave forms a separate chamber or a room within the hill. They must have required thousands of excavators to curve out such a mammoth structure out there. It is unbelievable. Each cave has its own story and a master piece. The Geological Survey of India has published a detailed description of each and every cave at Ajanta. These caves remained undiscovered until accidentally identified by a British officer.

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Here we go…

The Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) has undertaken the responsibility of restoring and conserving the paintings and sculptures of Ajanta Caves, based on the studies carried out by the Geological Survey of India. The eco-friendly buses pick you up from the car parking area and drop you at the caves.

Now we were all set to start our journey back to the 2nd century. The first huge ascent on the rocks made us feel that it is not going to be easy to cover the 30 odd caves. But we were all charged up. A walkway cut out across the cliff face takes you to the caves. You can make out the structural difference between Chaitya Grihas and Viharas once you enter. The front walls of the prayer halls are sculpted. Mostly the Viharas have a porch with robust pillars and are known for wall and ceiling paintings. Each of the Viharas has small cells for the monks to stay. And moreover you have to take off your shoes to enter the Chaitya Grihas or prayer halls. It is believed that these caves were the shelters of Buddhist monks during monsoons. They must have been great explorers and outstanding artists.

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Here we start our journey – huge pillars excavated from the rock cliff

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Exquisite wall paintings

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Small cell inside a Vihara

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Budhha – the enlightened one

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Gautam Budhha

The elaborate paintings on the walls and ceilings depict the life of Prince Gautam Budhha. What surprised me was that the paintings were done in extremely poor light (painters used the diffused rays of the sun) and still they look so perfect. I wonder how this amazing piece of work survived over millennia! In many caves paintings have partially or completely faded. Very soft lights are now used inside the caves to preserve these earliest surviving paintings in India.

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Paintings of Budhha

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Most of the Viharas have beautiful paintings on the ceiling at the entrance

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A closer look

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Moving ahead

The exquisite detailed carvings on the pillars, cave entrances and walls, arch shaped ceilings in the Chaitya Grihas are beyond description.

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Cave No. 9 – the oldest Chaitya Griha

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Stupa at Cave No. 9

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Cave No. 10

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Looking back

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Cave No. 19

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Beautiful structures of Budhha on the facade of the cave entrance

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Yaksha on the right wall of Cave No.19

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Capturing the minute details

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Budhha in the shrine Holding the heritage for over a millennia..!!

For long there was a misconception that the Ajanta paintings are frescoes. It is a technique which uses water without any binding agent and executed on white lime plaster.  But Ajanta paintings are done using the Tempera technique. The sources of colors are pebbles (crushed and mixed with glue) and vegetable found along the hill slopes. The sculptures mostly belong to 4th and 5th century AD.

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Cave No. 26

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Reclining Budhha at Cave No. 26

It took almost six centuries to complete the work. Ajanta caves are the evidence of the unparallel reign of Indian art in the forms of architecture, sculpture and painting, which depicted the golden age of Buddhism. It’s pride of India.

Important Information:

  1. Ajanta caves are closed on Mondays.
  2. Open on all National Holidays. But try to avoid those days to have a peaceful experience.
  3. Cave Timings: 9am to 5.30 pm.
  4. Advisable to stay at Aurangabad as good quality accommodations are limited.
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