Ajanta Caves situated in the district of Aurangabad, Maharashtra, India consists of thirty rock-cut made Buddhist cave monuments dated back from second century BCE till 480 or else 650 CE. The government Archaeological survey Department of India credited the sculptures and paintings of this caves to be the “finest surviving illustrations of the great Indian art, especially painting”, those are the magnum opus of the religious Buddhist art displaying the Buddha figures and depicting Jataka tales. Construction of this cave was carried out in two sections, initially the work was started in second century BCE , whereas the second section was done around 400-650 CE. the data is according to the old account or as per Walter M Spink; everything was carried out between the periods of 460-480. The Ajanta caves was one among the protected monument under the care of Archaeological Survey of India and right from 1983, Ajanta Caves was credited to be one among the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
About 100 km (approximately 62 miles) distance from Ellora caves, possessing Jain, Buddhist and Hindu shrines which dates back to the year same as that of Ajanta Caves. The caves at Ajanta get divided into the cliff side that lies south of the U-shaped gorge present on a small river bed Waghora (or Wagura ) and these days there is a modern pathway passing across cliff, but originally they were contacted by individual ladders or stairs straight from the river side 35-110 feed underneath.
Similar to various other Buddhist monasteries, the Ajanta was also a college monastery which took keen interest on teaching, and is then categorized into various different colleges which are meant of living and education on the basis of central direction. The organizational structure of this cave clearly depicted in the site layout in which majority of caves is linked through the exterior. According to Xuazang, the travelling scholar during seventh-century reported that Dinnaga, the well-known Buddhist controversialist and philosopher, author of popular logic books sustained in that place at the time of 5th century. During this period, this place might have inhabited several hundreds of pupils including teaches. Majority of monks after completing their initial training might have exercised Ajanta as a platform to comeback during monsoon climate from their itinerant lifestyle.
The Ajanta caves are commonly believed to have been constructed in two different periods, with a wide gap of several centuries.
The monasteries mainly comprises of Viharas halls meants for living and prayer, which are literally rectangular in shape with small size square dormitory cells cleave into walls, while during the second session, a temple of sanctuary was constructed at the core center on large iconic Buddha statue which was carved out of living rock. This modification depicts the transformation from Hinayana to Mahayana Buddhism. There is also another pattern of main hall which is narrow and tall Chaitya hall possessing a stupa as a target focus at far end, with a narrow aisle surrounding the walls, beneath a range of tell pillars constructed close together. There are also other plain rooms meant for sleeping and various other activities. Few caves possess elaborated carved entrances and few with huge windows over door to permit light. Often there is a colonnaded verandah or porch along with alternate space within the doors which runs parallel to the width of cave.
The square space at the heart core of interior of Viharas characterized by square shaped columns resulting in an approximate square shaped open area. There is a long rectangular shaped aisles constructed outside on both the sides resulting in the form of cloister. Running through the rear and side walls are large number of small size cells entered thorough narrow doorway, which are roughly square shape and possess small niches at the back walls. Actually they possess wooden doors. There is a large shrine room behind the center of rear wall holding a larger Buddha idol.
Before the Christian era, Buddha was symbolically represented in form of Stupa. The halls were constructed with stupas to worship Buddha. Later on, Buddha images were carved in the relic caskets, coins, loose sculptural forms, reliefs etc.. it took quite some time for human representation of Buddha to penetrate the area of Buddhist architecture. One among the early illustration of human representation of Buddha can be located at Buddhist archaeological areas like Nagarjunakonda, Goli and Amaravati. These monasteries were constructed in less robust materials like bricks, stone and wood. Whereas the depiction of Buddha image on rock-cut architecture took several centuries.
Later and earlier cluster of caves possess mural paintings. Various portions of murals were preserved from earlier caves (number 9 and 11) which are effectively exclusive examples of court-led art of painting in our country right from this era. Illustrated by satavahana times or ever earlier, our country painter had displayed a fluent and easy naturalistic style treating large cluster of people in specific manner.
The paintings in Ajanta caves are in the form of “fr fresco”, smeared on the top of dry plaster area than a wet plaster. The paintings depict the hard work of painters who used to decorate palaces and temple with great interests in information about the life of wealthy people. It is a known fact from the literary sources that these types of paintings are widely practiced with lots of appreciation in courts during Gupta period. Not like most of the Indian painting, there are no compositions laid out in the horizontal compartments similar to frieze, despite display large scenes wide spread in all the directions right from a single or group of figures at the core centre. The roofs these buildings are swiped with elaborated and sophisticated motifs, with most of them taken from the sculpture.
How to Reach
By Air:- The nearest airport to Ajanta is Aurangabad. This place is well connected from Mumbai and New Delhi international airport through Jet Airways and Indian airlines, which operate daily.
By Rail:- The closest railway station is at Jalgaon. It acts as a centre area for all the major railway stations in India. Also Bhusaval (at a distance of 28 km from Jalgaon), the second largest railway depot in Asia.
By Road :- Auto rickshaws and taxis are readily available at the Jalgaon railway station and Aurangabad.
Cave Timing :- 9.00 AM to 17.30 PM Indian Standard Time. Ajanta caves remain closed on Monday. Caves remain open on all national holidays.