Have you ever heard of Jataka tales, Buddhist religious art and sculptures, monasteries, caves, etc? All these and many more simultaneously exist in or near the Ajanta Caves. So, Ajanta Caves provide many a more things to the tourist. It gives you hilarious knowledge of our rich historical past.
The Ajanta caves are situated at a distance of 107 km north of Aurangabad, Maharashtra. Name of the “Ajanta Caves” comes from a nearby village named ‘Ajanta’ located at a distance of 12 km.
History of Excavation of Caves
History of this place is very sumptuous. The Ajanta Caves were discovered in 1819 by a British Officer when he was moving forward for a hunting expedition. He fined Buddhist monasteries over there. These monasteries were the teaching place of Buddhism. Many monks left the caves with an elaborate architectural carving and figurative sculptures that surely tempt any itinerant. When these caves were excavated, they are in horse-shoe shape. They are near 76m high narrow looking stream called Waghora. It was a place where Buddhist monks pursuit their intellectual discourses for a long period due to its calm and serene environment. After its instant discovery, the caves became an important tourist destination in the world.
All the monasteries or we can say caves are connected from outside. Each cave has its own number from 1 to 28 according to their entrance. Some of the caves also hide by some rubble like Cave 15 A. Waterfalls around the gorge also fascinates people.
Caves of Ajanta were made in two distinct time periods. They are famous for its sumptuous architecture, adorable sculptures and the only finest example of Indian art. Each cave was connected to the stream which makes it more picturesque.
Description of caves is necessary to know further about it. So here is the detailed description of each cave according to their numbers.
Cave 1: Spectacular illustration of Ajanta
First cave of Ajanta was situated on the end of the horse shoe scarp. Now it is the foremost cave through which visitors move forward. It is one of the latest caves to have been excavated; also it was one of the best sites, but never worshipped by the dedication of the Buddha image in the central shrine. It has attributed to 6th-7th centuries. There are fabulous motifs on the doorway of it.
This cave has one of the most imposing carved facades, with luscious sculptures and ridges. Most of the surfaces ornamented with decorative carving. Many of the scenes incise from the life of the Buddha as well as a number of embellishing motifs.
Another shrine carved on the rear wall is to house an impressive seated image of the Buddha, his hands being in the dharmachakra mudra. The walls are covered with paintings in a deliberately manner. The scenes depicted are mostly sententious, devout, and exquisite, with scenes from the Jataka stories. Many of the scenes are of the life of the Gautam Buddha, and those of his veneration.
The two most famous individual painted images at Ajanta are the pictures of the protective Bodhisattvas Padmapani and Vajrapani on either side of the entrance to the Buddha shrine. These two images attracts towards them most of the crowd. It seems different when seen from different angles.
Another attraction is a goddess at the upper left corner of the shrine doorway. Her prosperous presence radiates its grace of the carving. She represents the earth, as she leans by the flowering tree.
Enchanting Cherubic Dwarf, bearing a garland of flowers to the great Buddha. All those kinds of images are carved so that one can focus the devotee’s threshold towards the central image.
No other thing is attractive than this, a four deer with a common head, one of the beautiful wonders of this cave is an art of clever composition. Even though, all the deer share one common head, but they seem distinct from all the views. The bodies look real, as they have been carved from accurate observation of their forms. Sweet pictures of lovers are also painted in the same cave.
Many princesses have also been carved on the walls of the cave. They are heavily sprinkled over with a delicate tiara on her hair. Some of them are groups’ scenes which are intricately painted in such a manner that shows the dancing with musicians.
Animals of that time are also painted very well like the golden geese, pink elephant, and bullfight. It suggests that all living things are one.
So the incarnating pictures of cave 1 are skillfully designed and they are the prettiest pictures. They reiterate the happiness. Lots of travelers attract towards it and entangled in it.
Cave 2: Known for its Majestic Ceiling Paintings
The second cave of this Indian heritage site is another adorable excavation, famous for its paintings, walls, ceilings and pillars. This cave is renowned for its ceiling paintings. It seems different from cave 1.
Seated Buddha in dharmachakrapravartana mudra is enshrined in the sanctum; also the sides of the shrines contain two Yaksha figures to the east and Hariti to the right.
The ceiling of the cave 2 is really charming. The skill with which painters lay down on shafts for long years, to paint these pictures is greatly admired.
Thousands of Buddha’s paintings are painted on the walls in a very creative manner. The rhythmic movement of the princess starting of the movement of the swing is on the wall of the right hand corridor. The innocent faces and the bursting youth of the girl, shows the change. Physical vitality leads ultimately to illumination.
The Jatakas paintings over here are of Vidhurapandita & Ruru. The gateway to this shrine is the same as of the cave 1. The square motif on the side of the doorway seems to be derived from doorways of other temples in India. Many motifs in Ajanta were taken from elsewhere, but adapted to the shrine here.
The noteworthy feature of cave 2 is the heavy limbed, but swaying Avalokitesvara, with a flywhisk, who flanks the Buddha image. At right front of the cave, the pilasters with squatting dwarfs in between the medallions are enthusiastically carved. At the right of the cave, there is harati and panchika panel.
So the cave 2 is heavily painted by the painters of that time and has been widely published. They depict the stories of Buddha’s life in an enumerable way. These paintings are didactic in nature, meant to inform the community about the Buddha’s teachings and life through successive rebirths. Most of the crowd moves toward it to get the experience of a real heritage site.
Cave 3: Incomplete Cave
Third cave of Ajanta is an incomplete cave resembles a monastery. From that time, only a pillared verandah is excavated and after that no work has been done until then. People attracts towards it only to see its verandah.
Cave 4: The Largest Monastery of Ajanta
Cave 4 is the largest monastery having a pillared verandah, sanctum sanctorum and a grand hall. It was once painted, even the traces of that can be noticed. Ceiling of the hall provides an illustrative impression of a lava flow. Seated Buddha shrine is depicted there very well. Some of the large Buddha images are unfinished. They are unfinished because at the time of excavation their patronage was finished.
Another exciting thing about the cave is a double row of kneeling devotees by the crouching deer. It is in a fantastic look. Actually, they are witnessing the symbol of wheel of law. Picture of goddess at the upper left corner of the porched doorway with a flowering tree provides the amazing view to the cave. There is a flowery pilaster at left side of the interior.
These incarnating pictures of cave 4 are skillfully designed. They reiterate the happiness. Lots of travelers attract towards it and entangled in it.
Cave 5, 6, 7 & 8
Cave 5 is simply like the Cave 3, means the excavation doesn’t go beyond it. This cave is also an unfinished one. Porched doorway and female paintings on makaras are exceptionally good ones. Travelers move towards it only to see these female paintings.
Cave 6 conjures everyone towards it. Buddha is seated with his feet squat in its preaching attitude. Sravasti and temptation of Mara are some of the important paintings. Sculptor of that time (Mahayana Phase) made a central pillar to support the wooden prototypes in the lower storey. Bare octagonal pillars are another feature of the cave unlike the other caves as they have capitals and bases with them. Porched doorway is not much carved. Female figures are attached to it very nicely. Bhikshu with Lotus is another attraction of this cave. It is designed in such a manner which shows rhythms and determination in sculpturing.
Cave 7 is a onetime seen cave. Its broad verandah and ceiling is painted carefully. Carving of sculptures of Buddha is very simple.
Cave 8 once again an unfinished monastery similar to cave 3 and 5. It is the oldest of the monasteries of Ajanta, located at the lowest level. Front portion of this cave had been swept away by a major landslide.
Cave 9, 10 & 11
Cave 9 & 10 are the two chaitya halls which was incomplete even at the end of second period of construction.
Cave 9 consists of an entrance door, two side windows, central hall, and a stupa of worship. It has sculptures of Buddha and layers of paintings. These paintings are basically of Animals and herdsmen, giant horseshoe window, naga worshippers, etc. The paintings and 23 pillars attract the visitors most toward this cave.
Cave 10 is so much similar to cave 9 in shape and size. It has the same large chaitya gathering hall, 39 octagonal pillars and a rock stupa of worship. It has two period paintings mainly the Jataka stories of Sama Jataka and the Chaddanta Jataaka and also the later period paintings contains the figures of large Buddha in various poses. Other things painted on the pillars and walls are Elephants in Jungle, Princess and tusk, Buddha and one – eyed monk, Bodhisattva, etc. All these paintings are the main feature of this cave which entices lots of tourist towards it.
Cave 11 contains six cells and a long bench, a pillared verandah and a sanctum sanctorum. Little Buddha is carved on one of the walls. Paintings available in the cave are depictions of Bodhisattvas, figure of Buddha, etc. These paintings of Buddha are one of the earliest paintings at Ajanta. Another main feature of this cave which attracts the crowd towards it is the transition from the earlier Hinayana to the Mahayana Buddhist phase of worship.
Cave 12, 13, 14 & 15
Cave 12 is a monastery dated back to 2nd-1st century B.C. but later that Cave 10. It is Hinayan monastery having front gate collapsed completely and twelve cells arranged on three sides. Cells on the front are decorated with chaitya window motifs; also the wall of the monastery records the gift of this cave by one merchant Ghanamadada.
Cave 13 is a small monastery having an astylar hall with seven cells on three sides. These cells are provided with rock-cut beds. This structure most probably attracts the visitors.
Cave 14 is similar to the unfinished monasteries which I have told you about that. It is also unfinished monastery excavated at a higher level. The figures of sala bhanjikas on the top corners of the doorway is beautifully designed that allures the tourists towards it.
Cave 15 consists of two parts namely cave 15 and cave 15 A. Cave 15 and 15 A is very much similar having an astylar hall with the number of cells. Front of the cave 15 had an inscription of shell but now it has lost properly. The halls of 15 A are relieved with chaitya motifs pattern and rising from vedic pattern. Cave 15 also has an antechamber, sanctum Sanctorum and a pillared veranda. Depictions of Buddha in various poses also show the historical evidences. Traces of paintings show as it was originally painted.
Cave 16 – A Fourteen Cells Cave
Excavation of the cave 16 was done by Varahadeva in A.D. 475-500. It is a monastery consists of a central hall surrounded by 14 cells on three sides, a vestibule and a sanctum for the Buddha image. Lions and other animals support this throne of Buddha, also Boddhisattvas stand behind him. This image of the Buddha is as similar as of the cave 6 and 11. The porched doorway set a pattern for the later doorway. Two goddesses of that time stand straight on neatly carved pilasters. Other features of this cave that entice the people much are the paintings depicting the miracle of Sravasti, Maya’s dream, certain incidents from the life of Buddha, giant statue of Buddha in the teaching posture, painting of dying princess in the shock of hearing that her husband has become a monk. Another inscription is of the Buddha with a begging bowl, prince Siddharth is stretching the bow, the descent of the Buddha, etc. The Sutasama Jataka is the famous painting of this cave narrating the story of the incarnation of the Bodhisattva and the son of the king of Indraprastha named Sutasama. They are painted in an elaborate manner that anyone can understand the story behind it.
Cave 17, 18, 19 & 20
Cave 17: This monastery was excavated at the reign of Vakataka king Harishena having a spacious hall surrounded by 17 cells, a vestibule and a sanctum containing the image of Buddha. This cave houses a huge and a gigantic painting of the Wheel of Life, flying Apsara, Buddha preaches to a congregation, subjugation of Nalagiri, etc. The love of happiness diversifies through these pictures. Others are the paintings of Jatakas depicted very beautifully including Chhaddanta, Mahakapi, Hasti, Hamsa, Vessantara, Maha-Sutasoma, Saraabha Miga, Machcha, etc. Porched doorway of this cave is similar to cave 16. Another feature of this cave is a T-shape shrine doorway having goddesses supported by pilasters. Pillars of this cave are arranged in a strict order and also painted. They have intricate carvings on them. One of the famous paintings of this cave is the painting of Indra and the Apsaras on the above of the doorway of the cave. This cave is like a fantasy for every person.
Cave 18: This cave is rectangular when it is excavated and leads to another cell. This Cave shows masterly arts like the painting of Shringar, that shows the decoration of women of her body. Another exquisite painting of this cave is a Princess looks at the mirror after touching shringar, one attendant holds a tray of toilet utensils and the other one holds a fly whisk in her hand. This marvelous scene allures the crowd towards it.
Cave 19: It is a Chaitya Griha hall with many paintings, Stupas and Sculptures. One of the best Stupas is of standing image of Buddha. This Stupa has crowned itself with an umbrella that nearly touches the roof. Façade of this cave is very elaborate with pilasters. Another painting of this cave is of Naga king. It is a highly finished carving. The snakes put round their head which looks very auspicious shows the symbol of Naga king. So this cave is basically famous for its scriptural grandeur.
Cave 20: This monastery has a pillared verandah, sanctum Sanctorum, a hall, multiple cells, etc. Verandah is full of Brahmi inscription that records the gift of Mandapa by Upendra. Many sculptures of Buddha accompanied by attendants in various postures are placed in the sanctum.
Cave 21 – 29
Cave 21 is a monastery having a hall with twelve pillars, twelve cells, sanctum Sanctorum, pillared verandah, etc. The interior view of the monastery shows developed sense of the use of space. Pillars of the cave are beautifully carved. Sculpture of Buddha is exquisitely carved in a preaching attitude. Many paintings of Buddha are there showing preaching attitude. Another thing is a colonnade inside the Chaitya hall composed of 26 pillars. This combination forms aisles. The walls of the cave have wondrous carving. The round stupa of the cave is also decorated beautifully. Two main sculptures that attract crowds towards this cave are the large statue of dead Buddha and the statue of temptation of the Buddha by the demon mara.
Cave 22 is a monastery consists of an astylar hall having four unfinished cells, sanctum Sanctorum and a narrow verandah. Many sculptures of Buddha are depicted in different forms in front and back sides of the wall of caves.
Cave 23 is an unfinished cave like the cave 3,10, etc. it consists of an astylar, sanctum Sanctorum, antechamber, side cells and a pillared verandah. It is famous for its extravagant decoration of pillars and pilasters and the Naga doorkeepers.
Again Cave 24 is an unfinished monastery and the second largest excavation at Ajanta after cave 4. Verandah, hall and sanctum Sanctorum is there, also a chapel is there with pillared porch which is excavated in the first period. The sanctum of the cave houses a seated sculpture of Buddha in pralamba-padasana. Pilasters, interiors of the cave, cells, hall all are unfinished.
Cave 25 is a monastery having enclosed courtyard, an astylar hall, pillared verandah, etc.. The verandah has no cells and also the hall is devoid of the shrine.
Cave 26: This cave is of largest dimension but much similar to cave 19. It is elaborately designed and have more sculptures. The chaitya hall consists of side aisles, rock cut stupa, etc. The façade consists of the inner pillars, the triforium, aisle side walls which are exquisitely carved with designs and images of Buddha. Most striking feature of this cave is the image of mahaparinirvana of Buddha on the right aisle. Various fine images of Buddha are sculpted on Chaitya horseshoe arch with an elegant skill. At the bottom of the hall relief, the Nagas, Nanda and Anupanada are figured holding the stem of the lotus in their hand. Another thing is the painting of a family group with bountiful floral decoration around it.
Cave 27: It is a part of cave 26 and consists of two storeys in which upper one is collapsed partially, also it has a hall with four cells, antechamber, sanctum Sanctorum, etc. Sculpture of Buddha in teaching attitude is beautifully carved and housed in the sanctum. The parched doorway of it is the shrine doorway of cave 2. Another attraction is a Naga Dwarapala on the outer side of the shrine. Many features of this cave are similar to cave 20.
Cave 28 is an unfinished monastery having nothing except the pillared verandah. No sculptures, figures and paintings excavated till now.
Cave 29 is also an unfinished monastery and located at the highest level between caves 20 & 21. No sculptures and paintings excavated till now.