About 107 km. from the city of Aurangabad, the rock-cut caves of Ajanta nestle in a panoramic gorge, in the form of a gigantic horseshoe.
Ajanta Caves; Details
Among the finest examples of some of the earliest Buddhist architecture, caves-paintings, and sculptures, these caves comprise Chaitya Halls, or shrines, dedicated to Lord Buddha and Viharas, or monasteries, used by Buddhist monks for meditation and the study of Buddhist teachings.
The paintings that adorn the walls and ceilings of the caves depict incidents from the life of the Buddha and various Buddhist divinities. Among the more interesting paintings are the Jataka tales, illustrating diverse stories relating to the previous incarnations of the Buddha as Bodhisattva, a saintly being who is destined to become the Buddha.
Occupied for almost 700 years, the caves of Ajanta seem to have been abandoned rather abruptly. They remained shrouded in obscurity for over a millennium, till John Smith, a British army officer, accidentally stumbled upon them while on a hunting expedition in 1819. The ‘View Point’ from where John Smith first glimpsed the caves, provides a magnificent sight of the U-shaped gorge and its scenic surroundings. Cascading down the cliff is a spectacular waterfall, which at the bottom feeds a natural pool called the Saptakunda.
Ajanta has been designated as a World Heritage Site, to be preserved as an artistic legacy that will continue to inspire and enrich the lives of generations to come.
The caves of Ajanta can be classified into two distinct phases: the earlier Hinayana phase (1), in which the Buddha was worshipped only in the form of certain symbols. And the later Mahayana phase (II), in which the Buddha was worshipped in the physical form.
Ajanta has two kinds of Caves: Finished caves and Unfinished caves
They are Twenty Seven & depict different forms of Buddha.
Finished Caves, Ajanta
This is one of the finest monasteries at Ajanta. Graciously posed Bodhisattvas with elaborate headdresses flank the antechamber doorway. On its either side are two of the best-known murals Bodhisattva Padmapani and Bodhisattva Vajrapani holding a thunderbolt (right) accompanied by attendants, divine musicians, and flying figures.
The left wall of the antechamber depicts the assault and temptation by Mara, the god of passion, and on the right wall is the dark princess being offered lotuses by a lady. In the shrine, the Buddha is seen in the teaching position. Under his throne appears the Wheel of Life. The left wall of the hall shows scenes from the Mahajanaka Jataka. To the right of the rear wall are episodes from the Champeyya Jataka.
It is remarkable for the painted ceiling with large medallions, delicate bands of lotus flowers, scrollwork, and abstract geometric patterns. Episodes connected with the birth of the Buddha such as the dream of his mother Maya, its interpretation by the priests and the birth of Gautama occupy the left wall. Next of this is a representation of the Miracle of Shravasti when the Buddha manifested himself in a thousand forms.
Planned on a grandiose scale, but never completed, this is the largest monastery at Ajanta. It has a central doorway embellished with guardians, flying figures, maidens clutching trees and also images of the Buddha and Ganas, or dwarfs, with garlands. Six gigantic standing figures of the Buddha are carved in the walls of the antechamber.
Excavated on two levels, it has a splendidly carved entrance. The lower hall has 16 octagonal columns. In the shrine is the seated Buddha accompanied by standing Buddhas. The upper hall has only one painting, depicting the gift by a monk.
Unlike the other monasteries, this one contains only two small porticos and does not have a hall. The shrine has a seated Buddha with a halo carved on the back wall.
Rectangular in plan, with a monolithic hemispherical Stupa in the center. Traces of wall-paintings can be seen above which are figures of the Buddha in various poses.
Probably the earliest cave excavated at Ajanta. The paintings, though largely obliterated, reveal a royal personage accompanied by soldiers, musicians and dancers, worshipping the Bodhi Tree and the Stupa. Also of interest are the Jataka tales on the right wall.
They are unfinished & some of them are accessible.
Cave 3 & 5:
These are unfinished monasteries of the second phase of excavation. Cave 5 is notable for its intricately carved doorway with female figures standing on Makaras.
An unfinished monastery excavated in the earlier phase.
It has some delicately sculpted figures of the river goddesses and amorous couples and decorative medallions containing dancing Ganas.
An unfinished cave, its verandah has some of the finest sculptures of Naga guardians and river goddesses.
A small, unfinished monastery, excavated at a higher level, with an enclosed courtyard a pillared verandah and a hall. There is no shrine inside the cave.
Caves 28 & 29:
Both the caves are largely inaccessible. Cave 28 is a monastery and cave 29, a Chaitya – griha, or hall of worship.
Overall, Ajanta caves remain a subject of wonder for the tourists across the world.