Ajanta Caves

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Ajanta Caves

History

Hailed as one of India’s greatest artistic treasures, Ajanta is the location of some of the finest examples of ancient Indian sculptures and murals, housed in 28 caves that served as a major Buddhist monastery from the second to seventh century BC. Today, the Ajanta Caves are renowned all over the world for their majestic beauty and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

At Ajanta, the caves hewn out of the horse-shoe shaped stone cliffs surrounding the River Waghora are an important heritage site, allowing viewers to glimpse the amazing skill of ancient muralists and sculptors. These caves were chiselled out by Buddhist monks between 200 BC and 650 AD as ‘chaityas’ (prayer halls) and ‘viharas’ (monasteries), and contain exquisite frescoes and fine sculptures.

One can amble through the Ajanta Caves or take a guided tour – the art contained in these early Buddhist Caves are great works by themselves and one can spend hours studying them.

Ajanta caves are classified in two phases known as the Hinayana phase and the Mahayana phase. The former phase depicts scenes in which Lord Buddha was worshipped through some specific symbols whereas in the latter phase people believed that the deity had a definite structure and started worshipping him. Some of the well known caves are as follows. Cave 1 consists of some of the finest painting specimens, particularly the two bodhisattvas of Padmapani and Vajrapani and an impressive seated Buddha sculpture. Beneath his statue is placed the Wheel of Life which symbolised the teachings of karma and rebirth by Buddha.

A striking feature of Cave 2 is its beautiful ceiling painted to resemble a tent and its lovely animated sculptures. The walls of the cave are decorated with intricate patterns depicting scenes of Gautam Buddha’s birth.

Cave 9 not only contains sculptures, but remarkably preserved frescoes as well. Cave 11 represents scenes from the early stage of Buddha’s life. In this cave the sculpture of Lord Buddha is attached to a stupa which is a blend of both image and stupa worship.

In Cave 12 and Cave 13 one can view the beautiful paintings that glow softly in the dark and gasp at the life-size and miniature sculptures. Cave 15 and Cave 16 explain the pictorial legend, pointing out some of the more amazing aspects of the paintings and sculptures that transform the rocky cave walls.

Of particular interest are Cave 17 with its exquisite murals portraying devotees with offerings in the Royal Procession, Cave 19 with some astounding sculptures of Buddha, lion heads and riders and Cave 26 with its impressive carvings from Lord Buddha’s life.

The other caves consist of many more murals and frescoes, many of them illuminating stories from the Jataka tales, and episodes from the Buddha’s life. Exquisite sculptures are eye-catching, their fine detailing adding to the aesthetic beauty of the Caves.

At Ajanta, you can spend the whole day transfixed by a single monumental image or get your fill of a million visual delights. Each cave has its own story to tell. So go there and discover them for yourself and before leaving, do go to the ‘viewpoint’ on the flat-topped hill opposite the caves for an amazing view of the whole group and the gorge.

Best time to visit

Winter months (from October to February) or during the monsoons are a good time to visit the Ajanta Caves. Weekends and holidays tend to be very hectic with plenty of visitors to the caves.

Trivia

For centuries, the Ajanta Caves lay hidden, known only to the local tribes people and were discovered by chance in 1819, when a party of British soldiers came here.

Timing

The Caves are open from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm. Please note that the Ajanta Caves remain closed on all Monday’s but are open on all National Holiday’s.


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