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Encyclopedia > Ajanta

Ajanta takes the name after the village Ajinţhā in Aurangabad district in the state of Maharashtra(N. lat. 20 deg. 32' by E. long. 75 deg. 48'). It is celebrated for its cave art and architecture. As of 1983, the Ajanta Caves have been an UNESCO World Heritage Site specifically nominated for the international World heritage program. Aurangabad (औरंगाबाद, from Persian اورنگ‌آباد meaning Built by the Throne, named after Mughal Emporer Aurangazeb) is a city and district in Maharashtra, India. ... Maharashtra (महाराष्ट्र in Devanagari) is Indias third largest state in terms of area and second largest in terms of population after Uttar Pradesh. ... Alternate meanings: Cave (disambiguation) This article is about natural caves; for artificial caves used as dwellings, such as those in north China, see yaodong. ... UNESCO logo The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, commonly known as UNESCO, is a specialized agency of the United Nations system established in 1945. ... World Heritage Site #86: Memphis and its Necropolis, including the Pyramids of Giza (Egypt). ... Elabana Falls is in Lamington National Park, part of the Central Eastern Rainforest Reserves World Heritage site in Queensland, Australia. ...

View of the Ajanta caves
View of the Ajanta caves


Ajantha Photograph taken by me (KRS) in December 2003 File history Legend: (cur) = this is the current file, (del) = delete this old version, (rev) = revert to this old version. ... Ajantha Photograph taken by me (KRS) in December 2003 File history Legend: (cur) = this is the current file, (del) = delete this old version, (rev) = revert to this old version. ...


The caves are in a wooded and rugged horseshoe-shaped ravine about 3 1/2 m. from the village of Ajinthā. It is situated in the Aurangābād disctrict (106 kilometer away)of Mahārāşţra State in India. The nearest town is Jalgāon (60 kilometer) and Bhusāwal (70 kilometer) away. Along the bottom of the ravine runs the river Wāghūr or Waghōrā (from the root vyāghra in Sanskrit meaning the tiger), a mountain stream. These are 29 (officially numbered by the Archaeological Survey of India), excavated in the south side of the precipitous scarp made by the cutting of the ravine, and vary from 35 to 110 ft. in elevation above the bed of the torrent. Maharashtra (महाराष्ट्र in Devanagari) is Indias third largest state in terms of area and second largest in terms of population after Uttar Pradesh. ...

The monastic complex of Ajantā consists of several vihāras (monastic halls of residence) and chaitya-grihas (stupa halls) cut into the mountain scarp in two phases. The first phase is called the Hinayāna (the Lesser Vehicle) phase when the Buddha was revered symbolically. At Ajantā cave numbers 9, 10, 12, 13, and 15A (the last one was re-discovered in 1956, and is still not officially numbered) were excavated during this phase. (Cave 8 was long held as a Hinayāna cave. Current researches show that it is in fact a Mahāyāna cave.) These ecavations have enshrined the Buddha in the form of the stupa. The second phase of excavation started on the site after a lull of over three centuries. This phase is popularly known as the Mahāyāna phase. Some also prefer to call this phase as the Vākāţaka phase after the ruling dynasty of the house of the Vākāţakas of the Vatsagulma branch. The dating of the second phase has been debated among scholars. In recent years a consensus seems to be developing on the late fifth century dating for all the Vākāţaka phase caves that are caves 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, and 29. According to Walter M. Spink, a leading Ajantologist, all the Vākāţaka excavations were carried out from 462 to 480 CE. A chaitya-griha (stupa hall) is a meeting or assembly often used for purposes similar to a stupa. ... A stupa in Tibet A stupa (from the Sanskrit) is a type of Buddhist structure found across the Indian subcontinent and Asia. ...

There were two chaitya-grihas excavated in the Hinayāna phase that are caves 9 and 10. Caves 12, 13, and 15A of this phase are vihāras. There were three chaitya-grihas excavated in the Vākāţaka or Mahāyāna phase that are caves 19, 26, and 29. The last cave was abandoned soon after its beginning. Caves 19 and 26 have a rather uncommon arrangement made to the central object of worship wherein the stupa is fronted by an image of the Buddha in standing and seated positions respectively. The rest of the excavations are vihāras caves 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 27, and 28. A chaitya-griha (stupa hall) is a meeting or assembly often used for purposes similar to a stupa. ... A chaitya-griha (stupa hall) is a meeting or assembly often used for purposes similar to a stupa. ... Mah is an ancient Persian god of the moon, one of the Yazatas. ...

The vihāras are of various sizes the maximum being about 52 feet. They are often square-shaped. Their excavation exhibits a great variety, some with simple facade, otheres ornate; some have a porch others are without it. The hall was an essential element of a vihāras. In the Vākāţaka phase, early viharas were not intended to have shrines because they were purelyh meant to be halls of residence and congregation. Later, shrines were introduced in them in the back walls, which became a norm. The shrine were made to house the central object of reverence that is the image of the Buddha often seated in the dharmachakrapravartana mudra (the gesture of teaching). In the caves with latest features, we find subsediary shrines added on the side walls, porch or the front-court. The facades of many vihāras are decorated with carvings, and walls and ceilings were often covered with paintings. A stone image of the Buddha. ... The word facade (or façade) can mean one of several things. ...

Changes in Buddhist thought in the first century BCE had made it possible for the Buddha to be deified and consequently the image of the Buddha as a focus of worship became popular marking the arrival of the Mahāyāna (the Greater Vehicle) sect. A replica of an ancient statue found among the ruins of a temple at Sarnath Buddhism is a philosophy based on the teachings of the Buddha, Siddhārtha Gautama, a prince of the Shakyas, whose lifetime is traditionally given as 566 to 486 BCE. It had subsequently been accepted by... Mah is an ancient Persian god of the moon, one of the Yazatas. ...

Earlier, scholars divided the caves in three groups, which has now been discredited in the light of fresh evidence and researches. This theory of dating believed that the oldest group of caves dated from 200 BCE to CE 200, the second group belonged, approximately, to the sixth, and the third group to the seventh century. (3rd century BC - 2nd century BC - 1st century BC - other centuries) (2nd millennium BC - 1st millennium BC - 1st millennium AD) Events BC 168 Battle of Pydna -- Macedonian phalanx defeated by Romans BC 148 Rome conquers Macedonia BC 146 Rome destroys Carthage in the Third Punic War BC 146 Rome conquers... (2nd century - 3rd century - 4th century - other centuries) Events The Sassanid dynasty of Persia launches a war to reconquer lost lands in the Roman east. ... (5th century — 6th century — 7th century — other centuries) Events The first academy of the east the Academy of Gundeshapur founded in Persia by the Persian Shah Khosrau I. Irish colonists and invaders, the Scots, began migrating to Caledonia (later known as Scotland) Glendalough monastery, Wicklow Ireland founded by St. ... ( 6th century - 7th century - 8th century - other centuries) Events Islam starts in Arabia, the Quran is written, and Arabs subjugate Syria, Iraq, Persia, Egypt, North Africa and Central Asia to Islam. ...

The expression Cave Temples used by Anglo-Indians for viharas without the shrine is inaccurate. Ajanta was a kind of college monastery. Hsuan Tsang informs us that Dinnaga, the celebrated Buddhist philosopher and controversialist, author of well-known books on logic, resided there. This,however, remains to be corroborated by further evidence. In its prime the vihāras were intended to afford accommodation for several hundreds, teachers and pupils combined. It is tragic though that none of the caves in the Vākāţaka phase were ever fully completed. This was because the ruling Vākāţaka dynasty suddenly fell out of power leaving the dominion in a likely crisis, which forced all activities to a sudden halt at the tikme of Ajanta's last years of activities. This idea first pronounced by Walter M. Spink is increasingly gaining acceptance based on the archaelogical evidence visible on site. Anglo-Indians are persons who have descended from a mix of British and Indian parentage. ... Xuanzang, Dunhuang cave, 9th century. ...

Most of the subjects have been identified by the leading Ajantologist from Germany, Dieter Schlingloff.

Cave 1

It is first approached by the visitor on site, and has no relation to the chronological sequence of the caves. It is the first cave on the eastern end of the horse-shoe shaped scarp. According to Spink, it is one of the latest caves to have begun on site and brought to near-completion in the Vākāţaka phase. Although there is no epigraphic evidence, it has been proposed that the Vākāţaka king Harisena may have been the benefactor of this better-preserved cave. A dominant reason for this is that King Harisena was not involved initially in patronizing Ajanta, but could not have remianed aloof for long, as the site was burgeoning with activity under his rule, and the Buddhist laity would have loved to see the Hindu king participating in the pious act of patronage. Besides, most of the themes depicted are royal.

This cave has one of the most elaborate carvings on the facade with relief sculptures on entablauture and fridges. There are scenes carved from the life of the Buddha as well as a number of decorative motifs. There was once a two pillared portico visible in the 19th century photographs, which has since been perished. The cave has a front-court with cells fronted by pillared-vestibules on either side. These have high plinth level. The cave has a porch with simple cells on either end. The absence of pillared vestibules on ends suggest that the porch was not excavated in the latest phase of Ajanta when pillared vestibules had became a necessity and norm. Most areas of the porch was once covered with murals of which notbaly high degree of fragments remain. There are three doorways: a central doorway and two side-doorways. Between the main and the side-doorways, two square windows have been carved that lit the interiors.

Each wall of the hall inside is nearly 40 feet long and 20 feet high. Twelve pillars make a squre colonnade inside supporting the ceiling, and creating spacious aisles along the walls. There is a shrine carved on the rear wall, which houses an impressive seated image of the Buddha, his hands being in the dharmachakrapravartana mudra. There are four cells each on the left, rear, and the right wall. The walls are covered with paintings suggesting a fair state of preservation from decay. The scenes depicted are mostly didactic, devotional, and ornamental. The themes are from the Jataka stories (the stories of the Buddha's former existences as Boddhisattva), life of the Gautam Buddha, and those of his veneration.

Image:Ajanta, Cave 01 porch.jpg

Cave 2

Cave 2 is next to Cave 1. It looks similar to cave 1 in many respects. Like cave 1, it is relatively in a better state of preservation. It is known specially for the paintings preserved on its walls, ceilings, and pillars.

Facade: The cave's facade has a porch visibly different from cave 1. Even the facade does not have carvings as in cave 1. What we see here is an eave supported by robust pillars that are ornamented with designs. The size and general gound plan, however, shares many things in common with cave 1.

Porch: As first suggested by Walter M. Spink, the porch has cells fronted by pillared vestibules (hereinafter CPV in this article) on either ends. This architectural element is not found in the porch of cave 1. That cave has simple cells on porch-ends. The reason is, as evidences indicate, similar porch-end cells once existed not only in cave 2 but most other caves began early in the Vakataka phase and transformed later as CPVs in later years. In fact, all the porch-ends in various caves as wells as on the facade's side-walls were originally blank without even a cell in the earliest, the inaugural plans that were based on the prototype of a typical Hinayana vihara. The need of the cells on the previously "wasted areas" arose as a solution to greater housing requrements in later years. It became a norm subsequently to add porch-end cells in the planning of later Vakataka excavations. Still later, these simple single cells on porch-ends were converted into CPVs or were being planned as such in order to create accomodate more room, symmetry, and beauty. Vihara is Sanskrit or Pali for (Buddhist) monastery. ...

The paintings on the cielings and walls of this porch are widely published. They depict the Jataka tales that are stories of the Buddha's life in former existences as Bodhisattva. The porch's rear wall has a doorway in the center, which allows entrance to the hall. On either side of the door is a square-shaped window carved to lit the interiors. The Jataka stories are a significant body of works about the previous lives of Gautama Buddha. ... A stone image of the Buddha. ... Prince Siddhartha Gautama as a bodhisattva, before becoming a Buddha. ...

Hall: The hall has four colonnade making a square in the center of the hall. They support the cieling. Each arm or colonnade of the square is parralel to each of the respective wall of the hall making an aisle in between. The colonnades have rock-beams above and below them. The capitals are carved and painted with various decorative motifs that include ornamental, human, animal, vegetative, and semi-divine forms. Monika Zin's research on the decorative and devotional themes of Ajanta paintings should be consulted by readers wanting to learn in detail.

Paintings: Paintings are everywhere except the floor or they were intended as such. At many places they have been damaged by the process of decay or human interference. Therefore, many areas of the painted walls, ceileings, and pillars are fragmentary. The painted narratives of the Jataka tales are depicted only on the walls, which demanded special attention of the devotee. They are didactic in nature meant to inform the community about the Buddha's teachings and life through successive births. Their placement on the walls required the devotee to walk through the aisles and 'read' the narratives depicted in various episodes. (Alas, to prevent vandalism, the entry in the aisles is restricted by site-authorities). The narrative episodes are depicted one after another although not in a linear order. Their identification has been a core area of research on the subject since the time of the site's rediscovery in 1819 CE. Deiter Schlingloff's identifications have updated our knowledges on the subject.

For long the paintings were erroneously referred to as frescoes. However, we know now that it is best to call them murals because the typically known process and technique of 'fresco' painting is not found in these murals. At Ajanta, the technique used, the medium, materials, and process is unlike the examples found in the art history of other civilizations. In fact, these murals have a certain uniqueness about them that is rarely found elsewhere, even within the history of South Asian art. The process of painting involved several stages. First of all the rock surface was chieselled rough so that it can hold the plaster. The plaster was prepared of clay, hay, dung, lime, etc. Variations are found in ingredients and thier proportions from cave to cave, and in various places in the same cave. While the plaster was still wet, the drawings were done, and the colors applied. The wet plaster has the capacity to soak the color so that the color becomes a part of the surface and would not peel off or decay easily. As regards the color, they were the so called 'earth color' or the 'vegetable color.' Various kinds of stones, minerals, and plants were used in combinations to prepare different colors. Sculptures were often covered with stucco to give them a fine finish and lusturous polish. The stucco had the incredients of lime and powdered sea-shell or conch. The latter afforded peculiar shine and smoothness. In cave upper six, some of it is extant. The smoothness resembles the surface of a glass, which astonishes the visitor today.

The brush for painting was made of animal hairs and twigs of certain plants.

(Note: Each day/week I shall be writing more and more on each cave and ensure that all relevant aspects are covered briefly for the benefit of the reader. I shall also upload photographs and maps -- rk singh, art historian, New Delhi.)


Burgess, J. and Indraji, B. (1881). Inscriptions from the Cave Temples of Western India, Archaeological Survey of Western India IV, Bombay

Burgess, L. and Fergusson J. (1880). Cave Temples of India. London. Reprint: (2005) Munshiram Manohar Lal Publishers Pvt Ltd., Delhi.

Dehejia, V. (1997). Indian Art. Phaidon: London. ISBN 0714834963.

Griffiths, J. (1896-1897). Paintings in the Buddhist Cave Temples of Ajanta. 2 vols. London.

This article incorporates text from the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, which is in the public domain. Supporters contend that the Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica (1910-1911) represents the sum of human knowledge at the beginning of the 20th century; indeed, it was advertised as such. ... The public domain comprises the body of all creative works and other knowledge—writing, artwork, music, science, inventions, and others—in which no person or organization has any proprietary interest. ...

External link

  • india-picture.net - Pictures of Ajanta from india-picture.net
  • [1]- A new article on monk Buddhabhadra's Cave 26 Complex, Ajanta in the Vākāţaka period
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