Ajanta caves are situated at a distance of 40 miles from Jalgaon and about 65 miles from Aurangabad, Maharashtra located on the Central Railway. The Ajanta hills exhibit splendid natural setting. They are ideally situated for residence and meditation.
It is not known who selected the site and took the lead in striking the chisel to hew out the Ajanta caves. However, it appears that theAjanta caves had begun to appear as early as the second century B.C. The fact is proved by the paintings and inscriptions in Cave No. 9 and 10.
The caves are believed to be extinct from as late as the 8th century A.D. It is, therefore, can be said that Ajanta has been active for over a period of 1000 years now.
There are as many as 30 caves in Ajanta. 5 of them represent Chaitya temples and the rest are huge halls handling assemblies and few other are cells meant for habitation. The positioning of all these halls and rooms indicate the way of living of the Buddhist community.
Ajanta Caves Sculptures
Apart from their majesty, the Ajanta caves have certain features which have made them a place of pilgrimage for lovers of art and beauty from all parts of the world.
Those attributes are the excellent sculptural representations of Buddha, Bodhisattvas and the portrayals on the ceilings, columns, and walls of the caves. These paintings present an endless panorama of life belonging to an age that disappeared long ago.
The Chaitya halls are wonders of lithic work. They have extensive decorations on the facade. The columns have sculptures and carvings on a wide scale.
Exterior to the caves, there are massive horseshoe structured windows possessing ornate borders. The Ajanta pillars deal with delicate wrought texture decorated with flute and other designs. The bases and capitals are ornamented with mythical animals and floral designs in great varieties.
Most of the sculptures at Ajanta date from the fifth century A.D. One is struck by the masterly planning and gigantic execution of the caves. The sculptures reveal the charms of superb elegance.
However, the real glory of Ajanta caves in the panorama of decorations in colour in a number of caves. The caves look dark from within and the paintings are believed to be done in the faint light of oil lamps. Almost every cave is filled with paintings, but for the time being, only a few significant paintings are available in cave Nos. 1, 2, 9,10,11,16 and 17.
Ajanta Caves Paintings
Some paintings are purely decorative. Some merely depict stories. The decorative paintings follow a numerous variety of designs and patterns. Those include geometric forms, spirals, zigzags, meanders, etc. the patterns occur mostly as the borders of panels depicting scenes or on ceilings.
The figures of animals, birds, and plants serve as decorative patterns. Both in linear and natural patterns, Ajanta paintings represent a faultless hand in their execution. The animals, birds, and plants portray keenness in observation and mastery in its execution.
After that, Ajanta remained inactive for several centuries. A new and vigorous phase of activity started at Ajanta with the rise of the Guptas in Magadha. That activity lasted for about 400 years. It was during this period that Ajanta gave to the world the most precious jewels of Indian painting.
However, the elegance of Ajanta began to reduce after the 5th century A.D. and it completely disappeared within a century.
Ajanta Caves Redecorated
It was during this period that Cave Nos. 9 and 10 were partly redecorated. Many caves were executed during this period. They also have paintings. The art of wall painting reached its climax at Ajanta during this period. The artists gained full control over all the basic colours and a great variety of mixtures.
They were able to produce innumerable shades of various colours. They showed unfaltering command over the material handled by them. While the colours in the paintings ring and vibrate with warmth and liveness, the lines record the utmost delicacy and sensitiveness of the brush-strokes.
Most of these paintings relate to Sakyamuni and the Bodhisattvas. The great events in the life the of Buddha, such as his birth, renunciation, attainment of enlightenment, the preaching of the first sermon and his death are recorded with great care. Various other events in the life of Buddha are also depicted. Many scenes from the Jatakas are also given.
The paintings dispense a knack not only with religious objects but also with nature, land, water, birds, vegetation, etc. There are also imaginary beings, demons forming the train of Mara, who tried to mislead Buddha, various gods of Buddhism and Brahmanism, semi-divine beings such as Dikpalas, Dvarapala, Nagas, Yakshas, Kinnaras, Gandharvas and Apsaras.
Within these paintings, one can find a whole record of the social life, modes of living, houses and palaces, attires, material wealth and other spiritual cravings. One also finds the life of the poor and the common people side by side with the splendor and luxury of the palace and the court.
To conclude few sentences about the art of Ajanta, it can be said that it captures within itself the prime traditions of art that prevail in distinct lands.
Its influence can be seen in sculptures and wall paintings from different sites in Central Asia. The art of Ajanta represents the cosmopolitan nature of the Buddhist world for centuries.
A Danish artist, who has published a valuable professional criticism of Ajanta paintings, declares that “they speak of the genuine pinnacle Indian art has attained; and everything in these pictures from the layout as a whole to the finest pearl or flower testifies to the depth of insight coupled with the greatest skill.”
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