Ajanta Caves, World Heritage Site Art Masterpieces in India


Built during the BC period, these Ajanta Caves span a large rock face in Maharashtra and are filled with ornate frescoes that are considered masterpieces of Buddhist art.

IPHEDIA.com - Ajanta Caves, a rock cave temple and monastery located near the village of Ajanta, in the north-central state of Maharashtra, western India, known for its frescoes. The temples are hollowed out of granite cliffs on the inside of a 70 foot (20 meter) ravine in the Wagurna River valley 65 miles (105 km) northeast of Aurangabad.

Built during the BC period, these Ajanta Caves span a large rock face in Maharashtra and are filled with ornate frescoes that are considered masterpieces of Buddhist art.

The Ajanta Caves are divided into two main series of caves, one built in 200 BC and the other completed around 600 BC. Each cave opens into a large hall, decorated from floor to ceiling in detailed depictions of Jataka stories, which tell of Buddha's past lives.

The caves are dug in an almost 76 meter high horseshoe-shaped indentation overlooking the narrow river known as Waghora. The caves were excavated in different periods (around 2nd century BC to 6th century AD) according to needs.

Each cave was connected to the river by a series of steps, of which now some traces of it were visible in places. In all, a total of 30 excavations hewn from the rock are also among the unfinished. The five caves (caves nos. 9, 10, 19, 26 and 29) are chaityagriha and the rest are monasteries.

Based on the date and style, this cave can be divided into two large groups. The earliest excavations belong to the Hinayana phase of Buddhism where similar examples can be seen in Bhaja, Kondane, Pitalkhora, Nasik, and others.

In total, 5 caves in Ajanta are included in this phase, namely, 9 & 10 which are chaityagriha and 8, 12, 13, & 15A which are monasteries. These caves date back to pre-Christian times, the earliest of which is Cave 10 dating from the second century BC.

The addition of new excavations could be noticed again during the Vakataka period, contemporaries Gupta Empire. The caves were excavated by royal protection and a feudatorium under the Vakataka as depicted by the inscriptions found in the cave.

Varahadeva, the Vakataka minister of king Harishena (AD 475-500) dedicated Cave 16 to the Buddha Sangha while Cave 17 was a gift from a feodatory prince (who conquered Asmaka) to the same king.

The bustle in Ajanta occurred between the middle of the 5th century and the middle of the 6th century AD. However, Hieun Tsang, the famous Chinese traveler who visited India during the first half of the 7th century AD has left a clear and graphic description of the development of the Buddhist establishment here , even though he didn't visit the cave.

The world famous paintings in Ajanta also fall into two major phases. The earliest seen in the form of fragmentary specimens are in caves 9 and 10, which date from the second century BC. The headgear and other ornaments of the images in this painting resemble the relief sculptures of Sanchi and Bharhut.

The second stage of painting began around the 5th - 6th century AD and continued for the next two centuries. Specimens of exemplary paintings from the Vakataka period can be seen in caves 1, 2, 16 and 17. The variations in style and execution in these paintings are different because the makers are different. The caves were designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1983. (as/ip)

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