Ajanta caves, Maharashtra

The Badami trip left a deep craving to explore more of the ancient Indian art and sculptures and one of destination on my mind was Ajanta – Ellora – Aurangabad.

I  planned a two day trip and reached Aurangabad from Hyderabad by overnight train on 8th Oct 16  and  I reached on 9th October (Sunday) .  Since Ajanta is closed on Monday, I planned to cover Ajanta on 9th Oct and Ellora on 10th (Monday). I started from Aurangabad to Ajanta by a local bus at 11:30 am which passes through Ajanata. Since, I was going after rain, the route is full of greenery which added to the joy of trip and I reached at 2 pm. From Ajanta drop point, I took another tourist bus to cover 4 km distance and reached Ajanta caves.

Tip : Please plan your trip keeping in mind that Ajanta caves are closed on Monday and Ellora caves are closed on Tuesday.

Location: Ajanta caves are located at about 60 km from Bhusaval , 104 km from Aurangabad, and 350 km from Mumbai.

Ajanta caves history:

The Ajanta Caves are located in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra state of India. There are about 30 rock-cut Buddhist cave monuments which were built in two distinct phases of Buddism – Hinayana phase from the 2nd century BC to the 1st century  AD and subsequently Mahayana phase from 5th – 6th century AD. The caves have been excavated in a beautiful panoramic horseshoe  shaped rocky mountain terrain next to the Waghora river and  include paintings and rock cut sculptures described as among the finest surviving examples of ancient Indian art. Recognizing the immense historical value, the Ajanta Caves have been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.

Although Buddha was against any idea of sculpting and painting images of him, it is after his death his disciples started painting and creating sculptures and stupas to worship him.

It is said that the caves were used as a place for stay by Buddhist monks during monsoon as they were forbidden from travelling during that particular period of the year. The monks used this time for expressing their creativity and painted the walls of the caves.

Discovery of Caves:

After the decline of Buddhism, the Ajanta caves were forgotten over a period of time and were covered by jungle until Cave no. 10 was accidentally discovered in 1819 by a colonial British officer John Smith on a tiger hunting party. There is a signature said to be inscribed by him in cave.

There are 29 caves . Caves 1 ,2,9, 10, 16 and 17 of Ajanta form the largest corpus of surviving ancient Indian wall-paintings. The caves depicts the life of Buddha and the previous incarnation as  Bodhisatva.

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Ajanta caves view.

Cave 1:

Cave 1 depicts scenes from the Buddha’s life and Jatakas. The cave also depicts murals of two great bodhisattvas i.e.  Avalokitesvara (or Vajrapani) and bodhisattva Padmapani.

Vajrapani the most important bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism.

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Bodhisattva Padmapani holding a water lily is the most famous painting in Ajanta caves

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Below pictures of Cave 1’s displays scenes from the Buddha’s life: his temptation by Mara just before his enlightenment.

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sculpture of 4 deers with single face below

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Cave 2

The cave depicts the miracle of Sravasti, where the Buddha multiplied himself into thousand images.

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Beautiful circular paintings before Buddha sculpture.

Cave 26

Cave 26  consist of a Mahayana prayer hall (chaitya). One can see a large carved statue of the reclining Buddha, representing his moment of death. Below him, his followers mourn his passing; above, celestial beings rejoice.

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Reclining Buddha in Cave 26

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A second period Mahayana style worship hall with stupa and idols.

After spending three and half hours, I started for Aurangabad at 5:30 when caves gets closed for tourists. A day well spent, with memories to cherish and hope to return again to see the marvel of Ajanta.

I will soon share my Ellora visit experience in the next post.

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