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Ajanta India

Ajanta Caves As Seen Opposite The Entrance

  • The Ajanta rock-cut caves in modern day Maharashtra are some of the most beautiful, surprisingly elegant, and richest surviving religious monuments from ancient India. The caves functioned as monastic retreat and pilgrimage spots for traveling merchants and locals who worshipped the Buddha and other Buddhist deities like bodhisattvas. There are around 30 rock-cut halls carved into the side of a mountain. Many are monasteries where monks and nuns lived and worshipped while others are temples with objects of worship like stupas or images installed to receive piety from devotees. All of the caves were carved on a horseshoe-esque plan around a long stretch about 20 to 30 meters above a river bed. 
  • The earliest caves are from the 2nd century BC while later caves date to the medieval period of Indian history around 7th century CE.

Cave 10 at Ajanta is a caitya hall, which is a worship hall.

Cave 10 Caitya Hall:

  • Cave 10 at Ajanta is a caitya hall, which is a worship hall. Caityas (‘temple’ in Sanskrit) have vaulted ceilings and inward-leaning octagonal pillars. There are wonderful murals in this cave illustrating the Buddha’s past lives as told in the famous Jataka stories. They run at eye-level in a band around inside the cave. They are the oldest surviving wall paintings in India, aside from the ones made by prehistoric man in several locations throughout the Indian subcontinent. Despite the best efforts to preserve them, with time the paintings have deteriorated much. Around the 5th century, Buddha images and statues were added to almost all caves. Earlier caves did not represent the Buddha direct and instead chose to worship him indirectly by using symbolic representations, like feet or wheels. Some caityas were furnished with porches and multiple entrances, probably to allow for the public to come and view the art and show their devotion with offerings and prayers. Very likely visitors were escorted by learned monks who would tell stories known in Buddhist history and give sermons.

  • British military officer John Smith discovered cave 10 at Ajanta at the beginning of the 19th century. This was the first major discovery at Ajanta. The large central caitya hall is joined by two flanking aisles and 39 of the octagonal pillars. An early donor record says that the hall was setup for construction by a local ruler named Vasithiputa Katahadi. The caitya hall itself is massive for the period, measuring 28.5 meters long by 12.3 meters wide and 11 meters tall. The mural on the left wall displays a King with his attendants worshipping at the famous Bodhi Tree located in Bodh Gaya where the Buddha himself reached enlightenment. It is unclear if this king is the Emperor Ashoka Maurya or not, but was, at the very least, inspired by the famous Buddhist ruler. On the right side of the cave on the wall is another mural displaying the Chaddanta Jataka. In this story of the Buddha in a previous life, the Buddha is an elephant with six tusks. His body was pure white and his face and feet were red. The story of the Six-Tusked elephant king was a popular story depicted in art during the last few centuries BC.

Relief Art In Ajanta Cave