The Ajanta Caves in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra, are about 300 rock-cut Buddhist cave monuments which date from the 2nd century BCE to about 480 or 650 CE. These caves are cut into the side of a cliff that is on the south side of a horse-shoe shaped gorge on the small river Waghora. The caves include the finest surviving examples of Indian art, particularly painting, which are masterpieces of Buddhist religious art, with figures of the Buddha and depictions of the Jataka tales. Since 1983, the Ajanta Caves have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
he caves are numbered 1 to 28 according to their place along the path, beginning at the entrance. Several are unfinished and some barely begun and others are small shrines. They are Buddhist monastic buildings, apparently representing a number of distinct "monasteries" or colleges. Further round the gorge are a number of waterfalls, which when the river is high are audible from outside the caves. Ajanta was a kind of college monastery, with a large emphasis on teaching, and was divided into several different caves for living, education and worship, under a central direction.
Monks were probably attached to specific caves for living. The layout of the site reflects this organizational structure, with most of the caves only connected via the exterior.
There are 30 caves in Ajanta of which 9, 10, 19, 26 and 29 are chaitya-grihas and the rest are monasteries. These caves were discovered in AD 1819 and were built up in the earlier 2nd century BC-AD
Most of the paintings in Ajanta are right from 2nd century BC-AD and some of them about the fifth century AD and continued for the next two centuries. All paintings show heavy religious influence and centre around Buddha, Bodhisattvas, incidents from the life of Buddha and the Jatakas. The paintings are executed on a ground of mud-plaster in the tempera technique.
These monuments were constructed during two different periods of time separated by a long interval of four centuries. The older ones were the product of last two centuries before Christ and belong to Hinayana period of Buddhism; the others were in later part of 2nd century AD when Buddhism was divided into two sections, after the conduct of the fourth general council under another great king, Kanishka.
The Ajanta Caves are open to visitors from 9 am to 5 pm.
About 30 km from Aurangabad in Maharashtra are the world renowned Ellora Caves, known for their Buddhist, Jain and Hindu cultural influences. Well known for its monumental caves, Ellora is a World Heritage Site. Ellora represents the epitome of Indian rock-cut architecture. There are 34 caves, excavated out of the vertical face of the Charanandri hills, containing shrines, monasteries and temples. The Buddhist caves were carved during the period 200 BC to 600 AD. These were followed by the Hindu cave (500-900 AD) and finally the Jain caves (800- 1000 AD). The caves are excavated in the scrap of a large plateau, running in a north-south direction for nearly 2 km, the scarp being in the form of a semi-circle, the Buddhist group at the right arc on the south, while the Jain group at the left arc on the north and the Brahmanical group at the centre. The Kailash Temple at Ellora is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is the biggest monolithic sculpture in the world. It is carved from a single, mammoth rock.
The 34 "caves" actually structures of Buddhist, Hindu and Jain rock-cut temples, viharas and mathas were built between the 5th century and 10th century during the rule of the Kalachuri, Chalukya and Rashtrakuta dynasties. The 12 Buddhist (caves 112), 17 Hindu (caves 1329) and 5 Jain (caves 3034) caves, built in proximity, demonstrate the religious harmony prevalent during this period.
he Buddhist Caves: These structures consist mostly of viharas or monasteries: large, multi-storied buildings carved into the mountain face, including living quarters, sleeping quarters, kitchens, and other rooms. Some of these monastery caves have shrines including carvings of Gautama Buddha, bodhisattvas and saints. In many of these caves, sculptors have endeavored to give the stone the look of wood. Most famous of the Buddhist caves is cave 10, a chaitya hall (chandrashala) or 'Vishvakarma cave', popularly known as the 'Carpenter's Cave'. Beyond its multi-storied entry is a cathedral-like stupa hall also known as chaitya, whose ceiling has been carved to give the impression of wooden beams. At the heart of this cave is a 15-foot statue of Buddha seated in a preaching pose. Amongst other Buddhist caves, all of the first nine (caves 19) are monasteries. The last two caves, Do Tal (cave 11) and Tin Tal (cave 12) have three stories.
The Hindu Caves: These were constructed between the middle of sixth century to the end of the eighth century. The early caves (caves 1729) were constructed during the Kalachuri period. The work first commenced in Caves 28, 27 and 19. The caves 14, 15 and 16 were constructed during the Rashtrakuta period. Some were of such complexity that they required several generations of planning and co-ordination to complete. Cave 16, also known as the Kailasa or the Kailasanatha, is the unrivaled centerpiece of Ellora. This is designed to recall Mount Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva looks like a freestanding, multi-storied temple complex, but it was carved out of one single rock, and covers an area double the size of Parthenon in Athens. All the carvings are done in more than one level. A two-storied gateway opens to reveal a U-shaped courtyard. The courtyard is edged by columned galleries three storeys high. The galleries are punctuated by huge sculpted panels, and alcoves containing enormous sculptures of a variety of deities. Originally flying bridges of stone connected these galleries to central temple structures, but these have fallen.
Within the courtyard are three structures. As is traditional in Shiva temples, the first is a large image of the sacred bull Nandi in front of the central temple. The central temple - Nandi Mantapa or Mandapa - houses the Lingam. The Nandi Mandapa stands on 16 pillars and is 29.3 m high. The base of the Nandi Mandapa has been carved to suggest that life-sized elephants are holding the structure aloft. A living rock bridge connects the Nandi Mandapa to the Shiva temple behind it. The temple itself is a tall pyramidal structure The shrine complete with pillars, windows, inner and
outer rooms, gathering halls, and an enormous lingam at its heart carved from living stone, is carved with niches, pilasters, windows as well as images of deities, mithunas (erotic male and female figures) and other figures. Most of the deities at the left of the entrance are Shaivaite (followers of Shiva) while on the right hand side the deities are Vaishnavaites (followers of Vishnu). There are two Dhvajastambhas (pillars with the flagstaff) in the courtyard. The grand sculpture of Ravana attempting to lift Mount Kailasa, the abode of Lord Shiva, with his full might is a landmark in Indian art. The construction of this cave was a feat of human genius it entailed the removal of 200,000 tonnes of rock, and took 100 years to complete.
The Jain Caves: The five Jain caves at Ellora belong to the ninth and tenth centuries and all belong to the Digambara sect. Jain caves reveal specific dimensions of Jain philosophy and tradition. They reflect a strict sense of asceticism they are not relatively large as compared to others, but they present exceptionally detailed art works. The most remarkable Jain shrines are the Chhota Kailash (cave 30), the Indra Sabha (cave 32) and the Jagannath Sabha (cave 33). Cave 31 is an unfinished four-pillared hall and a shrine. Cave 34 is a small cave, which can be approached through an opening on the left side of Cave 33. Amongst other devotional carvings, a place called samvatsarana can be found in Elora caves. Samvatsarana is of special interest to Jains, as it is a hall where the tirthankara preaches after attaining omniscience. The Ellora Caves are open to visitors from sunrise to sunset. Tuesday Closed