Ajanta Cave Temples - A World Heritage Site

Aurangabad was an important seat of the Mughal Empire during the Mughal rule in India. The town holds a good number of Mughal architectural marvels making it an important historical destination of Maharashtra. The town is situated on the banks of the Kham River. The medieval monuments and cultural heritage, the silk and cotton textiles and its proximity to the famous world heritage sites of Ajanta and Ellora attract a good number of tourists towards it every year. Though the city looks calm and quiet with not much hum drum on the streets, it is an industrialised, competitive city making its own mark on the tourist and industrial map of India. It is also interesting to note that Aurangabad was formerly known as Khirki (meaning window) because of its strategic position that provided a window view of the Deccan plateau.

The famous Ajanta and Ellora caves are located near the city of Aurangabad in Maharashtra. The cave shrines were all cut out of rock, by hand, and rank amongst some of the most outstanding specimens of ancient Indian architectural heritage. The 34 caves at Ellora and the 29 caves at Ajanta, were remained shrouded in obscurity for over a millennium, till John Smith, a British Army Officer, accidentally stumbled upon them while on a hunting expedition in 1819. The view point from where John Smith first glimpsed the caves, provides a magnificent sight of the U-Shaped gorge and its scenic surroundings.

Ajanta Cave Temples - World Heritage Site

It was only in the 19th century, that the Ajanta group of caves, lying deep within the Sahyadri hills, cut into the curved mountain side, above the Waghora river, were discovered. They depict the story of Buddhism, spanning a period from 200 BC to 650 AD.

The 29 caves were built as secluded retreats of the Buddhist monks, who taught and performed rituals in the Chaityas and Viharas, the ancient seats of learning, and nerve - centers of the Buddhist cultural movement. Using simple tools like hammer and chisel, the monks carved out the impressive figures adorning the walls of these structures. Exquisite wall - paintings and sculptures speak volumes of the India of yore. Many of the caves house panels depicting stories from the Jatakas, a rich mine of tales of the several incarnations of the Buddha. Images of nymphs and princesses amongst others, are also elaborately portrayed.

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Cave 1) late fifth century is one of the finest monasteries remarkable for the number and quality of its murals. A corridor with cells and porches either sides has three entrance leading into a pillared hall. Above the corridor are freizes depicting the sick man, old man , corpse and saint encountered by the Buddha, who is shown above the left porch. The hall has a 20 ornamental pillars, a feature of the late period cave. Five small monks cells lead off three sides, and in the center of the back wall is a large Shrine of Buddha. On the either side of the entrance to the Antechamber of the Shrine room are two of the best known murals at Ajanta. On the left is the Budhisattva Padmapani, here holding blue lotus, in a pose of spiritual detachment whilst on the right is the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. Together compassion and knowledge, the basis of Mahayana Buddhism, complement one another. Their size of dwarfs the attendants to enhance the godlikestature of Bodhisattva. The Buddha inside the Shrine is seated in a teaching position, flanked by the two carve Bodhaisattvas.Under the throne appeared the Wheel of the Life with deer representing Sarnath where he preached his first sermon.

Cave 2) (Sixth century ) is also monastery hall, 14.6 sq mt with 12 pillars, with cells on each cell on each side of the left and right hands walls and two capels on weach side of the antechamber and Shrine room. The corridor in the front has a side chapel at each end. The doorway is richly carved. On the left hand wall is the murals depicting. The Birth of Buddha. Next to this is THE THOUSAND BUDDHA which illustrate the miracle when Budha multiplied himself to confuse the heretic. On the right hand are dancing girls before the King, shown with striking three- dimensional effect.

The cave is remarkable for its painted ceiling, giving the effect of the draped cloth canopy of a tent.the nature Shrine is the left Chapel is associated with fertility and wealth. The main Shrine is that of Buddha in the teaching position, again flanked by the two Bodhisattva, both holding the royal fly whisk.

Cave 3-7) are late fifth century. Cave 3 has no corridor and cave 4 is the largest monastery in Ajanta, planned on an ambitious scale and not completed. The hall is 27 sqm and supported on 28 pillars. Along the wall are cells whilst at the rear is a large Shrine. Cave is also unfinished.

A Hinyana group comes next ( cave 6 to 10 and 12,13,15)) dating from the second century B C. Cave 6 is on two levels with only seven of the 16 octagonal pillars standing. A Shrine contains a seated Buddha. Cave 7 has no hall. The corridor has two porches each supported by the eave octagonal elephants- type coloums. These leads to four cells. These and the antechamber are profusely carved. The Shrine is that of Buddha, his hands raised in blessing.

Cave 8) ( first century B C) is a small monastery.

Cave 9) circa 1000 B C, a chaitya, is 14 mt long, 14 coloum runs the length of each side and 11 continue round Stupa.

Cave 10) circa 150 B C is much larger. Like the previous cave the roof was once fitted with wooden ribs which subsequently collapsed. The long hall with an apse housing of stupa was one of the first excavated and also the first rediscovered by the army officer. Stupa resemble that of cave 9 and is double storeyed deum. There are also painting dating from the Hinyana and Mahayana period.

Cave11) Originally secong century B C, with sixth century alterstion has a corridor and roof painted with birds and flowers, a hall supported by four heavy pillar and a sone bench running along the right side. There five cells and a Shrine of seated Buddha .

Cave 12) with glauconite rock wall and Cave 13 second century B C are small monastery.

Cave 14) ( fifth century which is a long hall with Buddha carved out of the rock.

The remaining cave all belong to the later Mahayana period and the date from the fifth century. Cave 16, with kneeling elephants at the entrance and the cobra, has 20m long and 3.5m deep corridor that carries six plain octagonal pillars. There is good view of the ravines from there. The magnificent 20m long cloumed hall inside the six cell on each side and beamed ceiling. The teaching of Buddha is seated on a loin throne. On the left the "the Dying Princess" portrays Nanda's new bride being told that he has been ordained a monk and renounced the world. Her misery is shared by all and everything arund her. On the right wall are the remains of a picture of Prince Siddhartha, the latter Buddha, using a bow.

Cave 17) late fifth century is very similar to no. 16 in layout and preserve the greatest number of murals. On the left of the corridor is a painted. Wheel of Life. Over the entrance door is a row of seven past Buddha and eight, the Maitreya on future Buddha, above a row of amorous Yaksha couple. Sculpted deites are carved on either side.


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