Inspiring Ajantha rock-cut Cave Temples- a note

Ajantha caves, Maharastra. Holidify

Ajantha caves. Gizmodo India

With a history dating back to nearly 5000 years, India is home to thousands of monuments that are dotted across the country. These monuments have religious, spiritual, cultural, architectural and artistic connotations. They ever stand as the silent spectators of our past history, civilization and the growth of a heterogeneous society in which age old tradition and modernity coexist side by side. India is  also a treasure trove for the history buff.

Among the great Indian monuments of exceptional   architectural wonders, the caves of Ellora and Ajantha carved into the Sahyadri Hills in Aurangabad district (65 miles from Aurangabad city).

Ajantha caves- Cave 9,

Above image: Picture of cave nine representing first period. Hinayana style of worship was followed with stupa. There were no idols. The object of worship was stupa. This cave was, apparently, a prayer hall....................

in Maharastra  state  occupy a prime place and they have drawn the attention of old monument freaks.  Dating back to 2nd  century BC, these caves bring out the superb artistic talents and workmanship of the skilled artisans who created the sermon in the caves. Both Ajantha and Ellora caves are simply artistic religious-cultural, mind-blowing wonders.  Considered as an important heritage site, the 34 rock caves at Ellora were created  during the 350 AD to 700 AD period. The sculptures and stone images represent three religions, prevailing then -  Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. 

The caves remained covered by thick jungle in the Sahyadri mountainous region. They were accidentally discovered and brought to the attention of the western scholars on 28 April 1819  by a  British military  officer named John Smith of the 28th Cavalry during  a tiger hunting expedition. He first stepped into the entrance of cave 10 with the help of a local Shepard boy. The caves  got the name from a nearby village named Ajanta located about 12 km.

It was the Royal Asiatic Society  that brought to light the exotic setting, beautiful paintings and architecture of these rock-cut caves that are excavated in horse–shoe shaped bend of rock surface nearly 76 m in height overlooking a narrow stream known as Waghora. The RAS initiated the projects to copy the paintings, etc., after rediscovery. In 1848, the Royal Asiatic Society established the "Bombay Cave Temple Commission" to clen up and come up with a  clear record of  the most important rock-cut sites in the Bombay Presidency, with  one John Wilson as president. In 1861 this commision became the precursor to the new Archaeological Survey of India.

Sitting Budhain cave 16

Ajantha caves, Maharastra. Cave 26.

Above image:This is the image of cave 26 representing second period -  Mahayana style worship hall with stupa and idols. .........

As for Ajanta, the 29 rock-cut caves were carved during  the period from 480 BC to 650 AD and they tell us about Buddhism.  The paintings - murals and rock cut sculptures  are believed to be the finest among the surviving examples of ancient Indian art. In particular, the beautiful paintings  bring out the emotions, through pose, gestures  and expressions. They  are the master pieces of Buddhists' arts that later influenced the Indian art forms, according to the UNESCO. In 1969, UNESCO classified this site as a world Heritage site. The caves, it is believed, were built in two phases, the first group of caves began to appear  around the 2nd century BCE to first BCE, while the second group came up around 400–650 CE. 

Chatya hall, Ajantha, Maharastra. India Mike

 Caves 9, 10, 12, 13  that come under the  earliest group  belong to the Hinayana. They were made during the period 100 BCE to 100 CE, probably under the patronage of the Hindu Satavahana dynasty (230 BCE – c. 220 CE) who ruled the region. Other datings suggest the period of the Maurya Empire (300 BCE to 100 BCE). Caves 9 and 10 have prayer halls of Chaityagraha form with a stupa. Whereas caves 12,13 are Viharas

The second phase of construction at the Ajanta Caves site began after a long gap in  the 5th century (from 460 to 480 CE, during the reign of Hindu Emperor Harishena of the VakaŠĻ≠aka dynasty. The development of second phase was possible due to  the theistic Mahayana or Greater Vehicle tradition of Buddhism. Caves of the second period are 1–8, 11, 14–29; some may be possible  extensions of earlier caves. Caves 19, 26, and 29 are chaitya-grihas, the rest viharas.

The Ajanta Caves were once  ancient monasteries and prayer halls carved deep into a 250 feet wall of rocks. Apparently, they represent different Buddhist traditions prevailing then. The cave paintings depict the past lives and rebirths of the Buddha and stories  from Aryasura's Jatakamala, and rock-cut sculptures of Buddhist deities between the 2nd century BCE and 5th century CE.  

Ajantha cave temples in the basaltic rock terrain,MH Advisor

With respect  to the world famous paintings at Ajanta, they  also fall into two broad phases. The earliest is  in the form of fragmentary specimens in cave nos. 9 & 10, which are datable to second century B.C. The second phase of paintings started around 5th – 6th centuries A.D. and continued for the next two centuries. The primary  theme of the paintings is the depiction of various Jataka stories, different interesting  incidents  associated with the life of Buddha. The paintings at Ajanta are not frescoes as they are painted with the aid of a binding agent. Before the painting work, particularly on the ceiling, etc, the artists prepared the surface of the rock before hand. Initially, chisel marks and grooves on the rocks surface are made, so that the layer of painting applied over it,  will be fixed firmly.

Visitors are not allowed to take pictures inside the caves that remain closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. 


01. Why are the historical large caves located in this area of Maharashtra?  For the Buddhist monks who preferred these secluded places, particularly,  during the rainy seasons provided a quiet and serene environment for prayer and meditation.

02. This retreat also gave them  enough time and opportunity to engage in their additional religious pursuits by way of intellectual  discourses for a Long period. 

03. The caves were excavated in different periods (circa. 2nd century B.C. to 6th century A.D.). Amazingly, each cave had a direct access with the near-by river through a flight of steps. The passages are almost damaged and one could see traces of some of them.

04. Among the caves (total 30 in number; one being unfinished), five (cave no. 9, 10, 19, 26, and 29) are chaityagrihas and the rest are viharas. These ancient caves are datable to the pre-Christian era, the earliest among them being Cave 10 dating from the second century B.C. Cave 10 dating from the second century B.C. The object of worship is a stupa here and these caves show evidence of wooden construction as confirmed by the presence of  sculpted wooden rafters and beams that appeared to be non-functional.

Additionally, the caves were excavated by royal patronage and the feudatories under the Vakatakas as illustrated by the inscriptions found in the caves. Varahadeva, the minister of Vakataka king Harishena (A.D. 475-500) dedicated Cave 16 to the Buddhist Sangha while Cave 17 was the gift of a prince (who subjugated Asmaka) feudatory to the same king.