Caves that put Aurangabad on the world map
Enveloped by nature
Ajanta Caves, Aurangabad, a historical treasure hosting an illustrious collection of ancient paintings, are situated in a horse-shoe-shaped valley near village Ajintha. This evergreen place of scenic beauty is adorned by the River Waghur that flows from the feet of the ravine emerging out of a pool filled in by a seven-leap waterfall. These Buddhist caves built under the patronage of Hindu kings are a fine example of the harmony that existed between the two religions. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the caves, dating as back as the 2nd century BC, has been attracting tourists from all over the world for the last two centuries.
Intricacies of the Ajanta Caves, Aurangabad
Ajanta Caves comprise Chaitya-grihas, the halls with a stupa, the monument consisting of Buddhist relics, used by the Buddhist monks for worshipping, and Viharas, the monasteries. Most of these caves have mesmerizing paintings on the walls. There are attractive floral, vegetative, geometric patterns, auspicious symbols, celestial and heavenly beings on the ceilings.
These mural paintings depict a unique style of art that is not found anywhere else in the world. Based on Buddhism or Buddhist philosophy, the paintings tell stories from Jatakas and Avadanas. There are also tales based on the life events of the historical Buddha. They also illustrate Buddhist deities such as Bodhisattvas in graceful poses. The portrayals are as vivid as though narrated. Tourists take long halts before each painting to admire the artistry, dexterity, skillfulness, and interesting tales portrayed through the paintings. One cannot help but walk out of these caves impressed by the exceptional aesthetic quality of the paintings.
The history of Ajanta & it’s rediscovery
In one of the bizarre folds of history, the caves were abandoned during the 7th century, when the work was in its final phases. As per the leading Ajantologists, the researchers who have dedicated their lives studying Ajanta Caves, this happened after King Harisena, supposedly the benefactor of several of these caves lost power. As the place fell out of the way, the forest grew around the caves and hid them under the veil of time.
Over the next 1200 years, the caves passed out of all knowledge. In April of 1819 when they were accidentally rediscovered by the British soldier, Captain John Smith, following the trail of a tiger. The caves, now the home to large animals and bats, were well preserved by nature. Being hidden saved the caves from possible mutilation from the Moghal rulers during the 16th century that other historical monuments in the vicinity had to endure.
A subject of deep interest
After the re-discovery, the caves were subject to great research from historians. Tracking back down the pages of history, many pieces have been put together so far to understand this marvelous wonder. One of the pieces of evidence discovered tells of Hsuan Tsang or Xuan Zang mentioned that Dinnaga, the great Buddhist philosopher once lived at Ajanta.
One of the major subjects of curiosity was how these paintings survived so long? Careful inspections revealed that the secret lies in the surface over which these paintings were drawn. Intense preparation would go on in making this surface. The rock walls of the caves would first be roughened up with the help of chisels so they would hold the plaster made out of lime, clay, dung, and hay. The paintings were drawn on while the plaster was still wet. This way the colors absorbed by the plaster would dry up with it and become one, preventing the later decay or peel-off. The bright and glowing colors used in these paintings that have lasted so long are referred to as earth colors. They were made from different types of stones, skillfully selected parts of plants such as leaves and flowers, and various minerals.
Miraculously re-opened for the admiration of art and culture, Ajanta Caves are the true cultural legacy of India and the world.
Plan a trip
The best season to visit the caves is Monsoon, mid-June to August when the Waghur River is at its fullest and the sound of the waterfall can be heard in the caves. However, winter, from November to February, offers pleasant weather to stroll across pleasurably. Situated 110 km from Aurangabad, it’s a two-hour drive. If you have only a flying visit to offer, you can visit Ajanta Caves and Ellora caves in one day. However, it is recommended that you spare a day each for these remarkable monuments.
Note: Ajanta caves are closed on Monday. Photography with a flashlight on or a tripod is not allowed. You will need to remove your shoes before entering some of these caves as they have religious importance.