Ajanta, Aurangabad, Maharashtra, India
  • Ajanta, Aurangabad, Maharashtra, India
  • Ajanta, Aurangabad, Maharashtra, India
  • Ajanta, Aurangabad, Maharashtra, India
Ajanta, Aurangabad, Maharashtra, India

The Ajanta caves, numbered sequentially from east to west - 1 to 30, are located in a great arc cut by the curving course of River Waghora. The numbering bears no relation to the order in which the caves were excavated. These caves are not natural but are carved out of the rock itself and quite likely based upon structural prototypes that are now non-existent. Five of these thirty caves– 9, 10, 19, 26 and 29 are chaitya-grihas (sanctuary) and the rest are sanghramas or viharas (monastery).

Ajanta had two distinct periods of patronage. The Earlier Buddhist phase took place between approximately 100 BCE and 100 CE. The austere Caves 9, 10, 12, 13 and 15A / 30 were excavated as community efforts during that period. The broken Cave 8 was long considered an earlier Buddhist school excavation because of its primitive character but it was actually undertaken at the very start of the Vakataka phase, in fact it is possibly the earliest excavated vihara (monastery) in the whole of India. After the Early Buddhism period, the site lay dormant for three centuries but the situation dramatically changed in the mid-fifth century, when a renaissance took place under the aegis of emperor Harisena of the Vakataka dynasty, a group of powerful patrons – local rulers of the Ajanta region and the feudatories from nearby, Asmakas patronized development of a cave.

During the Vakataka’s resurgence activity, the early Buddhist caves were reutilized and refurbished in different ways. In contrast to the shared donations of Early Buddhist phases, during the Vakataka phase, each cave was the exclusive offering of a single important donor. From 462 CE on, activity burgeoned for half a decade and at least twenty Vakataka caves were started in that period. However by 468 CE the neighboring Asmakas were threatening the stability of the region with their territorial ambitions. As a result, Upendragupta, the local feudatory ruler, ordered work to be stopped on all caves except the royal caves. This was the period of Recession. The political situation worsened and by 472 CE work on these royal caves was abandoned too. War must have flared in the region at this point for the site’s patronage was now totally cut off for a few years in the early 470s. Apparently many artists migrated north to work on the contemporaneous Bagh caves during this period for that region was under the secure rule of Harisenas’s viceroy. This is the period of Hiatus. In 475 CE, the Asmakas became the feudatory lords of the region and the Asmaka phase begun. Ajanta’s new florescence was however short-lived. In 477 CE, with emperor Harisena’s death, political turbulence began. All ongoing excavation programs were abandoned during 478 CE when Harisena’s son Sarvasena III succeeded and the patrons focused on getting the main Buddha images completed and dedicated. During the period of disruption all old programs were abandoned and the Asmakas withdrew support to prepare for overthrowing the Vakatakas. For a brief period 479 - 80 CE, the monks still living at Ajanta took advantage of the disruption at the site by donating intrusive Buddhas to earn merit. This eruption of intrusive piety was also short-lived for the funds sustaining these modest offerings soon ran out and the last remaining artists moved away. Monks continued living in a few of the caves for a few years. After 480 CE, not a single image was ever made again at the site.

The site combines painting, sculpture and architecture and extends in time from early Buddhist aniconic phase through the later period. The paintings in the Ajanta caves are primarily Jatakamala scenes that describe the previous births of the Buddha. The compositions from these fables are not represented horizontally like a frieze, but show scenes spreading in all directions. The ceilings are also painted with decorative motifs. The rock-cut sculptures are also noteworthy. The Ajanta Caves were built in a period when both the Buddha and the Hindu gods were simultaneously revered in Indian culture.

References:

  • Debala Mitra, Ajanta, 1964.
  • Walter Spink, Ajanta: A Brief History and Guide, 1990.
  • Walter Spink, Volume 18/5 Ajanta: History and Development: Cave By Cave, 2007.

 
Galleries

Cave 25, Ajanta, Aurangabad, Mahara...

Cave 25 is an unfinished vihara (monastery) that was excavated at a higher level and can be considered to be a part of the Cave 26 complex. It was sponsored by Monk Buddhabhadra, a friend of Bhavviraja, a minister of the Asmaka king in 460s.It consists of an enclosed court, an astylar hall and a pillared verandah. There are two cells on the left end of the verandah and the hall has no cells or shrine. Cave 25’s right cells were usurped by Cave 24 by Buddhabhadra who wanted to prioritize the larger and more impressive Cave 24.

 

References:

  • Debala Mitra, Ajanta, 1964.
  • Walter Spink, Ajanta: A Brief History and Guide, 1990.
  • Walter Spink, Volume 18/5 Ajanta: History and Development: Cave By Cave, 2007.

Collection type: Monuments

Galleries

Cave 26, Ajanta, Aurangabad, Mahara...

The Cave 26 complex comprises of its devotional hall at its center and two early upper wings (viharas 25 and 27), started in about 462 CE when the main facade of Cave 26 was being exposed. It also incorporates two later lower wings: Caves 26RW (Right Wing) and 26LW (Left Wing). The excavation of the chaitya hall (sanctuary) was begun in the early 460s at a time when the relations between the Asmakas and the Vakatakas must have been peaceful. An inscription on the wall of the front verandah records the gift of this chaitya by a monk Buddhabhadra, a friend of Bhavviraja, a minister of the king of Asmaka.

 

At the end of 468 CE when the political problems with the Asmakas were increasing, Upendragupta, the local king of the Vakatakas probably expelled the Asmakas from the site. In 475 CE with the Asmaka victory, work started up again at Ajanta. Cave 26 is the only excavation at the site where work continued during 478 CE, the year after Harisena died; for the Asmakas alone could view this disaster with satisfaction. However, the carving of the Buddha in parinirvana (Dying Buddha) closes their own involvement with the site, for that they too were caught up. The disjunct developments in this complex explain why the core of Cave 26 is so primitive whereas its decorative overlay of the main hall and its particularly developed left wing that took place around 475 CE is so lavish. The carved Buddha images on the facade were intrusive additions dating to 479–480 CE. The intrusive images often abandoned mid-course marked the end of Ajanta.This chaityagriha of Cave 26 is similar to Cave 19 in general arrangement and decoration but of a larger dimension and more elaborately and exquisitely provided with sculpted figures and other designs.



Buddhabhadra, a friend of Bhavviraja, a minister of the Asmaka king, sponsored all the decoration of the now-broken porch and the carved decoration of the whole facade – except for the intrusive Buddha imagery. He also oversaw the Buddha imagery in the interior friezes over the pillars and all of the painting within the cave. The chaityagriha consists of a hall, side aisles and a rock-cut stupa along with an image of Buddha on front. This monolithic stupa with its modern image of Buddha of bhadrasana (foot down) type is the main focus of the cave. Along with the image in Cave 16, this is the first appearance of Buddha in this posture. The facade, the inner pillars, the triforium (between pillars and roof arch), aisles sidewalls are carved with images of Buddha. The image of Mahaparinirvana of Buddha on the right aisle wall and the assault of Mara during Buddha’s penance adorn the same wall. The stupa proper has been relegated to the background and has become almost an ornamental member, the emphasis being more on the elongated and decorated plinth, the front of which is carved with a figure of Buddha seated in pralamba-pada (European chair pose) under a pavilion. The crowning members above the harmika (railing) have crumbled down. 

 

References:

  • Debala Mitra, Ajanta, 1964.
  • Walter Spink, Ajanta: A Brief History and Guide, 1990.
  • Walter Spink, Volume 18/5 Ajanta: History and Development: Cave By Cave, 2007.

Collection type: Monuments

Galleries

Cave 27, Ajanta, Aurangabad, Mahara...

Cave 27 should be considered a part of Cave 26 as it connected to its monastic establishment. It was sponsored by Monk Buddhabhadra, a friend of Bhavviraja, a minister of the king of Asmaka. In 478CE. The landing and the verandah on the left side of the court of Cave 26 lead to a small hall, which has a shrine and an antechamber facing the entrance door. It consists of two stories; the upper one is partially collapsed. The front wall is divided into three compartments comprising of a nagaraja, a couple and a female standing on a makara with a bird perched on her right hand and her left handing resting on the head of a dwarf. The shrine has an image of Buddha in teaching attitude on its back wall. Of the cells around the hall, only four on the right half have survived. A major part of the left half of the hall has collapsed. 

 

References:

  • Debala Mitra, Ajanta, 1964.
  • Walter Spink, Ajanta: A Brief History and Guide, 1990.
  • Walter Spink, Volume 18/5 Ajanta: History and Development: Cave By Cave, 2007.

Collection type: Monuments

Galleries

Cave 29, Ajanta, Aurangabad, Mahara...

Cave 29 is an unfinished chaityagriha cut in the area high above Cave 21 at a time (469 CE) when there was no sufficient space remaining for such a hall at the site’s main level. It was possibly, Upendragupta, the sub-king at Ajanta. The cave was not discovered when Ajanta’s sequential numbering was done since it is placed in a relatively inaccessible spot high above the other caves. Cave 29’s excavation was underway for only a few months or a year before work on it stopped. The cave’s proximity to Upendragupta’s royal complex makes it reasonable to believe that this was perhaps another one of king’s donations. This cave is now inaccessible. 

 

References:

  • Debala Mitra, Ajanta, 1964.
  • Walter Spink, Ajanta: A Brief History and Guide, 1990.
  • Walter Spink, Volume 18/5 Ajanta: History and Development: Cave By Cave, 2007.

Collection type: Monuments

Galleries

Cave 30, Ajanta, Aurangabad, Mahara...

Cave 30, Ajanta, Aurangabad, Maharashtra

Collection type: Monuments

Galleries

Cave 31, Ajanta, Aurangabad, Mahara...

Cave 31, Ajanta, Aurangabad, Maharashtra

Collection type: Monuments