Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Ajanta Caves

Ajanta Caves are one of the most magnificent Buddhist caves in the whole of India. They are situated at a distance of approximately 100 km from Aurangabad and 40 km from Jalgaon. Counted amongst the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Maharashtra, these caves have been found to date back to the 2nd century BC. There are approximately 30 caves at the site of Ajanta, of which cave number are 9, 10, 19, 26 and 29 are chaitya-grihas. The rest of the caves have been found to comprise of monasteries.

Ajanta Caves were discovered in 1819 AD and some of the paintings discovered inside them were made between 5th and 7th century AD. Almost each and every painting found inside the premises of these caves centers around Buddhist religion. Some of them portray Lord Buddha, some Bodhisattvas, while some other are based on the Jatakas tales and incidents from the life of Lord Buddha. Mud-plaster ground, built as per the tempera technique, forms the base for the paintings seen at Ajanta.

Situated far away from inhabitation, amidst isolated surroundings, these caves were built in the middle of a huge rock. The main aim behind the construction of the Ajanta Caves was to provide a dwelling and praying place for the Buddhist monks, who were dedicated towards the mission of spreading the principles of Buddhism throughout the world. All of them have been carved with precision and adorned with exquisite architectural details. The sculptures seen here seem to be the result of superb craftsmanship.

These caves have also been found to be ornamented with scenes that depict the semi-mythological history. One can find a few paintings based on Greek and Roman compositions and proportions. Then, there are some others that can be said to resemble Chinese style. However, the majority of them continue to be based on an Indian style, seen nowhere else in the country. One can easily divide the Ajanta Caves into two parts, on the basis of the time period when they were constructed.

The older caves situated at Ajanta were constructed centuries before the birth of Christ and belong to the time when the Hinayana sect of Buddhism was flourishing in India. The second group caves date to somewhere around the later part of 2nd century AD, by which time Buddhism had been divided into two different sects. This time period can be said to be the one, after the fourth General Council was held under the rule of the great king, Kanishka. Whenever you are in Maharashtra, make sure to visit these awesome caves. 

History of Ajanta Caves

As far as the history and origin of the Ajanta Cave Temples is concerned, one can say that they were discovered in the year 1819 (19th century AD). The caves were discovered by British soldiers by accident, when they went on a hunting expedition in the Deccan Plateau. One of the soldiers was generally looking down from a height, when he suddenly saw a rock - in the shape of a horseshoe. Obviously, he became curious and his curiosity increased when he saw the entrance of a cave, inside the rock.

The entire group of soldiers then descended from where they were earlier standing. After venturing across the ravine of the Waghur River, the soldiers came across an entire group of caves. Situated so far from inhabitation and left unexplored for such a long time, they had become covered by bush, shrubs, earth and stones. This had resulted in making them even more concealed. All the caves were empty, except for a few - whose inhabitants comprised of herds of goats, looking for shelter.

Soon after the British soldiers went back to their bases, they informed the Government of their discovery. The Government summoned archaeologists, who were entrusted with the task of carrying excavations at the site, which is today known as the Ajanta Cave Temples. Since that time, numerous unearthings have been undertaken at Ajanta and they have come up with amazing findings. Till date, 30 caves have been found in Ajanta, of which some are still unfinished. All of them stand adorned with paintings on verandahs, inner walls and ceilings............

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