Ajanta Caves is a spectacular example of India history belonging to the era of Buddha’s precious teachings and the lives of commoners surrounding him. These set of 29 caves carved out of solid rock is set amidst the cliffs of the Sahyadri Hills located 100km from Aurangabad and 60 km from Jalgaon in the Indian state of Maharashtra. Below flow the river Waghora.
In 1817, the set of caves were discovered by British soldiers who were on a tiger hunting mission. Its discovery sent ripples and several restoration works was continued on the site and was declared by UNESCO as one of the World Heritage site. Majority of the caves are Viharas adorned with paintings from the past and 5 Chaiya-grihas or meditation rooms housing the Stupas.
The viharas were mainly used for resting, daily chores and meditation whereas the shires housed the statue of Buddha in the middle. The paintings chiefly depicted the life of Buddha and his reincarnations popularly known as the jatakas. The chief message in the paintings was to know about the life and teachings of Buddha and to continue to spread the enlightment across all generations.
The mesmerizing paintings and rock cut architecture are the points of attraction for tourists, historians and preservers. The caves date back to the 2nd century BC to 6th century AD and are assumed to be adorned with paintings in two different phases- the Hinayana period between 2nd to 1st BC and the Mahayana period 4th and 6th AD.
Here is a list of few of the most important and significant paintings:
Rahula and Yashodara meet Buddha: Located in cave 17, the painting depicts a part of Buddha’s life where his wife Yashodhara and his son Rahula meet him after
Padmapani: The cave 2 holds the famous scene of Padmapani depicting
King Shibi Jataka: The story of king Shibi is reflected in the painting where the king parted with a portion of his flesh in order to save a pigeon. Cave 1 holds this precious painting.
Mara’s episode: Cave 1 depicts the episode where Mara tries all means to disturb the meditation of Lord Buddha. He sent his three beautiful daughters as well as demons. But everything failed.
Birth of Buddha: The painting depicts the scene where mother Mayadevi gave birth to Gautama Buddha in the lumbini groove amongst the soothing shade of the shaala trees. Different Gods are depicted to have descended from heaven to witness the auspicious time and greet the newborn.
Lady doing make-up: Cave 17 is a tresure chest of beautiful paintings where ladies in nude and semi nude clothing are depicted applying make-up and grooming themselves. There is a powerful presence of dark skin-toned apsaras surrounding the Lord. Different clothing textures of Ikkat and geese print are found in these paintings. Alongside floral designs, hilarious stories, mythical birds, animals as well as geometrical designs fill the walls and ceilings of this cave.
Matriposhaka: Cave 17 depicts the story of Bodhisatva born as a white elephant and living secretly with his blind parents. An ungarteful man which he has rescued gives away his identity and drives him to the city
Other famous paintings include the Nana King (cave 19), Boddhisattva Avalokiteshvara (cave 1), Mahajanaka jataka (cave 1), The Raja and his retinue (cave 10), A monastery scene of the Shibi Jataka depicting 3D painting (cave 17), Kshraya Vriddhi depicting excellent ceiling painting (cave 1), Children playing with a hen (cave 2), Simhala Avadana (cave 17), Indras descent (cave 17), Subjugation of Nalagiri (cave 17), Fighting bull (cave1) and many more.
The list is endless and one needs to visit the place in order to decipher the various meanings and stories etched with multitude of colors on these ancient abode of the Buddhist monks.