Ajanta Caves Near Aurangabad

In the early 19th century (year 1819) some British soldiers were out hunting in the Deccan plateau. One of them suddenly saw, from a height, a horseshoe rock; His curiosity aroused by the entrance of a cave. The hunting party ventured across the ravine of the Waghur River. And they discovered several caves, against which bush, shrubs earth and stones had piled up. Goatherds for shelter were using a few.
The Government was informed about this finding and soon the Archaeologists began excavate them. Many experts have been restoring them during the last fifty years. The shock of discovery was worldwide.

The caves are in a wooded and rugged horseshoe-shaped ravine about 3½ km from the village of Ajantha. It is situated in the Aurangābād district of Maharashtra State in India (106 kilometers away from the city of Aurangabad). The nearest towns are Jalgaon (60 kilometers away) and Bhusawal (70 kilometers away). Along the bottom of the ravine runs the river Waghur, a mountain stream. There are 29 caves (as officially numbered by the Archaeological Survey of India), excavated in the south side of the precipitous scarp made by the cutting of the ravine. They vary from 35 to 110 ft (34 m) in elevation above the bed of the stream.

All the rock-cut caves had paintings on verandahs, inner walls and ceilings, these revealed some of the most beautiful masterpieces of world art.
In the grottos were also symbolic Buddhist mounds called Stupas, and cells for monks called viharas. There were giant sculptures of Buddha's, Bodhisattvas (potential Buddha's), or Taras (female Buddhist divinities), as also dwarapalas (doorkeepers).

Later, an inscription was found of King Harisena ('moon among princes'), of the Vakataka dynasty of the 5th -6th century A.D. in cave No.17. It seems that the local Vakatakas had relations, thought marriage, with the great Gupta kings of the north.
The Ajanta caves consist of 30 Caves including the unfinished ones, dating back from 200 BC to 250 AD. They were discovered accidentally by a British Captain, John Smith in 1819, while on a hunting expedition.
Ajanta provides a unique combination of architecture, sculpture and paintings. Two basic types of monastic Buddhist architecture are preserved at Ajanta, the Chaitya or prayer hall (9, 10, 19, 26 and 29) are c haitya-grihas and the rest are sangharamas or viharas (monasteries). After centuries of oblivion, these caves were discovered in AD 1819.They fall into two distinct phases with a break of nearly four centuries between them. All the caves of the earlier phase date between 2nd century BC-AD.

The caves of the second phase were excavated during the supremacy of the Vakatakas and Guptas. According to inscriptions, Varahadeva, the minister of the Vakataka king, Harishena (c. 475-500 AD), dedicated Cave 16 to the Buddhist sangha while Cave 17 was the gift of the prince, a feudatory. An inscription records that- Buddha image in Cave 4 was the gift of some Abhayanandi who hailed from Mathura.

A few paintings which survive on the walls of Caves 9 and 10 go back to the 2nd century BC-AD. The second group of the paintings started in about the fifth century AD and continued for the next two centuries as, noticeable in later caves. The themes are intensely religious in tone and centre round Buddha, Bodhisattvas, incidents from the life of Buddha and the Jatakas. The paintings are executed on a ground of mud-plaster in the tempera technique.
 
 

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