Ajanta caves, definition and study. A-Z index of Cognitio.

The Ajanta caves of Maharashtra, India, are monuments excavated in the rock dating to the 2nd century BC. which contain paintings and sculptures considered corner stones of Buddhist religious art and monumental pictorial art. Since 1983, the Ajanta caves are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The caves are located on a rock-shaped shoal, covered by trees and shrubs, about 3.5 km from the village of Ajanta. There are 29 caves, excavated on the southern slope of the ravine. They are excavated at a height varying between 12 and 33 meters above the river. However, they can be grouped into 2 large caves. These two caves are the most descriptive.

Cave one

Cave 1

Cave 1

It is the first one you meet, and its name does not have any relationship with the local history. It is the easternmost of the scarp. Although there is no epigraph evidence, it has been assumed that King Vākāţaka Harisena may have been his constructor.

King Vākāţaka Harisena constructor

King Vākāţaka Harisena constructor

One reason for this hypothesis is that Harisena was not initially involved in the construction of Ajanta, but the park has developed remarkably under his realm, and the Buddhist lay people would be conquered in seeing a Hindu king participating in the construction. Also many of the paintings are gifts. This cave has one of the best sculptures on its facade, with relief figures. The images show scenes of Buddha’s life besides other motives.

images show scenes of Buddha's life

images show scenes of Buddha’s life

A two-pillar porch, visible in the photos of the nineteenth century, has disappeared. The cave has a courtyard with cells fronted by vestibules on each side.

A two-pillar porch

A two-pillar porch

They have tall pedestals. There is also a veranda with cells at the ends. The absence of vestibules at these extremities suggests that its construction does not date back to the late period when the vestibules were the norm. Much of the veranda was covered with murals, of which fragments remain. There are three doors, one central and two lateral.

Much of the veranda was covered with murals

Much of the veranda was covered with murals

Two square windows open between the doors to illuminate the interior. Each inner wall measures about 13 meters in length and 7 in height. Twelve pillars form a colonnade square that supports the ceiling, creating spacious aisles along the walls.

Twelve pillars form a colonnade

Twelve pillars form a colonnade

Cave two

Ajanta Cave No 2

Ajanta Cave No 2

Cave number 2, adjacent to the first one, is well-known for well-preserved paintings on its walls, ceilings and columns. It is very close to the first cave but is in a better state of conservation. The second cave has a veranda slightly different from the first one. Even the facade sculptures look different. The cave is supported by robust pillars adorned with drawings.

They show the stories of Jataka, that is, stories of the life of the Buddha in previous lives

They show the stories of Jataka, that is, stories of the life of the Buddha in previous lives

The back wall of the porch contains a door in the middle, allowing access to the hall. On both sides of the door are square windows. The cave room has four colonnades that support the ceiling and surround a square in the center of the room. Each square wing or colonnade is parallel to the respective wall, which forms the outer corridors. The colonnades have stone beams at the top. The capitals are sculpted and painted with human, animal, plant motifs and semi-divine scenes. They are painted throughout the cave, except on the floor.

The colonnades have stone beams at the top. The capitals are sculpted and painted with human, animal, plant motifs and semi-divine scenes.

The colonnades have stone beams at the top. The capitals are sculpted and painted with human, animal, plant motifs and semi-divine scenes.

In many places works have been eroded by time or human intervention. Many paintings are now fragmented. Jataka’s stories are just on the walls.

Jataka's stories are just on the walls

Jataka’s stories are just on the walls

They are of a didactic nature, in an attempt to inform the community of Buddha’s teachings and its lives through various reincarnations. The fact that they are only on the walls obliges the faithful to walk in the outer corridors by reading the stories. In order to avoid vandalism, the entrance to the cave is restricted by the authorities. Episodes reported are depicted in a non-linear order. According to archaeologists, the construction of the Ajanta caves in Maharashtra, India, started 2,200 years ago. Over the course of hundreds of years more than 30 monuments were carved into the rock. The use of caverns was interrupted around the year 1000 BC. for reasons still unknown, allowing the dense forest to grow all around, hiding it from sight for centuries. No man looks at you if not many centuries later. In 1819, when British John Smith was hunting for tigers, he discovered a secret passage that led to one of the temples. It is testified to a written statement – which today we would call a plague – on a wall that Smith left behind, affecting the date of his discovery. The discovery, however, was not immediately made known. And the caves remained a secret for many years …

Ajanta caves, definition and study. A-Z index of Cognitio.

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Ajanta caves, definition and study. A-Z index of Cognitio.

Ajanta caves