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Ajanta Caves Sightseeing

India Buddhism BookingSightseeing : There are 29 caves at Ajanta according to the official figures given by the archeological survey of India. These caves along with the Ellora caves were unknown to people till it was accidentally stumbled upon by one of the British army officers, John Smith while hunting in the region in 1819.

Cave Description :

Cave 1, of the late 5th century, belongs to the Mahayana group. It was directly patronized by King Harisena. It has some of the magnificent paintings to be seen at Ajanta. This cave is famous for the perspective shown in its beautiful paintings. The veranda at the front leads to a large congregation hall with elaborate sculpture and narrative murals, surrounded by several smaller cells. The details of dress and daily life depicted in the paintings are particularly interesting. The facial expressions of the figures show excellent artistry by showing real emotions with lots of intricate details.

To the left of the entrance to the antechamber of the main shrine is a painting of the Bodhisattva Padmapani, the Bearer of the Lotus. In the painting Buddha’s head is bent sideways and his half-closed eyes depict a state similar to that of air meditation, one can almost see shyness in his eyes. Around the Bodhisattva are scenes showing playful monkeys and a joyous musician. Yet, even in the middle of all these activities, the Bodhisattva can be seen in deep harmony: he seems to be looking within. There is a great sense of sublime peace that pervades this figure, which is one of the greatest masterpieces of Indian art.

To the right of the entrance to the antechamber is painted the Bodhisattva Vajrapani, the Bearer of the Thunderbolt. Both these gods represent two different things. Whereas the Padmapani portrays peace, the Vajrapani brings before us the majesty of the spirit. The Bodhisattva wears a glorious crown, reflecting the grandeur of divine grace One of the most interesting and popular sculpture of the cave 1 is the one showing the three aspects of Buddha: a huge statue of Buddha giving sermons in the deer park is illuminated from all sides and below to clearly reveal the distinctiveness of the statue.

In cave 1, there is also a court scene which is believed to be of conversion of Nanda, a fellow prince like Buddha who had decided to join Buddha's monastic order. There are many female figures in the paintings of Ajanta with magnificent array of colors, hairstyles, poses and costumes. Women are shown leaning against the wooden pillar of a mandap, or hall, and looking on at a group of female musicians accompanying a dancer.

India Buddhism BookingCave2 This cave belongs to the Mahayana vihara and it is in better condition compared to some of the other caves of Ajanta. It has a shrine inside. It is a beautifully decorated with nice, sculpture, paintings and architectural elements like deliriously ornamented columns and capitals.

The right side of the cave, houses images of Panchika, (the god of wealth), and Hariti, (the goddess of prosperity). The entry to the cave is flanked by sculpture of guardians, next to whom, are figures of the Buddha and other divine beings. The lateral walls in the hall of the cave no 2 has sculptures of five seated Buddha guarded by celestial figures and by Bodhisattvas. The porch to the right of the sanctuary depicts the Miracle of Shravasti, Buddha expressing himself in a 1000 forms. The ceiling is decorated with murals and floral patterns. Theme of the murals and the painting are the events associated with Buddha’s life particularly those related to his birth. The scenes include Maya, Buddha's mother standing in the garden at Lumbini, details showing young Buddha being held by his mother and taking his first step, and scene where Mahajanaka Jataka, the queen and her attendants are shown. Buddhist icons were sculpted according to a set of codified rules that used symbolic hand gestures and motifs like the wheel, the deer, the throne and sacred Bodhi tree, each representing a stage of Buddha's life. One of the famous representations is that of the dream of Buddha’s where she saw the six-tusked elephant which heralded his conception. In the inner shrine of cave number 2 a seated figure of Buddha in the pose depicting the teaching of the principles of the Middle Path can be seen.

India Buddhism BookingCave 4 This is the largest cave monastery at Ajanta and remains unfinished with only a few complete sculpture located outside the main shrine and door. It seems to the viewer that it must have been planned on a great scale by seeing the seer size of the vihara. It is supported by 28 pillars its veranda has 8 octagonal columns. This cave has some very famous sculptures and paintings. There is a large image of Buddha in seating position in the shrine, which is supposed to be a gift of a person named Abhayanandi hailing from Mathura.

The doorway too has a beautifully carved figure of a goddess, with a flowering tree spreading its branches over her. Near the door of the cave 4 a scene is painted in which people are shown running away from the eight great dangers toward the safe custody of Buddha’s disciple Avalokitesvara. In another scene a man and a women is depicted fleeing from a mad elephant. Dwarf musicians playing instruments are shown seated upon the bases of the columns leading to the shrine.

India Buddhism BookingCave 6 This is sole two-storey monastery at Ajanta. The lower level, at many places has collapsed. It has many pillars to support the upper level of the monastery. Shrines are present in both the levels. Inside the monastery is an image of Buddha in a sitting posture with an intricately carved door to the shrine. Upstairs there are many cells in the hall bearing fine painting on the doorways. The construction of the vihara is very strange but interesting. On close examination it seems that the upper level can be blocked off from the lower level. It has three shrines, one at the back cell, one in the front and one in the cell to the right.

Cave7 seems to be planned to be a very large monastery but due to some reason the plan was abandoned. It has a very large porch and broad façade. The porch when first made would definitely have been finest among all of other caves but today it is damaged by smoke. Its architecture is different from others in the sense that instead of the veranda leading into the shrine, the shrine is accessed directly the porch. The shrine room is at the back of the monastery. The shrine is surrounded by elaborately carved four walls. The carving on the walls probably show the miracle of 1000 Buddha at Sravasthi. The shrine also has motifs portraying figures of Buddha and Yakshis or celestial beings.

India Buddhism BookingCave 9 This is one of the earliest chaityas at Ajanta. It belongs to the Hinayana period. A monolithic stone stupa carved out of living rock can be found in the hall. The cave saw restoration work in the 5th century when the site was given a new birth. Some of the painting found on the pillars and porch of the cave can be traced way back to the 2nd century BC-AD. The other group of paintings belongs to the 5th century and is characterized by severe color model and more angular poses in the figures compared to the earlier paintings. Though the cave belongs to the Hinayana period, the two Buddha figures the flanking the doors at the entry were probably added in the Mahayana period. One can find many small shrines carved between cave 9 and 10.

Cave 10 More or less similar in design as cave no 9, this cave is thought to be the oldest chaitya, made around 200B.C.It is also the one which was first spotted by British solider John Smith in 1819.The facade of the cave has collapsed. Images of Buddha can be seen on the columns and in the ceilings. Also present are the paintings from the Hinayana and Mahayana period inside the cave. A famous legend about Buddha the ‘Shadanta Jataka’ is depicted on the walls. This cave houses an imposing stupa.

India Buddhism BookingCave 16 This cave was built much later compared to some of the other cave monasteries at Ajanta. It is a perfect place to be for the art lovers as here one can find some of the finest paintings of Ajanta. Some believe that it is the original entrance to the entire complex. The entrance to the cave is uniquely made passing through the space between the feet of two huge elephants. To the onlookers it seems as if the two elephants are carved on the rocks at the entrance guarding the shrine inside. If one walks between the space one reaches to the feet of the Naga king, and then to the cave porch. Here one pays respect to the presiding deity before reaching the place where Buddha’s statue is placed. One of the finest and most interesting paintings at Ajanta, 'The dying princess', representing Sundari, the abandoned wife of Nanda who was the half brother of Buddha is painted on the walls of cave 16. The inscription of the Varahadeva, minister of emperor Harisena, is also preserved inside which makes the cave a place to visit for any tourist.

Cave 17 is one of the most treasured caves at Ajanta for it has one of best collection of paintings, which are in the best condition. Beautiful and expressive murals are sculpted on the walls, pillars, and ceilings along with numerous paintings. They depict beautiful women flying over the head on the roof. At a place a princess, surrounded by attendants, applying make-up is beautifully painted. The pillars are decorated with the figures of carved dwarfs. Most of the paintings in the cave 17 tell the stories from the Jatakas or tales of the previous incarnations of Buddha. In one of famous paintings Buddha is shown with his wife Yashodhara and son Rahul after gaining enlightenment. The child is perhaps asking for his right inheritance since he was born as the son of a prince to which, Buddha is shown expressing his inability by putting forth his begging bowl. Yashodhara is shown festooned with all her jewellery, to tempt him to stay back with her.

At many places Buddha is shown seated in padmasana - the lotus pose of meditation with often his hand raised, and palm facing the viewer symbolizing reassurance and protection. On the right wall of the cave is painted the Kapi Jataka, in which Buddha is born as a Bodhisattva monkey. He is also shown born in the form of an elephant and a bull signifying different meanings.

At another place a detailed panel is devoted to the story of prince Simhala’s expedition to Sri-Lanka.

India Buddhism BookingCave 19 is a magnificent example of rock cut chaitya griha belonging to the Mahayana phase. Its façade is elaborately done with numerous figures of yaksins or guardians, figures of Buddha .A horseshoe shaped elaborately decorated window is the dominant feature of this cave. The entrance is guarded by two well-made figures of Buddha. Inside the cave there is a three- tiered dagoba with a figure of Buddha in the front. A shrine of Nagaraja of the Waghora gorge, a great local deity is placed to the side of the wide entry-courtyard. It is a statue of Naga king with seven cobra hoods around his head, sitting besides his wife. This is a big attraction with the tourists visiting the Ajanta caves.

Cave 24 seems to be planned to be a large vihara. One can have a sense of how these caves were constructed at Ajanta by looking at the unfinished parts of the caves. First long galleries were cut into the rock, and then the rock between them was broken through to give them their shape.

India Buddhism BookingCave 26 consists of a large chaitya hall and two side viharas. Its walls are carved with scenes of the Buddha's life. In one of the scenes Buddha is seen seating under the Bodhi tree while he was meditating to gain enlightenment in Bodhgaya. It also shows Maya with her two daughters attempting to temp him out of his meditation. But the most important is a huge 7m long figure of the 'reclining image of the Parinirvana (liberation) Buddha', who is about to enter Nirvana. But most of the paintings are destroyed.

Cave 27 is also a vihara connected to the cave 26, which is a chaitya. 200m upstream from the cave there is a great pond in a box canyon.