Ajanta Cave Temples 1-12, Maharasthra

high-definition creative commons photographs from the first group of rock-cut cave temples at Ajanta (caves 1-12), Maharasthra, together with a description.

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Ajanta Caves 1-12 Ajanta Caves 16-17 Ajanta Caves 19-26

The Ajanta Cave Temples
Description from Burgess and Fergusson, The Cave Temples of India (1885), Chapter VIII

(slightly re-edited)

Ajaṇṭā... is situated [in the Gautala Wildlife Sanctuary at the its eastern end, and] at the head of one of the passages or ghāṭs that lead down from the Indhyādri hills, dividing the table-land of the Dekhan from Khāndesh, in the valley of the Tapti. Four miles W.N.W. of this town are the caves to which it gives name.

Most other groups of Buddhist caves are excavated on the scarps of hills, with extensive views from their verandahs; those of Ajaṇṭā are buried in a wild, lonely glen, with no vista but the rocky scarp on the opposite side. Read more...

They are approached from Fardapur, a small town at the foot of the ghāṭ, and about three and a half miles north-east from them. They are excavated in the face of an almost perpendicular scarp of rock, about 250 feet high, sweeping round in a curve of fully a semicircle, and forming the north or outer side of a wild secluded ravine, down which comes a small stream.

Above the caves the valley terminates abruptly in a waterfall of seven leaps, known as the sāt kuṇḍ, the lower of which may be from 70 to 80 feet high, and the others 00 feet more.

The caves extend about 600 yards from east to west round the concave wall of amygdaloid trap that hems in the stream on its north or left side, and vary in elevation from about 35 to 00 feet above the bed of the torrent, the lowest being about a third of the arc from the east end.

The whole of the caves have been numbered... commencing from the east or outer end, and terminating at the inner extremity by the caves furthest up the ravine. This enumeration, it will be understood, is wholly without reference to either the age or purpose of the caves, but wholly for convenience of description. The oldest are the lowest down in the rock, and practically near the centre, being numbers 8 to 13, from which group they radiate right and left, to no. 1 on the one hand, 29 on the other...

In some respects the series of caves at Ajaṇṭā is more complete and more interesting than any other in India. All the caves there belong exclusively to the Buddhist religion without any admixture either from the Hindu or Jaina forms of faith, and they extend through the whole period during which Buddhism prevailed as a dominant religion in that country.

Two of them, a Chaitya cave and a vihāra, 9 and 8, certainly belong to the second century before Christ, and two others, No. 26, a chaitya at one end of the series, and No. 1, a vihāra at the other end, were certainly not finished in the middle of the seventh century, when Buddhism was tottering to its fall.

Between these two periods, the 29 caves found here are spread tolerably evenly over a period of more than eight centuries, with only a break, which occurs, not only here, but everywhere, between the early and Mahāyāna forms of faith. Five or six caves at Ajaṇṭā belong to the former school, and consequently to the first great division into which we have classed these monuments. The remaining 23 belong as distinctly to the second division, and possess all the imagery and exuberance of the latter school.

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Cave 1
Description adapted from signs erected by the Archeological Society of India at the Caves

This is one of the finest monasteries of its kind and no other monastery at Ajaṇṭā has been so handsomely ornamented. This Mahāyāna monastery consists of an open courtyard, a verandah, a hypostylar hall, a sanctum with an antechamber and cells.

The sanctum houses Lord Buddha in Dharmacakra posture with Bodhisattvas on either side and five disciples and a wheel flanked by deers at the base of the pedestal suggesting symbolically Buddha's first sermon at Rṣipatana (modern-day Sarnath).

The doorframe and pillars are beautifully carved. Every inch of this cave was originally painted, even the pillars and the sculptures being no exceptions. The ceiling is painted with geometrical, floral and faunal depictions, and creates an impression of a decorative pavillion held above.

The walls are painted mostly with the Jātaka tales and scenes related to Lord Buddha's life. The cave contains some of the masterpieces in the world of painting namely those of the Bodhisattvas Padmapāni and Vajrapāni.

Cave 2
Description adapted from signs erected by the Archeological Society of India at the Caves

This Mahāyāna monastery (measuring 35.7 X 21.6 m) is one of the best caves at Ajaṇṭā. On the basis of paleography it belongs to 6th-7th century A. D. It consists of a verandah, a hypostylar hall, an antechamber, a sanctum with two sub-shrines, chapels and a group of cells.

Lord Buddha is enshrined in the sanctum flanked by celestial nymphs and Bodhisattvas. The Western sub-shrine of the sanctum houses the figures of the gods of prosperity, while the Eastern sub-shrine contains the figures of Hāriti-Pañcikā, a fertility symbol.

The massive pillars and doorframes are elaborately carved with designs and decorated with paintings. It is famous for the ceiling paintings in the hall, antechamber, verandah and chapels.

The paintings contain some of the finest circle designs drawn in contrasting colours, which still retain their brightness and lustre. The wall of the sanctum and antechamber are painted with countless figures of Lord Buddha, while those of the halls are
decorated with illustrations of the former births of Lord Buddha, known as Jātakas.

Cave 4
Description adapted from signs erected by the Archeological Society of India at the Caves

This is the largest vihāra planned on a grandiose scale but it was never finished. An inscription on the pedestal of the Buddha's image, mentions that it was a gift of a person named Alathura and paleographically it belongs to the 6th century A. D.

It consists of a verandah, a hypostylar hall, a sanctum with an antechamber and a series of unfinished cells. The sanctum houses a colossal image of Lord Buddha in Dharmacakra pose flanked by Bodhisattvas, and celestial nymphs hovering above.

The walls of the sanctum and antechamber are decorated with gigantic figures of Lord Buddha in varada mudrā (boon-giving pose).

The jambs and the frames of the windows are also delicately carved with designs and sometimes with tiny figures of Buddha.

The rear wall of the verandah contains a panel shwoing the stories of Avalokiteśvara. It was a common belief that Avalokiteśvara would bring immediate relief to a person struggling in difficult times.

The ceiling of the hall preserves a unique geological feature of ropy lava flow. The cave was once painted and traces of which can still be seen.

Cave 5

Cave 6

Cave 7

Cave 8

Cave 9
Description adapted from signs erected by the Archeological Society of India at the Caves

This is the one of the oldest Chaitya Hall at Ajaṇṭā, belonging to the early sects of Buddhism, and datable to the 1st century B. C. It is rectangular on plan, but the layout is apsidal. The Chaitya Hall measures 18. 24 X 18. 04m, and with its well-balanced facade is divided into a nave, an apse and aisles by a colonnade of twenty-three pillars.

The vaulted ceiling of the nave and apse were originally braced with superfluous wooden beams and rafters. At the centre of the apse stands a plain globular stūpa on a high cylindrical base. The facade wall is decorated with a beautiful chaitya-window and figures of Lord Buddha. Inside the hall are seen two layers of paintings, the earlier dating back to the second half of the 1st century B. C., and the latter to the 5th-6th century A. D.

The pillars and ceilings are decorated with paintings of Buddha and floral decorations while the walls are decorated with figures of Lord Buddha, groups of votaries, a procession of devotees towards a stūpa etc.

Cave 10
Description adapted from signs erected by the Archeological Society of India at the Caves

This is the earliest Chaitya Hall at Ajaṇṭā, belonging to the early sects of Buddhism. It measures 30.5 X 12.2 m., and on the basis of inscriptions the cave was excavated through gifts made by Vasisthiputra Katahadi, Kanahaka of Bahada and monk Dharmadeva; while the paintings were donated by various devotees. The predominantly wooden architecture and the paleographical evidence date this cave to circa 2nd century B. C.

The chaitya is apsidal on plan consisting of a nave flanked by two aisles and having a colonnade of thirty-nine pillars. The stūpa placed at the apsidal end, is the biggest at Ajaṇṭā and is plain and hemispherical in shape.

The importance of this cave lies in its preserving early specimens of Indian paintings. The paintings belong to two different periods; the earlier dated to 2nd century B. C. and the latter to 4th century A. D. The plain octagonal pillars, ceilings and walls are painted with Buddhist themes, designs, and Jātakas, but nothing substantial has survived.

Cave 11

Cave 12

 

Photographs by Anandajoti Bhikkhu

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