Ajanta Cave Temples 19-26, Maharasthra

high-definition creative commons photographs from the final group of rock-cut cave temples at Ajanta (caves 19-26), 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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Map of Ajanta Caves
Map by Goran tek-en

Panoramas

you can control the movement through the panorama with your mouse

 

Cave 19
Description adapted from signs erected by the Archeological Society of India at the Caves

Belonging to the late 5th century, this cave is a magnificent Mahāyāna Chaitya Hall and was originally painted throughout. The facade is considered to be one of the most elegant in terms of execution and elaborate ornamentation, and has the arched chaitya window set into it. Two fine, standing Buddha figures flank the entrance.

The interior is in the layout seen before, with two rows of richly decorated columns leading up to and around the back of the standing Buddha, which here is in front of the slender stūpa. This tall shrine has a triple stone umbrella above it.

Cave 20

Cave 21
Description adapted from signs erected by the Archeological Society of India at the Caves

This is a beautiful monastery excavated on a higher level during the 6th century AD. It consists of a pillared veranda, a sanctum with an antechamber and cells along the wall.

Twelve massive pillars support the roof of the hall where flora, fauna, celestial figures and worshippers are carved in great detail. The door frames and window frames are also carved with beautiful designs and sculptures.

The sanctum houses a seated Buddha in Dharmacakra posture, flanked by Bodhisattvas as fly-whisk bearers and celestial figures. Traces of paintings depicting Buddha teaching a congregation can be seen.

Cave 22

Cave 23

Cave 24
Description adapted from signs erected by the Archeological Society of India at the Caves

This is an incomplete monastery but ranks the second largest excavation at Ajaṇṭā. The work was stopped before completion and on the basis of architecture and design it is assigned to 7th century A.D.

The pillars are lavishly carved with vase and foliage, couples and medallions. The door frame and window frame are also intricately carved. Only the verandah with raised pillar porches on either side is finished.

The unfinished hall gives us the idea of the distribution of works. The cell in the courtyard and verandah contain the images of Lord Buddha with Bodhisattvas holding fly-whisks and celestial figures hovering above.

Cave 26
Description adapted from signs erected by the Archeological Society of India at the Caves

This cave is a large Chaitya Hall that is dramatically lit and contains some fine sculptures that shouldn’t be missed. A partly damaged columned facade stretches across the front with the customary side chambers at each end.

The 3-metre high window is flanked by sculptured Buddha reliefs. Inside, 26 pillars run in an elongated semicircle around the cylindrical stūpa which is decorated with Buddha and other figures.

The walls are decorated with sculpture, including the Temptation by Māra’s daughters, but the most striking is the 9-metre reclining image of the reclining Buddha, about to enter Nirvāṇa, his death mourned by some of his followers.

 

Photographs by Anandajoti Bhikkhu

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