Ajanta Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, date back to the 2nd century. These are 30 rock-cut Buddhist caves with Buddha figures, depiction of Jataka stories, paintings and sculptures. The Archeological Survey of India defines these monuments as "the finest surviving examples of Indian art, particularly painting". These caves are located near Jalgaon in Maharashtra and are at a distance of 100 km from Ellora Caves.
Ajanta caves were made for three purposes: education, residence and spirituality. As per a Chinese scholar, the caves had several hundred teachers and students. Its history has been divided in two periods: Satavahana and Vakataka.
Satavahana is the earliest period when the caves came into inception. Cave 9, 10, 12, 13 and 15A are the oldest ones and are believed to have been built between 100BCE and 100CE. During this time, Satavahana Dynasty was ruling the area. There perhaps were more caves built during this period. The caves built during Satavahana period lack precision and mainly focus on Buddha while narrating the tales of his life.
Vakataka period began in 5th century. It is believed that the construction of the caves was mostly in function between 460 to 480 CE. During this time about 20 temples were built, and these were more elaborate than the Satavahana ones. Focus was also put in order to reconstruct or renovate older caves. Caves made in the second phase are 1-8, 11 and 14-29. After the fall of Harisena, the caves were abandoned.
In 28 April 1819, a British officer was out for hunting tigers and accidentally discovered Cave 10. He was standing on the entranceway and some locals were already worshipping here with fire. He inscribed his name along with the date in the walls, standing on a 5ft high pile. With growing time, these caves came into exposure and people started admiring its architecture and paintings.
In 1948, Bombay Cave Temple Commission was introduced to clear up the site and in 1861, Archeological Survey of India focused on the caves. Later, Nizam of Hyderabad commissioned the path so that people could make a visit here. Since then, Ajanta Cave have only grown in their popularity.
Main Caves of Ajanta Caves:
Cave One: This is one of the latest excavated caves. The murals and carvings here reflect immense grandiose and this makes Spink believe that this cave was constructed under Raja Harishena’s rule. Cave One has heavy ornamental façade and is chiseled with finely-cut sculptures. These sculptures depict the life of Buddha. The ceilings of the porch have faded murals and it has three doorways. The doorways have windows and are built perhaps for the purpose of lighting. The walls of the caves are 40ft long and 20ft high. The rear wall has a carving of Lord Buddha sitting with his hands in the dharmachakrapravartana mudra. Left, rear and right walls have cells.
Cave Two: Cave two is adjacent to Cave One and is known for its paintings. The paintings have been done on the walls, ceilings and pillars. They look somewhat similar to those in Cave One, but are better in terms of their style and detail. The carving in its façade is however different from Cave one. The front porch has vestibules. The paintings on Cave Two have been copied by many painters. These paintings mainly narrate the life of Buddha before Bodhisattva. Similar to Cave One’s paintings, these two reflect royalty and empowered women.
The ceiling of the hall is supported by four colonnades. These colonnades have rock-beams on both ends.
Cave Four: As per the Archeological Survey of India, an inscription depicts that Cave Four was built in 6th century AD and was a gift from someone named Mathura. The cave has a sanctum, verandah and hall. Inside the sanctuary is the sculpture of the Buddha, preaching his followers.
Caves Nine and Ten: These caves were built in the first phase. Cave Ten was built approximately a millennium earlier than Cave Nine. The caves have over 300 paintings drawn by different artists.