Ajanta Caves are one of the first World Heritage sites in India. Located 107 kilometers north of Aurangabad, Maharashtra; Ajanta caves are renowned for rock-cut cave monuments. These are 30 rock-cut Buddhist caves with Buddha figures, the depiction of Jataka stories, paintings, and sculptures. Located near Jalgaon in Maharashtra, these caves are 100 km away from Ellora Caves.
Richly decorated paintings and frescoes similar to Sigiriya Paintings highlight the charm of these ancient caves. Excavated in different periods (circa second century to sixth century AD). These caves were discovered in 1819 by a military officer of the British Army Madras Regiment while hunting. The Archeological Survey of India defines these monuments as "the finest surviving examples of Indian art, particularly painting". The caves were also included in the list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 1983.
History of Ajanta Caves
According to archaeologists, the construction of the Ajanta caves was agreed to have been done in two separate phases - the first during the 2nd century BCE to the 1st century CE and the second in succeeding centuries. These were constructed for three purposes: education, residence, and spirituality. Also, their history has been divided into two periods: Satavahana and Vakataka.
The caves came into being during the Satavahana period. Caves 9, 10, 12, 13, and 15A are believed to be the oldest ones, which were constructed between 100 BCE and 100 CE. There perhaps were more caves built during this period. The caves built during the Satavahana period lacked precision and mainly focused on Buddha while narrating the tales of his life.
The second stage was the Vakataka period, which started in the 5th century. It is believed that the construction of the caves was mostly in function between 460 CE to 480 CE. About 20 temples were constructed, which were more complex than the Satavahana ones. The Caves constructed during the second state were 1-8, 11, and 14-29. The focus was also to reconstruct or renovate older caves. After the downfall of the Vakataka dynasty, these caves were abandoned.
Cave number 10 was unexpectedly discovered by a British officer named John Smith on 28th April 1819, as he was out hunting. According to the British officer, he was standing at the entrance and some local people were worshipping with fire. He also inscribed his name along with the date in the walls, standing on a 5 feet high pile. With time, these caves were exposed and people started recognizing their structure and representations.
Later in 1948, the Bombay Cave Temple Commission was introduced to clear up the site and in 1861, the Archeological Survey of India focused on the caves. Later, Nizam of Hyderabad commissioned the path so that people could visit here. Since then, Ajanta Caves have gained popularity. The improvements of the caves as well as cleaning and maintenance of the facade have been carried out precisely. Thereby, these excellent monuments have gained a fresh lease of life.
How to Reach Ajanta Caves
The Chikkalthana airport, also known as Aurangabad airport is located around 103 km away from Ajanta. Travelers can board direct flights from major places such as Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Hyderabad. There are stopover flights from other towns and cities as well.
Jalgaon city, about 60 kilometers from Ajanta Caves is the nearest railway Junction. The Jalgaon Junction is well connected to major cities of India like Mumbai, New Delhi, Agra, Bhopal, Gwalior, Jhansi, Goa, and Varanasi.
Ajanta caves can easily be reached by taking the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) buses. These buses take off from Aurangabad Central Bus Station to the north of Siddharth Garden and the Zoo, and drop you off at the Ajanta Caves entrance road.
How many caves are there in Ajanta Caves?
There are 30 caves in Ajanta Caves. These caves are among the most exquisite constructions of some of the earliest Buddhist architecture, cave paintings, and sculptures.
What to explore in Ajanta?
Portraying some of the finest paintings and sculptures, Cave 1 and Cave 2 can not be missed during your Ajanta tour.
Cave 1: This is one of the latest excavated caves. The murals and carvings here reflect immense grandiose and is believed to have been constructed under Raja Harishena’s rule. Cave 1 has a 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 lighting. The walls of the caves are 40 ft long and 20 ft high. The rear wall has a carving of Lord Buddha sitting with his hands in the dharma chakra pravartana mudra. The left, rear, and right walls have cells.
Cave 2: Cave 2 is adjacent to Cave 1 and is known for its paintings done on the walls, ceilings, and pillars. These paintings look somewhat similar to those in Cave 1 but are better in terms of their style and detail. The carving in its façade is however different from Cave 1. The front porch has vestibules. The paintings on Cave 2 have been copied by many painters. They 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, which have rock-beams on both ends.
Cave 4: As per the Archeological Survey of India, an inscription depicts that Cave 4 was built in the 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.
Timings for Visiting Ajanta Caves
- The Ajanta caves remain open all days of the week except Monday.
- The caves can be visited by tourists between 9:00 AM - 6:00 PM.
Entry Fees for Visiting Ajanta Caves
- The entry fee for Indians is INR 40 per head and INR 600 per head for foreign tourists.
- There is no entry fee for an Indian child below 15 years.
Interesting facts about Ajanta Caves
- Ajanta Caves were excavated in a rock surface that looks like a horseshoe.
- At the entrance of the first of Ajanta caves, you will be greeted by a tall image of the Buddha.
- It is believed that the Buddhist monks embedded their creativity and painting on the walls of the caves as during the monsoons they couldn’t travel.
- The painting style found in Ajanta Caves is believed to have inspired painting style in Tibet and Sri Lanka.
Where to Stay near Ajanta Caves
Enjoy a happy stay near Ajanta Caves, as there is no lack of hotels around Ajanta in the city. Some of the popular places to stay near Ajanta Caves among travelers are -
- The Imperia Residence (51 km approx.)
- Buldana Urban Residency Club (60 km approx.)
- Mahendra Hotel (54 km approx.)
- Hotel Aaditya Palace (60 km approx.)
- Tanarika Resort (63 km approx.)
- Hotel Royal Palace (101 km approx.)
Places to eat near Ajanta Caves
There are several eateries available near Ajanta Caves where you can satiate your taste buds. You can easily find multiple restaurants and street food outlets offering scrumptious meals. Along with this, you can also enjoy fine dining at the in-house dining outlets of the hotel or resort. MTDC Ajanta Caves, Foodwallah, and Vihara Restaurant are some of the popular restaurants near Ajanta Caves where you can enjoy meals.
Nearby Tourist Places to Ajanta Caves
The beautiful regions of Ajanta offer many things to explore. Plan a tour and visit nearby attractions such as:
- Grishneshwar Jyotirlinga Temple (104 km approx.)
- Daulatabad Fort (110 km approx.)
- Bhadra Maruti Temple (100 km approx.)
- Ellora Caves (104 km approx.)
- Shani Shingnapur (180 km approx.)