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Stupa in Ajanta

Stupa in Ajanta



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Ajanta Caves (2nd C. B.C. to 6th C. A.D.)

A British Army’s young Captain Smith was on private tiger hunting expedition in summer of 1819. As he came near a spot on the hill from where the river Waghora emerged, he heard someone’s call. He turned back to see and it was a village shepherd boy, trying to tell him something with hand gestures. Smith understood that the boy was pointing to high cliff above the river and in no time, Smith understood that the tiger territory began across the river.

Smith began inching down the hill when he saw a patch of golden-red between a few stone-carved pillars or columns. Forgetting about the tiger, Smith charged towards the new target and soon he was inside Cave No 10. Captain John Smith marked his place in history as first European to stumble upon Ajanta Caves . Like other ancient inscriptions in the cave, he too inscribed with a knife on a pillar own “John Smith, 28th Cavalry, and 28th April, 1819”. Captain Smith, never imagined that, two hundred years later, he will be remembered for good in that he re-discovered the Ajanta caves and, little not good since he was also first to vandalise the paintings with own inscription.


The Transition Of Our Society Essay

The smooth transition of our society, from nomadic groups to vilages and states, resulted in the development of religons, as a result of reformed social and political environments. Where it started of as other wordly beliefs adopted by the small nomadic group and slowly developed into full blown religions over time. The earliest evidence of religon found in the world was in the Neolithic Period . The figurines found from that period, along with the religious texts, reflect a society of religious


अनुक्रम

गुफाएँ एक घने जंगल से घिरी, अश्व नाल आकार घाटी में अजंता गाँव से 3½ कि॰मी॰ दूर बनी है। यह गाँव महाराष्ट्र के औरंगाबाद शहर से 106 कि॰मी॰ दूर बसा है। इसका निकटतम कस्बा है जलगाँव, जो 60 कि॰मी॰ दूर है, भुसावल 70 कि॰मी॰ दूर है। इस घाटी की तलहटी में पहाड़ी धारा वाघूर बहती है। यहाँ कुल 29 गुफाएँ (भारतीय पुरातात्विक सर्वेक्षण विभाग द्वारा आधिकारिक गणनानुसार) हैं, जो कि नदी द्वारा निर्मित एक प्रपात के दक्षिण में स्थित है। इनकी नदी से ऊँचाई 35 से 110 फीट तक की है।

अजंता का मठ जैसा समूह है, जिसमें कई विहार (मठ आवासीय) एवं चैत्य गृह हैं (स्तूप स्मारक हॉल), जो कि दो चरणों में बने हैं। प्रथम चरण को गलती से हीनयान चरण कहा गया है, जो कि बौद्ध धर्म के हीनयान मत से सम्बन्धित है। वस्तुतः हिनायन स्थविरवाद के लिए एक शब्द है, जिसमें बुद्ध की मूर्त रूप से कोई निषेध नहीं है। अजंता की गुफा संख्या 9, 10, 12, 13 15ए (अंतिम गुफा को 1956 में ही खोजा गया और अभी तक संख्यित नहीं किया गया है।) को इस चरण में खोजा गया था। इन खुदाइयों में बुद्ध को स्तूप या मठ रूप में दर्शित किया गया है।

दूसरे चरण की खुदाइयाँ लगभग तीन शताब्दियों की स्थिरता के बाद खोजी गयीं। इस चरण को भी गलत रूप में महायान चरण ९ बौद्ध धर्म का दूसरा बड़ा धड़ा, जो कि कमतर कट्टर है, एवं बुद्ध को सीधे गाय आदि रूप में चित्रों या शिल्पों में दर्शित करने की अनुमति देता है।) कई लोग इस चरण को वाकाटक चरण कहते हैं। यह वत्सगुल्म शाखा के शासित वंश वाकाटक के नाम पर है। इस द्वितीय चरण की निर्माण तिथि कई शिक्षाविदों में विवादित है। हाल के वर्षों में कुछ बहुमत के संकेत इसे पाँचवीं शताब्दी में मानने लगे हैं। वॉल्टर एम॰ स्पिंक, एक अजंता विशेषज्ञ के अनुसार महायन गुफाएँ 462-480 ई॰ के बीच निर्मित हुई थी। महायन चरण की गुफाएँ संख्या हैं 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, एवं 29। गुफा संख्या 8 को लम्बे समय तक हिनायन चरण की गुफा समझा गया, किन्तु वर्तमान में तथ्यों के आधार पर इसे महायन घोषित किया गया है।

महायन, हिनायन चरण में दो चैत्यगृह मिले थे, जो गुफा संख्या 9 व 10 में थे। इस चरण की गुफा संख्या 12, 13, 15 विहार हैं। महायन चरण में तीन चैत्य गृह थे जो संख्या 19, 26, 29 में थे। अपने आरम्भ से ही अंतिम गुफा अनावासित थी। अन्य सभी मिली गुफाएँ 1-3, 5-8, 11, 14-18, 20-25, व 27-28 विहार हैं।

खुदाई में मिले विहार कई नापों के हैं, जिनमें सबसे बड़ा 52 फीट का है, प्रायः सभी वर्गाकार हैं। इनके रूप में भी भिन्नता है। कई साधारण हैं, तो कई अलंकृत हैं, कुछ के द्वार मण्डप बने हैं, तो कई के नहीं बने हैं। सभी विहारों में एक आवश्यक घटक है— एक वृहत हॉल कमरा। वाकाटक चरण वालों में, कईयों में पवित्र स्थान नहीं बने हैं, क्योंकि वे केवल धार्मिक सभाओं एवम् आवास मात्र हेतु बने थे बाद में उनमें पवित्र स्थान जोड़े गये। फिर तो यह एक मानक बन गया। इस पवित्र स्थान में एक केन्द्रीय कक्ष में बुद्ध की मूर्ति प्रायः धर्म-चक्र-प्रवर्तन मुद्रा में बैठे हुए होती थी। जिन गुफाओं में नवीनतम विशेषताएँ हैं, वहाँ किनारे की दीवारों, द्वार मण्डपों पर और प्रांगण में गौण पवित्र स्थल भी बने दिखते हैं। कई विहारों के दीवारों के फलक नक्काशी से अलंकृत हैं। दीवारों और छतों पर भित्ति चित्रण किया हुआ है।

प्रथम शताब्दी में हुए बौद्ध विचारों में अन्तर से, बुद्ध को देवता का दर्जा दिया जाने लगा और उनकी पूजा होने लगी। परिणामतः बुद्ध को पूजा-अर्चना का केन्द्र बनाया गया जिससे महायन की उत्पत्ति हुई।

पूर्व में, शिक्षाविदों ने गुफाओं को तीन समूहों में बाँटा था, किन्तु साक्ष्यों को देखते हुए और शोधों के चलते उसे नकार दिया गया। उस सिद्धान्त के अनुसार 200 ई॰ पूर्व से 200 ई॰ तक एक समूह, द्वितीय समूह छठी शताब्दी का और तृतीय समूह सातवीं शताब्दी का माना जाता था।

आंग्ल-भारतीयों द्वारा विहारों हेतु प्रयुक्त अभिव्यंजन गुफा-मंदिर अनुपयुक्त माना गया। अजंता एक प्रकार का महाविद्यालय मठ था। ह्वेन त्सांग बताता है कि दिन्नाग, एक प्रसिद्ध बौद्ध दार्शनिक, तत्वज्ञ, जो कि तर्कशास्त्र पर कई ग्रन्थों के लेखक थे, यहाँ रहते थे। यह अभी अन्य साक्ष्यों से प्रमाणित होना शेष है। अपने चरम पर विहार सैंकड़ों को समायोजित करने की सामर्थ्य रखते थे। यहाँ शिक्षक और छात्र एक साथ रहते थे। यह अति दुःखद है कि कोई भी वाकाटक चरण की गुफा पूर्ण नहीं है। यह इस कारण हुआ कि शासक वाकाटक वंश एकाएक शक्तिविहीन हो गया, जिससे उसकी प्रजा भी संकट में आ गयी। इसी कारण सभी गतिविधियाँ बाधित होकर एकाएक रूक गयीं। यह समय अजंता का अंतिम काल रहा।

यह एक प्रथम कदम है और इसका अन्य गुफाओं के समयानुसार क्रम से कोई मतलब नहीं है। यह अश्वनाल आकार की ढाल पर पूर्वी ओर से प्रथम गुफा है। स्पिंक के अनुसार इस स्थल पर बनी अंतिम गुफाओं में से एक है और वाकाटक चरण के समाप्ति की ओर है। हालाँकि कोई शिलालेखित साक्ष्य उपस्थित नहीं हैं फिर भी यह माना जाता है कि वाकाटक राजा हरिसेना इस उत्तम संरक्षित गुफा के संरक्षक रहे हों। इसका प्रबल कारण यह है कि हरिसेना आरम्भ में अजंता के संरक्षण में सम्मिलित नहीं था, किन्तु लम्बे समय तक इनसे अलग नहीं रह सका, क्योंकि यह स्थल उसके शासन काल में गतिविधियों से भरा रहा और उसकी बौद्ध प्रजा को उस हिन्दू राजा का इस पवित्र कार्य को आश्रय देना प्रसन्न कर सकता था। यहाँ दर्शित कई विषय राजसिक हैं।

इस गुफा में अत्यंत विस्तृत नक्काशी कार्य किया गया है, जिसमें कई अति उभरे हुए शिल्प भी हैं। यहाँ बुद्ध के जीवन से सम्बन्धित कई घटनाएँ अंकित हैं, साथ ही अनेक अलंकरण नमूने भी हैं। इसका द्वि-स्तंभी द्वार-मण्डप, जो उन्नीसवीं शताब्दी तक दृश्य था (तब के चित्रानुसार), वह अब लुप्त हो चुका है। इस गुफा के आगे एक खुला स्थान था, जिसके दोनों ओर खम्भेदार गलियारे थे। इसका स्तर अपेक्षाकृत ऊँचा था। इसके द्वार मण्डप के दोनों ओर कोठियाँ हैं। इसके अन्त में खम्भेदार प्रकोष्ठों की अनुपस्थिति बताती है कि यह मण्डप अजंता के अन्तिम चरण के साथ नहीं बना था, जब कि खम्भेदार प्रकोष्ठ एक नियमित अंग बन चुके थे। पोर्च का अधिकांश क्षेत्र कभी मुराल से भरा रहा होगा, जिसके कई अवशेष अभी भी शेष हैं। यहाँ तीन द्वार पथ हैं, एक केन्द्रीय व दो किनारे के। इन द्वारपथों के बीच दो वर्गाकार खिड़कियाँ तराशी हुई है, जिनसे अंतस उज्ज्वलित होता था।

महाकक्ष (हॉल) की प्रत्येक दीवार लगभग 40 फीट लम्बी और 20 फीट ऊँची है। बारह स्तम्भ अन्दर एक वर्गाकार कॉलोनेड बनाते हैं जो छत को सहारा देते हैं, साथ ही दीवारों के साथ-साथ एक गलियारा-सा बनाते हैं। पीछे की दीवार पर एक गर्भगृहनुमा छवि तराशी गयी है, जिसमें बुद्ध अपनी धर्म-चक्र-प्रवर्तन मुद्रा में बैठे दर्शित हैं। पीछे, बायीं एवं दायीं दीवार में चार-चार कमरे बने हैं। यह दीवारें चित्रकारी से भरी हैं, जो कि संरक्षण की उत्तम अवस्था में हैं। दर्शित दृश्य अधिकतर उपदेशों, धार्मिक एवम् अलंकरण के हैं। इनके विषय जातक कथाओं, गौतम बुद्ध के जीवन, आदि से सम्बन्धित हैं।


Description of the caves

Cave 1 is a monastery built in square shape. The cave has an open courtyard with a verandah. There is a statue of Buddha in seated position and his hands are in dharmachakra pravartana mudra. There are four cells on each side left,rear and on the right walls. There are three doorways and in between the doorways two square windows are carved to get light inside the cave. The paintings in this cave depict different scenes from Jataka tales. The two most important paintings include Padmapani and Vajrapani. Some other paintings include sibi, Sankhapala, Mahajanaka and many more.

This Vihara is located just next to Cave 1. Cave 2 is more famous for some of the beautiful paintings done on the walls, ceilings, and pillars. The paintings depict Hamsa, Vidhurapandita, kshanti Jataka tales. Most of the paintings in cave 2 are based on women in prominent roles. Cave 2 is supported with many pillars which are beautifully ornamented and carved.

It is an incomplete Vihara

Cave 4
It is the largest Vihara which was sponsored by a wealthy devotee. This is located at a little higher level as compared to other vihara probably because the quality of rock was much better as compared to lower level. It is believed to have been done in the 6th century. The cave has an image of Buddha is the preaching pose with Bodhisattva on both sides.

It is an incomplete monastery with dimensions of 10.32 X 16.8 m. Except the frame of the door cave 5 has no architectural work or paintings in it. The frame of the door has female figures of makaras. The construction of the cave was probably started in 465 CE but was later abandoned due to geological issues.

It is a two storey monastery which consists of sanctum and a Hall at both the levels. The two levels are considered as Cave 6 lower and Cave 6 Upper. The pillared porch which was present in Cave 6 lower does not exist anymore. The statue of Buddha is on the teaching pose at both the levels. Only the lower level of cae 6 is completed the Upper level is incomplete. The walls and the sanctum’s door frame have been carved very neatly.

It is also a monastery with a single floor. It consists of a sanctum,a hall with octagonal pillars and with eight small rooms for monks who can take rest during their travel. As one enters the Verandah and moves further to antechamber one can see  seated sculptures such as 25 carved seated Buddhas in various poses to the left of antechamber. May be due to geological problems cave 7 consists of only two portico, garbha griha with an antechamber.

Another unfinished monastery which was later used as storage and generator room in 20th century.

Cave 9 is one of the oldest prayer Halls (chaitya) in Ajanta Caves. It was excavated in the 1st century BCE. The aisles in the cave are separated by 23 pillars. The hall also has a stupa and the stupa stands on a cylindrical base at the centre of the apse. The ceiling is vaulted and stupa also has a circumambulation path around it. The paintings in this cave belong to two different periods. One at the time of excavation and the other period is around the 5th century. Some of the paintings include standing Buddha on the pillars, paintings behind stupa include paintings of Buddha and Padmapani and Vajrapani.

It is a large prayer Hall (chaitya) supposedly built in 1st century sling with cave 12 which is a vihara. Cave 10 has two aisles which are separated by 39 pillars with stupa being on the apsidal end. The stupa is surrounded by pradakshina path. The cave has historical importance as in April 1819 a British Army officer John Smith saw the arch and was very interested in the architecture of it. The paintings belong to two periods. Some of the paintings in the cave depict the stories of Sama Jataka and Chhaddanta Jataka. This cave is much bigger as compared to cave 9.

It is a Vihara built in the 5th century. It consists of a hall with a big bench and six cells. Another hall ends with a sanctum having image of Buddha is seated position and also an incomplete stupa. Some of the important paintings include Padmapani, a female figure, a pair of peafowl.

According to archaeologists Cave 12 belongs to the first period. The front part of this Vihara is completely destroyed. Only the central hall with four cells remains intact. An inscription on the wall says that a merchant named Ghanamadada gifted this cave around the 2nd century BC.

Cave 13 is a small vihara which belongs to the first period. It consists of a Hall with seven cells and also two stone beds.

Cave 14 is an  incomplete monastery.

CAVE 15 belongs to Hinayana and was built in the 5th century. It is a vihara which consists of eight cell halls which has a sanctum, an antechamber and verandah with pillars. The sanctum has the image of Buddha as the seating pose. Cave 15A is the smallest cave with a hall and with one cell on each side.

Located at the centre of the place cave 16 was sponsored  by Varahadeva, who was a minister in Vakataka king Harisena. It is a Mahayana monastery with a main doorway and two aisle doorways. The main Hall, which is a perfect square is surrounded by 14 cells. Cave 16 has many paintings which have stories from Jataka tales such as Hasti, Mahaummagga and Sutasoma. The garbha griha has Buddha in Dharma Chakra mudra. There is also a painting in which Princess Sundari is very happy when she gets the news of her husband becoming a monk. Some of the paintings are incomplete.

It is a vihara which belongs to the Mahayana sect. Cave 17 includes a porch, an antechamber, many pillars with different designs on it and large doors and windows with beautiful carvings of god and goddess on it. The cave also has a long inscription from King Upendragupta. It is believed that the king has also sponsored five other caves in Ajanta. There are thirty major murals in the cave. 

Cave 17 has many beautiful paintings that explain Buddha's various poses like Sikhi, Vipasyi, Sakyamuni, Visvbhu and Kasyapa. Many Jataka stories like hasti, Hamsa, Sarabha miga, Sama, Mahisa, sibi and many more.

It is a small rectangular  space with two octagonal pillars.

It is a Chaitya griha which belongs to the 5th century. Cave 19 is famous for its beautiful sculpture. The entrance of the cave is splendidly decorated with carved figures of Buddha in different styles. Two round pillars which has fluted floral patterns and carved garlands support the porch. Cave 19 also has a Naga figure with a serpent canopy which is protecting Buddha.

There are also two huge Yakshas that are sculpted on either side of Chaitya arch. The worship hall is apsidal has 15 pillars dividing it into two sides aisles and one side nave. The walls and the ceilings inside the aisle are covered with paintings. A standing Buddha is carved in front of the stupa. The crown of this image almost touches the roof.

It is a monastery which belongs to the 5th century. Probably donated by Upendragupta this vihara consists of a verandah with a cell on both the sides. The garbha griha has Buddha in a preaching pose. Verandah also has two stone cut windows for light to come in. The door frames are quasi structural in shape.

It is a monastery. It has a verandah and 12 pillars. There are twelve  cells out of which four have pillared porches. Garbha griha has the idol of Buddha in a preaching pose.

It is a small vihara with a verandah and incomplete four cells. Buddha is carved in pralamba padasana mudra. One can also notice painted figures of Manushi Buddha pose.

This is an incomplete vihara which consists of intricately carved pillars and pilasters in naga doorkeepers.

Even this is an unfinished Vihara with a hall, pillared verandah. The idol of Buddha in garbha griha is in pralamba padasana mudra pose.

It is a monastery excavated at a higher level.It has no sanctum.

It is a worship hall Chaitya griha which is similar to cave 19. The cave has an apsidal hall with side aisles and an idol of Buddha is seated with various mudras. One of the major art works include depiction of Mahaparinirvana of Buddha on the left aisle wall along with the assault of Mara while Buddha was doing penance. At the centre of the cave is the stupa which has the idol of Buddha

It is a monastery with two storeys. The upper storey is partially collapsed and the lower storey consists of inner hall, four cells, antechamber and garbha griha.

It is an unfinished monastery

It is an unfinished chaitya located between cave 20 and 21.

It is supposed to be one of the oldest caves which was discovered by debris clearance of cave 15 and 16. It has two  inscriptions with unknown script.


How British Orientalists Were Responsible for Rediscovering Indian History

British efforts led to the discovery of many heritage sites, including the Sanchi stupas and Ajanta caves, and deciphering of the Brahmi script thus enabling the reconstruction of a good chunk of our history

Southern gateway of Stupa I at Sanchi. Credit: Anandajoti Bhikkhu/Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0

For a generation brought up on Edward Said’s criticisms it may come as a surprise that it was British Orientalists who re-discovered our artistic heritage and made it accessible to us all. The so-called “colonial gaze”, which Said’s followers dismiss as colonial appropriation, took the form of many wonderful paintings and engravings by visiting British artists, such as Thomas Daniell and William Hodge, long before Britain acquired any imperial ambitions in India.

Jantar Mantar in Delhi. A painting by Thomas and William Daniells, 1808. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

And then there was Sir William Jones, the brilliant polymath who contributed more than any other individual to India’s national cultural renaissance. Alongside his day job as a judge in Calcutta, Jones studied and mastered Sanskrit, rescued it from a narrow Brahmin monopoly, translated its classics and used the language to unlock the glories of our long forgotten Hindu and Buddhist past.

Unlike ancient Greece and Rome, India’s classical past had left behind no written histories, so it had to be reconstructed from lost pavilions and buried treasure. In 1784, with the active patronage of the first British Governor-General, Warren Hastings, Jones founded the Asiatic Society to take on this giant task. It became the beacon for a huge volunteer army of enthusiastic British civil and military officers who scoured the mofussil for ruins and artefacts and wrote learned articles about them.

When Jones returned to England a decade later, his health shattered by overwork, the Asiatic was taken over by James Prinsep, another polymath, whose day job was at the East India Company’s Benares mint. Prinsep’s labours produced the biggest breakthrough in Indian historiography, the deciphering of the long-forgotten Brahmi script and through it the discovery of the Mauryan empire that had united the subcontinent in the 3 rd century BC.

The task began with the enormous, polished granite pillars, the heaviest weighing as much as 40 tons, that had been popping up all over northern India, inscribed with what looked like pin-men. Prinsep spent many years painstakingly transcribing hundreds of coin inscriptions and then collating them with those on the pillars before he finally broke the code of the Brahmi script and deciphered the pin-men as the edicts of the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka.

James Prinsep, responsible for deciphering the Brahmi script from Ashoka’s edicts. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Prinsep presented his discoveries in a paper to the Asiatic, then suffered a physical and mental breakdown and had to be shipped home to England, where he died soon after. Ashoka’s edicts had announced the emperor’s conversion to Buddhism but little was yet known about this obscure religion or the man who had founded it.

The discovery of the Buddha’s Indian connections was again the work of dedicated British explorers. In the late 1790s, a British naturalist, who had heard reports in Burma that the Buddha was a Bihari, tracked down the Bodh Gaya Buddhist ruins.

In the following decades, the Buddha’s Indian roots were confirmed by the excavation of a series of mysterious, dome-like stupas. First came the discovery in 1819 of Sanchi by a British army officer. Sanchi had long lain buried in forests, thus escaping destruction by either the Brahmanical Hindu revival that wiped out Indian Buddhism or by the Muslim invasions that shattered so many temples. The stupas became the focus for further excavations by the man regarded as the father of Indian archaeology, Lieutenant Alexander Cunningham of the Royal Engineers.

In 1834, Cunningham used his engineering skills to drill deep down into the main stupa at Sanchi, where he discovered evidence that Buddhism had been widespread for several centuries from the Mauryan period down to the Gupta empire. He went on to excavate a large collection of Buddhist sculptures at Sarnath, the best of which he shipped off to Calcutta. On a later visit, Cunningham was dismayed to find that the sculptures he had left behind were being used to dam a nearby river. It was typical of the constant battle British Orientalists fought to rescue their finds from the Indian habit of using old stones for new build. Forty years later, when Cunningham discovered the Indus Valley ruins at Harappa, he found bricks from the site being used to lay a railway line.

After retiring from the army as a general, Cunningham spent the rest of his long life leading the newly established Archaeological Survey of India, which still administers our artistic heritage. His last major discovery was the Bharhut stupa, full of Mauryan Buddhist treasures which he sent off to Calcutta Museum, to be restored by the enthusiastic antiquarian Viceroy, Lord Curzon.

Worship at a stupa, found in the Bharhut stupa. Credit: Douglas Galbi/Wikimedia Commons CC BY 3.0

Cunningham was struck by the fact that the large crowds of locals who watched his excavation at Bharhut were deeply disappointed that he unearthed no buried treasure. He grumbled in his diary, “… few natives of India have any belief in disinterested excavations for the discovery of ancient buildings…. ” As at Sarnath, when he returned three years later, every remaining stone of the Bharhut stupa had been removed by locals to build their homes.

Indian neglect for antiquity also extended to more recent monuments. British visitors to the later Mughals at the Red Fort were appalled to find both the Diwan-e-Am and Diwan-e–Khas turned into slums, their semi-precious, inlaid stones stolen from their marble friezes. Aurangzeb’s Moti Masjid in the Red Fort, already dilapidated with foliage growing through it in the early 1800s, was restored by the British, as was Humayun’s tomb and the Jama Masjid. The Taj Mahal was the Mughal monument most beloved of the British, who repaired it from the 1780s onwards.

Cunningham’s Buddhist excavations coincided with British discoveries of important Hindu temple ruins, ranging from Mahabalipuram in the south to the Elephanta and Kanheri caves near Mumbai and Khajuraho, with its then shocking eroticism, in Madhya Pradesh. The most influential discovery was Ajanta, with its wonderful frescoes dating back to the 1 st century BC.

It was a young British cavalry officer who stumbled on Ajanta during a hunting expedition. He braved fierce tigers and even fiercer Bhil tribals, then the main occupants, to explore the caves. In 1836, the Asiatic Society published his report on Ajanta’s classical wonders, and it provoked much debate as to whether the frescoes were Hindu or Buddhist and why sites like this had been abandoned in such remote places.

As the frescoes were deteriorating, it was decided to copy as well as conserve them. A Major Robert Gill, an artistic soldier, arrived at Ajanta and spent the next 27 years copying the paintings. His entire collection was shipped off to be exhibited in London, but tragically destroyed in the Crystal Palace fire of 1866. Gill heroically returned to Ajanta and started all over again, but died a year later. His work was continued for the next 13 years by John Griffiths of Bombay’s JJ School of Art. The results were displayed at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and, in an extraordinary run of bad luck, again destroyed by fire. But luckily this time they had been photographed and could be published. The frescoes went viral in London, with photos in various magazines and even an Ajanta-style ballet at Covent Garden performed by the great Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova.

An original painting of a dancing girl at Ajanta and its copy by Robert Gill. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Ajanta encouraged the pioneering of a new approach to Indian art, giving it equal status with its Western counterparts. This was the life’s work of the art historian Ernest Havell, who came to India in 1890 as principal of the Madras School of Art and left 20 years later as head of the Calcutta School of Art. He celebrated the Indian aesthetic as being conceptual, rather than representational, its images stylised, not naturalistic as in Greco-Roman art, its emphasis on anonymous spirituality, rather than the individuality of its subject or the identity of the artist.

In 1910, at a stormy meeting of the Royal Society of Art in London, Havell clashed with his opponents, who maintained that India only excelled at decorative rather than fine art. Havell emphasised the continuity from ancient Ajanta down to recent Mughal miniatures of a distinctively Indian aesthetic, crediting the Indian artist with the ability ‘to see with the mind, not merely with the eye, to bring out an essential quality…” and to produce high art equal to anything in the West.

In recent times, the artistic discoveries of the Raj have raised questions of cultural ownership. The Indian equivalent of the Elgin Marbles demanded by Greece are the so-called Elliot marbles, also housed in the British Museum in London. The “marbles” are in fact pale limestone friezes from the Mauryan stupa at Amaravati in Andhra, intricately carved with scenes from the life of the Buddha. It was a Scottish revenue official, Sir Walter Elliot, who excavated the site in the 1840s and carted off some of the finest sculptures to the Madras Museum, whence some later found their way to the British Museum. Elliot’s career was typical of many Orientalists. While serving for 40 years as a civil servant in Madras, he was also a linguist, naturalist, ethnologist and numismatist and wrote learned books on everything from cobras and exotic birds to rare coins.

Today Elliot’s Marbles are displayed in a climate-controlled gallery specially created for them at the British Museum, as part of a global centre for the study of Buddhism. A demand for their return by the Archaeological Survey of India was politely declined in 2010. It’s hard to imagine that they would really be better appreciated or conserved in the land of their birth. The stupa at Amaravati is sadly neglected, while the Madras Museum’s collection of its sculptures is one of its least visited rooms. The cultural treasures the British took home with them are only a tiny fraction of what they salvaged, protected and left behind for us.


Don’t get us wrong. The Buddhist caves carved into the mountainside at Ajanta are cool. It’s just that after a while, you experience a sort of repetitious sensory overload (“Oh, this one has a Buddha at the back…just like the others…”).

So, in case you don’t have the time or inclination to explore all 30, we’ve listed our must-sees.

Kick things off with this cave, famous for its elaborately painted vihara, or monastery. The mural depicts two bodhisattvas: Avalokitesvara, the personification of compassion, and Vajrapani, the spiritual energy of the enlightened mind. These flank the doorway to the antechamber.

The Buddha, awash in green light and centered in the large shrine at the rear, sits cross-legged in the dharmachakrapravartana mudra teaching position and was sponsored by Emperor Harisena. In this mudra, the thumb and index finger of both hands touch at their tips to form a circle. This circle represents the Wheel of Dharma, or in metaphysical terms, the union of method and wisdom.

The coolest part of this cave is its ceiling, dominated by a large mandala decorated with birds, flowers, fruit and abstract designs.

This is the largest vihara in the complex, but it was a bit too ambitious — part of the ceiling is said to have collapsed and it wasn’t ever completed. Look up to see the undulating ceiling, which features a cool wavy pattern created by lava flows.

The exterior is gorgeous. We learned that all of these caves were carved top-down. The entranceway features sculptures of lunging lions, maidens clutching trees and dwarves adorned with garlands.

To the right is a bas-relief of a bodhisattva as Reliever of Eight Great Perils. Curious what those are? They were common dangers for pilgrims of the past: bandits, snakes, elephants, lions, disease, floods, forest fires and false imprisonment in foreign lands.

Enter through an impressive double portico richly carved with elephants, lions, lotuses and small stupas.

An oblong vihara monastery from the late 5th century, the garbha griha (inner sanctuary) contains a Buddha statue in a preaching pose, as well as a seated Buddha sheltered by the Naga Muchalinda, a snake-like being who protected him from the elements after his enlightenment.

This chaitya, or prayer hall, from the 1st century BCE is built on a rectangular plan. The interior is divided into three aisles by 21 unadorned octagonal columns.

A large stupa stands on a high cylindrical base at the center of the apse. Because figurative sculptures of the Buddha were not produced during this period, stupas were built to enshrine sacred relics that were most often worshipped and became synonymous with chaityas.

The inside of this cave is two stories high, with a barrel vault ceiling on which rafters and purlins are carved like a wooden building. Although those curious devices are structurally unnecessary, they’re an aesthetic method to mimic the interior spaces of temples.

A Theravada prayer hall, it’s thought to be the oldest cave temple at Ajanta, dating to the 2nd century BCE.

According to one of the inscriptions found in the hall, this cave was designed to “cause the attainment of well-being by good people as long as the sun dispels darkness by its rays!”

Its large central hall is supported by 20 octagonal pillars and bounded by 17 dormitory cells, where the monks slept.

A panel above the doorway depicts the seven Manushi Buddhas (fully illuminated beings in human form).

The detailed exterior carvings to the right of the façade are incredible. A pair of yakshas (nature spirits) are sculpted on either side of the entrance.

The arched roof of the interior hall is carved in imitation of wooden ribs, mimicking the interior spaces of structural temples.

An elaborate standing figure of Buddha, whose umbrella-like crown almost touches the vaulted ceiling, emerges from the mouths of sea monsters.

A reclining Buddha, representing his moment of death prior to attaining nirvana, is a popular feature here. (Wally calls this the “Sleepy-time Buddha.”)

The cave’s stupa has a sculpted figure of Buddha in pralamba padasana mudra, with both feet on the ground and legs apart, as if seated on a throne.

We saw a Sikh man practicing circumambulation (literally, “walking in circles”), a devotional practice where you walk around a sacred object like this stupa, chanting a mantra.

LUNCH WITH HANUMAN

After a morning of exploring the Ajanta Caves, we stopped at a dhaba roadside restaurant for some chana masala

On the way back to Aurangabad, we stopped at a dhaba, or roadside restaurant, for lunch and enjoyed a delicious meal of chana masala seasoned with cinnamon, chile paneer (homemade cheese) and chapatti (flatbread).

A monument to the monkey god Hanuman stood across the road. Hanuman is regarded as a the perfect symbol of selflessness and loyalty.

Worshipping him helps counter any bad karma you’ve racked up by acting selfishly. Hindus believe he bestows fortitude and the strength to overcome the trials of life. –Duke


Oldest historical structures in India known for their exquisite architecture

Our ancient roots dating back to hundreds of centuries is not something we ponder over too frequently. But if at all we do, the sheer richness and diversity of our history is bound to leave us spellbound. With primitive tools and calculation methods in a time when modern day building materials and technology was unimaginable, our forefathers built temples and cities that have survived till date.

Such ancient structures, which once formed the nerve-centre of trade, education, religion or culture, bowl us over with their engineering ingenuity, sculpture and designs even in this modern era of science and technology. We list some such oldest architectural marvels we can proudly look back to and call our own in this I-day special.

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Ajanta, cave 10, chaitya-griha, with votive stupa

The Ajanta Caves in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra, India are about 30 rock-cut Buddhist cave monuments which date from the 2nd century BCE to about 480 or 650 CE. The caves include paintings and sculptures described by the government Archaeological Survey of India as "the finest surviving examples of Indian art, particularly painting", which are masterpieces of Buddhist religious art, with figures of the Buddha and depictions of the Jataka tales. The caves were built in two phases starting around the 2nd century BCE, with the second group of caves built around 400–650 CE according to older accounts, or all in a brief period of 460 to 480 according to the recent proposals of Walter M. Spink. The site is a protected monument in the care of the Archaeological Survey of India, and since 1983, the Ajanta Caves have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Ajanta caves are cut into the side of a cliff that is on the south side of a U-shaped gorge on the small river Waghur, and although they are now along and above a modern pathway running across the cliff they were originally reached by individual stairs or ladders from the side of the river 10–35 m below.

The area was previously heavily forested, and after the site ceased to be used the caves were covered by jungle until accidentally rediscovered in 1819 by a British officer on a hunting party. They are Buddhist monastic buildings, apparently representing a number of distinct "monasteries" or colleges. The caves are numbered 1 to 28 according to their place along the path, beginning at the entrance. Several are unfinished and some barely begun and others are small shrines.

The caves form the largest corpus of early Indian wall-painting other survivals from the area of modern India are very few, though they are related to 5th-century paintings at Sigiriya in Sri Lanka. The elaborate architectural carving in many caves is also very rare, and the style of the many figure sculptures is highly local, found only at a few nearby contemporary sites, although the Ajanta tradition can be related to the later Hindu Ellora Caves and other sites.

The four completed chaitya halls are caves 9 and 10 from the early period, and caves 19 and 26 from the later period of construction. All follow the typical form found elsewhere, with high ceilings and a central "nave" leading to the stupa, which is near the back, but allows walking behind it, as walking around stupas was (and remains) a common element of Buddhist worship (pradakshina). The later two have high ribbed roofs, which reflect timber forms, and the earlier two are thought to have used actual timber ribs, which have now perished. The two later halls have a rather unusual arrangement (also found in Cave 10 at Ellora) where the stupa is fronted by a large relief sculpture of the Buddha, standing in Cave 19 and seated in Cave 26.

Caves 9 and 10 are the two chaitya halls from the first period of construction, though both were also undergoing an uncompleted reworking at the end of the second period. Cave 10 was perhaps originally of the 1st century BCE, and cave 9 about a hundred years later. The small "shrinelets" called caves 9A to 9D and 10A also date from the second period, and were commissioned by individuals.

The paintings in cave 10 include some surviving from the early period, many from an incomplete programme of modernization in the second period, and a very large number of smaller late intrusive images, nearly all Buddhas and many with donor inscriptions from individuals. These mostly avoided over-painting the "official" programme and after the best positions were used up are tucked away in less prominent positions not yet painted the total of these (including those now lost) was probably over 300, and the hands of many different artists are visible.


General Overviews

Although there are numerous art books on Ajaṇṭā paintings for general audiences with beautiful pictures, scholarly works that provide precise and comprehensive overviews of the site are rather limited. As for the detailed accounts on the architectural features of the caves, the early reports of Burgess 1879, Fergusson and Burgess 1880, and Burgess 1883 provide useful information. Spink 2007, which consists of the author’s multiple volumes on the site, further elaborated Burgess’s accounts of the caves based on his half-century study at the site. Ghosh 1967 provides a comprehensive scholarly overview on the architecture, sculpture, and paintings of Ajaṇṭā. For a more compact overview on the site, Mitra 1992 has had a good reputation for many years, although the chronology of the caves and identifications of the paintings in this book remains unchanged since its first edition in 1956. Huntington 1985 and Jamkhedkar 2013 address this problem and provide us with adequate and update information on the site, sculpture, and paintings on the basis of recent scholarship.

Burgess, James. Notes on the Bauddha Rock-temples of Ajanta, their Paintings and Sculptures, and On the Paintings of the Bagh Caves, Modern Bauddha Mythology, & c. Bombay: Government Central, 1879.

One of the earliest scholarly accounts on Ajaṇṭā caves by a pioneering scholar of Indian archaeology. It includes fairly descriptive accounts of caves, paintings in each cave, and inscriptions. In addition to the text, the book also includes many drawings, elevation plans to show the location of the paintings, and some rubbings of the inscriptions.

Burgess, James. Report on the Buddhist Cave Temples and Their Inscriptions, Archaeological Survey of Western India. Vol. 4. London: Trübner, 1883.

This volume was published as the supplementary volume to Fergusson and Burgess 1880. It includes a chapter (pp. 43–59) describing the architectural details of each cave in Ajaṇṭā with many plans and illustrations. Chapter 14 (pp. 116, 124–138) also lists twenty-four Ajaṇṭā inscriptions in caves 9, 10, 16, 20, 26 with transcripts and translations. A reprint was published by Indological Book House (Varanasi) in 1964.

Fergusson, James, and James Burgess. The Cave Temples of India. London: W. H. Allen, 1880.

This first comprehensive volume on rock-cut temples in India spares three chapters for early or “Hīnayāna” caves, later or “Mahāyāna” caves and “the latest” caves (7th century CE ) of Ajaṇṭā (pp. 280–346). Each chapter includes detailed description of the caves and the surviving wall paintings and inscriptions. A reprint was published by Cambridge University Press in 2013.

Ghosh, A., ed. Ajanta Murals. New Delhi: Archaeological Survey of India, 1967.

Unlike numerous “art books” on Ajaṇṭā paintings with many plates, this ASI publication provides us with a comprehensive overview of the Ajaṇṭā site, sculpture, and paintings, such as the historical background of the site, early studies, and scientific analysis on the painting materials. Attached bibliography is also useful, as it lists early studies on Ajaṇṭā in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Huntington, Susan L., and John C. Huntington. The Art of Ancient India: Buddhist, Hindu, Jain. New York and Tokyo: Weather Hill, 1985.

This comprehensive volume on the history of ancient Indian art has a chapter (chapter 12) on Buddhist Cave Architecture from the 5th through the 7th century CE . It provides a good overview on paintings, sculpture, and cave architecture of Ajaṇṭā but also on those of the related sites including Bāgh, Kanheri, Aurangabad, and Ellora. The attached bibliography is useful for grasping the recent scholarship on this subject.

Jamkhedkar, Arvind P. Ajanta. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

The most recent guidebook on Ajaṇṭā by a former director of the State Archaeology of Maharashtra. In addition to the descriptions of each cave (chapter 5), it nicely summarizes the main issues of the sites including the patronage, architectural development, date of the caves (c. 200 BCE –525 CE in his view) and identification of the paintings and sculpture by introducing the results of recent researches.

Mitra, Debala. Ajanta. 10th ed. New Delhi: Archaeological Survey of India, 1992.

A compact and a widely available guidebook published by ASI. It provides the general but adequate information on the history of the caves and the major sculpture and paintings of each cave. Following the traditional chronology, it dates the late phase of the caves to between the late 5th and the 7th century CE and suggests the continuation of the site during the 8–9th centuries CE .

Spink, Walter. M. Ajanta: History and Development. Vol. 5, Cave by Cave. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2007.

This volume, which constitutes a part of Spink’s five volumes on Ajanta, provides key features of pillars, door hinges, holes, plans of each cave so that they support his short chronology of the site (for his short chronology, see Spink 1967 and Spink 2005–2009, cited under Chronology of the Caves).

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Watch the video: Sanchi Stupas. (August 2022).