HERITAGE SITES OF INDIA

Ajanta Caves
 
Why were the Ajanta Caver given this name?
 
The Ajanta caves are situated north of Aurangabad in Maharashtra. They get their name from the village of Ajanta that is located nearby. The caves were discovered in 1819 by a British army officer. He stumbled on them by accident, during a hunting expedition. The caves are carved out of a house shoe shaped rock surface that overlooks a stream, and this cliff is nearly 76 metres tall. There are 31 caves in all, and it is believed that they were carved in the 2nd century BC as a retreat for Buddhist monks during the rainy season. They were used as prayer halls for about nine centuries, and then abruptly abandoned. Today, the caves are an important tourist destination, and are famous for their magnificent murals.
 
Why are the Ajanta Caves important?

The Ajanta Caves are important because they include paintings and sculptures considered to be masterpieces of Buddhist religious art. Some paintings reflect the Theravada tradition of depicting the Buddha only in symbolic form such as a throne or footprints. Others feature colourful murals and staturs depicting the life of the Buddha and various Bodhisattvas. There are also frescos which are reminiscent of the paintings found in Sri Lanka, and some of the caves depict scenes from everyday life and inscriptions. Inspired by faith and devotion, each figure has been carved by the monks using just hammer and chisel. The caves of Ajanta reflect the achievements to the Gupta and post Gupta period in Indian history. They tell us the story of rich and a glorious past.
 
Why are the Ajanta paintings special?

The paintings in the Ajanta Caves depict different incidents in the life of Buddha, as well contemporary events and social life. A special technique was used to execute the paintings. The rock surface was first prepared with elaborate care, and scored with chisel marks and grooves to hold the next layers in place. A first layer of red earth mixed with rock-grit or sand, vegetable fires, and grass was then applied on the rough surface of walls and ceilings. The rough surface of walls and ceilings. The surface was finally finished with a thin coat of lime wash. Outlines were filled with colours. The paintings of Ajanta are not frescoes in the accepted sense of the word. Frescoes are painted while the lime wash is still wet, so that is acts as a binding agent, but those of the Ajanta caves use glue as the binding agent.

The Ajanta Caves

There are 30 caves, including some unfinished ones at Ajanta. Of them five are prayer halls- ‘Chaityas’ and rest are monasteries- ‘Viharas’.