Ajanta Caves are 29 (approximately) rock-cut
monuments which date from the 2nd century BCE to about 480 CE in
Aurangabad district of
Maharashtra state of India.[note 1] The
caves include paintings and rock-cut sculptures described as among the
finest surviving examples of ancient Indian art, particularly
expressive paintings that present emotion through gesture, pose and
According to UNESCO, these are masterpieces of
Buddhist religious art
that influenced the Indian art that followed. The caves were built
in two phases, the first phase starting around the 2nd century BCE,
while the second phase was built around 400–650 CE, according to
older accounts, or in a brief period of 460–480 CE according to
later scholarship. 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.
Ajanta Caves constitute ancient monasteries and worship-halls of
Buddhist traditions carved into a 250-feet wall of
rock. The caves also present paintings depicting the past lives
and rebirths of the Buddha, pictorial tales from Aryasura's
Jatakamala, and rock-cut sculptures of
Textual records suggest that these caves served as a monsoon retreat
for monks, as well as a resting-site for merchants and pilgrims in
ancient India. While vivid colours and mural wall-painting were
abundant in Indian history as evidenced by historical records, Caves
16, 17, 1 and 2 of Ajanta form the largest corpus of surviving ancient
Panoramic view of
Ajanta Caves from the nearby hill
Ajanta Caves are mentioned in the memoirs of several medieval-era
Buddhist travellers to
India and by a Mughal-era official of
Akbar era in the early 17th century. They were covered by jungle
until accidentally "discovered" and brought to Western attention in
1819 by a colonial British officer on a tiger-hunting party. The
Ajanta Caves are located on the side of a rocky cliff that is on the
north side of a U-shaped gorge on the small river Waghur, in the
Deccan plateau. Further round the gorge are a number of
waterfalls, which, when the river is high, are audible from outside
Ellora Caves, Ajanta is the major tourist attraction of
Maharashtra. They are about 59 kilometres (37 miles) from the city of
Jalgaon, Maharashtra, India, 60 kilometres (37 miles) from Pachora,
104 kilometres (65 miles) from the city of Aurangabad, and 350
kilometres (220 miles) east-northeast from Mumbai. They are 100
kilometres (62 miles) from the
Ellora Caves, which contain Hindu, Jain
Buddhist caves, the last dating from a period similar to Ajanta.
The Ajanta style is also found in the
Ellora Caves and other sites
such as the
Elephanta Caves and the cave temples of Karnataka.
1.1 Caves of the first (Satavahana) period
1.2 Caves of the later, or Vākāṭaka, period
1.3 Discovery by the Western world
2 Architecture and sculpture
2.3 Worship halls
4 Spink's chronology and cave history
5.1 Cave 1
5.2 Cave 2
5.3 Cave 3
5.4 Cave 4, the largest cave of Ajanta
5.5 Cave 5
5.6 Cave 6
5.7 Cave 7
5.8 Cave 8
5.9 Cave 9 (1st century CE)
5.10 Cave 10, one of the earliest cave (1st century BCE)
5.11 Caves 11
5.12 Caves 12
5.13 Cave 13, 14, 15, 15A
5.14 Cave 16
5.15 Cave 17
5.16 Cave 18
5.17 Cave 19 (5th century CE)
5.18 Cave 20
5.19 Caves 21, 22, 23, 24 and 25
5.20 Cave 26 (5th century CE)
5.21 Caves 27, 28 and 29
5.22 Cave 30
5.23 Other infrastructure
6 Copies of the paintings
7.1 Natives, society and culture in the arts at Ajanta
7.2 Foreigners in the paintings of Ajanta
8 Impact on modern paintings
9 See also
12 External links
Map of Ajanta Caves
Ajanta Caves are generally agreed to have been made in three
distinct periods, the first belonging to the 2nd century BCE to 1st
century CE, and a second period that followed several centuries
The caves consist of 36 identifiable foundations, some of them
discovered after the original numbering of the caves from 1 through
29. The later identified caves have been suffixed with the letters of
the alphabet, such as 15A, identified between originally numbered
caves 15 and 16. The cave-numbering is a convention of
convenience, and has nothing to do with chronological order of their
Caves of the first (Satavahana) period
Cave 9, a first period
Hinayana style chaitya worship hall with stupa
but no idols.
The earliest group constructed consists of caves 9, 10, 12, 13 and
15A. This grouping, and their belonging to the Hinayana
(Theravada) tradition of Buddhism, is generally accepted by
scholars, but there are differing opinions on which century in which
the early caves were built. According to Walter Spink, they
were made during the period 100 BCE to 100 CE, probably under the
patronage of the
Satavahana dynasty (230 BCE – c. 220 CE) who
ruled the region. Other datings prefer the period of the
Maurya Empire (300 BCE to 100 BCE). Of these, caves 9 and 10 are
stupa containing worship halls of chaitya-griha form, and caves 12,
13, and 15A are vihāras (see the architecture section below for
descriptions of these types). The first
Satavahana period caves
lacked figurative sculpture, emphasizing the stupa instead.
According to Spink, once the
Satavahana period caves were made, the
site was not further developed for a considerable period until the
mid-5th century. However, the early caves were in use during this
dormant period, and
Buddhist pilgrims visited the site, according to
the records left by Chinese pilgrim
Faxian around 400 CE.
Caves of the later, or Vākāṭaka, period
The second phase of construction at the
Ajanta Caves site began in the
5th century. For a long time it was thought that the later caves were
made over an extended period from the 4th to the 7th centuries CE,
but in recent decades a series of studies by the leading expert on the
caves, Walter M. Spink, have argued that most of the work took place
over the very brief period from 460 to 480 CE, during the reign of
Harishena of the Vākāṭaka dynasty. This
view has been criticised by some scholars, but is now broadly
accepted by most authors of general books on Indian art, for example
Huntington and Harle.
Most of the caves of the second period were made under the rule of the
Vakataka king Harishena.
The second phase is attributed to the theistic Mahāyāna, or
Greater Vehicle tradition of Buddhism. Caves of the second
period are 1–8, 11, 14–29, some possibly extensions of earlier
caves. Caves 19, 26, and 29 are chaitya-grihas, the rest viharas. The
most elaborate caves were produced in this period, which included some
refurbishing and repainting of the early caves.
Spink states that it is possible to establish dating for this period
with a very high level of precision; a fuller account of his
chronology is given below. Although debate continues, Spink's
ideas are increasingly widely accepted, at least in their broad
conclusions. The Archaeological Survey of
India website still presents
the traditional dating: "The second phase of paintings started around
5th–6th centuries A.D. and continued for the next two centuries".
According to Spink, the construction activity at the incomplete Ajanta
Caves was abandoned by wealthy patrons in about 480 CE, a few years
after the death of Harishena. However, states Spink, the caves appear
to have been in use for a period of time as evidenced by the wear of
the pivot holes caves constructed close to 480 CE. The second
phase of constructions and decorations at Ajanta corresponds to the
very apogee of Classical India, or India's golden age.
According to Richard Cohen, 7th-century Chinese traveler Xuanzang's
reports about the caves, and the scattered graffiti from the medieval
centuries uncovered at the site suggests that the
Ajanta Caves were
known and probably in use, but without a stable or steady Buddhist
community presence at the site. The Ajanta caves are mentioned in
the 17th-century text
Ain-i-Akbari by Abu al-Fazl, as twenty four
rock-cut cave temples each with remarkable idols.
Discovery by the Western world
On 28 April 1819, a British officer named John K Smith, of the 28th
Cavalry, while hunting tigers, "discovered" the entrance to Cave No.
10 when a local shepherd boy guided him to the location and the door.
The caves were well known by locals already. Captain Smith went to
a nearby village and asked the villagers to come to the site with
axes, spears, torches and drums, to cut down the tangled jungle growth
that made entering the cave difficult. He then vandalised the wall
by scratching his name and the date over the painting of a
bodhisattva. Since he stood on a five-foot high pile of rubble
collected over the years, the inscription is well above the eye-level
gaze of an adult today. A paper on the caves by William Erskine
was read to the
Bombay Literary Society in 1822.
Name and date inscribed by John Smith after he found Cave 10 in 1819.
Within a few decades, the caves became famous for their "exotic"
setting, impressive architecture, and above all their exceptional and
unique paintings. A number of large projects to copy the paintings
were made in the century after rediscovery. In 1848, the Royal Asiatic
Society established the "
Bombay Cave Temple Commission" to clear, tidy
and record the most important rock-cut sites in the
with John Wilson as president. In 1861 this became the nucleus of the
new Archaeological Survey of India.
During the colonial era, the Ajanta site was in the territory of the
princely state of the Hyderabad and not British India. In early
Nizam of Hyderabad
Nizam of Hyderabad appointed people to restore the artwork,
converted the site into a museum and built a road to bring tourists to
the site for a fee. These efforts resulted in early mismanagement,
states Richard Cohen, and hastened the deterioration of the site.
Post-independence, the state government of
Maharashtra built arrival,
transport, facilities and better site management. The modern Visitor
Center has good parking facilities and public conveniences and ASI
operated buses run at regular intervals from Visitor Center to the
The Ajanta Caves, along with the
Ellora Caves, have become the most
popular tourist destination in Maharashtra, and are often crowded at
holiday times, increasing the threat to the caves, especially the
paintings. In 2012, the
Maharashtra Tourism Development
Corporation announced plans to add to the ASI visitor centre at the
entrance complete replicas of caves 1, 2, 16 & 17 to reduce
crowding in the originals, and enable visitors to receive a better
visual idea of the paintings, which are dimly-lit and hard to read in
Architecture and sculpture
Ajanta Caves have been carved into a massive rock of the Deccan
plateau. Cave 24.
The caves are carved out of flood basalt rock of a cliff, part of the
Deccan Traps formed by successive volcanic eruptions at the end of the
Cretaceous geological period. The rock is layered horizontally, and
somewhat variable in quality. This variation within the rock
layers required the artists to amend their carving methods and plans
in places. The inhomogeneity in the rock have also led to cracks and
collapses in the centuries that followed, as with the lost portico to
cave 1. Excavation began by cutting a narrow tunnel at roof level,
which was expanded downwards and outwards; as evidenced by some of the
incomplete caves such as the partially-built vihara caves 21 through
24 and the abandoned incomplete cave 28.
The sculpture artists likely worked at both excavating the rocks and
making the intricate carvings of pillars, roof and idols; further, the
sculpture and painting work inside a cave were an integrated parallel
tasks. A grand gateway to the site was carved, at the apex of the
gorge's horseshoe between caves 15 and 16, as approached from the
river, and it is decorated with elephants on either side and a nāga,
or protective Naga (snake) deity. Similar methods and application
of artist talent is observed in other cave temples of India, such as
those from Hinduism and Jainism. These include the
Ghototkacha caves, Elephanta Caves, Bagh Caves,
Badami Caves and
The caves from the first period seem to have been paid for by a number
of different patrons to gain merit, with several inscriptions
recording the donation of particular portions of a single cave. The
later caves were each commissioned as a complete unit by a single
patron from the local rulers or their court elites, again for merit in
Buddhist afterlife beliefs as evidenced by inscriptions such as those
in Cave 17. After the death of Harisena, smaller donors motivated
by getting merit added small "shrinelets" between the caves or add
statues to existing caves, and some two hundred of these "intrusive"
additions were made in sculpture, with a further number of intrusive
paintings, up to three hundred in cave 10 alone.
A monastery, or vihara, with its square hall surrounded by monks'
cells. Cave 4.
The majority of the caves are vihara halls with symmetrical square
plans. To each vihara hall are attached smaller square dormitory cells
cut into the walls. A vast majority of the caves were carved in
the second period, wherein a shrine or sanctuary is appended at the
rear of the cave, centred on a large statue of the Buddha, along with
exuberantly detailed reliefs and deities near him as well as on the
pillars and walls, all carved out of the natural rock. This change
reflects the shift from
Mahāyāna Buddhism. These caves
are often called monasteries.
The central square space of the interior of the viharas is defined by
square columns forming a more-or-less square open area. Outside this
are long rectangular aisles on each side, forming a kind of cloister.
Along the side and rear walls are a number of small cells entered by a
narrow doorway; these are roughly square, and have small niches on
their back walls. Originally they had wooden doors. The centre of
the rear wall has a larger shrine-room behind, containing a large
The viharas of the earlier period are much simpler, and lack
shrines. Spink places the change to a design with a shrine to the
middle of the second period, with many caves being adapted to add a
shrine in mid-excavation, or after the original phase.
The plan of Cave 1 shows one of the largest viharas, but is fairly
typical of the later group. Many others, such as Cave 16, lack the
vestibule to the shrine, which leads straight off the main hall. Cave
6 is two viharas, one above the other, connected by internal stairs,
with sanctuaries on both levels.
Cave 12 plan, an early type of vihara (1st century BCE) without
Cave 1 plan, a monastery known for its paintings.
Cave 6 plan, a two-storey monastery with "Miracle of Sravasti" and
"Temptation of Mara" painted.
Cave 16 plan, a monastery featuring two side aisles.
Top: Interior of Ajanta chaitya hall, Cave 26, photo by Robert Gill
(c. 1868); Bottom: James Fergusson painting of Cave 19 worship hall.
The other type of main hall architecture is the narrower rectangular
plan with high arched ceiling type chaitya-griha – literally, "the
house of stupa". This hall is longitudinally divided into a nave and
two narrower side aisles separated by a symmetrical row of pillars,
with a stupa in the apse. The stupa is surrounded by pillars
and a concentric walking space for circumambulation. Some of the caves
have elaborate carved entrances, some with large windows over the door
to admit light. There is often a colonnaded porch or verandah, with
another space inside the doors running the width of the cave. The
oldest worship halls at Ajanta were built in the 2nd to 1st century
BCE, the newest ones in late 5th century CE, and the architecture of
both resembles the architecture of a Christian church, but without the
crossing or chapel chevette. The
Ajanta Caves follow the
Cathedral-style architecture found in still older rock-cut cave
carvings of ancient India, such as the
Lomas Rishi Cave
Lomas Rishi Cave of the
Ajivikas near Gaya in
Bihar dated to the 3rd century BCE. These
chaitya-griha are called worship or prayer halls.
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 carved into the rock, which reflect timber
forms, and the earlier two are thought to have used actual timber
ribs and are now smooth, the original wood presumed to have
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. Cave 29 is a late and very incomplete chaitya
The form of columns in the work of the first period is very plain and
un-embellished, with both chaitya halls using simple octagonal
columns, which were later painted with images of the Buddha, people
and monks in robes. In the second period columns were far more varied
and inventive, often changing profile over their height, and with
elaborate carved capitals, often spreading wide. Many columns are
carved over all their surface with floral motifs and Mahayana deities,
some fluted and others carved with decoration all over, as in cave
Cave 10 plan, a worship hall with
Jataka tales-related art, (1st
Cave 9 plan, a worship hall with early paintings and animal freezes
(1st century CE).
Cave 19 plan, known for its figures of the Buddha, Kubera and other
arts (5th century CE)
Cave 19 plan another view (5th century CE).
Painted ceiling depicting Life circle of Lord Buddha.
Painting depicting The King's White Elephant from
Jataka tales, Cave
The paintings in the Ajanta caves predominantly narrate the Jataka
tales. These are
Buddhist legends describing the previous births of
the Buddha. These fables embed ancient morals and cultural lores that
are also found in the fables and legends of
Jain texts. The
Jataka tales are exemplified through the life example and sacrifices
Buddha made in hundreds of his past incarnations, where he is
depicted as having been reborn as an animal or human.
Mural paintings survive from both the earlier and later groups of
caves. Several fragments of murals preserved from the earlier caves
(Caves 10 and 11) are effectively unique survivals of ancient painting
India from this period, and "show that by
Sātavāhana times, if
not earlier, the Indian painters had mastered an easy and fluent
naturalistic style, dealing with large groups of people in a manner
comparable to the reliefs of the Sāñcī toraņa crossbars". Some
connections with the art of
Gandhara can also be noted, and there is
evidence of a shared artistic idiom.
Four of the later caves have large and relatively well-preserved mural
paintings which, states James Harle, "have come to represent Indian
mural painting to the non-specialist", and represent "the great
glories not only of Gupta but of all Indian art". They fall into
two stylistic groups, with the most famous in Caves 16 and 17, and
apparently later paintings in Caves 1 and 2. The latter group were
thought to be a century or more later than the others, but the revised
chronology proposed by Spink would place them in the 5th century as
well, perhaps contemporary with it in a more progressive style, or one
reflecting a team from a different region. The Ajanta frescos are
classical paintings and the work of confident artists, without
cliches, rich and full. They are luxurious, sensuous and celebrate
physical beauty, aspects that early Western observers felt were
shockingly out of place in these caves presumed to be meant for
religious worship and ascetic monastic life.
The paintings are in "dry fresco", painted on top of a dry plaster
surface rather than into wet plaster. All the paintings appear to
be the work of painters supported by discriminating connoisseurship
and sophisticated patrons from an urban atmosphere. We know from
literary sources that painting was widely practised and appreciated in
the Gupta period. Unlike much Indian mural painting, compositions are
not laid out in horizontal bands like a frieze, but show large scenes
spreading in all directions from a single figure or group at the
centre. The ceilings are also painted with sophisticated and
elaborate decorative motifs, many derived from sculpture. The
paintings in cave 1, which according to Spink was commissioned by
Harisena himself, concentrate on those
Jataka tales which show
previous lives of the
Buddha as a king, rather than as deer or
elephant or another
Jataka animal. The scenes depict the
about to renounce the royal life.
In general the later caves seem to have been painted on finished areas
as excavating work continued elsewhere in the cave, as shown in caves
2 and 16 in particular. According to Spink's account of the
chronology of the caves, the abandonment of work in 478 after a brief
busy period accounts for the absence of painting in places including
cave 4 and the shrine of cave 17, the later being plastered in
preparation for paintings that were never done.
Cave 2, showing the extensive paint loss of many areas. It was never
finished by its artists, and shows Vidhura Jataka.
Cave 17 verandah doorway, eight Buddhas above eight couples.
Section of the mural in Cave 17, the 'coming of Sinhala'. The prince
(Prince Vijaya) is seen in both groups of elephants and riders.
Hamsa jâtaka, cave 17: the
Buddha as the golden goose in his previous
Spink's chronology and cave history
Walter M. Spink has over recent decades developed a very precise and
circumstantial chronology for the second period of work on the site,
which unlike earlier scholars, he places entirely in the 5th century.
This is based on evidence such as the inscriptions and artistic style,
dating of nearby cave temple sites, comparative chronology of the
dynasties, combined with the many uncompleted elements of the
caves. He believes the earlier group of caves, which like other
scholars he dates only approximately, to the period "between 100 BCE
– 100 CE", were at some later point completely abandoned and
remained so "for over three centuries". This changed during the Hindu
Harishena of the
Vakataka Dynasty, who reigned from 460 to
his death in 477, who sponsored numerous new caves during his reign.
Harisena's rule extended the Central Indian
Vakataka Empire to include
a stretch of the east coast of India; the
Gupta Empire ruled northern
India at the same period, and the
Pallava dynasty much of the
Buddhist monks praying in front of the Dagoba of
Chaitya Cave 26.
According to Spink, Harisena encouraged a group of associates,
including his prime minister Varahadeva and Upendragupta, the sub-king
in whose territory Ajanta was, to dig out new caves, which were
individually commissioned, some containing inscriptions recording the
donation. This activity began in many caves simultaneously about 462.
This activity was mostly suspended in 468 because of threats from the
neighbouring Asmaka kings. Thereafter work continued on only Caves 1,
Harisena's own commission, and 17–20, commissioned by Upendragupta.
In 472 the situation was such that work was suspended completely, in a
period that Spink calls "the Hiatus", which lasted until about 475, by
which time the Asmakas had replaced Upendragupta as the local
Work was then resumed, but again disrupted by Harisena's death in 477,
soon after which major excavation ceased, except at cave 26, which the
Asmakas were sponsoring themselves. The Asmakas launched a revolt
against Harisena's son, which brought about the end of the Vakataka
Dynasty. In the years 478–480 CE major excavation by important
patrons was replaced by a rash of "intrusions" – statues added to
existing caves, and small shrines dotted about where there was space
between them. These were commissioned by less powerful individuals,
some monks, who had not previously been able to make additions to the
large excavations of the rulers and courtiers. They were added to the
facades, the return sides of the entrances, and to walls inside the
caves. According to Spink, "After 480, not a single image was ever
made again at the site". However there exists a Rashtrakuta
inscription outside of cave 26 dateable to end of seventh or early 8th
century, suggesting the caves were not abandoned until then.
Spink does not use "circa" in his dates, but says that "one should
allow a margin of error of one year or perhaps even two in all
Ajanta Caves were built in a period when both the
Buddha and the
Hindu gods were simultaneously revered in Indian culture. According to
Spink and other scholars, not only the
Ajanta Caves but other nearby
cave temples were sponsored and built by Hindus. This is
evidenced by inscriptions wherein the role as well as the Hindu
heritage of the donor is proudly proclaimed. According to Spink,
That one could worship both the
Buddha and the
Hindu gods may well
account for Varahadeva's participation here, just as it can explain
why the emperor Harisena himself could sponsor the remarkable Cave 1,
even though most scholars agree that he was certainly a Hindu, like
— Walter Spink, Ajanta: History and Development, Cave by Cave,
The role of
Hindu artisans is confirmed by archaeological excavations
across the river from the Ajanta caves. The caves must have employed a
large workforce of artisans who likely lived for extended period of
time nearby, across from the river near the site. Excavations have
uncovered extensive brick structures for workers and visiting elite
sponsors, along with Shaiva and Shakta
Hindu deities such as a red
sandstone image of
Durga Mahishasuramardini. According to Yuko
Yokoschi and Walter Spink, these excavated artifacts of the 5th
century near the site suggest that the Ajanta caves deployed a huge
number of builders.
Ajanta caves panorama with cave numbers. The caves are numbered from
right to left, except for the later discovered cave 29, located high
above Cave 21. Also, cave 30 is located between caves 15 and 16,
nearer the river bed (cave invisible here). Chatya halls are boxed
(9,10, 19, 26), and minor caves are indicated by a smaller type.
Front of Cave 1.
Cave 1, interior
Cave 1 was built on the eastern end of the horse-shoe-shaped scarp and
is now the first cave the visitor encounters. This cave, when first
made, would have been a less prominent position, right at the end of
the row. According to Spink, it is one of the last caves to have been
excavated, when the best sites had been taken, and was never fully
inaugurated for worship by the dedication of the
Buddha image in the
central shrine. This is shown by the absence of sooty deposits from
butter lamps on the base of the shrine image, and the lack of damage
to the paintings that would have happened if the garland-hooks around
the shrine had been in use for any period of time. Spink states that
the Vākāţaka Emperor
Harishena was the benefactor of the work, and
this is reflected in the emphasis on imagery of royalty in the cave,
Jataka tales being selected that tell of those previous
lives of the
Buddha in which he was royal.
The cliff has a more steep slope here than at other caves, so to
achieve a tall grand facade it was necessary to cut far back into the
slope, giving a large courtyard in front of the facade. There was
originally a columned portico in front of the present facade, which
can be seen "half-intact in the 1880s" in pictures of the site, but
this fell down completely and the remains, despite containing fine
carvings, were carelessly thrown down the slope into the river, from
where they have been lost.
The frieze over Cave 1 front shows elephants, horses, bulls, lions,
apsaras and meditating monks.
This cave (35.7 m x 27.6 m) has one of the most elaborate carved
façades, with relief sculptures on entablature and ridges, and most
surfaces embellished with decorative carving. There are scenes carved
from the life of the
Buddha as well as a number of decorative motifs.
A two-pillared portico, visible in the 19th-century photographs, has
since perished. The cave has a front court with cells fronted by
pillared vestibules on either side. These have a high plinth level.
The cave has a porch with simple cells on both ends. The absence of
pillared vestibules on the ends suggests that the porch was not
excavated in the latest phase of Ajanta when pillared vestibules had
become customary. Most areas of the porch were once covered with
murals, of which many fragments remain, especially on the ceiling.
There are three doorways: a central doorway and two side doorways. Two
square windows were carved between the doorways to brighten the
Each wall of the hall inside is nearly 40 feet (12 m) long and 20
feet (6.1 m) high. Twelve pillars make a square colonnade inside
supporting the ceiling, and creating spacious aisles along the walls.
There is a shrine carved on the rear wall to house an impressive
seated image of the Buddha, his hands being in the
dharmachakrapravartana mudra. There are four cells on each of the
left, rear, and the right walls, though due to rock fault there are
none at the ends of the rear aisle.
The paintings of Cave 1 cover the walls and the ceilings. They are in
a fair state of preservation, although the full scheme was never
completed. The scenes depicted are mostly didactic, devotional, and
ornamental, with scenes from the
Jataka stories of the Buddha's former
lives as a bodhisattva, the life of the Gautama Buddha, and those of
his veneration. The two most famous individual painted images at
Ajanta are the two over-life-size figures of the protective
Vajrapani on either side of the entrance to
Buddha shrine on the wall of the rear aisle (see illustrations
above). Other significant frescoes in Cave 1 include the
Sibi, Sankhapala, Mahajanaka, Mahaummagga and Champeyya
The cave-paintings also show the Temptation of Mara, miracle of
Sravasti where the
Buddha simultaneously manifests in many forms, the
story of Nanda, and the story of Siddhartha and Yasodhara.
One of four frescoes for the Mahajanaka
Jataka tale. The king
announces he abdicates to become an ascetic.
Sibi Jataka: king undergoes the traditional rituals for renouncers. He
receives a ceremonial bath.
Bodhisattva of compassion
Padmapani with lotus.
Outside view and main hall with shrine, Cave 2.
Cave 2, adjacent to Cave 1, is known for the paintings that have been
preserved on its walls, ceilings, and pillars. It looks similar to
Cave 1 and is in a better state of preservation. This cave is best
known for its feminine focus, intricate rock carvings and paint
artwork yet it is incomplete and lacks consistency. One of
the 5th-century frescoes in this cave also shows children at a school,
with those in the front rows paying attention to the teacher, while
those in the back row are shown distracted and acting.
Cave 2 (35.7 m x 21.6 m) was started in the 460s, but mostly
carved between 475 and 477 CE, probably sponsored and influenced by a
woman closely related to emperor Harisena. It has a porch quite
different from Cave 1. Even the façade carvings seem to be different.
The cave is supported by robust pillars, ornamented with designs. The
front porch consists of cells supported by pillared vestibules on both
Colonnades with high-reliefs in the veranda.
The hall has four colonnades which are supporting the ceiling and
surrounding a square in the center of the hall. Each arm or colonnade
of the square is parallel to the respective walls of the hall, making
an aisle in between. The colonnades have rock-beams above and below
them. The capitals are carved and painted with various decorative
themes that include ornamental, human, animal, vegetative, and
semi-divine motifs. Major carvings include that of goddess
Hariti. She is a
Buddhist deity who originally was the demoness of
smallpox and a child eater, who the
Buddha converted into a guardian
goddess of fertility, easy child birth and one who protects
The paintings on the ceilings and walls of Cave 2 have been widely
published. They depict the Hamsa, Vidhurapandita, Ruru, Kshanti Jataka
tales and the Purna Avadhana. Other frescoes show the miracle of
Sravasti, Ashtabhaya Avalokitesvara and the dream of Maya.
Just as the stories illustrated in cave 1 emphasise kingship, those in
cave 2 show many noble and powerful women in prominent roles, leading
to suggestions that the patron was an unknown woman. The porch's
rear wall has a doorway in the center, which allows entrance to the
hall. On either side of the door is a square-shaped window to brighten
Cave 2 fresco above the right door shows
Buddha in Tushita
A scene from Vidurapandita Jataka: the birth of the Buddha.
The artworks of Cave 2 are known for their feminine focus, such as two
The Miracle of Sravasti.
Cave 3 is merely a start of an excavation; according to Spink it was
begun right at the end of the final period of work and soon
Cave 4, the largest cave of Ajanta
Exterior view and interior hall of Cave 4.
Ajanta hall door (left) and cave pillars.
Cave 4, a vihara, was sponsored by Mathura, likely not a noble or
courtly official, rather a wealthy devotee. This is the largest
vihara in the inaugural group, which suggests he had immense wealth
and influence without being a state official. It is placed at a
significantly higher level, possibly because the artists realized that
the rock quality at the lower and same level of other caves was poor
and they had a better chance of a major vihara at an upper location.
Another likely possibility is that the planners wanted to carve into
the rock another large cistern to the left court side for more
residents, mirroring the right, a plan implied by the height of the
forward cells on the left side.
The Archaeological Survey of
India dates it to 6th century CE.
Spink, in contrast, dates this cave's inauguration a century earlier,
to about 463 CE, based on construction style and other
inscriptions. Cave 4 shows evidence of a dramatic collapse of its
ceiling in the central hall, likely in the 6th century, something
caused by the vastness of the cave and geological flaws in the rock.
Later, the artists attempted to overcome this geological flaw by
raising the height of the ceiling through deeper excavation of the
embedded basalt lava.
Buddha in a preaching pose flanked by bodhisattvas, Cave 4
The cave has a squarish plan, houses a colossal image of the
preaching pose flanked by bodhisattvas and celestial nymphs hovering
above. It consists, of a verandah, a hypostylar hall, sanctum with an
antechamber and a series of unfinished cells. This monastery is the
largest among the Ajanta caves and it measures nearly 970 square
metres (10,400 sq ft) (35m x 28m). The door frame is
exquisitely sculpted flanking to the right is carved
reliever of Eight Great Perils. The rear wall of the verandah contains
the panel of litany of Avalokiteśvara. The cave's ceiling collapse
likely affected its overall plan, caused it being left incomplete.
Only the Buddha's statue and the major sculptures were completed, and
except for what the sponsor considered most important elements all
other elements inside the cave were never painted.
Cave 5, an unfinished excavation was planned as a monastery (10.32 X
16.8 m). Cave 5 is devoid of sculpture and architectural elements
except the door frame. The ornate carvings on the frame has female
figures with mythical makara creatures found in ancient and medieval
era Indian arts. The cave's construction was likely initiated
about 465 CE but abandoned because the rock has geological flaws. The
construction was resumed in 475 CE after Asmakas restarted work at the
Ajanta caves, but abandoned again as the artists and sponsor
redesigned and focussed on an expanded Cave 6 that abuts Cave 5.
A view of the entrance and two storeys (left), upper level hall, and
artwork on sanctum's door frame.
Cave 6 is two storey monastery (16.85 X 18.07 m). It consists of a
sanctum, a hall on both levels. The lower level is pillared and has
attached cells. The upper hall also has subsidiary cells. The sanctums
on both level feature a
Buddha in the teaching posture. Elsewhere, the
Buddha is shown in different mudras. The lower level walls depict the
Miracle of Sravasti and the Temptation of Mara legends. Only
the lower floor of cave 6 was finished. The unfinished upper floor of
cave 6 has many private votive sculptures, and a shrine Buddha.
The lower level of the Cave 6 likely was the earliest excavation in
the second stage of construction. This stage marked the Mahayana
Vakataka renaissance period of Ajanta reconstruction that
started about four centuries after the earlier
construction. The upper storey was not envisioned in the
beginning, it was added as an after thought, likely around the time
when the architects and artists abandoned further work on the
geologically-flawed rock of Cave 5 immediately next to it. Both lower
and upper Cave 6 show crude experimentation and construction
errors. The cave work was most likely in progress between 460 and
470 CE, and it is the first that shows attendant Bodhisattvas.
The upper cave construction probably began in 465, progressed swiftly,
and much deeper into the rock than the lower level.
The walls and sanctum's door frame of the both levels are intricately
carved. These show themes such as makaras and other mythical
creatures, apsaras, elephants in different stages of activity, females
in waving or welcoming gesture. The upper level of Cave 6 is
significant in that it shows a devotee in a kneeling posture at the
Buddha's feet, an indication of devotional worship practices by the
5th century. The colossal
Buddha of the shrine has an
elaborate throne back, but was hastily finished in 477/478 CE, when
king Harisena died. The shrine antechamber of the cave features
an unfinished sculptural group of the Six Buddhas of the Past, of
which only five statues were carved. This idea may have been
influenced from those in
Bagh Caves of Madhya Pradesh.
Lower level with sculpture of the
Buddha in sanctum.
The most intact painting in Cave 6:
Buddha seated in
Painting showing the Mahayana devotional worship to the
Buddha in the upper level, deers below and apsaras above (artificial
External view of Cave 7, and inside shrine.
The Cave 7 is also a monastery (15.55 X 31.25 m) but a single storey.
It consists of a sanctum, a hall with octagonal pillars, and eight
small rooms for monks. The sanctum
Buddha is shown in preaching
posture. There are many art panels narrating
including those of the
Buddha with Nagamuchalinda and Miracle of
Cave 7 has a grand facade with two porticos. The veranda has eight
pillars of two types. One has an octagonal base with amalaka and lotus
capital. The other lacks a distinctly shaped base, features an
octagonal shaft instead with a plain capital. The veranda opens
into an antechamber. On the left side in this antechamber are seated
or standing sculptures such as those of 25 carved seated Buddhas in
various postures and facial expressions, while on the right side are
Buddha reliefs in different postures, all placed on
lotus. These Buddhas and others on the inner walls of the
antechamber are a sculptural depiction of the Miracle of Sravasti in
Buddhist theology. The bottom row show two Nagas (serpents with
hoods) holding the blooming lotus stalk. The antechamber leads to
the sanctum through a door frame. On this frame are carved two females
standing on makaras (mythical sea creatures). Inside the sanctum is
Buddha sitting on a lion throne in cross legged posture,
surrounded by other
Bodhisattva figures, two attendants with chauris
and flying apsaras above.
Perhaps because of faults in the rock, Cave 7 was never taken very
deep into the cliff. It consists only of the two porticos and a shrine
room with antechamber, with no central hall. Some cells were fitted
in. The cave artwork likely underwent revisions and
refurbishments over time. The first version was complete by about 469
CE, the myriad Buddhas added and painted a few years later between 476
and 478 CE.
Cave 7 plan (
Robert Gill sketch, 1850).
Buddhas on the antechamber left wall. Cave 7 (James Burgess sketch,
Buddhas on the antechamber's right wall.
The shallow corridor before the shrine.
External view of Cave 8, with plan. Cave 8 is small, and located at
the lowest level in Ajanta, just below the walkway between caves 7 and
Cave 8 is another unfinished monastery (15.24 X 24.64 m). For many
decades in the 20th-century, this cave was used as a storage and
generator room. It is at the river level with easy access,
relatively lower than other caves, and according to Archaeological
India it is possibly one of earliest monasteries. Much of
its front is damaged, likely from a landslide. The cave
excavation proved difficult and probably abandoned after a geological
fault consisting of a mineral layer proved disruptive to stable
Spink, in contrast, states that Cave 8 is perhaps the earliest cave
from the second period, its shrine an "afterthought". It may well be
the oldest Mahayana monastery excavated in India, according to
Spink. The statue may have been loose rather than carved from the
living rock, as it has now vanished. The cave was painted, but only
Cave 9 (1st century CE)
Entrance to the Cave 9 worship hall. Right: An 1878 sketch.
Caves 9 and 10 are the two chaitya or worship halls from the 2nd to
1st century BCE – the first period of construction, though both were
reworked upon the end of the second period of construction in the 5th
Cave 9 (18.24 m x 8.04 m) is smaller than Cave 10 (30.5 m x 12.2
m), but more complex. This has led Spink to the view that
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. These were commissioned
by individuals. Cave 9 arch has remnant profile that suggests
that it likely had wooden fittings.
The cave has a distinct apsidal shape, nave, aisle and an apse with an
icon, an architecture and plan that reminds one of cathedrals built in
Europe many centuries later. The aisle has a row of 23 pillars. The
ceiling is vaulted. The stupa is at the center of the apse, with a
circumambulation path around it. The stupa sits on a high cylindrical
base. On the left wall of the cave are votaries approaching the stupa,
which suggests a devotional tradition.
According to Spink, the paintings in this cave, including the
intrusive standing Buddhas on the pillars, were added in the 5th
century. Above the pillars and also behind the stupa are colorful
paintings of the
Vajrapani next to him, they
wear jewels and necklaces, while yogis, citizens and
are shown approaching the
Buddha with garlands and offerings, with men
wearing dhoti and turbans wrapped around their heads. On the
walls are friezes of
Jataka tales, but likely from the
of early construction. Some of the panels and reliefs inside as well
as outside Cave 10 do not make narrative sense, but are related to
Buddhist legends. This lack of narrative flow may be because these
were added by different monks and official donors in the 5th century
wherever empty space was available. This devotionalism and the
worship hall character of this cave is the likely reason why four
additional shrinelets 9A, 9B, 9C and 9D were added between Cave 9 and
Buddha statue on the porch of Cave 9.
The apsidal hall with plain hemispherical stupa at apse's center.
Frescoe with Buddhas in orange robes and protected by chatra
umbrellas, Cave 9.
Cave 10, one of the earliest cave (1st century BCE)
Exterior view and interior hall of Cave 10. 3D Tour
Cave 10, a vast prayer hall or Chaitya, is dated to about the 1st
century BCE, together with the nearby vihara cave No 12.
These two caves are thus among the earliest of the Ajanta
complex. It has a large central apsidal hall with a row of 39
octagonal pillars, a nave separating its aisle and stupa at the end
for worship. The stupa has a pradakshina patha (circumambulatory
This cave is significant because its scale confirms the influence of
Buddhism in South Asia by 1st century BCE and its continued though
declining influence in
India through the 5th century CE. Further,
the cave includes a number of inscriptions where parts of the cave are
"gifts of prasada" by different individuals, which in turn suggests
that the cave was sponsored as a community effort rather than a single
king or one elite official. Cave 10 is also historically
important because in April 1819, a British Army officer John Smith saw
its arch and introduced his discovery to the attention to the Western
Several others caves were also built in Western
India around the same
period under royal sponsorship. It is thought that the chronology
of these early
Chaitya Caves is as follows: first Cave 9 at Kondivite
Caves and then Cave 12 at the Bhaja Caves, which both predate Cave 10
of Ajanta. Then, after Cave 10 of Ajanta, in chronological order:
Cave 3 at Pitalkhora, Cave 1 at Kondana Caves, Cave 9 at Ajanta,
which, with its more ornate designs, may have been built about a
century later, Cave 18 at Nasik Caves, and Cave 7 at Bedse Caves,
to finally culminate with the "final perfection" of the Great Chaitya
at Karla Caves.
The Sanskrit inscription of Cave 10 (2nd to 1st century BCE).
Cave 10 features a Sanskrit inscription in
Brahmi script that is
archaeologically important. The inscription is the oldest of the
Ajanta site and reads:[note 2]
" The gift of a cave-façade by Vasisthiputra Katahadi."
— Inscription of Cave No.10.
The paintings in cave 10 include some surviving from the early period,
many from an incomplete programme of modernisation in the second
period, and a very large number of smaller late intrusive images for
votive purposes, around the 479–480 CE, 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. The
paintings are numerous and from two periods, many narrating the Jataka
tales in a clockwise sequence. Both
Hinayana and Mahayana stage
paintings are discernable, though the former are more faded and
begrimed with early centuries of
Hinayana worship. Of interest
here is the Saddanta
Jataka tale – the fable about six tusked
elephant, and the Shyama
Jataka – the story about the man who
dedicates his life serving his blind parents. According
to Stella Kramrisch, the oldest layer of the Cave 10 paintings date
from about 100 BCE, and the principles behind their composition are
analogous to those from the same era at
Sanchi and Amaravati.
Cave 10, condition in 1839.
Buddha in long, heavy robe, a design derived from the art of
Later painting with devotional figures, on pillars and ceiling.
Paintings of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas on the arches.
Outside view of Cave 11.
Buddha with a kneeling devotee.
The Cave 11 is a monastery (19.87 X 17.35 m) from the later 5th
century. The cave veranda has pillars with octagonal shafts and
square bases. The ceiling of the veranda shows evidence of floral
designs and eroded reliefs. Only the center panel is discernible
Buddha is seen with votaries lining up to pray before
him. Inside, the cave consists of a hall with a long rock bench
opening into six rooms. Similar stone benches are found in Nasik
caves. Another pillared verandah ends in a sanctum with seated
Buddha against an incomplete stupa, and has four cells.
The cave has a few paintings showing Bodhisattvas and the Buddha.
Of these, the Padmapani, a couple gathered to pray, a pair of peafowl,
and a female figure painting have survived in the best condition. The
sanctum of this cave may be the among the last structures built at
Ajanta because it features a circumambulation path around the seated
Cave 12 hall, with monk cells. Each cell has two stone beds.
According to Archaeological Survey of
India (ASI), Cave 12 is an early
Hinayana (Theravada) monastery (14.9 X 17.82 m) from the 2nd to
1st century BCE. Spink however only dates it to the 1st century
The cave is damaged with its front wall completely collapsed. Its
three sides inside have twelve cells, each with two stone
Cave 13, 14, 15, 15A
Cave 13 is another small monastery from the early period, consisting
of a hall with seven cells, each also with two stone beds, all carved
out of the rock. Each cell has rock-cut beds for the monks. In
contrast to ASI's estimate, Gupte and Mahajan date both these caves
about two to three centuries later, between 1st and 2nd century
Cave 14 is another unfinished monastery (13.43 X 19.28 m) but carved
above Cave 13. The entrance door frame shows sala bhanjikas.
Cave 15 is a more complete monastery (19.62 X 15.98 m) with evidence
that it had paintings. The cave consists of an eight celled hall
ending in a sanctum, an antechamber and a verandah with pillars. The
reliefs show the Buddha, while the sanctum
Buddha is shown seated in
Simhasana posture. Cave 15 door frame has carvings of pigeons
Cave 15A is the smallest cave with a hall and one cell on each side.
Its entrance is located just to the right of the elephant-decorated
entrance to Cave 16. It is an ancient
Hinayana cave with three
cells opening around a minuscule central hall. The doors are
decorated with a rail and arch pattern. It had an inscription in
an ancient script, which has been lost.
Entrance stairs to the single-storey Cave 16, with stone elephants and
front with pillars (left). Inside hall with seated
(right). 3D Tour
Cave 16 occupies a prime position near the middle of site, and was
sponsored by Varahadeva, minister of
Vakataka king Harishena
(r. c. 475 – c. 500 CE). He devoted it to the community of
monks, with an inscription that expresses his wish, may "the entire
world (...) enter that peaceful and noble state free from sorrow and
disease". He was, states Spink, someone who revered both the
Buddha and the
Hindu gods. The 7th-century Chinese traveler Xuan Zang
described the cave as the entrance to the site.
Cave 16 (19.5 m x 22.25 m x 4.6 m) influenced the architecture of
the entire site. Spink and other scholars call it the "crucial cave"
that helps trace the chronology of the second and closing stages of
the entire cave complex's construction. Cave 16 is a
Mahayana monastery and has the standard arrangement of a main doorway,
two windows, and two aisle doorways. The veranda of this
monastery is 19.5 m x 3 m, while the main hall is almost a perfect
square with 19.5 m side.
King paying homage to the Buddha. Cave 16.
The paintings in Cave 16 are numerous. Narratives include various
Jataka tales such as Hasti, Mahaummagga and the Sutasoma fables. Other
frescoes depict the conversion of Nanda, miracle of Sravasti, Sujata's
offering, Asita's visit, the dream of Maya, the Trapusha and Bhallika
story, and the ploughing festival. The Hasti
tell the story of a
Bodhisattva elephant who learns of a large group
of people starving, then tells them to go below a cliff where they
could find food. The elephant proceeds to sacrifice himself by jumping
off that cliff thereby becoming food so that the people can
survive.[note 3] These frescoes are found immediately to the left
of entrance, in the front corridor and the narrative follows a
Jataka frescoes are found on the left wall of the
corridor, which narrates the story of a child Bodhisattva.
Thereafter, in the left corridor is the legend surrounding the
conversion of Nanda – the half brother of the Buddha. The story
depicted is one of the two major versions of the Nanda legend in the
Buddhist tradition, one where Nanda wants to lead a sensuous life with
the girl he had just wed and the
Buddha takes him to heaven and later
hell to show the spiritual dangers of a sensual life. After the
Nanda-related frescoes, the cave presents Manushi Buddhas, followed by
flying votaries with offerings to worship the
Buddha and the Buddha
seated in teaching asana and dharma chakra mudra.
The right wall of the corridor show the scenes from the life of the
Buddha. These include Sujata offering food to the Buddha
with a begging bowl in white dress, Tapussa and Bhalluka next to the
Buddha after they offering wheat and honey to the
Buddha as monk, the
Buddha sitting alone under a tree, and the
Buddha at a
ploughing festival. One mural shows Buddha's parents trying to
dissuade him from becoming a monk. Another shows the
Buddha at the
palace surrounded by men in dhoti and women in sari as his behavior
presents the four signs that he is likely to renounce. On
this side of the corridor are also paintings that show the future
Buddha as a baby with sage
Asita with rishi-like looks.
According to Spink, some of the Cave 16 paintings were left
The conversion of sensuality-driven Nanda to Buddhism, left
Palace scene fresco, right corridor of Cave 16.
Buddha in asceticism stage, getting sweet milk-rice from
Manushi Buddhas painting in Cave 16.
Exterior view and inside hall with seated
Buddha statue, Cave 17.
Cave 17 (34.5 m x 25.63 m) along with Cave 16 with two great
stone elephants at the entrance and Cave 26 with sleeping Buddha, were
some of the many caves sponsored by the
Vakataka prime minister
Varahadeva. Cave 17 had additional donors such as the local king
Upendragupta, as evidenced by the inscription therein.
The cave features a large and most sophisticated vihara design, along
with some of the best-preserved and well known paintings of all the
caves. While Cave 16 is known for depicting the life stories of the
Buddha, the Cave 17 paintings has attracted much attention for
extolling human virtues by narrating the
Jataka tales. The
narration includes an attention to details and a realism which Stella
Kramrisch calls "lavish elegance" accomplished by efficient craftsmen.
The ancient artists, states Kramrisch, tried to show wind passing over
a crop by showing it bending in waves, and a similar profusion of
rhythmic sequences that unroll story after story, visually presenting
The inscription of Cave 17.
The Cave 17 monastery includes a colonnaded porch, a number of pillars
each with a distinct style, a peristyle design for the interior hall,
a shrine antechamber located deep in the cave, larger windows and
doors for more light, along with extensive integrated carvings of
Indian gods and goddesses. The hall of this monastery is a 380.53
square metres (4,096.0 sq ft) square, with 20 pillars.
The grand scale of the carving also introduced errors of taking out
too much rock to shape the walls, states Spink, which led to the cave
being splayed out toward the rear.
Cave 17 has one long inscription by king Upendragupta, in which he
explains that he has "expended abundant wealth” on building this
vihara, bringing much satisfaction to the devotees. Altogether,
Upendragupta is known to have sponsored at least 5 of the caves in
Ajanta. He may have spent too much wealth on religious pursuits
however, as he was ultimately defeated by the attacks of the
Cave 17 has thirty major murals. The paintings of Cave 17 depict
Buddha in various forms and postures – Vipasyi, Sikhi, Visvbhu,
Krakuchchanda, Kanakamuni, Kashyapa and Sakyamuni. Also depicted are
Avalokitesvara, the story of Udayin and Gupta, the story of Nalagiri,
the Wheel of life, a panel celebrating various ancient Indian
musicians and a panel that tells of Prince Simhala’s expedition to
Sri Lanka. The narrative frescoes depict the various Jataka
tales such as the Shaddanta, Hasti, Hamsa, Vessantara, Sutasoma,
Mahakapi (in two versions), Sarabhamiga, Machchha, Matiposaka, Shyama,
Mahisha, Valahassa, Sibi, Ruru and Nigrodamiga Jatakas.
The depictions weave in the norms of the early 1st millennium culture
and the society. They show themes as diverse as a shipwreck, a
princess applying makeup, lovers in scenes of dalliance, and a wine
drinking scene of a couple with the woman and man amorously seated.
Some frescoes attempt to show the key characters from various parts of
Jataka tale by co-depicting animals and attendants in the same
Vessantara Jataka: the story of the generous king Vessantara.
Shaddanta Jataka: six tusked elephant giving away his tusks.
Painting of the black princess.
Buddha in Cave 17 sanctum.
Cave 18 is a small rectangular space (3.38 X 11.66 m) with two
octagonal pillars and it joins into another cell. Its role is
Cave 19 (5th century CE)
Entrance façade and inside worship hall, Cave 19, sponsored by king
Cave 19 is a worship hall (chaitya griha, 16.05 X 7.09 m) datable to
the fifth century CE. The hall shows painted Buddha, depicted in
different postures. This worship hall is now visited through
what was previously a carved room. The presence of this room before
the hall suggests that the original plan included a mandala style
courtyard for devotees to gather and wait, an entrance and facade to
this courtyard, all of whose ruins are now lost to history. Cave
19 is one of the caves known for its sculpture. It includes Naga
figures with a serpent canopy protecting the Buddha, similar to those
found for spiritual icons in the ancient
Hindu traditions. It
includes Yaksha dvarapala (guardian) images on the side of its
vatayana (arches), flying couples, sitting Buddha, standing Buddhas
and evidence that its ceiling was once painted.
The Cave 19 drew upon on the plan and experimentation in Cave 9.
It made a major departure from the earlier
Hinayana tradition, by
Buddha into the stupa, a decision that states Spink must
have come from "the highest levels" in the 5th-century Mahayana
Buddhist establishment because the king and dynasty that built this
cave was from the Shaivism
Hindu tradition. Cave 19 excavation and
stupa was likely in place by 467 CE, and its finishing and artistic
work continued into the early 470s, but it too was an incomplete cave
when it was dedicated in 471 CE.
The entrance facade of the Cave 19 worship hall is ornate. Two round
pillars with fluted floral patterns and carved garlands support a
porch. Its capital is an inverted lotus connecting to an amalaka. To
its left is standing
Buddha in varada hasta mudra with a devotee
prostrating at his feet. On right is a relief of woman with one hand
holding a pitcher and other touching her chin. Above is a
Buddha in meditating mudra. Towards the right of the entrance
is the "Mother and Child" sculpture.[note 4] A figure with
begging bowl is the Buddha, watching him are his wife and
The worship hall is apsidal, with 15 pillars dividing it into two side
aisles and one nave. The round pillars have floral reliefs and a
fluted shaft topped with
Buddha in its capitals. Next to the
the capitals are elephants, horses and flying apsara friezes found
elsewhere in India, reflecting the style of the Gupta Empire
artwork. According to Sharma, the similarities at the Karla caves
Great Chaitya, built in the 2nd century CE, suggest that Cave 19 may
have been modeled after it.
The walls and the ceiling of the side aisles inside the worship hall
are covered with paintings. These show the Buddha, flowers, and in the
left aisle the "Mother and Child" legend again.
Cave 19 plan suggests that it once had a courtyard and additional
Nagaraja in ardhaparyanka asana, with his wife holding lotus and
The nave has 15 pillars with
Buddha paintings in the side aisle of Cave 19.
Exterior, and main shrine with pillars, Cave 20.
Cave 20 is a monastery hall (16.2 X 17.91 m) from the 5th century. Its
construction, states Spink, was started in the 460s by king
Upendragupta, with his expressed desire "to make the great tree of
religious merit grow". The work on Cave 20 was pursued in
parallel with other caves. Cave 20 has exquisite detailing, states
Spink, but it was relatively lower on priority than Caves 17 and
19. The work on Cave 20 was intermittently stopped and then
continued in the following decade.
The vihara consists of a sanctum, four cells for monks and a pillared
verandah with two stone cut windows for light. Prior to entering the
main hall, on the left of veranda are two Buddhas carved above the
window and side cell. The ceiling of the main hall has remnants of
painting. The sanctum
Buddha is in preaching posture. The cave is
known for the sculpture showing seven Buddhas with attendants on its
lintel. The cave has a dedicatory Sanskrit inscription in Brahmi
script in its verandah, and it calls the cave as a mandapa.
Many of the figural and ornamental carvings in Cave 20 are similar to
Cave 19, and to a lesser degree to those found in Cave 17. This may be
because the same architects and artisans were responsible for the
evolution of the three caves. The door frames in Cave 20 are
quasi-structural, something unique at the Ajanta site. The
decorations are also innovative in Cave 20, such as one showing the
Buddha seated against two pillows and "a richly laden mango tree
behind him", states Spink.
Buddha on Lion throne.
The sanctum has two Nagarajas on side as guardians.
Caves 21, 22, 23, 24 and 25
Exterior, and inside hall of Cave 21.
Cave 21, 22, 23 and 24 are all monasteries, representing the final
phases of Ajanta's construction. Cave 21 is a hall (28.56 X 28.03 m)
with twelve rock cut rooms for monks, a sanctum, twelve pillared and
pilastered verandah. The carvings on the pilaster include those of
animals and flowers. The pillars feature reliefs of apsaras, Nagaraja
and Nagarani, as well as devotees bowing with the namaste mudra. The
hall shows evidence that it used to be completely painted. The sanctum
Buddha is shown in preaching posture.
Cave 22 is a small vihara (12.72 X 11.58 m) with a narrow veranda and
four unfinished cells. It is excavated at a higher level and has to be
reached by a flight of steps. Inside, the
Buddha is seated in
pralamba-padasana. The painted figures in Cave 22 show Manushi-Buddhas
with Maitreya. A pilaster on the left side of the Cave
22 veranda has a Sanskrit prose inscription. It is damaged in parts,
and the legible parts state that this is a "meritorious gift of a
mandapa by Jayata", calling Jayata's family as "a great Upasaka", and
ending the inscription with "may the merit of this be for excellent
knowledge to all sentient beings, beginning with father and
The Cave 23 is also unfinished, consisting of a hall (28.32 X 22.52 m)
but a design similar to Cave 21. The cave differs in its pillar
decorations and the naga doorkeepers.
Exterior, and unfinished inside of Cave 24.
Cave 24 is like Cave 21, unfinished but much larger. It features the
second largest monastery hall (29.3 X 29.3 m) after Cave 4. The cave
24 monastery has been important to scholarly studies of the site
because it shows how multiple crews of workers completed their
objectives in parallel. The cell construction began as soon as
the aisle had been excavated and while the main hall and sanctum were
under construction. The construction of Cave 24 was planned in
467 CE, but likely started in 475 CE, with support from Buddhabhadra,
then abruptly ended in 477 with the sponsor king Harisena's
Cave 24 is significant in having one of the most complex capitals on a
pillar at the Ajanta site, an indication of how the artists excelled
and continuously improved their sophistication as they worked with the
rock inside the cave. The artists carved fourteen complex
miniature figures on the central panel of the right center porch
pillar, while working in dim light in a cramped cave space. The
medallion reliefs in Cave 24 similarly show loving couples and
anthropomorphic arts, rather than flowers of earlier
construction. Cave 24's sanctum has a seated
Cave 25 is a monastery. Its hall (11.37 X 12.24 m) is similar to other
monasteries, but has no sanctum, includes an enclosed courtyard and is
excavated at an upper level.
Buddha of Cave 21.
Inside hall, Cave 22.
Inside hall of Cave 23.
Sophisticated pillars of Cave 24 with embedded loving couples.
Evidence of parallel work.
Cave 26 (5th century CE)
Entrance and inside hall, Cave 26.
Cave 26 is a worship hall (chaityagriha, 25.34 X 11.52 m) similar in
plan to Cave 19, but much larger and with elements of a vihara design.
An inscription states that a monk Buddhabhadra and his friend minister
serving king of Asmaka gifted this vast cave. The
inscription includes a vision statement and the aim to make "a
memorial on the mountain that will endure for as long as the moon and
the sun continue", translates Walter Spink. It is likely that the
builders focussed on sculpture, rather than paintings, in Cave 26
because they believed stone sculpture will far more endure than
paintings on the wall.
The cave drew upon the experiences in building Cave 10, with attached
wings similar to the ancient Cave 12 Hinayana-style vihara.
The Cave 26 complex has two upper stories and it shows evidence that
four wings of the cave were planned, but these were abandoned and only
the carved Buddhas on the right and left wall were
The sculptures in Cave 26 are elaborate and more intricate. It is
among the last caves excavated, and an inscription suggests late 5th
or early 6th century according to ASI. The cave consists of an apsidal
hall with side aisles for circumambulation (pradikshana). This path is
full of carved
Buddhist legends, three depictions of the Miracle of
Sravasti in the right ambulatory side of the aisle, and seated Buddhas
in various mudra. Many of these were added later by devotees, and
therefore are intrusive to the aims of the original planners. The
artwork begins on the wall of the aisle, immediately the left side of
entrance. The major artworks include the Mahaparinirvana of Buddha
(reclining Buddha) on the wall, followed by the legend called the
"Temptations by Mara". The temptations include the seduction by Mara's
daughters who are depicted below the meditating Buddha. They are shown
scantly dressed and in seductive postures, while on both the left and
right side of the
Buddha are armies of Mara attempting to distract him
with noise and threaten him with violence. In top right corner is the
image of a dejected Mara frustrated by his failure to disturb the
resolve or focus of the ascetic Buddha.
At the center of the apse is a rock-cut stupa. The stupa has an image
Buddha on its front, 18 panels on its base, 18 panels above
these, a three tiered torana above him, and apsaras are carved on the
anda (hemispherical egg) stupa. On top of the dagoba is a nine
tiered harmika, a symbolism for the nine saṃsāra (Buddhism) heavens
in Mahayana cosmology. The walls, pillars, brackets and the triforium
are extensively carved with
Buddhist themes. Many of the wall reliefs
and images in this cave were badly damaged, and have been restored as
a part of the site conservation efforts.
Between cave 26 and its left wing, there is an inscription by a
Rashtrakuta Nanaraj (who is mentioned in the Multai and
Sangaloda plates), from late 7th or early 8th century. It is the last
inscription in Ajanta.
Cave 26 plan as completed. The etchings suggest the original plan was
The sculptured dagoba (stupa) in the worship hall. It has 36 panels
Temptation of the Buddha; the daughters of Mara carved below are
trying to seduce him. Mara is on the top right.
Mahaparinirvana of Buddha, or Dying Buddha, on left aisle wall Cave
Caves 27, 28 and 29
Left: Cave 27, to the left of Cave 26. Middle: Cave 28, further beyond
Cave 27, at the westernmost end of the Ajanta complex. Right: Cave 29,
high up between caves 20 and 21.
Cave 27 is a monastery and it may have been planned as an attachment
to Cave 26. It is damaged two storeys, with the upper level partially
collapsed. Its plan is similar to other monasteries. Cave 28 is an
unfinished monastery, partially excavated, at the westernmost end of
the Ajanta complex and barely accessible.
Cave 29 is an unfinished monastery at the highest level of the Ajanta
complex, apparently unnoticed when the initial numbering system was
established, and physically located between Caves 20 and 21.
In 1956, a landslide covered the footpath leading to Cave 16. In the
attempts to clear and restore the walkway, a small aperture and votive
stupa were noticed in the debris by the workers, in a location near
the stream bed. Further tracing and excavations led to a
Hinayana monastery cave dated to the 2nd and 1st
century BCE. Cave 30 may actually be the oldest cave of the
Ajanta complex. It is a 3.66 m x 3.66 m cave with three cells,
each with two stone beds and stone pillows on the side of each cell.
The cell door lintels show lotus and garland carvings. The cave has
two inscriptions in an unknown script. It also has a platform on its
veranda with a fine view of the river ravine below and the forest
cover. According to Gupte and Mahajan, this cave may have been closed
at some point with large carefully carved pieces as it distracted the
entrance view of Cave 16.
Over 80% of the Ajanta caves were vihara (temporary traveler
residences, monasteries). The designers and artisans who built these
caves included facilities for collecting donations and storing grains
and food for the visitors and monks. Many of the caves include large
repositories cut into the floor. The largest storage spaces are found,
states Spink, in the "very commodious recesses in the shrines of both
Ajanta Cave Lower 6 and Cave 11". These caves were probably chosen
because of their relative convenience and the security they offered
due to their higher level. The choice of integrating covered vaults
cut into the floor may have been driven by the need to provide
sleeping space and logistical ease.[note 5]
Copies of the paintings
a detail: original left, copy by Lady Herringham (1915) right
The paintings have deteriorated significantly since they were
rediscovered, and a number of 19th-century copies and drawings are
important for a complete understanding of the works. A number of
attempts to copy the Ajanta paintings began in the 19th-century for
European and Japanese museums. Some of these works have later been
lost in natural and fire disasters. In 1846 for example, Major Robert
Gill, an Army officer from
Madras Presidency and a painter, was
appointed by the
Royal Asiatic Society to make copies of the frescoes
on the cave walls. Gill worked on his painting at the site from
1844 to 1863. He made 27 copies of large sections of murals, but all
but four were destroyed in a fire at the Crystal Palace in London in
1866, where they were on display. Gill returned to the site, and
recommenced his labours, replicating the murals until his death in
Dancing girl in Ajanta fresco, a 2012 photograph (left) and Robert
Gill's copy in 19th-century.
Another attempt was made in 1872 when the
commissioned John Griffiths to work with his students to make copies
of Ajanta paintings, again for shipping to England. They worked on
this for thirteen years and some 300 canvases were produced, many of
which were displayed at the
Imperial Institute on
Exhibition Road in
London, one of the forerunners of the Victoria and Albert Museum. But
in 1885 another fire destroyed over a hundred of the paintings in
storage in a wing of the museum. The V&A still has 166 paintings
surviving from both sets, though none have been on permanent display
since 1955. The largest are some 3 × 6 metres. A
conservation project was undertaken on about half of them in 2006,
also involving the University of Northumbria. Griffith and his
students had unfortunately painted many of the paintings with "cheap
varnish" in order to make them easier to see, which has added to the
deterioration of the originals, as has, according to Spink and others,
recent cleaning by the ASI.
Copy of an Ajanta painting, in Musée Guimet, Paris. Part of a mural
probably relating the conversion of Nanda, Cave 1.
A further set of copies were made between 1909 and 1911 by Christiana
Herringham (Lady Herringham) and a group of students from the Calcutta
School of Art that included the future Indian Modernist painter
Nandalal Bose. The copies were published in full colour as the first
publication of London's fledgling
India Society. More than the earlier
copies, these aimed to fill in holes and damage to recreate the
original condition rather than record the state of the paintings as
she was seeing them. According to one writer, unlike the paintings
created by her predecessors Griffiths and Gill, whose copies were
influenced by British Victorian styles of painting, those of the
Herringham expedition preferred an 'Indian Renascence' aesthetic of
the type pioneered by Abanindranath Tagore.
Early photographic surveys were made by Robert Gill, who learnt to use
a camera from about 1856, and whose photos, including some using
stereoscopy, were used in books by him and Fergusson (many are
available online from the British Library), then Victor Goloubew
in 1911 and E.L. Vassey, who took the photos in the four volume study
of the caves by Ghulam Yazdani (published 1930–1955).
Reproduction of The Adoration of the Buddha, cave 17, Albert Hall
Museum, Jaipur, India.
Some slightly creative copies of Ajanta frescoes, especially the
painting of the Adoration of the
Buddha from the shrine antechamber of
Cave 17, were commissioned by
Thomas Holbein Hendley
Thomas Holbein Hendley (1847-1917) for
the decoration of the walls of the hall of the Albert Hall Museum,
Jaipur, India. He had the work painted by a local artist
variously named Murli or Murali. The museum was opened to the
public in 1887. This work is otherwise presented as characteristic of
the end of the 19th century.
Another attempt to make copies of the murals was made by the Japanese
artist Arai Kampō (荒井寛方:1878–1945) after being invited by
Rabindranath Tagore to
India to teach Japanese painting
techniques. He worked on making copies with tracings on Japanese
paper from 1916 to 1918 and his work was conserved at Tokyo Imperial
University until the materials perished during the 1923 Great Kantō
Natives, society and culture in the arts at Ajanta
Ajanta arts predominantly show natives. Left: people discussing the
king's renunciation; Right: sadhus or brahmakayikas heading to a
temple, five women chatting in a market square, children playing a
board game near a banana tree.
The Ajanta cave arts are a window into the culture, society and
religiosity of the native population of
India between the 2nd century
BCE and 5th century CE. Different scholars have variously interpreted
them from the perspective of gender studies, history, sociology, and
the anthropology of South Asia. The dress, the jewelry, the
gender relations, the social activities depicted showcase at least a
lifestyle of the royalty and elite, and in others definitely the
costumes of the common man, monks and rishi depicted therein. They
shine "light on life in India" around mid 1st millennium CE.
The Ajanta artworks provide a contrast between the spiritual life of
monks who had given up all materialistic possessions versus the
sensual life of those it considered materialistic, luxurious, symbols
of wealth, leisurely and high fashion. Many frescos show scenes from
shops, festivals, jesters at processions, palaces and performance art
pavilions. These friezes share themes and details of those found in
Bharhut, Sanchi, Amaravati, Ellora, Bagh, Aihole,
Badami and other
archaeological sites in India. Ajanta caves contributes to visual and
descriptive sense of the ancient and early medieval Indian culture and
artistic traditions, particularly those around the
Gupta Empire era
Orientalism and Ajanta Caves
In the early nineteenth century, when Europeans first visited the
Ajanta caves, they had no literary precedents through which to
determine what they saw. Thus they saw very little beyond hunting
scenes, domestic scenes, seraglio scenes, Welsh wigs, Hampton court
beauties, elephants and horses, an Abyssinian black prince, shields
and spears, and statues that they called 'buddha' because of the curly
— Richard Cohen
Beyond Enlightenment: Buddhism, Religion, Modernity
The early colonial era description of Ajanta caves was largely
orientalist and critical, inconsistent with the Victorian values and
stereotyping. According to William Dalrymple, the themes and arts in
the Ajanta caves were puzzling to the 19th century Orientalists.
Lacking the Asian cultural heritage and framework that sees "nothing
odd in the juxtaposition of monk and dancing girl", and with no
Jataka Tales or equivalent Indian fables, they could not
comprehend it. They projected their own views and assumptions,
calling it something that lacks reason and rationale, something that
is meaningless crude representation of royalty and foreigners with
mysticism and sensuousness. The 19th-century views and
interpretations of the
Ajanta Caves were conditioned by ideas and
assumptions in the colonial mind, saw what they wanted to
To many who are unaware of the premises of Indian religions in
general, and Buddhism in particular, the significance of Ajanta Caves
has been like rest of Indian art. According to Richard Cohen, Ajanta
Caves to them has been yet another example of "worship this stock, or
that stone, or monstrous idol". In contrast, to the Indian mind
and the larger
Buddhist community, it is everything that art ought to
be, the religious and the secular, the spiritual and the social fused
to enlightened perfection.
According to Walter Spink – one of the most respected Art historians
on Ajanta, these caves were by 475 CE a much revered site to the
Indians, with throngs of "travelers, pilgrims, monks and traders". The
site was vastly transformed into its current form in just 20 years,
between early 460 CE to early 480 CE, by regional architects and
artisans. This accomplishment, states Spink, makes Ajanta, "one of the
most remarkable creative achievements in man's history".
Foreigners in the paintings of Ajanta
Ajanta Caves painting are a significant source of socio-economic
information in ancient India, particularly in relation to the
India with foreign cultures at the time most of the
paintings were made, in the 5th century CE. Depictions of foreigners
abound: according to Spink, "Ajanta’s paintings are filled with such
foreign types." They have sometimes been a source of misinterpretation
as in the so-called "Persian Embassy Scene". These foreigners may
reflect the Sassanian merchants, visitors and the flourishing trade
routes of the day.
The so-called "Persian Embassy Scene"
Upper part of the so-called "Persian Embassy Scene", with detail of
the foreigners. Full image here.
Cave 1, for example, shows a mural fresco with characters with
foreigner faces or dresses, the so-called "Persian Embassy
Scene". This scene is located at the right of the entrance
door upon entering the hall. According to Spink, James Fergusson,
a 19th-century architectural historian, had decided that this scene
corresponded to the Persian ambassador in 625 CE to the court of the
Hindu Chalukya king Pulakeshin II. An alternate theory has been
that the fresco represents a
Hindu ambassador visiting the Persian
Khusrau II in 625 CE, a theory that Fergusson disagreed
with. These assumptions by colonial British era art
historians, state Spink and other scholars, has been responsible for
wrongly dating this painting to the 7th century, when in fact this
reflects an incomplete Harisena-era painting of a
Jataka tale (the
Mahasudarsana jataka) with the representation of trade between India
and distant lands such as Sassanian near East that was common by the
International trade, growth of Buddhism
A foreigner in Sasanian dress drinking wine, on the ceiling of the
central hall of Cave 1, likely a generic scene from an object imported
Central Asia (460-480 CE).
The Cave 1 has several frescoes with characters with foreigner faces
or dresses. Similar depictions are found in the paintings of Cave 17.
Such murals, states Pia Brancaccio, suggest a prosperous and
multicultural society in 5th-century
India active in international
trade. These also suggest that this trade was economically
important enough to the Deccan region that the artists chose to
include it with precision.
Additional evidence of international trade includes the use of the
blue lapis lazuli pigment to depict foreigners in the Ajanta
paintings, which must have been imported from Afghanistan or Iran. It
also suggests, states Branacaccio, that the
Buddhist monastic world
was closely connected with trading guilds and the court culture in
this period. A small number of scenes show foreigners drinking
wine in Caves 1 and 2.[note 6] Some show foreign
Near East kings with
wine and their retinue which presumably add to the "general regal
emphasis" of the cave. According to Brancaccio, the Ajanta
paintings show a variety of colorful, delicate textiles and women
making cotton. Textile probably was one of the major exports to
foreign lands, along with gems. These were exported first through the
Red Sea, and later through the Persian Gulf, thereby bringing a period
of economic and cultural exchange between the Indians, the Sasanian
Empire and the Persian merchants before Islam was founded in the
Many foreigners are included as devotees attending the Buddha's
descent from Trayastrimsa Heaven, Cave 17.[note 7]
While scholars generally agree that these murals confirm trade and
cultural connections between
India and Sassanian west, their specific
significance and interpretation varies. Brancaccio, for
example, suggests that the ship and jars in them probably reflect
foreign ships carrying wine imported to India. In contrast,
Schlinghoff interprets the jars to be holding water, and ships shown
as Indian ships used in international trade.
Similar depictions are found in the paintings of Cave 17, but this
time in direct relation to the worship of the Buddha. In Cave 17, a
painting of the
Buddha descending from the Trayastrimsa Heaven shows
he being attended by many foreigners. Many foreigners in this painting
are thus shown as listeners to the
Buddhist Dharma. The ethnic
diversity is depicted in the painting in the clothes (kaftans,
Sasanian helmets, round caps), haridos and skin colors. In the
Jataka of Cave 17, according to Brancaccio, the scene
probably shows a servant from
Central Asia holding a foreign metal
ewer, while a dark-complexioned servant holds a cup to an amorous
couple. In another painting in Cave 17, relating to the conversion of
Nanda, a man possibly from northeast Africa appears as a servant.
These representations show, states Brancaccio, that the artists were
familiar with people of Sogdia, Central Asia,
Persia and possibly East
Africa.[note 8] Another hypothesis is offered by Upadhya, who
states that the artists who built Ajanta caves "very probably included
Foreigners sharing a drink of wine, ceiling of Cave 2.
Another Persian-style foreign group, on the ceiling of Cave 1, one of
the four such groups (one now missing) at the center of each quadrant
.of the ceiling.
A servant from Central Asia, Cave 17.
Paintings and the cave artwork have become eroded due to decay and
human interference. Therefore, many areas of the painted walls,
ceilings, and pillars are fragmentary. The painted narratives of the
Jataka tales are depicted only on the walls, which demanded the
special attention of the devotees. They are didactic in nature, meant
to inform the community about the Buddha's teachings and life through
successive rebirths. Their placement on the walls required the devotee
to walk through the aisles and 'read' the narratives depicted in
various episodes. The narrative episodes are depicted one after
another, although not in a linear order. Their identification has been
a core area of research since the site's discovery in 1819.[citation
Impact on modern paintings
The Ajanta paintings, or more likely the general style they come from,
influenced painting in Tibet and Sri Lanka.
The rediscovery of ancient Indian paintings at Ajanta provided Indian
artists examples from ancient
India to follow. Nandalal Bose
experimented with techniques to follow the ancient style which allowed
him to develop his unique style.
Abanindranath Tagore and Syed
Thajudeen also used the Ajanta paintings for inspiration.
Shivleni Caves, Ambajogai
Dambulla cave temple
^ The precise number varies according to whether or not some
barely-started excavations, such as cave 15A, are counted. The ASI say
"In all, total 30 excavations were hewn out of rock which also include
an unfinished one",
UNESCO and Spink "about 30". The controversies
over the end date of excavation is covered below.
^ The inscription has been connected to the
Vasishthiputra Pulumavi (circa 170 CE), who is also known for
inscription at the Nasik caves, although there are disagreements since
he is very posterior to the 1st century BCE.
^ Similar morals and virtue-defining fables are also found in Jainism
and Hinduism, in texts such as the Panchatantra. The antiquity of
these tales has been a subject of scholarly debate. The pictorial
Ajanta Caves attests to their influence by the
5th-century. In some cases such as the Sibi and Hasti Jataka, the
Ajanta friezes more closely match the version of the same fables found
Jain texts, suggesting a common root and shared
^ The "Mother and Child" theme is found in other caves, such as in the
painting of Cave 17. These show the father
Buddha with a begging bowl,
with his son and wife looking upto him. Some show a towering figure of
Buddha looking below, with a small inset with the mother and child
looking up. These images are interpreted as they offering food to him,
or alternatively as the
Buddha giving his son the begging bowl as his
inheritance. The artwork signifies the belief that human values and
spirituality is highest exchange across human generations.
^ Granaries and kitchens were commonly integrated as infrastructures
near major temples and monasteries in India. They are also found
embedded into the design elsewhere such as the Bagh monuments.
^ In Cave 1, there are also four "foreign" bacchanalian groups (one
now missing) at the middle of each quadrant of the elaborate ceiling
painting. Cave 2 shows two foreigners, possibly from Central
Asia, sharing wine. These scenes, interprets Brancaccio, show what are
probably foreign ewers from
Persia were used to consume
imported wines. A text from the
Periplus of the Erythrean Sea
Periplus of the Erythrean Sea era
states that silverware vessels and wine was one of the main products
imported for kings of Barygaza. Sassanian bowls dated to about
400 CE have been discovered in other parts of the Indian
subcontinent. A copper plate in the
Kanheri caves near Mumbay
indicates that foreigners were active in trade in the city of Kalyan
in the 5th century CE.
^ Actual photograph are available on Google.
^ The expansion of Buddhism into
Central Asia began
during the 1st millennium BCE. Some early
Buddhist worship halls in
Yavanas (Greeks) as donors. Inscriptions
recording such donations are found at Karla Caves,
Pandavleni Caves or
^ Gopal, Madan (1990). K.S. Gautam, ed.
India through the ages.
Publication Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting,
Government of India. p. 173.
^ Trudy Ring; Noelle Watson; Paul Schellinger (2012). Asia and
Oceania. Routledge. pp. 17, 14–19.
^ Hugh Honour; John Fleming (2005). A World History of Art. Laurence
King. pp. 228–230. ISBN 978-1-85669-451-3.
^ Michell 2009, p. 336.
^ Ajanta Caves, India: Brief Description,
UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Retrieved 27 October 2006.
^ Ajanta Caves: Advisory Body Evaluation,
UNESCO International Council
on Monuments and Sites. 1982. Retrieved 27 October 2006., p.2.
^ "Ajanta Caves". Retrieved 19 May 2012.
^ a b c d e Richard Cohen (2013). William M. Johnston, ed.
Encyclopedia of Monasticism. Routledge. pp. 18–20.
^ Aravinda Prabhakar Jamkhedkar (2009). Ajanta. Oxford University
Press. pp. 61–62, 71–73. ISBN 978-0-19-569785-8.
^ Richard S. Cohen (1998), Nāga, Yakṣiṇī, Buddha: Local Deities
and Local Buddhism at Ajanta, History of Religions, University of
Chicago Press, Vol. 37, No. 4 (May, 1998), pages 360–400
^ Benoy K. Behl; Sangitika Nigam (1998). The Ajanta caves: artistic
wonder of ancient
Buddhist India. Harry N. Abrams. pp. 164, 226.
^ Harle 1994, pp. 355–361; 460.
^ a b c Cohen 2006, pp. 32, 82
^ Walter M. Spink (2005). Ajanta: History and Development, Volume 5:
Cave by Cave. BRILL Academic. pp. 3, 139.
^ variously spelled Waghora or Wagura
^ Map of Ajanta Caves, UNESCO
^ Narayan Sanyal (1984). Immortal Ajanta. Bharati. p. 7.
^ Spink (2006), 2
^ Indian Railways (1996). Bhusawal Division: Tourism (Ajanta and
Ellora). pp. 40–43.
^ Harle 1994, pp. 118–122.
^ Aravinda Prabhakar Jamkhedkar (2009). Ajanta. Oxford University
Press. pp. 3–5. ISBN 978-0-19-569785-8.
^ Spink 2009, pp. 1–2.
^ Louise Nicholson (2014). National Geographic India. National
Geographic Society. pp. 175–176.
^ a b c Walter M. Spink (2005). Ajanta: History and Development,
Volume 5: Cave by Cave. BRILL Academic. pp. 4, 9.
^ a b c d Trudy Ring; Robert M. Salkin; Sharon La Boda (1994). Asia
and Oceania. Routledge. pp. 14–19.
^ Michell 2009, pp. 335–336.
^ Walter M. Spink (2005). Ajanta: History and Development, Volume 5:
Cave by Cave. BRILL Academic. pp. 4, 9, 163–170.
^ Spink 2006, pp. 4–6.
^ Benoy K. Behl; Sangitika Nigam (1998). The Ajanta caves: artistic
wonder of ancient
Buddhist India. Harry N. Abrams. pp. 20, 26.
ISBN 978-0-8109-1983-9. , Quote: "The caves of the earlier
phase at Ajanta date from around the second century BC, during the
rule of the
Satavahana dynasty. Although the Satavahanas were Hindu
rulers, they (...)"
^ Nagaraju 1981, pp. 98–103
^ a b c Spink 2009, p. 2
UNESCO World Heritage List website for example says "The 29
caves were excavated beginning around 200 BC, but they were abandoned
in AD 650 in favour of Ellora"
^ a b c Cohen 2006, pp. 83–84, Quote: Hans Bakker's political
history of the
Vakataka dynasty observed that Ajanta caves belong to
the Buddhist, not the
Hindu tradition. That this should be so is
already remarkable in itself. By all we know of Harisena he was a
^ Geri Hockfield Malandra (1993). Unfolding A Mandala: The Buddhist
Cave Temples at Ellora. State University of New York Press.
pp. 5–7. ISBN 978-0-7914-1355-5.
^ Fred S. Kleiner (2016). Gardner's Art through the Ages: A Concise
Global History. Cengage. p. 468.
^ For example, Karl Khandalavala, A. P. Jamkhedkar, and Brahmanand
Deshpande. Spink, vol. 2, pp. 117–134
^ Sara L. Schastok (1985). The Śāmalājī Sculptures and 6th Century
Art in Western India. BRILL Academic. p. 40.
^ Walter M. Spink (2005). Ajanta: Arguments about Ajanta. Brill
Academic. p. 127. ISBN 978-90-04-15072-0.
^ Spink 2009, pp. 2–3.
^ Cohen 2006, pp. 81–82.
^ Spink (2006), 4–6 for the briefest summary of his chronology,
developed at great length in his Ajanta: History and Development 2005.
^ Spink 2006, pp. 5–6; 160–161.
^ Spink, Walter M. (2005). Ajanta: The end of the Golden Age. BRILL.
p. 7. ISBN 9004148329.
^ a b Cohen 2006, pp. 77–78
^ Spink (2006), 139 and 3 (quoted): "Going down into the ravine where
the caves were cut, he scratched his inscription (John Smith, 28th
Cavalry, 28th April, 1819) across the innocent chest of a painted
Buddha image on the thirteenth pillar on the right in Cave 10..."
^ Upadhya, 3
^ Gordon, 231–234
^ a b Cohen 2006, pp. 51–58
^ Cohen (2006)'s chapter 2 discusses the history and future of
visitors to Ajanta.
^ "Tourist centre to house replicas of Ajanta caves", Times of India,
5 August 2012, accessed 24 October 2012; see Cohen 51 for an earlier
version of the proposal, recreating caves 16, 17 and 21.
^ "horizontally bedded alternate flows of massive and amygdular lava"
is a technical description quoted by Cohen (2006), 37
^ Spink 2006, pp. 13–14.
^ Spink 2006, p. 28.
^ Spink, 10; Michell 340
^ Spink 2006, pp. 21–24, 38, 74–76, 115, 151–153, 280.
^ Spink 2006, pp. 5, 15, 32–33, 80, 249.
^ Spink 2006, pp. 5, 15, 32–33, 80, 126–130, 249–259.
^ Spink 2006, pp. 73–85, 100–104, 182.
^ Spink 2006, pp. 18, 37, 45–46.
^ Spink (2006), 148
^ a b Harle, 118–122; Michell 335–343
^ Spink (2006), 142
^ Michell, 338
^ Fred S. Kleiner (2016). Gardner's Art through the Ages: A Concise
Global History. Cengage. pp. 467–468.
^ a b c d Upadhya 1994, pp. 7–8, 10
^ Jain, Rajesh K.; Garg, Rajeev (2004). "Rock-Cut Congregational
Spaces in Ancient India". Architectural Science Review. 47 (2):
^ Suresh Vasant (2000), Tulja Leni and Kondivte Caitya-gṛhas: A
Structural Analysis, Ars Orientalis, Vol. 30, Supplement 1.
Chāchājī: Professor Walter M. Spink Felicitation Volume (2000),
^ David Efurd (2013). Vimalin Rujivacharakul, H. Hazel Hahn; et al.,
eds. Architecturalized Asia: Mapping a Continent through History. Hong
Kong University Press. pp. 140–145.
ISBN 978-988-8208-05-0. CS1 maint: Explicit use of et al.
^ Born, Wolfgang (1943). "The Origin and the Distribution of the
Bulbous Dome". The Journal of the American Society of Architectural
Historians. 3 (4): 32–48. doi:10.2307/901122.
^ Spink 2006, pp. 12, 94, 161–162, 228.
^ Keith Bellows (2008). Sacred Places of a Lifetime: 500 of the
World's Most Peaceful and Powerful Destinations. National Geographic
Society. p. 125. ISBN 978-1-4262-0336-7.
^ UNESCO, Brief description
^ Michell, 339
^ Spink (2006), 12–13
^ Spink (2006), 18, and in the accounts of individual caves; Michell,
^ Arthur Anthony Macdonell (1909), THE BUDDHIST AND HINDU ARCHITECTURE
OF INDIA, Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, Vol. 57, No. 2937
(MARCH 5, 1909), pages 316–329
^ a b c Om Datt Upadhya (1994). The Art of Ajanta and Sopoćani: A
Comparative Study : an Enquiry in Prāṇa Aesthetics. Motilal
Banarsidass. pp. 9–11, 14–15.
^ a b Trudy Ring; Noelle Watson; Paul Schellinger (2012). Asia and
Oceania: International Dictionary of Historic Places. Routledge.
pp. 17–19. ISBN 978-1-136-63979-1.
^ a b Spink 2009, pp. 147-148.
^ a b c d e f Upadhya 1994, pp. 9–14, 68–84
^ a b Harle 1994, p. 355.
^ Brancaccio, Pia (2010). The
Buddhist Caves at Aurangabad:
Transformations in Art and Religion. BRILL. p. 107.
^ Harle 1994, p. 356.
^ a b Harle 1994, pp. 355–361.
^ a b Harle 1994, p. 359.
^ Harle 1994, p. 361.
^ a b Spink 2008
^ Spink 2006, pp. 28–29.
^ Spink 2009, p. 148, Figure 46.
^ Spink 2009, pp. 201-202.
^ George Michell; Philip H. Davies (1989). The Penguin Guide to the
Monuments of India: Buddhist, Jain, Hindu. Penguin. p. 340.
^ Gupte & Mahajan 1962, p. 91.
^ Spink 2006, pp. 1–16.
^ Spink (2006), 4–5
^ Spink (2006), 5–6
^ Spink (2006), 6
^ Spink (2009), xx (quoted); Spink (2006), 15–16
^ a b Spink 2006, p. 180.
^ Spink 2009, p. 14 with footnote 3.
^ Yuko Yokochi (2004). Hans Bakker, ed. The Vākāṭaka Heritage:
Indian Culture at the Crossroads. Egbert Forsten. pp. 172,
context: 167–178. ISBN 978-90-6980-148-3.
^ Spink 2006, pp. 17, 31.
^ Spink (2006), 17; 1869 photo by
Robert Gill at the British Library,
showing the porch already rather less than "half-intact"
^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae
ASI (2015). "World Heritage Sites - About
Ajanta Caves 01 to 29".
Archaeological Survey of India.
^ Spink 2006, pp. 17–21.
^ Spink 2006, pp. 20–23.
^ Spink 2006, pp. 29–31.
^ Harle 1994, pp. 359–361.
^ Spink 2009, pp. 78, 132-135.
^ "Mahajanaka Jataka: Ajanta Cave 1". University of Minnesota.
^ a b c Benoy Behl (2004), Ajanta, the fountainhead, Frontline, Volume
21, Issue 20
^ Gupte & Mahajan 1962, pp. 32-33, Plate XI.
^ Gupte & Mahajan 1962, pp. 8-9, Plate IV.
^ Spink 2009, pp. 138-140.
^ a b Spink 2009, pp. 74–75.
^ a b Claudine Bautze-Picron (2002), Nidhis and Other Images of
Richness and Fertility in Ajaṇṭā, East and West, Vol. 52, No. 1/4
(December 2002), pages 245–251
^ a b Spink 2009, pp. 150–152.
^ Spink 2006, pp. 7–8, 40–43.
^ a b Spink 2006, pp. 40–54.
^ Spink 2006, pp. 13–14
^ a b Gupte & Mahajan 1962, pp. 48-49, Plates XVII-XX.
^ Spink 2005, pp. 3-4, 91 footnote 59, 259.
^ a b Spink 2006, p. 8
^ a b c Spink 2006, pp. 58-61.
^ a b Spink 2009, pp. 53-55.
^ Spink 2006, pp. 81-82.
^ a b c Upadhya 1994, pp. 10–11
^ Spink 2006, pp. 83-89, 98-103.
^ Spink 2006, pp. 83-91.
^ Spink 2006, pp. 90-93.
^ Spink 2006, pp. 98-99.
^ a b Spink 2005, pp. 93, 193–194.
^ a b Spink, Walter M. (2005). Ajanta: Painting, sculpture,
architecture. BRILL. pp. 87, 169–170.
^ Spink, Walter M. (2005). Ajanta: Painting, sculpture, architecture.
BRILL. pp. 66–67. ISBN 900414983X.
^ Gupte & Mahajan 1962, pp. 74-75.
^ Gupte & Mahajan 1962, pp. 76-77.
^ Walter Spink (2014). Ajanta: History and Development, Volume 6
Defining Features. BRILL Academic. pp. 97, 99 figures 32–33.
^ a b c d Gupte & Mahajan 1962, p. 77.
^ a b c Spink 2009, pp. xii, 87–89.
^ a b c Spink 2006, pp. 8–9.
^ Spink 2009, pp. 87–89.
^ Panoramic view Google streetview
^ a b Spink 2006, pp. 8–9, 127-130.
^ Spink 2009, pp. 10, 88.
^ a b Spink 2006, pp. 131-132.
^ Spink (2006), 9; 140–141
^ Upadhya 1994, pp. 12-13.
^ a b c Spink 2006, pp. 131-135.
^ Spink 2009, pp. xii, 1-3.
^ a b Gupte & Mahajan 1962, pp. 77-78.
^ a b c d e Spink 2009, pp. 1
^ a b c d e Spink 2009, pp. 135-137.
^ a b Le, Huu Phuoc (2010).
Buddhist Architecture. Grafikol.
p. 108. ISBN 9780984404308.
^ James Burgess, Bhagvānlal Indrājī (1881). Inscriptions from the
Cave-temples of Western India: With Descriptive Notes &c.
Government Central Press. pp. 67–68.
^ Spink 2006, pp. 101–103, 137–139, 184.
^ Spink 2009, pp. 2-3, 135-137.
^ Dieter Schlingloff (1987). Studies in the Ajanta paintings:
identifications and interpretations. South Asia Books.
pp. 24–27. ISBN 978-8120201736.
^ a b
Stella Kramrisch 1994, pp. 293–295
^ Ajunta. Interior of
Chaitya Cave No 10, Dibdin, Thomas Colman
British Library Archives
^ The Journal of the International Association of
Volume 4 1981 Number I An Exceptional Group of Painted
^ a b c d e Gupte & Mahajan 1962, pp. 81-82.
^ Spink, Walter M. (2009). Ajanta: History and Development Volume 2:
Arguments about Ajanta. Leiden: Brill. p.1
^ a b c Gupte & Mahajan 1962, pp. 82-83.
^ a b c d Spink 2006, p. 178.
^ a b Spink 2006, pp. 179-181.
^ Walter M. Spink (1975), Ajantā's Chronology: The Crucial Cave, Ars
Orientalis, Vol. 10 (1975), Freer Gallery of Art, The Smithsonian
Institution, pages 143-169
^ Dhavalikar, M. K. (1969). "Sri Yugadhara: A Master-Artist of
Ajanta". Artibus Asiae. JSTOR. 31 (4): 301–307.
^ Spink 2006, pp. 181-183.
^ a b c Gupte & Mahajan 1962, pp. 83-84.
^ Spink 2009, pp. ix-xiii.
^ H. T. Francis; E. J. Thomas (2014).
Jataka Tales. Cambridge
University Press. pp. 1–10, 168, 389 with footnotes.
^ G Yazdani (1964). Ajanta: Part I. Oxford University Press.
pp. 4–6. OCLC 2980379.
^ a b Gupte & Mahajan 1962, pp. 84-85.
^ Gupte & Mahajan 1962, pp. 85-86.
^ a b c d Vidya Dehejia (1997). Discourse in early
visual narratives of India. Munshiram Manoharlal. pp. 210–229.
^ a b c d e f Gupte & Mahajan 1962, pp. 86-88.
^ Spink 2009, p. 74.
^ G Yazdani (1964). Ajanta: Part III. Oxford University Press.
pp. 49–56. OCLC 2980379.
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^ Spink 2009, pp. 67–68.
^ a b c d Gupte & Mahajan 1962, pp. 88-90.
Stella Kramrisch 1994, pp. 299–300.
^ Spink 2006, pp. 203–209, 213.
^ Spink 2006, pp. 209–214.
^ a b Spink, Walter (2006). Ajanta: History and Development, Volume 5
Cave by Cave. BRILL. p. 209. ISBN 9789047411871.
^ Spink 2009, pp. xii–xiii, 41–51, 70–75.
^ Meena Talim (2007), THE WHEEL OF "LAW OF CAUSATION" IN AJANTA
PAINTINGS, Bulletin of the Deccan College Research Institute, Vol.
66/67 (2006–2007), pages 245–258
^ Spink 2009, pp. ix-xiii, 206.
^ Spink 2009, pp. 201–202.
^ Gupte & Mahajan 1962, p. 99.
^ a b Spink 2006, pp. 9, 237–238.
^ a b c d e f Gupte & Mahajan 1962, pp. 101-102.
^ Spink 2009, pp. 26-27, 47-48.
^ Spink 2009, pp. 26-27, 34-35, 47-48, 56.
^ a b Spink 2006, pp. 44-46, 131-137, 231-239.
^ Mother and Child, Cave 19, Washington University
^ VA Smith (2012). Art of India. Parkstone. pp. 137 with
footnote. ISBN 978-1-78042-880-2.
^ G Yazdani (1961). The early history of the Deccan, Vol. 2. Oxford
University Press. p. 766.
^ a b c d Gupte & Mahajan 1962, pp. 102-103.
^ Sharma, Ramesh Chandra (1994).
Bharhut Sculptures. Abhinav
Publications. p. 51. ISBN 9788170173083.
^ Spink 2006, p. 249.
^ a b Spink 2006, pp. 249-251.
^ Gupte & Mahajan 1962, p. 103.
^ Spink 2006, pp. 217-218.
^ Nadine Owen (2001), Constructing Another Perspective for
Ajaṇṭā's Fifth-Century Excavations, Journal of the International
Buddhist Studies, Volume 24, Issue 1, page 42 with
^ a b Spink 2006, pp. 261-263.
^ a b c d e Gupte & Mahajan 1962, pp. 103-104.
^ Spink 2006, pp. 273-311.
^ Spink 2006, pp. 288-290.
^ Gupte & Mahajan 1962, p. 259.
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^ Spink 2006, pp. 308-309.
^ Spink 2009, pp. 18 footnote 5.
^ Spink 2009, pp. 31-32, 60.
^ Spink 2009, pp. 243-244.
^ a b c Walter Spink (2014). Ajanta: History and Development, Volume 6
Defining Features. BRILL Academic. pp. 37–38, 42.
^ Spink 2006, pp. 304-311.
^ a b c Gupte & Mahajan 1962, pp. 104-106.
^ a b Spink 2009, pp. 9-10.
^ a b Walter Spink (2014). Ajanta: History and Development, Volume 6
Defining Features. BRILL Academic. p. 34 with footnote 30.
^ Walter Spink (2014). Ajanta: History and Development, Volume 6
Defining Features. BRILL Academic. pp. 44, 50–51, 56–64 with
footnotes. ISBN 978-90-474-4465-7.
^ Walter Spink (2014). Ajanta: History and Development, Volume 6
Defining Features. BRILL Academic. pp. 64–65, 88–96 with
footnotes. ISBN 978-90-474-4465-7.
^ Singh, Rajesh Kumar (2012). "The Early Development of the Cave
26-Complex at Ajanta". South Asian Studies. Taylor & Francis. 28
(1): 37–68. doi:10.1080/02666030.2012.659906.
^ Walter Spink (2014). Ajanta: History and Development, Volume 6
Defining Features. BRILL Academic. pp. 53–57, 33–42, Figures
on 88–96 (plus cover page), 311–324.
^ Walter Spink (2014). Ajanta: History and Development, Volume 6
Defining Features. BRILL Academic. pp. 311–339, Figures on
88–93, with footnotes. ISBN 978-90-474-4465-7.
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^ a b Gupte & Mahajan 1962, pp. 105-106.
^ Gupte & Mahajan 1962, pp. 104-105.
^ a b Le, Huu Phuoc (2010).
Buddhist Architecture. Grafikol.
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^ A view of Cave 30, photographed by Walter Spink
^ a b Gupte & Mahajan 1962, p. 106.
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Analysis, Ars Orientalis, Vol. 6 (1966), pp. 135-155
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ajanta Caves.
Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article
Ajanta Caves Bibliography, Akira Shimada (2014), Oxford University
The Early Development of the Cave 26-Complex at Ajanta
The Greatest Ancient Picture Gallery. William Dalrymple, New York
Review of Books (23 Oct 2014)
Ajanta Caves in
Google Streetview Tours of each Cave of Ajanta
Inscriptions with Translations: Ajanta Caves, Richard Cohen
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