Location: Aurangabad, Maharashtra
Built by: Buddhist monks
Built in the Year: In the 1st century CE to 2nd century BCE
Timings: 9 am to 5 pm
Entry Fee: Rs40 for Indians, Rs600 for foreign nationals, and free for children below 15 years
Nestled in the Indhyadri range of the Western Ghats approximately 67 miles to the north of Aurangabad in Maharashtra, lies the historical and majestic caves of Ajanta. Renowned for the 30 odd rock-cut caves and their early Buddhist temple architecture with delicately drawn murals, the Ajanta Caves are huddledat a 76-meter height, horseshoe-shaped escarpment overlooking the Waghora (Tiger) River. The river originates from a serene waterfall called sat kund (seven leaps) just off the last cave. It serves as a powerful remembrance of the natural forces that have over untold eras shaped the basaltic layers of the Deccan plateau.
Although there are 30 caves, these were cut out in two phases that provided shelter to the Buddhist Monks who came here to meditate during the monsoon. Rewarded as the UNESCO World heritage Site status in 1983 CE and protected under the Archaeological Survey of India, the ancient and original name of the heritage site is unknown and the current name is derived from a neighboring village, whose local pronunciation is ‘Ajintha’. A thing to note is that ‘Ajita’ is the colloquial name of Maitreyan Buddha. Even today, the caves can cast a spell on you with their sheer beauty and artistic excellence along while giving you a peek into our glorious history. Inside the caves have detailed murals and paintings that are centuries old and profess a story of our ancestors and how they lived their life, which makes it a must-visit for any art and history lover.
Ajanta Caves date back to as old as 1stcentury CE and 2nd century BCE and were carved out of a 250 ft. wall featuring monasteries and Buddhist halls of worship. The caves were hidden until the 17th century when a British officer unintentionally discovered these while on a trek. However, the Ajanta Caves have been mentioned in the recollections of Chinese Buddhist travelers who came to India in the medieval era. The excavation activity was carried out in two separate phases broken by a period of four centuries. The first phase overlaps with the regime of Satavahana dynasty from about the 2nd century BCE to 1st century BCE, while the second phase parallels to the Basim branch of the Vakataka dynasty with their Asmaka and Rishika feudatories in the 5th to 6th centuries CE. Six caves (caves 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, and 15A) were excavated during the first phase Hinayana followers of Buddhism and in the second phase the rupestrian activity was dominated by the Mahayana followers of Buddhism, where Buddha was revered in an idol form.
The caves consist of 36 identifiable foundations, some of them discovered after the original numbering of the caves from 1 through 29.The caves those were later identified were suffixed with the letters of the alphabet, such as 15A, which have been identified between the originally umbered caves 15 and 16. One thing to keep in mind is that the numbering in the caves is only a convention of convenience and does not reflect the chronological order of their construction. The murals in these caves describe stories from the Jatakas and the later caves depict the artistic influence of the Gupta period, but there have been no specific dates as to which century the early caves were built.
Ajanta Caves are rock-cut caves built from the Basalt accumulated in the form of igneous rocks that have been amassed due to the volcanic eruptions occurred long back. The workers carved these rocks with utmost planning and detail and carved out pillars, roofs, and idols of these rock formations. Along with the idols of deities, exquisite wall paintings have also been carved out from the stone. The entry gate for the caves is through a gateway built between cave 15 and 16 and is decorated with elephant and caves.
Monasteries: Mostly the caves are in the form of Viharas that have dormitories connected to them while at the back side of the caves, a sanctuary has been built with a statue of Lord Buddha in each of the sanctuary. Several deities are also engraved on the pillars and near the enormous statue of Buddha. These caves have been built during the second phase and were shifted from Hinayana sect to Mahayana sect. The said features of these caves made them to be known as monasteries. The center of the viharas is in the form of a square having rectangular aisles at each side and several small cells are there which can be entered through the doors made up of wood.
Worship Halls The worship halls, also called as Chaitya Grihas, was built in the form of a rectangle. The halls are divided into two aisles and consists of a stupa (a hemispherical structure having the remains of Buddhist monks and nuns) and an aspe (a semi-circular structure having a vault or semi-dome). Circumambulation around the stupa was performed which is surrounded by pillars. Some caves have very huge entrances having windows which were the source of direct sunlight. Though the composition of the worship halls portrayed the architecture of Christian Church, but they didn’t have any chapel.
From Aurangabad city, the Ajanta Caves are about 102km away from the city which can be reached through cab or taxi. Aurangabad has a domestic airport which connects flights to most of the domestic cities of India and is located only 3.5 miles away. The entry ticket to Ajanta Caves is Rs40 for Indians, SAARC, and BIMSTEC nationals, and Rs600 for other foreign nationals. Entry is free for children below 15. The timings for visiting Ajanta caves are from 9 am to 5 pm.
Witness the grandeur and magnificence of the rock-cut Ajanta Caves located in Aurangabad, Maharashtra, and enveloped by a panoramic view of lush green mountains. The Ajanta Caves are dedicated to Lord Buddha and comprise 29 caves with several paintings, sculptures, and other structures depicting the past lives and rebirth of Gautam Buddha.