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The Ancient Indian Art, Architecture, and Sculpture in the Caves: The Ajanta and Ellora Caves
The magnificent art, architecture and sculpture in the caves!
One of the most exquisite examples of Indian Art and Architecture, can be found in the caves of Ellora and Ajanta, in the state of Maharashtra, India.
Astonishingly beautiful art, paintings and sculptures leaves the visitors spellbound in these caves.
The timeless beauty of the magnificent paintings, sculpture, and architecture on the inside walls of the caves have a mysterious attraction.
The Ellora caves date back to 7th to 9th century A.D., while the Ajanta caves dates back to 2nd century B.C.
They have been identified by UNESCO as a World heritage site.
Ajanta and Ellora caves, source: You tube
The Ellora Caves:
Ellora caves is a world heritage site. It is located about 28 km(18 miles), towards the west of Aurangabad, in Maharashtra state.
- These caves are nestled in the lap of the Charanandri hills. They extend over 2 kilometers in the North-South direction.
- The cave art of Ellora depict three major religions--Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. Elaborate carvings can be seen on the cave walls of Gods and Goddesses.
- The carvings are actually chiseled into rocks to such perfection that these carvings have been greatly appreciated and are world famous.
- There are about 34 caves, out of which 12 caves are Buddhist, 17 are Hindu, and the remaining 5 represent Jainism.
- The most remarkable carved shrine is the 'Kailash temple', in cave no.16.
- All these caves are lavishly carved and sculpted with epic themes which exhibit the genuine, daring, and artistic skill in chiseling rocks at great heights, such that they look 'live.'
Here is an account of some of the significant caves.
~Cave number 1: It is the earliest of the Buddhist excavation, where there are 8 cells, that were used by the monks for residential purpose, as there are no images of Gods and Goddesses.
~Cave number 2: It is elaborately done and one can find images of Buddha and Bodhisattavas and Dwarpals (gatekeeper).
~Cave number 3 and 4 are more or less similar to cave no. 2.
~Cave number 5: It is a 'Vihara' and supposedly was used as a class room or a dining hall. Deep in the interior is a shrine and inside a Buddha image in the posture of 'Dhamachakra mudra'.
~Cave number 6: The unique feature of this cave is the figure of Hindu Goddess of learning, 'Saraswati' whom the Buddhist called, 'Mahamayuri'. We can also find figures of river Goddesses, 'Ganga' and 'Yamuna.'
~Cave number 9: The figure of Tara, with six fears carved around her of the snake, sword, elephant, fire etc. This cave is well decorated facade, windows separated by figures of dwarfs.
~Cave number 10: This cave is well decorated and its ceiling is a ribbed rock wonder, sculpted in imitation of its wooden prototypes snakes. A cobra and a naga is sculpted in such a way that it seems to be supporting the stone ribs. Light comes into the cave through the 'horse shoe' window over the porch. A big image of Buddha seated in front of a high stupa can be seen here.
~Cave number 11: This is a two level cave, called 'Do thal', with images of Hindu Gods.
~Cave number 12: Three level cave called, 'Teen thal', which has image of Buddha in the meditation pose.
The Buddhist caves at Ellora with a vast pantheon of Buddha, Bodhisattavas, Saktis, suggest a specific philosophy, known as the 'Vajrayan' cult, which means vehicle of the thunderbolt.
This philosophy teaches self discipline and meditation as a means to attaining Buddhahood, which ultimately helps to attain Nirvana.
Ajanta Caves! Some significant features:
- The 29 Ajanta caves are thoroughly Buddhist and were used by monks as monasteries.
- Experts in old artistry have visualized that the rocky walls were first covered with a mixture of earth, cow dung and rice husk mixed together.
- After it had set a thin coat, a mixture of lime, lime juice and water was applied.
- When this became dry, sketches were drawn, and painted with available, local and common ingredients such as vegetable etc.
- Female figures are drawn and painted artistically.
- Some of the highlights can be described as follows:
~ Cave number 1: It‘s a big hall with 20 pillars, beautifully carved. They depict stories of Buddha's previous life and there is a huge Buddha figure, bearing expressions of peace, meditation, and sublime.
On the wall near the sanctum is the world famous posture of 'PADMAPANI'. The lotus in the hand of Buddha is a sign of peace and purity.
On the right side wall are the pictures of 'VAJRAPANI'' and the black princess.
There is a court scene painted to depict the kings receiving gifts. Animals, birds, flowers, and fruits can also be seen beautifully painted and carved on the ceilings of the cave walls.
The queen can be seen seated in the swing and enjoying.
A spectacular bull painting, which seen from any angle appears charging at the viewer.
~ Cave number 2: In this cave on the left are stories showing Swan birth, Buddha's mother, the birth of Buddha are shown very beautifully painted on the ceiling and cave walls.
~Cave number 4: This is perhaps the biggest one having 28 pillars. A big figure of Buddha as a bastion against the eight fears.
~ Cave number 6 : This cave has 2 tiers. In the assembly hall the figure of Buddha in Padmasana posture. The second tier has an assembly hall with pillars and the door panels have crocodile heads and garland of flowers forming an arch.
~ Cave number 7: It has six Buddha figures and door keepers at the entrance.
~ Cave number 9: It has 22 pillar and is called Chautya cave. It is one of the oldest cave.
~ Cave number 10: The Heenayana temple with about 40 pillars, beautifully carved. A stupa in Pali language of Brahmi script suggests it belongs to 2nd century B.C.
~ Cave number 11: has a big assembly hall and inside the sanctum, a Buddha figure.
~ Cave number 16: This cave has some very important paintings, depicting incidents that took place during the life of Buddha.
~ Cave number 17: Paintings of Buddha visiting his family after he had renounced the world. His wife and son giving alms to him.
Buddha is shown having a very tall and broad body, while the wife and the son have small bodies.
The paintings at the ceiling look as if made of cloth with border all around.
Ajanta-Ellora caves, source:You tube
Have you visited Ajanta, Ellora caves?
To sum up:
- This is a brief account of the beautiful and vast spread cave art of Ajanta and Ellora.
Whether it is the magnificent paintings of the Ajanta caves or the full of life sculptures of the Ellora caves, they are sure to leave you speechless after you visit them.
- There is no doubt that these art works need lot of care to protect them and the government is doing everything they can.
- They have stood the test of time and are included in the list of World heritage sites.
- And we should hope that they remain like this for a long long time.
Take care to gather all information through a reputed travel guide, if you plan to visit these caves.
Be prepared for an unforgettable experience!
References for further reading:
© 2014 Chitrangada Sharan