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Ancient caves of India: The Ajanta and Ellora
Ajanta and Ellora are famous caves in Maharashtra, India which are very ancient and Provide a thrilling site for historians and archeological activities. Ajanta caves are around 100 kms away from Ellora and the most famous city nearest to them is Aurangabad.
It takes barely two hours to cover the 99 kms from Aurangabad to Ajanta, two hours to transport you to the second century B.C when the first of these caves was hollowed out from the side of the cliff.
Early in the 19th century, a party of British officers scrambling over the thickly wooded slopes of the sahyadri hills, discovered these caves buried under debris and screened by foliage. The caves were secluded retreat for Buddhist monastic orders and yet offered easy access to the trade routes that swung past here to the coast.
The 30 caves of Ajanta, some unfinished, span a period of 800 years and contain numerous images of Buddha. The sculpture in cave 26 is elaborate and beautiful; highlights here are the panel of the temptation of Buddha and the Parinirvana depicting the breaking of earthly ties and Buddha's passing into nirvana. The arched chaitya window set into elegantly simple facade of cave 9 (1st century B.C) is repeated in the elaborate frontage of cave 19 (fifth century), which has several figures of Buddha on the portico. Of the particular note here is a sculpture of a seated Nagaraja with his consort and female attendant. Cacve 16 is an elegant vihara wiat an inscription that mentions the king and his minister who built this cave. In caves 1, 2, 16, 17 you can see some undamaged portions of wall paintings that are vibrant and clear.
Ajanta is a protected monument under the Archaeological survey of India and has been included in the World Heritage list of monuments.
The Boddhisatvas who figure prominently in the ajanta paintings are celestial beings, who visit the world of men. The nymphs, princesses and attendants of Ajanta are women of exquisite elegance and charm, hair dressed in intricate styles and jewels highlighting slender necks and waists.
From this vast collection of classical Indian art sprang the style that travelled out with Buddhism to many parts of the world. Buddhist paintings in Sigiriya in Sri Lanka, Bamiyan in Afghanistan, Tibet, Nepal, China and in Japan all trace their origins to the classic mode first expressed in the wall paintings of Ajanta.
In their range of time and treatment, the paintings of Ajanta are a panorama of life in ancient India and could well be studied for a description of the culture of those times.
Before you leave, climb up to the flat top of the hill opposite the caves for a wonderful sweeping view of the horseshoe shaped gorge of Ajanta.