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Ajanta Caves- an overview

The Ajanta caves: an overview

Rajesh K Singh

Contents

Introduction. 1

Location. 1

Importance. 1

Period. 1

Purpose of the caves. 2

The makers of the caves. 2

The extent of the paintings. 2

The corpus of the paintings. 3

References. 5

Endnotes. 6

 

 

Introduction

The Ajanta caves are rock-cut monuments listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. Created by the ancient Buddhists, the site has preserved some of the finest specimen of the arts, architecture, and sculpture in ancient India.

Location

The Ajanta caves are situated near Fardapur on the Jalgaon – Aurangabad highway. It falls in the Aurangabad district of the Maharashtra state of India. It’s coordinates in the centre of the semi-circular scarp are latitude 20°33'9.62"N, longitude 75°42'0.68"E (Google Inc. 2013). In the ancient times, it probably lay on the borderland of the ancient province called Risika (approximately Khandesh region of Maharashtra).

Importance

The importance of the caves are multifarious. It is a unique archaeological monument. It has preserved unique specimen of painting in ancient India. The paintings depict themes from Buddhist mythology and legends. There is also a vast repertoire of sculpture depicting various figures from Buddhist theology. The importance of the architecture lays in a multitude of features that are of great historical significance. Ajanta tells us about the modes of Buddhist temple architecture as well as the reflections on other forms of architecture prevalent at the time.

Period

Ajanta was created in two phases. The first phase is dated to the second century BCE to first century BCE. At this time, the region was ruled by the Sātavāhana kings. The second phase belongs to the fifth century AD (Schlingloff, Ajanta: Handbook of the Paintings 2013, vol. I, 4-5). Walter M Spink has dated the second phase more specifically between circa 462 and 480 AD (Spink and Yaguchi 2014, timechart, xii). At this time, the region was ruled by the Vakataka kings. There were two branches of the dynasty ruling from Nandivardhana and Vatsagulma. The site fell in the dominions of the branch ruling from Vatsagulma (modern Washim) and the period coincided with the rule of Mahārāja Hariṣeṇa of the Vatsagulma branch.

Five of the caves belong to the earlier group: caves 9, 10, 12, 13, and 15A. The remaining 26 caves belong to the later group that comprises of the caves 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Upper 6, Lower 6, 7, 8, 11, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, and 29.

Purpose of the caves

There were many reasons for the creation of the caves. These are not natural caves. They are rock-cut caves. They are splendid examples of architecture cut by human hands into the cliff of a mountain. Some of the caves were intended as residences for Buddhist monastics. Some were for the congregation of the monastics. Some were Buddha temples. It was a pilgrimage site not only for the Buddhist monastics but also for the lay devotees. Monasteries were often centres of learning; they were convents with many kinds of functions and architectural establishments.

The makers of the caves

In the first phase, various people funded the creation of the monastery. Multiple donors sponsored the different parts of the edifices. We call it collective patronage.

However, in the second phase, the patronage was by individuals who had enough resources to sponsor exclusive edifices. Cave 26-complex was sponsored by Monk Buddhabhadra. Caves 17-20 was sponsored by the local king (Upendragupta II alias Dharādhipa).

Cave 4 or its parts was funded or donated by Māthura. Cave 16 was sponsored by Varāhadeva who was the secretary of Mahārāja Hariṣeṇa. Varāhadeva also sponsored the cave temples at Gulwāḍā, some 35 km from Ajantā, which are known as the Ghaṭotkacha caves. Ajanta Cave 1, according to Walter M Spink, was funded by Mahārāja Hariṣeṇa.

The extent of the paintings

The cave temples of the earlier period were fully painted, but only a small part of the original paintings have survived. The cave dwellings of the earlier period were not usually intended to be painted, because they were monastic residences. However, an exception is the painting work extant in Cave 12, which suggests that it was fully painted in spite of the fact that it was a residential monastic edifice. Notably, certain areas of the caves of the earlier group were re-painted in the fifth century AD.

The cave temples of the later period were either painted or intended to be painted. The residential edifices were not originally intended to be painted. However, they were eventually painted because they were converted into temples in the course of excavation and developments.

The painting work in many of the caves could never begin because there was an abrupt or speedy abandonment by the monastics and original donors. The painting work in many caves were begun but could never be completed for the same reason. And, in some caves most of the walls and ceilings were painted to a great degree, but never completely because of the rapid or sudden abandonment following the death of Hariṣeṇa (W. M. Spink 2005-2015).

The corpus of the paintings

Dieter Schlingloff and Monika Zin have created an index of the corpus of the Ajanta paintings that are broadly classified in two categories: (i) the narrative painting (ii) the devotional and ornamental paintings.[1]

The following is a tabular compilation of the narrative wall paintings that you can sort by index number, category, cave number, period, and narrative:

Schlingloff’s Index No.

Subject category

Cave No.

Period

Narrative

1.

The Buddha in former existences

IX

2nd c. BCE

Paṇḍara

2.

The Buddha in former existences

IX

2nd c. BCE

Mahāgovinda

3.

The Buddha in former existences

IX

2nd c. BCE

Śaśa

4.

The Buddha in former existences

IX

2nd c. BCE

Kuṇāla

5.

The Buddha in former existences

IX

2nd c. BCE

Udaya

6.

The Buddha in former existences

X

2nd c. BCE

Śyāma

7.

The Buddha in former existences

X

2nd c. BCE

Śaḍdanta

8.

The superhuman events of the Buddha’s life

X

2nd c. BCE

Bhagavān

9.

Episodes from the life of the Buddha

X

2nd c. BCE

Udayana

10.

Episodes from the life of the Buddha

IX

2nd c. BCE

Elapattra

11.

The Buddha in former existences

XVII

5th c. CE

Matsya

12.

The Buddha in former existences

XVI

5th c. CE

Vartakāpota

13.

The Buddha in former existences

II

5th c. CE

Haṃsa

14.

The Buddha in former existences

XVII

5th c. CE

Haṃsa

15.

The Buddha in former existences

XVII

5th c. CE

Śaśa

16.

The Buddha in former existences

II

5th c. CE

Rúru

17.

The Buddha in former existences

XVI

5th c. CE

Rúru

18.

The Buddha in former existences

XVII

5th c. CE

Rúru

19.

The Buddha in former existences

XVII

5th c. CE

Mṛga

20.

The Buddha in former existences

XVII

5th c. CE

Śarabha

21.

The Buddha in former existences

XVI

5th c. CE

Mahiṣa

22.

The Buddha in former existences

XVII

5th c. CE

Mahiṣa

23.

The Buddha in former existences

XVII

5th c. CE

Ṛkṣa

24.

The Buddha in former existences

XVII

5th c. CE

Siṃha

25.

The Buddha in former existences

XVI

5th c. CE

Hastin

26.

The Buddha in former existences

XVII

5th c. CE

Hastin

27.

The Buddha in former existences

XVII

5th c. CE

Mātṛpoṣaka

28.

The Buddha in former existences

XVII

5th c. CE

Ṣaḍdanta

29.

The Buddha in former existences

XVII

5th c. CE

Vānara

30.

The Buddha in former existences

XVI

5th c. CE

Mahākapi

31.

The Buddha in former existences

XVII

5th c. CE

Mahākapi

32.

The Bodhisatva as a brahmin ascetic

XVII

5th c. CE

Śyāma

33.

The Bodhisatva as a brahmin ascetic

XVI

5th c. CE

Bisa

34.

The Bodhisatva as a brahmin ascetic

II

5th c. CE

Kṣāntivādin

35.

The Bodhisatva as a brahmin ascetic

XVII

5th c. CE

Bodhi

36.

The Bodhisatva as a brahmin ascetic

XVI

5th c. CE

Vyāghrī

37.

The Bodhisatva as a brahmin minister

II

5th c. CE

Vidhura

38.

The Bodhisatva as a brahmin minister

I

5th c. CE

Mahoṣadha

39.

The Bodhisatva as a prince

XVI

5th c. CE

Mūkapaṅgu

40.

The Bodhisatva as a prince

I

5th c. CE

Sudhana

41.

The Bodhisatva as a prince

I

5th c. CE

Kalyāṇakārin

42.

The Bodhisatva as a prince

XVI

5th c. CE

Viśvantara

43.

The Bodhisatva as a prince

XVII

5th c. CE

Viśvantara

44.

The Bodhisatva as a king

I

5th c. CE

Mahāsudarśana

45.

The Bodhisatva as a king

I

5th c. CE

Janaka

46.

The Bodhisatva as a king

I

5th c. CE

Śibi-Kapota

47.

The Bodhisatva as a king

II

5th c. CE

Śibi-Kapota

48.

The Bodhisatva as a king

XVII

5th c. CE

Sarvadada

49.

The Bodhisatva as a king

XVII

5th c. CE

Śibi

50.

The Bodhisatva as a king

I

5th c. CE

Maitrībala

51.

The Bodhisatva as a king

II

5th c. CE

Maitrībala

52.

The Bodhisatva as a king

XVI

5th c. CE

Maitrībala

53.

The Bodhisatva as a king

I

5th c. CE

Prabhāsa

54.

The Bodhisatva as a king

II

5th c. CE

Prabhāsa

55.

The Bodhisatva as a king

XVII

5th c. CE

Prabhāsa

56.

The Bodhisatva as a king

XVI

5th c. CE

Sutasoma

57.

The Bodhisatva as a king

XVII

5th c. CE

Sutasoma

58.

The Bodhisatva as a king

XVII

5th c. CE

Siṃhala

59.

The Bodhisatva as a cobra deity

I

5th c. CE

Śaṅkhapāla

60.

The Bodhisatva as a cobra deity

I

5th c. CE

Campaka

61.

The Bodhisatva as a cobra deity

II

5th c. CE

Bhūridatta

62.

The Bodhisatva as the king of the gods

XVI

5th c. CE

Kumbha

63.

The Bodhisatva as the king of the gods

XVII

5th c. CE

Indra

64.

Birth and youth of the Bodhisatva

XVI

5th c. CE

Bhagavān

65.

Birth and youth of the Bodhisatva

II

5th c. CE

Bhagavatprasūti

66.

Birth and youth of the Bodhisatva

VII

5th c. CE

Bhagavān

67.

Episodes from the life of the Buddha

IX

5th c. CE

Kāśyapa

68.

Episodes from the life of the Buddha

XVII

5th c. CE

Śuddhodana

69.

Episodes from the life of the Buddha

XVII

5th c. CE

Udāyin

70.

Episodes from the life of the Buddha

XVII

5th c. CE

Rāhula

71.

Episodes from the life of the Buddha

XVII

5th c. CE

Rāhula

72.

Episodes from the life of the Buddha

XVII

5th c. CE

Sumati

73.

Episodes from the life of the Buddha

XVI

5th c. CE

Nanda

74.

Episodes from the life of the Buddha

I

5th c. CE

Sumāgadhā

75.

Episodes from the life of the Buddha

I

5th c. CE

Udrāyaṇa

76.

Episodes from the life of the Buddha

I

5th c. CE

Nāgakumāra

77.

Episodes from the life of the Buddha

XVII

5th c. CE

Dhanapāla

78.

Episodes from the life of the Buddha

XVII

5th c. CE

Indrabrāhmaṇa

79.

Episodes from the life of the Buddha

II

5th c. CE

Pūrṇa

80.

Central events in Buddha’s life as devotional pictures

I

5th c. CE

Māravijaya

81.

Central events in Buddha’s life as devotional pictures

VI

5th c. CE

Māravijaya

82.

Central events in Buddha’s life as devotional pictures

XVI

5th c. CE

Mahāsamāja

83.

Central events in Buddha’s life as devotional pictures

XVII

5th c. CE

Mahāsamāja

84.

Central events in Buddha’s life as devotional pictures

XVI

5th c. CE

Devāvatāra

85.

Central events in Buddha’s life as devotional pictures

XVI

5th c. CE

Devāvatāra

86.

Central events in Buddha’s life as devotional pictures

XVII

5th c. CE

Devāvatāra

87.

Central events in Buddha’s life as devotional pictures

XXI

5th c. CE

Devāvatāra

88.

Central events in Buddha’s life as devotional pictures

I

5th c. CE

Mahāprātihārya

89.

Central events in Buddha’s life as devotional pictures

II

5th c. CE

Mahāprātihārya

90.

Central events in Buddha’s life as devotional pictures

VI

5th c. CE

Mahāprātihārya

91.

Central events in Buddha’s life as devotional pictures

XVI

5th c. CE

Mahāprātihārya

92.

Central events in Buddha’s life as devotional pictures

XVII

5th c. CE

Mahāprātihārya

93.

Fragments of undetermined content

II

5th c. CE

Undetermined content

94.

Fragments of undetermined content

VI

5th c. CE

Palace affairs

 

References

Google Inc. 2013. Ajanta caves, Maharashtra. Vers. 7.1.2.2041. Google Earth. 10 July. Accessed March 3, 2014. http://www.google.com/earth/.

Schlingloff, Dieter. 2013. Ajanta: Handbook of the Paintings. III vols. New Delhi: IGNCA and Aryan Books International.

—. 1999. Guide to the Ajanta Paintings: Narrative Wall Paintings. Vol. I. II vols. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt Ltd.

Singh, Rajesh Kumar. 2013. Ajanta Paintings: 86 Panels of Jatakas and Other Themes. Abridged edition of R. K. Singh, An Introduction to the Ajanta Caves, 2012. Baroda: Hari Sena Press.

Spink, Walter M. 2005-2015. Ajanta: History and Development series. Edited by J. Bronkhorst. VIII vols. Lieden and Boston: Brill.

Spink, Walter M., and Naomi Yaguchi. 2014. Defining Features, Ajanta: History and Development series. Edited by J. Bronkhorst. Vol. VI. VIII vols. Lieden: Brill.

Zin, Monika. 2003a. A Guide to the Ajanta Paintings: Devotional and Ornamental Paintings. Vol. II. II vols. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Pvt. Ltd.

—. 2003b. Ajanta: Handbook der Malereien - Devotional and Ornamental Malereien. Vol. I. II vols. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.

 

Endnotes

 

[1] For the narrative paintings, see (Schlingloff 1999) and (Schlingloff 2013). For the devotional and ornamental paintings, see (Zin 2003a) and (Zin 2003b). For a summary of the whole, see (Singh 2013)