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In Conversation: M.K. Dhavalikar

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An interview conducted by R.K.Singh in Pune on September 25, 2015.

 Dr. Rajesh Kumar Singh

I have Prof. Dhavalikar with me to speak on the subject of Ajanta. He was recently awarded Padmashri by the government of India—by the President of India, rather—and his opinion on the subject of Ajanta is extremely important as far as the learner is concerned.

Therefore, I shall be having the opportunity of asking some of the basic questions on the subject of Ajanta to help the world audience learn about some of the fundamental aspects.  For example, sir, may I begin by asking you how did Ajanta happen? What does it mean to the world of archaeology, to the world of humanity today, sir?

 

Prof. Madhu Keshav Dhavalikar

Archaeology: first of all, it is a unique monument in the world. Nowhere in the world you will find so many caves full of such paintings, you know. Every cave is full of paintings, almost.

And, it is so early, and it is in a way… in a better condition. Because, if you go to the different parts of the world where caves are there, you don’t get anything like this. And, that is why Ajintha has great appeal to the people, you know.

And, we must be proud of it, as the UNESCO has said that it is not only the heritage of one man or India or Maharashtra, but it is the heritage of humanity; and, that is the most important thing.

I was attracted to Ajintha when I finished my M.A., and I wanted to do Ph.D. So, it so happened that once I was going through the pages of Indian Antiquary, and in that I found a small article, a six-page article by Codrington who was a professor in the University of London. The title of the article was ‘Medieval Culture of India’. And, he said, you know, how Ajintha costumes, then jewellery, houses, how all that is depicted there will be useful for study.

And, besides that, you know, I had read Pandit Nehru’s Discovery of India earlier. In that, about Ajintha he writes a beautiful sentence, “Ajintha takes you back to the distant dream like, yet a very real, world”. That was remarkable, and I thought this is the problem, which I must take for Ajintha for PhD; and I studied it because it is distant.  Fifteen hundred years ago it was done; it was a dream like because what you see is a dream, but in a real world. That means people lived like that. The houses were like that, they wore those costumes, they wore that jewellery, and those were the hairstyles. And, not only this, they say that art and literature are mirrors of culture. Say, if contemporary life is reflected in art, it must also be reflected in literature.   

So what I tried to do was to show that what Pandit Nehru said is true. The life was lived by the people, you have got the evidence there in colour, and you also have got the contemporary literature.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Prof. Dhavalikar, thousands of visitors who come to Ajanta everyday have one question in their mind. Who made these caves? What kind of people were they? Where they came from?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Look, who made the caves.  The donors were there. Firstly, see, without money you can’t have caves. And, if you go through the inscriptions—particularly at Ajintha, there are not many inscriptions in the earlier period, but in other cave temples, which are there in Maharashtra—you will see that in the earlier stage, that is, during the Satavahana period, it is the common man who has paid: the gardener may be there, the blacksmith may be there, the shopkeeper may be there. So they have given the donation, ‘deyadhammam’,that is what the inscriptions say. But when you come to the fourth and fifth centuries that was a period when trade was on the decline; there are many factors responsible for that. We can’t go into details of those factors at this stage. But then, you know, at that time it is the kings, the feudatories at Ajintha, the minister of Harishena, he has given a cave. Then, there is a feudatory who has given a cave, donated for a cave. So, that is how the donations came, and when they wanted to do this. Because they were the patrons of the Buddha image. What happens afterwards? In sixth and seventh century, etc. the patronage is lost. Adequate patronage is not available. And, therefore, there is a decline of cave architecture.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Sir, you said that there two phases of Ajanta. I would first like to ask you what was the political condition during the earlier phase?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

…Unless there is economic prosperity, political peace, without that, these things cannot happen, such as architecture, sculpture. Because these are the finer things of life. And, if you see in the earlier period when the Satavahanaswere ruling, say, between 200 BC–200 AD, all this cave temples, early rock temples, what we call the Hinayana, were carved out at that time. But what happens after 230 AD, when there is a decline, because the trade is on the decline, and the main reason for that is the decline in the environment, the environmental degradation, the rainfall getting less and less. And, that is why you will see in the third and fourth century, only small caves were excavated. Sometimes, for a hundred years, no caves were excavated. Particularly, you will find at Kanheri, some caves were excavated even in the fourth century; that was because the trading community was there. There were ports like Sopara was there, Kalyana was there, Thane was there, Chaul was there. And, these people gave donations; and, that is how the smaller caves were excavated.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Sir, would you say that the Satavahanas had any role to play in Ajanta?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Actually… they themselves may not have given the donations. But, their own feudatories, their officers, like mahabhojas, they gave donations. And, when the trade is flourishing, naturally, the donations start coming.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Sir, in an Ajanta cave temple there is an inscription that mentions one ‘vasithiputasa’. The same name ‘vasithiputasa’ also appears in a Sanchi gateway. Would you relate them together?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Actually, the Ajintha ‘vasithiputra’ is not the king or anything, but he is vasithiputrakatahadi. Because he is from Karad. In the Sanchi inscription, that man is not from Karad. But they maybe both, we don’t know, maybe rich merchants, traders, but they don’t say that in the inscription itself.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Sir, one of the readings of the word ‘katahadi’ is that ‘kata’ is the Prakrit for kashtha. There was a wooden façade over there.

 

 

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

But, that has not been identified or translated like that. Because, many scholars have studied and said that Katahadi is a man from Karad. Because, formerly, in ancient times, the surnames were not there as we have today. The surnames that you have today were introduced by the British. Before that, they were not there. So, the place from which you come...  everywhere, you will see that the name of the place is given. For example, Dhenukakata; there are inscriptions, you know, that the Yavanas are coming from Dhenukakata. What you say may be correct, but it is very difficult to say, because that sort of thing has not been used anywhere.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

So, finally sir, what is your opinion about the date of this cave number 9 and 10 of Ajanta?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Cave number 10 is earlier, at least, I think.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Which century, sir?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

I would put it somewhere between 50 and 100 BC. And, Cave 9 is a later thing; because the plan of the cave is different. It is quadrangular; it is not apsidal. When the architects excavated that cave, and they found that we have done something different, because changing the plans of temples etc. would be a sacrilege; people will not like that. And, therefore, what he did was, when they carved the pillars they put it in the apsidal fashion. So, some sort of amendment like thing was done at that time. That may be somewhere between 20 and 50 BC. Because that was a very flourishing time. In 5O BC, Sanchi was erected at that time with the toranas. And that is the time of Satakarni II.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Sir, would you say that this Ajanta cave number 9 and 10 had any direct or indirect relationship with Sanchi?

 

 

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Yes, no doubt about that. See the torana of Sanchi and see the torana, which is depicted in the Cave 10. You must have seen that; it is an exact copy. The artist may have… and particularly Sanchi was also under the Satavahana kingdom. No other king was ruling. So the artist may be travelling here and there where the work is available. Where the job is there, they will go there.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

What relationship could it have with Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda? 

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Nagarjunkonda at that time was not so high. But Amaravati… again had Satakarni II; particularly Amaravati was flourishing when Vashistha Putra Pulumavi was shunted to southern Deccan. He had married a princess of the Western Kshatrapas; Rudraraman’s daughter he had married. And, I think, they could not pull on together, and that is why, a battle was fought and Vasistha Putra Pulamavi was defeated sometime around 140-150 AD. Therefore, he was shunted down south, and he went to Dharnikota, that is, the ancient Dhanyakataka, not Dhenukakata, which many scholars have confused; these are two different things. So, there he went; and that was flourishing. And, see Amravati, what a beautiful monument! I tell you, if you see the outlines, now Schlingloff has published those volumes. He has given us complete Ajintha in line drawings. And you put those line drawings there with Amaravati and Sanchi. You can find that Sanchi is earlier, Ajintha in the middle, and Amaravati is later. And, the same people may have done that, almost.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Sir, What about the location of Ajanta. Why must have they chosen this location in the first phase?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

In the location what they wanted was peace. In the Vedic literature, we come across, you know, that the sages used to go to natural caves, gumfa, you know. There are two words: layanais a rock-cut cave, manmade cave, and guhais a natural cave. So, that is the difference, and they went for meditation to the natural caves. Particularly, the caves were located in such places, because the Buddha said...

Why did the caves come into being? They came into being because the Buddhist monk always has to be on the move. He can’t stay for more than three days at a place. Particularly in the rainy season that was not possible. Most of the caves that you see here in Maharasthra, they are in the Sahayadri; in the Mumbai-Pune region, a lot of them are there where rainfalls are more. So, the monks could not move. These caves have been referred to in the inscriptions even, as varsavasa. These are the abode of the monks during the rainy seasons. That is why, this vassa is varsha, and that has become very common all over South East Asia.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

In which inscription the word ‘vassavasa’is mentioned?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

I think, in the Kanheri inscription the word ‘vasa’ is mentioned.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Sir, I would take you back again to the picture in the first century BC. Would you say that Ajanta was a pilgrimage site?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

It was a pilgrimage for the Buddhist monks.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Was it a pilgrimage place?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Actually Buddhist places of pilgrimage have been listed in a fourth century Buddhist text Mahamayui. And, they say which are the places and which are the guardian Yakshas of those places. And there is a place called Ajitanjaya, which has been mentioned there as a place of pilgrimage. This Ajitanjaya may be Ajintha according to some.  But, my feeling is that this Buddhist sage whose name is there, that great monk Achintya; so, Ajintha is after that monk, in my opinion.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Sir, the question that forces us to think in that direction is that there is no relic in Ajanta.

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

No, but relic may not be there, but Achintya or some venerated sage may be staying there.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Would it be a pilgrimage as important as Sarnath or Sopara or Nalanda or Kapilavastu, etc. even when there is no relic of the Buddha?  

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

But actually, you know, even though there is no relic in the earlier period, the sage may be a later one. Xuanzang writes about Ajintha whether he exactly visited it or not, we do not know. But he says that a cavern is there; that nagavesmais there; the Naga shrine, which is there below Cave 16. So, he says about the paintings, the galleries… So, those things are mentioned there.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

So, why he did not visit Ajanta?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

It is not easy to go to Ajintha even today. And, that is why, you know, after the sixth or seventh century, after the Buddhism was on the decline, Ajintha was completely… we did not know about Ajintha before it was discovered by the British soldier, John Smith of 18th cavalry whose inscription is there in Cave 10.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Sir, I would now like to come to the second phase of Ajanta; and, who do you think is responsible for the creation of the second phase of Ajanta?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Each cave is donated by a different person. For example, take Cave 4. Buddha shrine is there, and that shrine was donated by a person from Mathura. ‘Mathur’, his name, is there. Particularly, Caves 16 and 17, one was Harishena’s minister, that Varahadeva, and the other was a feudatory… 

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Was he a minister or was he a sachiva?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Today, sachiva means secretary. We are making these distinctions. But, in the ancient times, they were not different things. Mantri and sachiva were no different things. If you see Kautilya’sArthashastra, there is no term sachiva there.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Sir, we hear the name of Varahadeva whenever the talk of Ajanta comes, and it appears that he gave a donative inscription in Cave No. 16. What information do we have about this Varahadeva? And what exactly did he do at Ajanta?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

We do not have any information about him except what is there in that inscription that he was a minister to Harishena. Beyond that we don’t know about him.  He was a minister, so he must be a wealthy person and that’s why he gave the donation.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

And, also at Ghatotkacha we find his involvement…

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

You can see that Ghatotkacha is unfinished and it is in a very poor state, actually. You don't see much there. That is later work. That means by that time his influence was over. He could not give what was required. He could not give the donation enough perhaps. Patronage may not have been enough. And Ghatotkacha is located in such a place that even to go there it takes almost a whole day, even today. What must have happened in the ancient past?

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

But, now the Maharashtra government has made very nice steps…

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

That is now. But when I went there first, say 50-60 years ago, even with the jeep we had to cross two or three hills and then we entered there.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

So, what are the nature of his donations at Ajanta?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Actually, that part of the cave architecture has not been studied. If we see what was happening in other areas for other public works, they call it vishti. Vishti in the sense vet vigar,you know, bonded labour. So bonded labourer means the labourer who works only for food. Food is given to them, they work. That is why we did not have slavery in India like the Greeks and Romans had. We didn’t have slavery. It was bonded labour, and they had to do it. It was till the eighteenth century until the British came. You could get bonded labourer in the market.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

So, you are saying, sir, that this work force comprised of bonded labourers?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Yes. In the sense… not artists or painters. How the paintings were done?  I read a beautiful book called Shangri-La. This man went to Himalayan monasteries, and he found out what the people do; and he says there are monks who execute the paintings. And, the same thing may have happened in Ajintha. That may have been the tradition.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

There is a problem, sir, that problem is that the bonded labourers, the majority of them whether dasa or slaves or bonded labours, whatever terms we like to use, but this belonged to the shudravarna; they were definitely not brahmans or kshatriyas?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Not necessarily. The shudravarna may be there. But supposedly in a battle, you know, the king who is defeated; so, the population there may have been forced labour, you can say. The difference between slavery and bonded labour is that slavery is hereditary. A slave’s child will be a slave. In bonded labour, that is not the case. He can pay some amount of money or whatever is required and can be a free man. That also was there.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Sir, but, the Buddha was against some of these things. And these people who took conversion and became Buddhists, do you think in a Buddhist monument there would be participation of this kind of…?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Oh, whatever the Buddha said, you know, if the Buddha had come here himself he would say why did I preach the people unnecessarily? Buddha himself did not wear any jewellery. But Maitreya, the future Buddha, is allowed footwear, wearing sandals. You must have seen Gandhara art, wearing jewellery, and all that, you know. So, whatever Buddha said, it is not necessary that the people followed; they did not actually. On the other hand, they had to compete with Hinduism. The competition comes.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Sir, very interestingly, this Varahadeva in context was a Buddhist?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

He may not be a Buddhist, you know, because one thing we forget. Formerly, in ancient times, Buddhism was not treated as a separate religion. It was like any other sect of Hinduism.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

In the context of Ajanta also?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Any, any. Varahadeva himself may not have been a Buddhist. Many brahmans have given donations. That, you see, Kanheri has hundreds of inscriptions. Brahmans have given donations, traders have given donations, vaishyas have given donations. Kshatriyas have given donations. They may not be Buddhist themselves. Just as today, in a house, the father may be a worshiper of Ganesha while the son may be a Krishna worshipper. It was something like that. Hard and fast divisions, which we see today among us, and because of many other social problems, they were not there in the ancient past.

 

 

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Then, sir, why do we not see any direct evidence of the involvement of the Vakatakas in the second phase of the Ajanta?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

No, because the Vakatakas were themselves Vashnavites. They had matrimonial relationships with the Guptas. Guptas were shudras and the Vakatakas were brahmans.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

The Guptas were vaishyas or shudras?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Gupta surname is there.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Vaishyas, and not shudras?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Vaishyas… but, even till the Gupta period, the cast divisions were not much there. Yes, yes, you see? The Vakatakas were there; they married the Guptas. Suppose, the Guptas were kshatriyas. But Vakatakas were brahmans, and they married the daughter of the Guptas. So, these hard and fast notions, they became more later in the sixth century, seventh century, eighth century when the foreigners started coming and settling here, like the central Asian Gurjara-Pratiharas and all those peoples, isn’t it? Then, the Muslim invasions were there. Then the things became very rigid, one can say.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Sir, in Ajanta, why do we not see the direct involvement of the Vakatakas?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

They were not interested; they had their temples in Vidarbha.

 

 

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Sir, there is a proposal. A leading historian has proposed that Harishena himself was involved at Ajanta?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Where is the proof? That may be his opinion. But, is there any corroborative evidence? Then, what is the use of it all? You can say anything.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Why do we then get the name of Harishena in at least three inscriptions of Ajanta?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Because he was the ruler. He was the king.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

But in Cave No. 26, the name of this ruler is not mentioned.

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Because, his rule was over. Harishena may have died somewhere in 480-490 AD, or something like that. Because by 5O0, you know, that king… who were those people...? Madhavashena or something like that... whom they married and... Because after Harishena, the Vakatakas are over. He doesn’t have any progeny and nobody succeeded him here.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Sir, what must have been the involvement of Ashmakas, because this king has been eulogised?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Ashmaka, one thing we forgot… Ashmakas, in the sense, he may have ordered someone: all right, I give you this much, and excavate a cave. Beyond that they do not go and sit there and monitor what the artist is doing. No, absolutely not. I mean, they have their own people who must have been asked to supervise the work.

 

 

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Sir, why would bhikshuBudhabhadra in his Cave 26 inscribe the eulogy in the praise of the Ashmakaraja saying that I have a friendship with him since so many previous births, and not include the VakatakaNaresh?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Because the Vakataka rule or Harishena rule may have been over. And, Ashmaka… does not mention the name of overlord. That happens with the Satavahanasalso. Earlier, the Satavahanas were vanishing in 230 AD, there are Mahabhojas and other people, and they don’t mention the overlord’s name, that is, the name of the Satavahanas. In Kuda, you have got the people, they are Mahabhojas. They don’t mention Satavahanas. 

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Sir, who was the donor of Cave 17?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

I think that he is the feudatory of the Vakatakas. His name I don’t know.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

There is a dispute on this. We have two opinions on this. Professor Spink says his name is Upendragutpa and Professor Shastri said his name was Dharadhipa. Because the inscription says, ‘dharadhiparakhyamprathamobabharadadhredvitiyoravisambasangyam’ or something like that.

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

May be difference of opinion. In such case it is difficult to give verdict.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Mirashi read ‘dharadhiparakhyam’ as an adjective, ‘the lord of the earth,’ which is an adjective and appellation for Ravisamba. Whereas Shastri reads that ‘dharadhipa’ actually is not an adjective but a proper noun. What is your opinion on this?

 

 

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

I think Upendragupta, if that is the name, and if Mirashi says, because Mirashi is an epigraphist…  (interrupted)

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Mirashi himself has not taken any view on this. He says the name is lost.

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Very difficult to give opinion in that case, I tell you.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

What was the purpose of these caves?  Why these caves were excavated at all?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

I told you the main objective was varshavasa. The bhikshus had to stay there. Not only stay there; they had their different rituals and other things like fortnightly meetings, and other things they were holding there. And the bhikshus would go to the village. Buddha has said they should not live in the village with the people. They should be slightly away from the people.  Even then, they should not lose contacts with the people. Because people may have difficulties in which the monks can help them in solving their problems; something like that. So, the bhikshus were living there, particularly during varshas that is more important. Otherwise, during other times, you know, maybe the bhikshus would come, stay there for 3-4 days, or whatever the limitations, and then he would proceed further. They would go to the first house in the village, whatever they get, it is enough. They had to eat that and subsist on that.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Was it true also in the fifth century as it would have been true in the earlier phases? Was it indeed in practise for five hundred or one thousand years… without any change?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Actually, if you see the history of Buddhism, the rules were being relaxed from time to time. They say that the Mahayanaideas were there even during the Buddha’s time. Even in the first council that was held in Rajgriha, these ideas were there; some people were there. That is why in the second council in Vaishali, your Mahasanghikas, they came in majority; and that is why they are called Mahasanghikas. So, from that time, slowly and slowly the rules were being relaxed. And the Hinayanists didn’t liked that. They were rigid about it. So, that is how it started.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

This brings another question, sir.  You just uttered the terminology Hinayana. Is it still appropriate to call the earlier phase as the Hinayana phase of Ajanta?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Ajintha, particularly, the caves   from No. 9, 10, the Hinayana group, they are Hinayana, there is no doubt about it. But as you see, even Buddha images are carved in some of them.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Sir, we know that there were some 18 schools of Buddhism in India at that point of time. Was any one of them known as Hinayana? Or is it appropriate to designate all of the 18 schools of Buddhism as one umbrella:  Hinayana?  

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

No, No. The 18 schools of Buddhism are different; and Hinayana and Mahayana, these are sects within Buddhism. These are the sects. And, in sects now, for example, if you take Hinayana, now there are other sects like the Chaityakas, the Aparashaliyas. So, the sects are there. The things that we mix together, we think that the Hinayana and Mahayana are two watertight compartments. That was not the case. Because when Xuanzang came to India in 629, and he was there for 16 years; in 629 he came and up to 645 he was here. And, he says, he visited the monasteries in Maharashtra. He visited Kanheri. He says, in Maharashtra, the Hinayanists and the Mahayanists live together. Amicably. They worship their own symbols. He says, they make images on paper and cloth, and worship them. So, the rigidity which we think there must have been watertight compartment like almost Hindu-Muslimsort of a thing, that was not the thing, which was there at that point of time. Particularly, you should see what was happening in Nagarjunakonda at that point of time. In the fourth century, Nagargunakonda, the monastery that they have excavated there is a vihara in which there are two shrines, side by side. One containing a Buddha image, another having a stupa. So, they are living so amicably. Why should we be rigid and make them watertight compartments unnecessarily?

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

So, would you agree then, sir that this Hinayana and Mahayana polarization is our own construct, the historian’s construct?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Yes, yes. There is no doubt about it. That is why you see that from fifth or sixth century, there is stupa in Ajintha, and there is Buddha image also. Not only is that, on the stupa, the Buddha image carved. What else do you want?

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Sir, in Cave No. 22, there is an inscription, and according to one reading, there is a word ‘Mahayana’ used. Are you familiar with that?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Not much I should say. But even if the word is used that does not mean it was... (interrupted)

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

In the same Cave No 22, there is also another inscription that says that ‘deya dharma’ and so and so, and the person belonging to the ‘chetiya’…

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Chetiya sect. Chetiyaka sect is there. And Chetiyaka sect is a Hinayana sect.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Sir, elsewhere, recently someone has read that the word ‘aparashaila’ has also been read.

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

But these sects are, you know, this Aparashailiya etc., they were in the Nagarjunakonda-Amaravati area. Because aparashailiya means the upper hill, something like that.  Shaila that is hill. So, the hills there, you have got the upper shaila and lower shaila.  And, they are Hinayana sects. And, that is why, you know, what Xuanzang says is right; that the people are living amicably. In the same cave, they can stay there. And, more and more, you know, in the later period, the meditation work was becoming more and more prominent. That is why they started excavating small cells. I think, in one inscription at Kanheri they are referred to as meditation chamber.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Sir, now I would like to draw your attention to the large gamut of paintings at Ajanta, for Ajanta is famous for paintings. Why did they need to do the paintings? What is the message of these paintings? A very commoner’s question, why so many paintings, and what is the subject of these paintings?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

These paintings as you know are delineations of the jataka stories or the avadana stories. Now what do the jataka stories or the avadana stories tell us? The jataka stories or the avadana stories were composed in order to tell people the different qualities of Buddha. Karuna, maya, then helping others, all those things, and ultimately what they do is helping them. Even as the Buddha takes birth in those 528 jataka stories; and the main objective is this, to tell the people. And to tell the people why? To tell the people that they should also behave like this. They should have karuna for the older people and young people. Even Asoka did that, isn't it? In the edicts, of course, it is there. So, that is the main objective there. For example, the Shibi Jataka is there, where for a small bird, he gives flesh from his thigh. So that was the main objective and nothing else.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Sir, what is the distinction between jataka and avadana?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

The jataka is actually the Hinayanist thing; they were composed earlier up to may be between 200 BC and 200 AD. I mean if you have to have it sect wise then they were the work of actually Ceylonese Hinayanists. Avadana stories are later. Because they are in Sanskrit. They belong to Sanskrit Buddhism. In the sense that they are Mahayanist.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Avadanas are not the part of the Pali canon?

 

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

No.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

They are the product of Sanskrit canon?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Yes. They are a part of the Sanskrit Buddhism, they call.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

How are they distinct from the jatakas, sir?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Actually, not much. For example, I will tell you. The same stories are there, sometimes. But they are not that many in number. Jataka stories are more than 500. But, avadana stories, as they are in Jatakamala, they are not many. Same stories but different names are given. Like Hindi films. For example, there is Shibi Jataka, if you see the story of Shibi Jataka in Ajintha, there is Sarvamdadaavadana also. And actually it is the avadana story, which is more applicable in Ajintha than the Shibi Jataka itself. So, the similar stories; the objective is the same, the Buddha’s different qualities. They have to be emphasized in people’s mind, and that is how people should behave and live. That was the purpose behind them; nothing more than that.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Sir, some of these Jatakas, for example, let us take Shibi Jataka, we also find an identical story in the Mahabharata?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Yes. That is why I say that Shibi Jataka is not Shibi Jataka but   Sarvamdadaavadana.  I have published an article on that, on Sarvamdadaavadana at Ajintha. It is in Vasudevasharan Agrawal volume of JISOA, Journal of Indian Society of Oriental Arts.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Sir, right now I would like to ask more about the fact that so many of the cases are incomplete. Many ordinary people and even scholars have wondered a lot why some of the caves are incomplete. Why could they not complete them?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

The answer is very simple. The patronage was not adequate. I will give the particular example of Kanheri Cave 3 chaitya. If you see the plan of it, you will see that there are different phases. You will see the façade, you see the forecourt that has been excavated. And then the pillars that are there in the apsidal halls, only the first five or six are complete with decoration, capitals, etc. Beyond that we have got only square stumps. So, the reason is that the donation was given by a person; it is like today. I mean, you are building something like, say, Ambedkar Memorial — take it for example, doesn’t' matter. For Ambedkar Memorial today, the government has put five crores or ten crores. But by the time things start taking shape the prices have increased, and 5 or 10 crores are not enough. So, some of the things remained unfinished.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Sir, as far as Cave No. 1, for example, is concerned we see that nearly every part of Cave 1 is completed; the sculpture is completed, the architectural completeness is there, the shrines are completed, the paintings are done; and the ceilings are done, the floors are done, the pillars are done; there is no sign of incompleteness anywhere, except the front wall inside the hall, which is plastered but no paintings. They had patronage to complete everything except the paintings on the left of the front wall. What is your opinion on that?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

I feel that the patronage was not available. Patronage was not adequate. And, then you have to give it up. Who will do? Because the bonded labour is there and they can't spend their own money, because they don't have money to spend.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Sir, you don't think that the bhikshus themselves excavated these caves?

 

 

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Bhikshus themselves? No. I think, earlier, only removing the rock mass, you know, that may have been done by the bonded labourers. Otherwise, carving and other things the bhikshus themselves may have done if they are adept in doing this. They are artists themselves.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

How would the Buddhists employ the bonded labourers, because the Buddha’s basic philosophy is against all this?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

No, no.  It is not the Buddhists. It is the donor, you know. Donor will say…  (interrupted)

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Was there a sangha at Ajanta? Was donor himself in charge or was there a sangha at the sangharama of Ajanta?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Sangha may not have been in charge. A patron is there. He may go to a monk and ask him that I want to donate this to you. And, through the donor he may do it. But, ultimately it is the wish of the donor. Suppose the bonded labour is there. The person is like feudatory, as you said Ashmaka feudatory was there. You know, he has an army of a thousand bonded labourers. They will remove this mass and clear everything. And, when it comes to carving, then the Buddhist monks themselves might do.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Sir, in the entire study for more than a century or so, we have been trying to study Ajanta, explain Ajanta. One thing that I, as a reader and student, do not find the explanation of, how can there be a sangharama without the presence of a Sangha?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Sangharama is vihara proper, I think.  Sangha, that is, different sects were there. The sects would be doing this job.

 

 

Dr. R.K. Singhll

They had their own Sangha, right? There were many Sanghas, not one Sangha?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Of course. No doubt about that.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Sangha is one of the three ratnas: the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha. Right? And, right from the time of the Buddha up till today, the absence and lack of role of the Sangha in a monastery cannot be even thought of. You know, the communion, the community. And, therefore, how do we see? Is it possible to imagine that there was no presence of the Sangha at Ajanta?

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Very difficult to say. Because we are thinking from the present point of view. You know our point of view is present, what is happening today.  But there is some Sanghapati must be there, virtually.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

In the inscription they themselves mention of donating the monastery or the cave to the Sangha. The word is used. Sangha was there?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Sangha may have been there. Because Sangha is there and sanghapati is there. The surname Sanghvi in Jains is from sanghapati.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

So, what would have been the relationship between the Sangha and the donor?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

The Sangha may be deciding. Suppose the donor says, I want a Buddha image here, or an Avalokiteshvara here, or a Tara there, then how that Tara should be, her iconography, what type of Tara she should be, that the Sangha may be doing, because the donor may not have any idea of that.

Dr. R.K. Singh

Who do you think were the painters? Which section of society or community they came from?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

All these artisans or artists, they came from the lower classes that way. Because even today you see, like the potters and all these people come from lower classes. But as I said, you know, till about the fifth or sixth century this caste system was not very rigid. That is one thing. They must be respected also, because the vastu texts tell us about four different types of artists. One is the architect, then there is the sculptor, then there is the painter, and the fourth is the man who should be adept and expert in all these three branches. There was specialization. The architects were special, the painters were special, and the sculptors were special. But there was a fourth community and that is the sutradhara. He is the sutradhara. The vastu text calls him the sutradhara and he was supposed to be the expert in all the branches as architecture, sculpture, painting, etc. And, then you have got in Ajintha only one name of an artist, and that is in Cave No 16, which is the most important cave at Ajintha. Harishena is there, isn't it? Your favourite Harishena, and that is on the right wall of the paintings. But, you see it is not visible now, but it was definitely there. Because not only me, I have published it as you know. Shri Yugadhara, that is the name of the artist, and from the name it seems that he came from the upper classes. Yugadhara the name… (interrupted)

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Sir, that inscription is not there.

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

I don’t know. About that inscription… I was told later, because I have published also, and that was later examined by the government epigraphist also. I think Ramesh went there, and he saw it, and he gave a report also to the government.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Sir, are you implying, — this caste system and all this obviously belongs to the brahmanical tradition, not to the Buddhist tradition — are you implying that these painters came from the brahmanical tradition?

 

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Very difficult to say, to tell you the truth. Very difficult to say unless there is evidence for that. We do not have any definitive evidence. The inscription should say that this person is the Yugadhara, he was a brahman from this village, or something like that, and he has painted this thing. Such inscriptions are not there. But they came from lower communities. Many of them, most of them rather; architects, etc.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Sir, in the Chulvagga there is a discourse, where Ananda or Maudgalyayana asks the Buddha that you seem to have objection to everything that we want to do and, therefore, you please tell us who will undertake the task of constructing a monastery or shelter. Initially, the Buddha was not willing for any kind of shelter, and later on, he …  (interrupted)

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

But the Buddha had many gandhakutis.  Several gandhakutis, you know. And the gandhakuti at Shravasti was his favourite. At Kausambi, that Ghositarama, he built a gandhakuti for the Buddha. In Kanheri, there is a gandhakuti. The inscription says gandhakuti.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

In the same discourse, sir, the question came up that who should undertake the construction of the gandhakuti or arama. Then, the Buddha is reported to have replied that ‘Oh, monks! I order you to undertake the task of construction of the monastery’, or a vihara, or arama?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

The task of construction, we should not take it verbally. In the sense that you go and put the bricks over there; it was not like that. You construct means you get it done.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

‘Karyanispaditam’as is said in Cave No. 26 inscription at Ajanta.

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Get it done, it is meant. How could Ananda? Ananda cannot put one brick over the other.

 

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Now, sir most of the caves it appears were abandoned, suddenly, or very rapidly, due to a certain political problem in the times. Would you agree to the idea?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Actually, you know, political problems are not that way responsible for it. But, the relaxing of the rule for the monks in the community, Buddhist community, particularly the Mahayanist, that is responsible for it. And, in the sense that by the fifth or sixth century, etc. when the Vajarayana thing comes, there is tantric Buddhism; and this tantric Buddhism has completely destroyed Buddhism itself.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Sir, one last question I would like to ask from you, because the problem is how we have explained the monuments in purely physical terms, iconographic terms, archaeological terms, but it was for human beings who made it and there was human activities. Is there any evidence, is there any insight of what were the modes of worship or veneration inside these monasteries?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

As I told you earlier that Buddhism was not a different religion at all in the ancient times. It was a sort of another sect like just as Pashupata is there, there is Vaishnavism; Shaivism is there. It was something like that. And the worshippers offered flowers to the god. They recited the text.  That was the worship there. But it was not like worship, in India, that the Hindus do it, like the image is given the bath. Because if you see the donative inscriptions, Hindus particularly, they refer to two types of puja. That is rangabhoga and angabhoga. Angabhoga in the sense that the god is given bath. Bath is given to the god. Then sweet smelling oil is applied. Even milk bath, even dahi bath, ghee bath. This sort of thing is angabhoga. But rangabhoga is recital, the dance, the music. In temples you know the rangamandap is at the centre. And that is the rangabhoga. Whether there is rangabhoga in Buddhist I doubt very much.  But they offer flowers or agarbatti or sweet smelling things. And particularly in gandhakutis, Buddha liked the smell very much. Therefore, his abode, where he lived is known as gandhakuti.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Sir in Cave No 10, the word pasada appears. What is the meaning of the word?

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Prasada is building.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Any building?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

No, no. Prasada is a palace sort of building, very rich building.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

But the spelling is pasada.

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

That is, in Prakrit; it becomes pasada.  

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Not prasada.

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

No, it is pasada. It is shortened. See, the persons who engraved the inscription, he may be illiterate. Many mistakes that they do may be because of the person who engraved this inscription. Like, you know, our railway stations; you see that the contract is given on the basis of… and our south Indian is brought to write the devanagari letters; and you know how they write, the mistakes they do. So, it was something like that.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Sir, one last question. What is the importance of Ajanta in the world of art and heritage?

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

It is a very difficult question. It looks very simple but it is not as simple as that. The role of Ajintha is… one thing particularly, which you do not see anywhere else… With so many paintings on the walls, etc., and in good condition. Particularly, if you take the paintings in Caves No. 1, 2, 16, and 17; they are in really good condition in that way. Whatever we do, even then they are still there in spite of our conservation. So that is why it is really important. Nowhere else you see that.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

Thank you so much Prof. Dhavalikar for your insight on Ajanta.

 

Prof. M.K. Dhavalikar

Thank you very much.

 

Dr. R.K. Singh

In the next video we shall have more scholars.

 

 

M.K.Dhavalikar is a historian and archaeologist with great command on the subject of the Ajanta caves. He received the Padma Shri award for his contributions to the study of Indian history.