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The window above the entrance to this cave was first spotted by Capt. John Smith in 1819, over 1000 years after being hidden from view. This sighting led to the re-discovery of the astounding labour of love, faith, hope, religion and sedulity.
The cave is the earliest assembly hall and may have been the first cave to be excavated from amongst the 30 caves. It contains the largest number of paintings. Don’t miss the painting on the left wall behind the third pillar. This is a record of the progress of the painting going on in the cave. Unfortunately, many of the paintings have been desecrated by vandals who have scribbled on the paintings.
In the cave, two jatakas are still distinct. One is of Sama, the sole supporter of his blind parents, who was killed by an arrow of the king of Varanasi but later brought to life. The other story is about Chhaddanta, a royal elephant and his two wives. One wife gets him killed by a hunter as she thinks that her husband loves the other wife only. However, she dies out of contriteness when the hunter brings back the royal elephant’s tusks to her as proof of the killing. Shine your torch from the side (almost touching the painting) at the necklace worn by the ladies in the paintings and watch it glow.
Written Feb 29, 2012
Though most of the wall paintings are destroyed, those of the ceilings are remarkable and very representative of the skill of the painters. The themes are mostly of flying figures, fruits and of birds. There is one detailed painting of two comical characters, seated with the one of the left wearing coloured socks. Another painting is of innumerable small Buddhas in the lotus pose. Yet another great work of art is that of a lady who is begging for mercy from a king who is brandishing his sword. She is on her knees and is bent double with her forehead on the floor, her spine making a seductive arch. One more is of a dusky beauty with her left foot bent at the knee and her feet against a door jamb.
Written Feb 29, 2012
This cave is as magnificent as Cave 1 but is a smaller one. Even the pillars are as richly decorated as those of Cave 1. Watch out for the stone carving of a seated Hariti and her consort in a small chapel. Ladies may note the hair styles and the ornaments of the painted female forms, things that are a common theme is all the paintings at the Ajanta caves.
Updated Feb 29, 2012
One of the best, so save it for the last. The pillars in the verandah are as richly decorated as the ones inside, especially the two middle columns at the back. On the frieze of the left hand-side chapel, except for the image of a monk, all the other three ominous sights that Buddha saw before his renunciation are there – a dead man, a sick man, an old man. The fourth and final sight was that of a monk.
Watch out for the four deer who share a common head, yet the sculpture does not look odd. There is such consummate skill at work here.
There is a huge image of the Buddha in the preaching pose in the sanctum. The two deer at the bottom of this statue refers to the first discourse of the Buddha gave at the Deer Park at Sarnath.
The paintings in this cave are par excellence, for example, the Bodhisattvas holding a lily. Yet another masterpiece is Mara’s (demon) temptation of the Buddha on the eve of his Enlightenment through his two beautiful daughters. On the walls, you may see innumerable jataka stories painted with loving care and precision. Yet another is the painting of a bull-fight.
Updated Feb 27, 2012
The 30 caves were excavated (dug out, sculptures chiselled and paintings done) in two phases:
Phase 1=2nd century BC to 2nd century AD = Caves 9 & 10 (chityas) and Caves 12 & 13 (viharas)
Phase 2=3rd century AD to 7th century AD = Caves 19, 26, 29 (chityas) and Caves 1-7, 11, 14-18, 20-25, 27, 28, 30 (viharas)
Caves 3, 5, 8, 23-25, 28, 29 are unfinished.
If you are pressed for time, visit only caves 1, 2, 9, 10, 16, 17, 19, 26.
Written Feb 27, 2012
A brief definition of some Buddhist words may be proper for a better appreciation and enjoyment of the stupendous wonders of the Ajanta and Ellora caves.
A ‘chaitya’ is a meeting or assembly hall; a ‘vihara’ is a dwelling place for the monks; a ‘stupa’ is a place where some relic of the Buddha, like hair or tooth or utensils used by him, is entomed.
The ‘Hinayana’ phase was when the Buddha was not worshipped directly but only through symbols like the stupa, the Bodhi tree or his footprints. Later, in the ‘Mahayana’ phase, the physical form or image of the Buddha was worshipped directly.
‘Boddhisattva’ is a term applied to those who could have become Buddha but chose to remain on earth to guide others to attain ‘mukta’ or salvation.
‘Jatakas’ are tales told by the Buddha of his previous births either as a human being or as an animal or bird to better explain his preachings. They are like the Christian parables. Both used such didactic stories to convey a moral. However, in the jatakas, the re-birth element is predominant.
Written Feb 27, 2012
There are 29 caves, so you can easily spend most of the day here. Bring water (or by it in the kiosks at the parking lot) with you when you walk. It can get really hot in the valley on the way to the caves. The caves are often cooler.
Updated Oct 8, 2011
The Ajanta Caves, also an UNESCO World Heritage Site, are older than their twin (Ellora Caves), dating from the 2nd century BC to the 6th century AD. The fall of the caves of Ajanta are actually due to Ellora and were actually forgotten about until a British hunter literally stumbled across them in 1819. The jungle had reclaimed them but the beautiful paintings had been fantastically preserved. The caves are stunningly set in a horseshoe around a gorge which, after the monsoon has waterfalls to boot - would imagine that is an awesome time to view here.
You must take an "eco bus" to the site of the caves. Now, I am taking a wild leap here and assuming that these chugging, old buses are called "eco" because, by using them they are limiting thevolume of traffic... The buses are relatively regular but be advised, when they are due to leave people emerged out of the blue to take them! You pay the conductor (7INR per person) on the bus and the fare is one way.
There are many steps to climb at Anjanta which are tiresome in the blanket of heat. You can, should you so wish, hire a chair with 4 carriers and pretend you are modern day Maharaja. One of my children was very ill so I actually did pay for one for him. It was either that or giving him a piggy back which I certainly did not fancy! I regretted it in as much as the chair carriers are in a hurry to get around the site so that they can get their next ride. I gave them what I think was a good tip but they started shouting at me demanding I give them that each (on top of the payment for the chair) - it niggled me!
NB flash photography is not allowed.
At the time of my visit (April 2010) all caves were open to the public but the rumour is that they are going to be closing some off to preserve the artworks.
The paintings are quite remarkable BUT my advice is if you intend to visit both the Ellora and the Ajanta caves, to visit Ajanta first as Ellora really are superior!
as with all sites in India there is one fee for Indians and another for visitors!
and as all sites in India, anybody hanging around the cave who starts "casually" talking to you about the cave(s)... is a guide official or unofficial and is after baksheesh!
Updated Apr 26, 2010
The dramatic setting of the Ajanta Caves, carved in a cliff within the deep horseshoe-shaped gorge of the Waghora River, adds to their intrigue. The thirty caves line the outer bank of the gorge and are numbered sequentially with number 1 being the cave closest to the entrance of the site (except for caves 29 and 30). This numbering system does not correspond to the order in which they were carved; the caves in the centre are generally older, from the Hinayana period (2nd century BC - 1st century AD) when the depiction of Buddha in the human form was generally forbidden, whereas caves at either end date from the later Mahayana period (4th - 7th century AD) when Buddha was generally represented in a human form, as a statue or in painted murals. These later caves are the ones that contain the exuberant murals and statues for which Ajanta is best known. The attached photos show general views of the site and the tips further below describe each cave in more detail (11 must-see caves are denoted with a star "*").
Updated Mar 22, 2010
At the top of the hill on the opposite (inner) bank of the Waghora River is a strategic viewpoint over the entire 30 caves of Ajanta. To get there, one must cross one of the two concrete bridges (near Caves 8 and 27) and walk uphill for another 20 minutes. Undoubtedly, the views from there are stunning and make the hike worthwhile, but I chose skip it in order to save my energy on the hot sunny day when I was in Ajanta. Seen in the attached photograph, on the top of the hill on the left hand side, is this very viewpoint.
Updated Mar 15, 2010