Ajanta Cave Temples

The Ajanta Caves are situated north of Aurangabad in Maharashtra. They get their name from the village of Ajanta that is located nearby. The caves were discovered in 1819 by a British army officer. He stumbled on them by accident during a hunting expedition. The caves are carved out of a horse shoe shaped rock surface that overlooks a water stream. The rock cliff is nearly 76 metres tall. There are 31 caves in all and it is believed that they were carved in the 2nd century BC as a retreat for Buddhist monks during the rainy season. They were used as prayer halls for about nine centuries and then abruptly abandoned. Today, the Ajanta Caves are an important tourist destination of India and famous for their magnificent murals.

The Ajanta Caves are important because they include paintings and sculptures considered to be masterpieces of Buddhist religious art. Some paintings reflect the 'Theravada' tradition of depicting the Buddha only in symbolic form such as a throne or footprints. Others feature colourful murals and statues depicting the life of the Buddha and various Bodhisattvas. There are also frescoes which are reminiscent of the paintings found in Sri Lanka, and some of the caves depict scenes from everyday life and inscriptions. Inspired by faith and devotion, each figure has been carved by the monks using just hammer and chisel. The caves of Ajanta reflect the achievements of the Gupta and post-Gupta period in Indian history. They tell us the story of a rich and a glorious past. There are 31 caves in Ajanta, including some unfinished ones. Of them, five caves are prayer halls Chaityas and rest caves are monasteries- Viharas.

The paintings in the Ajanta Caves depict different incidents in the life of Buddha, as well as contemporary events and social life. A special technique was used to execute the paintings. The rock surface was first prepared with elaborate care, and scored with chisel marks and grooves to hold the next layers in place. A first layer of red earth mixed with rock-grit or sand, vegetable fibres, and grass was then applied on the rough surface of walls and ceilings. The surface was finally finished with a thin coat of lime wash. Outlines were drawn on the surface and the spaces were filled with colours. The paintings of Ajanta Caves are not frescoes in the accepted sense of the world. Frescoes are painted while the lime wash is still wet so that it acts as a binding agent but those of the Ajanta Caves use glue as the binding agent.

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