Ajanta and Ellora caves are pieces of evidence of ancient sculptures that are situated in Aurangabad. Well, people might think that both are the same caves and are located in one place, but that’s not true, people might have understood it in the wrong way. First, you should understand that both are different caves located at different places.
Ajanta caves are cut into the mountains and form a horseshoe shape around the Wangorah river. They are the best examples of one of India’s most unique architectural traditions which are known as the rock-cut temples because the caves or the temple were built by cutting the rocks/mountains. Ajanta caves are strongly dedicated to Buddhism and it consists of 30 caves each dedicated to the life of Buddha.
Each cave is filled with wall murals, sculptures, and ceiling paintings. The Ajanta caves are built dating back to the 2nd century B.C.E. to 650 C.E. and were cut into the mountain rock in two phases. The caves were discovered accidentally in 1819 by British soldiers when he was on a hunt. The Ajanta Caves have become an iconic location of ancient Indian art, and have influenced many artistic styles. The caves at the site are not numbered according to the time. Instead, their numbering is based on the location, beginning with the cave 1 on the north side of the horseshoe.
All of the caves at Ajanta come into the category of Vihara which means the monasteries with residence halls, or Chaitya-grihas means sanctuaries/stupa monument halls. Each cave has its own unique characteristics, so it is quite difficult to explain all things about the caves yet.
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The Ajanta caves are fully covered in darkness. In fact, this lack of light is very important to the valuable experience at Ajanta. However, in some of the caves, there is dim artificial lighting created by oil lamps in the past, but the majority of the caves remain almost completely dark and without the help of artificial lighting, the caves remain in their original state till now, which is very amazing to explore.
Well, the history of the caves is interesting, as the caves may have been built in two phases meanwhile centuries from each other. The first set or the phase was built during the 2nd century BCE to the 1st century CE whereas, the second set or the phase may have been built in the 5th century.
First Period Caves refer as Satavahana are Caves 9, 10, 12, 13, and 15A, as these were the earliest constructed caves. Most of the researchers believe that the caves show a heavy influence of the Hinayana or Theravada group of Buddhism. This group believes that the caves were built under the backing of the Satavahana Dynasty. Other studies, suggest the date of the period of construction during the reign of the Mauryan Empire.
Well, Ajanta Caves, shows the Life Circle of Lord Buddha. The main categorize feature of the caves of the earlier period is their emphasis on the stupa structure rather than sculptures. Both caves 9 and 10 are stupa based with the worship hall and caves 12, 13, and 15A are based on the vihara where the monks lived, the style of construction. Additionally, the Hinayana phase in Buddhism did not worship Buddha as a Hindu God. According to some ancient records, Buddha himself prohibits the painting and sculpting of his images. However, this changed over the other next centuries as the Mahayana phase of Buddhism began. This school was strongly influenced by the Hindu way of worship and monks to spread the message and teachings of Buddhism resorted to manifesting Buddha, his life, and tales into visual representations.
The Second Period Caves refer to as Vakataka are the Caves 1-8, 11, and 14-29. These caves known as the caves from the Vakataka period there is some variation over the exact time of construction. For many years it was thought that the caves were built between the 4th and 7th centuries however, some studies by Walter Spink suggest that the period of construction was, in fact, short and lasted from 460 to 480 CE.
King Harishena from the Vakataka dynasty was believed to be the chief patron of the second period of caves. Caves that come under this period are no. 1-8, 11, and 14-29. This set of caves comes under the Mahayana phase of Buddhism and is home to amazing unique sculptures and paintings. However, the paintings and sculptures became a source of worship.
The Caves 19, 26, and 29 are chaitya Grihas or prayer halls. The rest of the caves are viharas or houses for monks. Interestingly, not all Caves are complete, there are some incomplete caves also that were abandoned after the death of Harishena. Though there is evidence that the caves were in use, most probably by the monks who lived there, their numbers might have dwindled over time.
The first phases of the caves were left abandoned for more than three centuries before the rule of Harishena began. The king along with his Prime Minister Varahadeva and sub-king Upendragupta permitted the digging of the new caves.
Only Cave 26 continued to be under construction because the Asmaka kings permitted it. From 478-480, no new caves were built, but a lot was added to the caves that existing ones. These changes were small additions, such as adding statues and smaller shrines, and were seen primarily on the façade, walls of the inside caves, and the returning sides of the entrance. Spink’s chronology was based on the dating of the neighboring caves, the style of the arts, the chronology of the dynasties, and the many incomplete features of the caves
In 1819, John Smith discovered cave no. 10; however, the locals were aware of their existence at that time. Within a few years of his discovery, the caves became famous for their location; rock-cut arts, and magnificent architecture.
The painting of the Ajanta Caves is a fascinating part of the caves. Some paintings are from the Satvahana period and some are also from the Gupta period and even later. The wall paintings in the Ajanta Caves are painted with elaborate distinguishing features.