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     The Ajanta caves consist of 30 Caves including the unfinished ones, dating back from 200 BC to 250 AD. These caves are situated 104 kms from Aurangabad and 52 kms from Jalgaon Railway Station. The caves are cut from the volcanic lava of the Deccan in the forest ravines of the Sahyadri Hills and are set in beautiful sylvan surroundings.

They were discovered accidentally by a British Captain, John Smith in 1819, while on a hunting expedition. Ajanta provides a unique combination of architecture, sculpture and paintings. Two basic types of monastic Buddhist architecture are preserved at Ajanta, the Chaitya or prayer hall (Cave Nos. 9,10,19,26 & 29) and Vihara  or monastery (remaining 25 Caves). These caves suggest a well defined form of architecture, broadly resolving into two phases with a time gap of about 4 Centuries from each other. In the Hinayana Phase are included two Chaitya Halls (Cave Nos. 9&10) and 4 Viharas (Cave Nos. 8, 12, 13 & 15A). In the Mahayana Phase are included 3 Chaityas (Cave nos. 19 & 26 and 29 being incomplete) and 11 exquisite Viharas (Cave Nos. 1,2,4,6,7,11,15,17 and 20 to 24).

The Ajanta sculptures of the Mahayana Phase establish a formal religious imagery. While the Hinayana monuments at the site are virtually devoid of carvings, Cave l, is one of the finest monasteries and the interior paintings here, are among the greatest at Ajanta. Graciously posed Bodhisatvas namely Padmapani and Vajrapani with elaborate headdresses flank the antechamber doorway

The walls on the side of the antechamber depict the assault and temptation by Mara and the miracle at Sravasti. Scenes from the Jataka tales such as Shibi Jataka, Samkhpala Jataka, Mahajanka Jataka, and Champeyya Jataka are depicted in the walls of the cave. Cave 2, monastery repeats the basic scheme of Cave 1, and is also remarkable for its painted ceiling. The paintings include, variety of designs, scrollwork, geometric patterns, miniature seated Buddha's, dream of the Buddha's mother, Maya and the birth of the Buddha, procession of female devotees carrying offerings and scenes from the Hamsa Jataka and Vidhurapandita Jataka. Caves 4 & 6 are Viharas or Monasteries of architectural interest.

Cave 9, 10, 12 & 15A, are Chaitya Halls of the Hinayana period. Cave 10 is among the first excavations at the site and is one of the most impressive early Buddhist Chaitya Halls in Western India dating back to the 2nd Century BC. This cave contains both the earlier and later groups of paintings. Scenes from the Sama Jataka and Chhaddanta Jataka are depicted. Cave 12 has lost its facade, with the result that the interior square hall is now exposed. In cave 15A only portions of the front wall survive. Cave 14, 15 & 16, are Viharas belonging to the Mahayana Phase. Cave 14 was planned on a large scale, but was never finished. The verandah of cave 15 has mostly fallen. Above the doorway is a stupa sheltered by a canopy of serpent hoods. Buddha images appear in the shrine and on the rear wall of the hall.

Cave 16 is one of the finest monasteries at Ajanta. Within the hall on the left wall is an illustration of the conversion of Nanda, Buddha's cousin. Other paintings include the miracle of Sravasti, elephant procession, Buddha begging for alms from his wife and son, Gautam's first meditation, scenes from the Hasti Jataka and Maha Ummagga Jataka. Cave 17, a vihara preserves the greatest number of wall-paintings which includes a row of eight Buddha's, a much damaged panel of Indra flying through the clouds accompanied by his troupe of celestial dancers, Apsaras and Musicians, Buddha subduing Nalagiri, the furious elephant sent by his jealous cousin, Devadatta and scenes from various Jataka tales such as the Chhaddanta Jataka, Mahamapi Jataka, Vessantara Jataka, Sutasoma Jataka, Matiposaka Jataka, Sama Jataka, Ruru Jataka and Nigrodhamriga Jataka. Cave 19, is a perfectly executed rock-cut Chaitya. Cave 20 is a small monastery in which the antechamber protrudes into the hall and there are no columns. Caves 21 to 24 represent the last examples of work at Ajanta. They are all in different stages of completion. Cave 26 is a Chaitya Hall larger than that of Cave 19, but is otherwise similar in its arrangements and decorative scheme. 

 

 

 

 

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