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Ajanta Caves :- Ajanta is located 107 kilometers from Aurangabad and 60 kilometers from Jalgaon. A cluster of 32 Buddhist caves not far from a medieval village of the same name, the site is a protected monument in the care of the Archaeological Survey of India. Moreover, since 1983, the Ajanta Caves have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The thirty rock-hewn caves at Ajanta, cut into the scarp of a cliff are either Chaityas (chapels) or Viharas (monasteries). On the walls of the caves are paintings, many still glowing with their original colours. The outer walls are covered with brilliantly executed sculpture. The Buddhist theme of the Ajanta paintings recounts the life of Lord Buddha and tales of his previous earthly experiences.
The caves, cut into the face of a mountain, form a horseshoe shape around the Wangorah River. They are an example of one of Indian’s unique artistic traditions known as rock cut temples. Ajanta consists of thirty caves, each dedicated to the life of the Buddha.
Ajanta Caves, 30 spellbinding Buddhist prayer halls and monasteries carved, as if by sorcery, into a horseshoe-shaped rock face in a mountainous region of India’s Maharashtra state, 450km (280 miles) east of Mumbai, were ‘discovered’ by accident in 1819.
Unknown for more than 1,000 years except to wild animals, insects, flood waters, prodigious foliage and perhaps the local Bhil people, this magnificent work of art, architecture and contemplation, was abandoned by those who created it as long ago as AD 500. In 1983 it was designated a Unesco World Heritage Site.
John Smith, a young British cavalry officer, was on a tiger hunt when he spotted the mouth of a cave high above the Waghora (Tiger) River that could only have been man made. Scrambling up with his party, Smith entered the cave and, branding a flaming grass torch, encountered a great vaulted and colonnaded hall, its walls covered in faded paintings. Beneath a dome, a timeless praying Buddha fronted a mound-like shrine, or stupa.
Smith carved his name on a statue of a Bodhisattva, a figure representing one of the past lives of the Buddha before he achieved Nirvana, or union with the divine spirit. Since then, thousands of people have added their names as the Ajanta caves – a gallery of the oldest and some of the finest of all Buddhist art – has gained fame and become a compelling tourist attraction.
News of Smith’s find spread quickly. In 1844, Major Robert Gill was commissioned by the Royal Asiatic Society to create reproductions on canvas of the wall paintings. This was the beginning of measures to reveal and document the prayer halls (chaityagrihas) and monasteries (viharas) that had, it seems, been hewn from solid rock in two phases, the first – five prayer halls – between the 1st and 2nd centuries BC and, the second – 25 monasteries, or monks’ lodgings – in the 5th Century AD.
Along with the1st Century AD architecture, these paintings showed remarkable affinities to classical Greek art. This was not coincidence, but evidence of a Greco-Indian culture that had spread from the 4th Century BC expeditions of Alexander the Great. It stretched through Hellenistic kingdoms and trade routes from the Mediterranean to Persia, Afghanistan and India – with Ajanta along the way – to distant China and Japan.
Twenty-seven of Gill’s canvases were displayed in the Indian Court of the Crystal Palace at Sydenham, south London; in 1866, 23 were destroyed by fire. Newly armed with a camera as well as brushes, Gill set to work again. Meanwhile, the Royal Cave Temple Commission founded by the Royal Asiatic Society in 1848 had led to the foundation in 1861 of the Archaeological Survey of India. Concern for the treasures of Ajanta grew, as did the number of intrepid experts and treasure hunters, some of whom did more than carve their names on statues:
they scraped paintings from walls which crumbled into dust. One of the few known surviving paintings to have left Ajanta intact is in the care of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts today. It had been sold in 1924 for £1,000 at Sotheby’s in London. The Government of Bombay commissioned new copies of the Ajanta cave paintings in 1872 from John Griffiths, principal of the Bombay School of Art. Griffiths and his students produced 300 paintings, only for a third to go up in flames at London’s Imperial Institute in 1885.
In 1909, Lady Herringham, suffragette and art patron, began further copies with help from the Calcutta School of Art, and from the late 1920s the Indian art historian Ghulam Yazdani made a comprehensive photographic survey of the art of Ajanta, published in four volumes between 1930 and 1955. That was the year the surviving Griffiths paintings were put in store by the Victoria & Albert Museum. Inaccessible and forgotten for half a century, in 2005 81 were uncovered and restored.
Ajanta Ellora Cave
Built during 600 to 1000 CE, Ellora Caves lie in the Sahyadri hills in Aurangabad and is a 2-hour drive from the Ajanta cave. The Ellora Caves comprise Hindu, Buddhist and Jain temples and over a 100 caves with only 34 open to the public excavated from the basalt cliffs in the Charanandari hills. Ellora Caves served as lodgings to the travelling Buddhist and Jain monks besides being a site for the trade route. There are 17 Hindu caves, 12 Buddhist and five Jain caves with deities, carvings and even monasteries depicting the mythology of each religion. These caves constructed near each other stand for the harmony and solidarity among all faiths and beliefs.
A part of the Hindu and Buddhist Caves were built during the Rashtrakuta dynasty, and the Jain Caves were built by the Yadav dynasty. It is not yet established as to which caves were built first – the Hindu or the Buddhist. Based on the archaeological evidence found at various sites it was deduced that there were essentially three major construction periods for the Ellora caves: early Hindu period from 550 to 600 CE, Buddhist period from 600 to 730 CE, and the final phase, the Jain and Hindu period lasting from 730 to 950 CE.
Architecture Ellora Cave
Although the deities and idols in the caves have been damaged, the paintings, carvings remain as it is. The inscriptions on the walls of the Ellora Caves date back to the 6th century and a famous one is the Rashtrakuta Dantidurga on the mandapa of Cave 15 inscribed during 753 to 757 AD. Out of all the excavations done, Cave 16 or Kailasha temple – a monument dedicated to Shiva is the largest single monolithic rock excavated in the world. It was built during 757-783 AD by Krishna I who was the uncle of Dantidurga.