The Magnificent Ajanta Caves

We stayed a day in Aurangabad to visit the Ellora Caves and now, in Jalgaon – so we can also see the beautiful historical paintings in the Ajanta Caves. Jalgaon is a dusty and loud city but is really well connected to both the caves. But we just chose to stay the night in Jalgaon, just so we can catch a train to Udaipur the next day.

We arrived to Jalgaon late at night and struggled to find a place to sleep. Amazingly, we didn’t find any touts offering us accommodations – we could’ve used one. With our ever-dependable Lonely Planet, we finally found a place to stay the night – at the Hotel Plaza (possibly the cleanest budget accommodation ever in all of India, a clean freak’s dream!)

The journey started early in the morning. We took the bus to Ajanta which is about 56m away from Jalgaon. It was a very pleasant way, the bus was almost empty, at least at the beginning, so we could observe the beautiful sights above the surrounding hills. The bus don’t reach Ajanta, it leaves you around 4 km away from it, in a crazy place called T-junction. Why is it crazy? Well, to get to the bus which takes you to the caves, you need to pass through a kind of souvenir market, specially created for western tourists. What’s really funny about it is that you need to pay a entrance fee of 5 Rupees, just to pass through, which can be a difficult task if you’re not good enough in saying “no”, the vendors are really skilled.

I really can’t find suitable words to describe how amazing the Ajanta caves are. First of all, it is situated in a magnificent place, a kind of canyon looking river valley, so the landscape is just breathtaking. The caves themselves are all Buddhist caves and they’re much more ornate than those in Ellora.

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Cave 1 – Spectacular illustration of Ajanta

The first cave of Ajanta is situated on the first end of the horse shoe shape. It is one of the latest caves to have been excavated, also one of the best caves, but never worshiped by the dedication of the Buddha image in the central shrine. This cave has one of the most imposing carved facades, with luscious sculptures and ridges. Most of the surfaces are ornamented with decorative carvings.

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Many princesses have also been carved on the walls of this first cave. They are heavily sprinkled over with a delicate tiara on their hair. Some of the are groups’ scenes which are intricately painted in such a manner that shows the  dancing with the musicians.

Animals of that time are also painted very well, like the golden geese, pink elephant, and bullfights. It suggests that all living things are one.

So, the incarnating images in this cave are skillfully designed and they are the prettiest pictures.  They reiterate the happiness. Lots of travelers are attracted to this cave.

Cave 2 – Known for its majestic ceiling paintings.

My favorite cave.

This second cave is another adorable excavation, famous for its paintings, walls, ceilings and pillars. The skill with which painters lay down on shafts for long years, to paint these pictures is greatly admired.

3Aj 4AjThe noteworthy feature of cave 2 is the heavy limbed, but swaying Avalokitesvara, with a flywhisk, who flanks the Buddha image.

Thousands of Buddha’s paintings are painted on the walls in a very creative manner. The rhythmic movement of the princess starting of the movement of the swing is on the wall of the right hand corridor. The innocent faces and the bursting youth of the girl, shows the change. Physical vitality leads ultimately to illumination.

6Aj 7Aj 8AjSo, this cave is heavily painted by the painters of that time and has been widely published. They depict the stories of Buddha’s life in enumerable ways. These paintings are didactic in nature, meant to inform the community about the Buddha’s teachings and life through successive rebirths. Most of the crowd moves toward it to get the experience of a real heritage site.

Cave 3 – Incomplete cave. The third cave of Ajanta is an incomplete cave that resembles a monastery.

Cave 4 – The largest monastery of Ajanta.

This cave is the largest monastery having a pillared veranda, sanctum sanctorum and a grand hall. It was once painted, even the traces of that can be noticed. Ceiling of the hall provides an illustrative impression of a lava flow.

12Aj 11Aj 13AjCave 5, 6, 7 & 8

Cave 5 is like the Cave 3, the excavation doesn’t go beyond it. This cave is also an unfinished one. Porch, doorway and female paintings on Makaras are exceptionally good ones.

15Aj 14Ajj 16Aj 17Aj19Aj 20Aj 21Aj  23Aj 24Aj 25Aj 26AjCave 6 conjures everyone towards it. Buddha is seated with his feet squat in its preaching attitude. Saravasti and temptation of Mara are some of the important paintings.

Cave 7’s carving of sculptures of Buddha is very simple.

Cave 8 once again an unfinished monastery similar to cave 3 and 5. It is the oldest of the monasteries of Ajanta.

Cave 9 consists of an entrance door, two side windows, central hall, and a stupa of worship. It has sculptures of Buddha and layers of paintings. These paintings are basically of Animals and herdsmen, giant horseshoe window, Naga worshipers, etc.

27AjCave 10 is similar to Cave 9. It is also another hall.

Cave 11 contains six cells and a long bench, a pillared verandah and a sanctum sanctorum. Little Buddha is carved on one of the walls. Paintings available in the cave are depictions of Bodhisattvas, figure of Buddha, etc. These paintings of Buddha are one of the earliest paintings at Ajanta.

Cave 12 is a monastery dated back to 2nd-1st century B.C. but later that Cave 10.

22AjCave 13 is a small monastery having an astylar hall with seven cells on three sides. These cells are provided with rock-cut beds.

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Mindblowing Caves of Ellora

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Sculptures of Buddhas in a Buddhist cave at Ellora.

WARNING: This is a long post. 😉

As a first-time visitor in Ellora, I was immediately impressed by the fact that all temples, pillars, balconies and sculptures have all been carved out of ONE piece of rock.

The masterpiece at Ellora is the Kailasa Temple. Dedicated to Shiva, it is the world’s largest monolithic sculpture, hewn from rock by over 7000 laborers over a 150-year period. Over 200.000 tons of rock has been removed to create the temple which covers an area twice the area of the Parthenon in Athens and is also 1½ times as high.

A visit to the Ellora Caves is a breathtaking experience. This is truly a World Heritage Site in the same class as the Pyramids, Petra or Taj Mahal and an absolute must place to stop at when you plan your India travel route.

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Behind us is the largest monolith rock cut excavation in the world – the spectacular Kailasa Cave.

Caves 1 – 12 comprise the Buddhist caves and monasteries and date back to the Chalukya dynasty (between the 7th and 8th centuries AD).

Caves 13 – 29 comprise the Hindu caves, carved between the the 7th and 9th centuries AD, and represent the peak of Ellora’s artistic development.

Caves 30 – 34 comprise Jain Caves and were carved in the late 9th century and represent the final stages of evolution of the Ellora Caves complex.

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Cave 33 (Jagannath Sabha)
Similar in plan to the Indra Sabha (Cave 32), the Jagannath Sabha along with Cave 34, has some very well preserved sculptures.

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Ellora features three different religions that thrived at the same site. Buddhism, Hinduism, & Jainism co-existed during the development of the Ellora Caves suggesting the religious harmony that existed in India at that time.

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This is Cave 2. The cave has a verandah, and houses images of Panchika, the God of Wealth and Hariti, the Goddess of Prosperity. Each of the walls in the hall has sculptures of Buddha flanked by celestial figures and Bodhisattvas. A similar but larger figure of the Buddha can be seen in the sanctuary.

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Caves 30 – 34 comprise Jain Caves and were carved in the late 9th century and represent the final stages of evolution of the Ellora Caves complex.

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Cave 10: This cave marks the peak of Chaitya dynasty architecture in India. The Vishvakarma, or “Carpenter’s Cave”, gets its named from the ribs carved on to the roof which give the effect of being wooden support beams. There is a large figure of the Buddha, about 15 foot tall, showing him in a teaching position. The hall has porticos on three sides which lets plenty of light into the cave and a flight of steps in the verandah leads to the upper gallery.

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Cave 21 (Ramesvara)
The Ramesvara Cave has beautiful figurines of the river goddesses Ganga and Yamuna at its entrance.
Cave 22 (Nilkantha)
The Nilkantha Cave has several sculptures.

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Inside the Kailash Temple (Rock-cut temple)

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Cave 5 (Mahrvada)
This Cave, called “Maharvada” and was used as a monastery (“vihara”) and consists of a spacious hall measuring 117 feet by 59 feet and divided into three columned aisles. The columns are decorated and benches have been carved out of the floor. The benches were sused by disciples while being taught the philosophies of Budhha. The monastery has a shrine for Buddha at the rear end and twenty cells for the monks.

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Cave 6
The cave has columned rectangular hall. The walls and columns of the hall are both well decorated with with figures of the Boddhisattva and the goddesses Tara and Mahamayuri.

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Cave 9
The highlight of this cave as wall carving depicting the Goddess Tara in the act of rescuing devotees from the snake, an elephant, a fire and a shipwreck. The cave also has an open terrace with a balcony and a shrine.

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Cave 12 (Teen Tal)
As implied by the name, Teen Tal is a three storeyed complex. This is the largest monastic complex at Ellora and entered through a courtyard. It contains a very large seated Budhha on the 3rd floor

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Cave 12

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Cave 10

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Citizens of India and visitors of SAARC (Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Maldives and Afghanistan) and BIMSTEC Countries (Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Myanmar) – Rs. 10 per head.
Others: US $ 5 or Indian Rs. 250/- per head
(children up to 15 years free)

Best season / time to visit Ellora Caves:

While it is possible to visit Ajanta Caves throughout the year it does become a bit challenging to walk and explore all the caves during the peak summer heat and during the monsoon rains.

One ideally should plan on 3-5 hours as the required amount of time to fully experience the Ajanta Caves – and there is a significant amount of walking required to cover the caves.

As such, the best time to visit Ajanta Caves is between October and March after the peak monsoon rains and before the onset of Summer.

Info from: http://www.rang7.com/ellora-caves