From the Jacket
This is part of the series of guidebooks being published by the Archaeological Survey of India to showcase World Cultural Heritage Sites in India. The book focuses on the Buddhist rock-cut caves of Ajanta located amid the Sahyadri's dense foliage.
The caves are situated at a distance of 605 km from the village of Fardapur in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra. Fardapur lies 55 km from Jalgaon, which is also the nearest railhead. The nearest airport is in also the nearest railhead. The nearest airport is in Aurangabad city, 103 km away.
There are thirty caves at Ajanta, including the unfinished ones, of which five are chaitya-grihas and the rest, sangharamas or viharas (monasteries). The earliest excavations at Ajanta date from the second century BC. Excavation was revived on a much more ambitious scale after a quiescence of about four centuries. The most vigorous period of architectural and artistic activity seems to have coincided with the second half of the fifth century AD and the first half of the sixth century AD.
The Ajanta caves are celebrated for their world famous paintings that exhibit the skill and imagination of consummate artists. The sculptures, mostly dating from the fifth and sixth centuries AD, are remarkable for their classic qualities and exude graceful elegance, restraint and serenity.
About the Book
Rock-cut caves near Ajanta, possessing perfect specimens of Indian mural painting perfect specimens of Indian mural paintings were discovered in 1819 by a band of British officers while hunting a tiger.
These caves excavated in a semi-circular scarp overlooking a narrow gorge, includes five chaitya-grihas and some twenty-five viharas or monasteries. They were excavated between the second century BC and seventh century AD and served as sanctuaries for Buddhist monks during the monsoons.
The caves of Ajanta are famous for their architectural qualities, graceful elegance and serenity of sculptures, and above all, the world famous painting that adorn their interiors.
The painting are intensely religious in tone and theme and depict the lives and times of Buddha and Bodhisattvas. They also act as a sort of illuminated history of those time - court scenes, street scenes, cameos of domestic life as well as animal and bird sanctuaries. These murals have stood the test of the highest standard of mural paintings.
I am hopeful that readers - both tourists and academicians -would find the new format of the guidebook informative and useful.
The caves at Ajanta are excavated in the semi-circular scarp of a steep rock, about 76 m high, overlooking a narrow sinuous gorge, through which flows the stream Waghora descending at the head of the ravine beyond Cave 28 in a waterfall of seven leaps, known as Satkund From Cave 16 the visitor can have a convenient view of the waterfall. It is not known under whose initiative and patronage the nucleus of these monastic aeries sprouted, but behind the selection of the spot was at work an artistic mind, keenly appreciative of the beauties of nature. The caves, excavated for the use of the minks during their retreat in the rainy season (varshavasa), when the valley was, as it is even now, at its best in verdant beauty, with the stream attaining its utmost breadth and volume, were laid amidst idyllic surroundings, completely shut off from the distractions of the mundane world. This natural beauty, coupled with prefect seclusion, contributed to the serenity and calm contemplation of the monks and was not an inconsiderable factor in promoting inspiration in the artist.
The caves are cut out of the amygdaloid trap rock. Extending over 550 m they are aligned in a horseshoe form. Their general arrangement was not pre-planned, as they sprang up sporadically in different periods. Their floor-levels are not uniform, the lowest being Cave 8 and the highest Cave 29. A terraced path of modern construction connects most of the caves, but in ancient times individual stairways linked the steam with each cave. Most of the stairs have disappeared with the collapse of the front of the caves, only a few, those of Caves 16 and 17, having partly survived.
The caves, including the unfinished ones, are thirty in number, of which five ( 9, 10, 19, 26 and 29) are chaitya- grihas (sanctuary) an the rest sangharamas or viharas (monastery). They resolve themselves into two distinct phases of Buddhist rock-cut architecture, separated from each other by an interval of about four centuries. The earlier group, comprising six excavations, is an offshoot of the same Buddhist movement, which produced caves at several other places in the Deccan, like Bhaja, Kondane, Pitalkhora, Nasik, etc. of the six early caves at Ajanta, two, 9 and 10 , are chaitya-grihas and four, 8, 12, 13, and 15 A, monasteries . The chaitya-grihas are characterized by a vaulted ceiling the exterior façade being dominated by a huge horseshoe-shaped window, known as chaitya-window, over the doorway.
Internally the chaitya-grihas are divided by colon-nades into a central nave, an apse and side-aisles, the latter continuing behind the apse and, thus, providing for circumambulation. At the centre of the apse stands the object of worship in the form of a chaitya or stupa, also hewn out of the live rock; as the Buddhists were still laboring under the convention of not representing the Master in hi bodily form1. The most striking feature about the chaitya-grihas is the servile imitation of wooden construction, including the general contour and essential details.
The rock-cutter went to the extent of using wooden beams and rafters even though they were non-functional. The plan of the monasteries consists of an astylar hall, meant for congregation, with a range of cells on three sides, serving as the dwelling-apartments for monks. All these caves are pre-Christian in date, the earliest to be excavated being Cave 10, dating from the second century BC.
After a quiescence of about four centuries excavation was revived on a much more ambitious scale. The most prolific phase of this movement synchronized with the supremacy of the Vakatakas, contemporaries of the Imperial Guptas of north India, the two families being related by matrimony. Indeed, some of the finest caves, along with paintings, owe their origin to the munificence of the official and feudatories of the Vakatakas of Vatsagulma (modern Basim, District Akola, Maharashtra). Thus, Varahadeva, the minister of the Vakataka king Harishena (circa AD 475-500), dedicated Cave 16 to the Buddhist sangha, while Cave 17 was the gift of a prince (who subjugated Asmaka country), feudatory to the same king.
The most vigorous period of architectural and artistic activity seems to have coincided with the second half of the fifth century AD and the first half of the sixth century AD. There was a considerable decline in the creative impulse from the seventh century, though Hiuen Tsnag (Xuznzang), the celebrated Chinese pilgrim, who visited India in the first half of the seventh century AD, has left a graphic description of the flourishing Buddhist establishment here.
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