Ajanta and Ellora Caves

Splendid work of Buddhist art


gray concrete building with statues
gray concrete building with statues

Ajanta and Ellora caves both are situated in the Aurangabad district of Maharashtra.

Though these two monuments are separated by a distance of approximately 100 km, they are often mentioned together since their aesthetics and importance.

Ajanta and Ellora are two monumental rock-cut caves that define Indian art and architectural accomplishment.

Ajanta caves are located in the Sahyadri ranges (Western Ghats). These are a series of rock-cut caves on Waghora river. Whereas Ellora caves are situated in the Charanandri hills.

The ancient art in these caves showcases a spirit of co-existence and religious tolerance through the outstanding architectural activities carried out by the followers of three prominent religions: Buddhism, Brahmanism, and Jainism.

Ajanta Caves:

Ajanta Caves are about 102 kilometres away from Aurangabad on the Aurangabad - Ajanta - Jalgaon road. Ajanta is a cluster of 30 caves of different sizes. Caves are situated in a horseshoe shaped stretch of rock embedded in a hill facing a narrow stream called Waghora. These caves are named after a nearby village called Ajanta. It includes masterpiece paintings of Buddhist religious art, with figures of the Buddha and depictions of the stories that tell about the previous lives of Buddha.

Ajanta Caves are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The caves were built in two phases, the first starting around the second century BCE and the second occurring from 400 to 650 CE. While the main purpose of the caves was to celebrate the glory of Gautama Buddha's life and achievements, they also provide an important insight into the Buddhist life and belief system and the reflection of its values in art.

The caves were created over a long period of time, spanning several centuries, and were the result of the collective efforts of various artisans, craftsmen, and Buddhist monks. The construction of the caves is believed to have begun around the 2nd century BCE during the Satavahana dynasty and continued through the rule of the Vakataka dynasty until the 5th century CE. These caves were built by carving into the volcanic basalt rock of the region, with each cave serving different purposes, including living quarters, meditation halls, and worship spaces. The caves were eventually abandoned and forgotten before being rediscovered in the 19th century.

There were two types of caves—Vihara and Chaitya griha. Viharas are monasteries used for living and prayer. These are square halls with small cells along the sidewalls.These cells were used by monks for rest, while the central larger square space was for prayer. The other types of caves, Chaitya grihas, are halls used for prayers. These are long tunnel like caves with round pillars on both sides. At the end of the cave is placed the stupa, which is a symbol of Lord Buddha.

The Ajanta Caves are mentioned in the memoirs of several medieval-era Chinese Buddhist travellers.They were covered by jungle until accidentally "discovered" and brought to Western attention in 1819 by a colonial British officer Captain John Smith on a tiger-hunting party.

On 28 April 1819 a British officer named John Smith, of the 28th Cavalry, while hunting tigers was shown the entrance to Cave No. 10 when a local shepherd boy guided him to the location and the door. The caves were well known by locals already. Captain Smith went to a nearby village and asked the villagers to come to the site with axes, spears, torches, and drums, to cut down the tangled jungle growth that made entering the cave difficult.

Within a few decades, the caves became famous for their exotic setting, impressive architecture, and above all their exceptional and unique paintings.


Chaitya griha