October 19, 2016

Ajanta Caves- Paintings and Sculptures from a Bygone Buddhist Era

Paintings in the rock cut caves of Ajanta requires absolutely no introduction. Dating to 2 BC these Buddhist cave monuments were functional until 650 CE after which they went into oblivion until it was rediscovered in 1819 CE by a British officer. Cut on the rocks along a horse shoe shaped gorge beside Waghora river, these caves belong to two different phases of Buddhism, Hinayana and Mahayana. Ajanta was one of the flourishing Buddhist site 1500- 2000 years ago. One of the best examples of ancient art and Buddhist religious art, the exquisite and vividly coloured paintings and sculptures in these monastic caves depict stories from Buddhist lives, reincarnations, Bodhisattvas and various others related to Buddha and Buddhism. Most these mural paintings are dilapidated and the remnants can presently be seen only in a few of these caves (1,2,9,10,16,17). All the 30 rock cut caves are either Chaityas (prayer halls) or Viharas (Buddhist monasteries). While the Chaityas are rectangular in shape with arched ceilings, the Viharas are squarish and symmetrical with many carved pillars.

Cave 1 is probably the most elaborately ornamented monasteries with magnificent paintings, carvings and sculptures. The cave houses some of the finest ancient Indian painting, Padmapani and Vajrapani.

With extensive paintings on its walls and ceilings depicting Buddha's previous lives and teachings, Cave 2 is one of the finest caves in Ajanta. The contrasting colours and its various shades make the paintings look vibrant even today.

Cave 4 was planned to be the largest of all the monasteries in Ajanta, however, it remained unfinished. The cave has numerous sculptures of Buddha in preaching poses.

Cave 9 is the oldest Chaitya and belongs to the Hinyana sect of Buddhism. While it houses a globular stupa with no shrine, the pillars and ceiling have remnants of paintings on them.

One of the earliest Chaityas to be carved in 2 BC, Cave 10 houses the biggest stupa in Ajanta which is flanked by pillars with paintings on Buddhist designs and themes.

Cave 16 had some of the finest paintings, most of which have now eroded over a period of time. It also has many sculptures of Buddha. The pillars which are devoid of carvings once had beautiful paintings on them.

Cave 17 has some of the most well preserved paintings in Ajanta. The paintings in this monastery are known for its vibrant colours. The paintings depict Buddha's previous lives and various decorative motifs. Though the pillars do not have any sculptures, the door frames have nice carvings.

With an elaborately sculptured facade, Cave 19 stands out as one of the richly designed and graceful Chaityas. The stupa has nice carvings and reaches all the way to the ceiling. The pillars too are well sculptured.

Cave 21 is known for its wonderful sculptures, carvings and designs on pillars and door frames. It houses a preaching Buddha sculpture. It also has remnants of floral painting on its ceiling.

Cave 26, a Chaitya has engravings on its facade and more carvings on its stupa and the pillars inside. This is one of the most extensively carved Chaityas in Ajanta. The circumambulatory path behind the pillars has innumerable carvings. The sleeping Buddha referred to as Buddha in Parinirvana is undoubtedly one of the finest sculptures in Ajanta.

  • The caves are a couple of kilometers away from the parking area and there are buses that commutes between the two.
  • Flash photography is prohibited inside the caves.
  • The site is open from 8 am till 5.30 pm. Head there early to avoid the crowd. It is closed on Mondays.

Though both Ajanta and Ellora caves are spoken in the same breath, they both are fairly far from each other. It s ideal to make Aurangabad the base to cover both these locations. There are frequent buses plying from Pune, Aurangabad and Jalgaon to Ajanta caves.

Aurangabad- 96 Kms (nearest airport)
Jalgaon- 60 Kms (nearest rail head)
Ellora Caves (100 Kms)
Pune- 330 Kms

Food & Accommodation: 
There are numerous small eateries outside the campus of the caves. Though there are stay options in Ajanta, it is recommended to stay in Aurangabad if you intend to cover Ellora caves. Aurangabad has a wide range of hotels from budget to luxury to suit your needs.


  1. Wonderful photography Niranjan. When I had gone in 2007 I had a chhota digital camera and couldn't take good pics in that low light. I feel I have to visit again.

  2. This is greatly pieced together. Long due Ajanta.. Should pan out this weekend.. Been here when was in school ��

  3. Had been to this place recently. Wonderful write up.

  4. Beautiful photos. Wonderful coverage of the architectural marvel.

  5. Beautiful pictures... You explain everything in a very simple and nice way Niranjan...

  6. Wonderful! This is a place I wish to visit.

  7. Thank you so much for this helpful post! Great day...

  8. Such beautiful pictures, and I have not even seen the caves till now!

  9. Simply amazing!
    I'm not sure I've seen the cave paintings while I was there. I should visit again.

    1. Absolutely amazing creations and pretty well preserved. Head there soon. :)


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