Maharashtra: Ajanta Caves - A Travel Guide


The Ajanta Caves :
October- March.

One of the most sought after tourists’ destination of India is Ajanta. The grandeur and spectacle of the imprinted portraits of Ajanta can only be compared with the sumptuousness and lavishness of Taj Mahal, the royal shrine of Agra. If the grand Taj Mahal, the evidence of royal love story, is famous for its artistic creations on milky white marbles, then the Ajanta is said to be an absorbing epitome of the Indian multicolored fresco pictures.

The classical and pretty Ellora of Aurangabad at the same time has got its prominence for its magnificent architectures and sculptural majesty.

The class-apart architectural evidence, the Buddha cave of Ajanta, was carved during the period of Vakataka dynasty. 850 long years were taken to innovatively carve the rock-cut cave of Ajanta (200 B.C. to 650 A.D.). 200 Buddha Bhiksu, architects, artists and laborers worked day in and day out to build this majestic hilly cave on Sahyadri hill. It was once a dream for everyone to access the steep volcanic hill (275 meters) until the spectacular Ajanta cave was carved. The half moon shaped caves were excavated in the shape of a mammoth horse-shoe. 29 caves in Ajanta altogether are pulling crowds for many years. There is, however, no consistency in carving these caves. The cave number 10, 9, 8, 12 and 13 are of Hinayana communities and rests of the 24 caves are of Mahayana communities. There is no idol in the caves of Hinayana community. A symbol of Buddha illustrates the fact that these were the caves of the Hinayana communities. You would watch the grandeur of these caves and get surprised. It is considered as one of the toughest works, done by the Human beings. Sunrays are getting reflected in front of each and every cave all throughout the day. It’s a pleasing sight which can be remembered for an entire life. The hilly River Baghora flows through the slender channel at the lower acclivity. Gaze at it and pacify your soul.

Hindu imperialist leaders and Muslim destructive force had hit the caves of Ajanta many times severely. After that, the historical and charming Ajanta caves couldn’t be accessed for thousands years. Later on, in 1819, a group of British hunters was led by John Smith and they had started their journey to Ajanta in 1819 from the Captain Point and reached Ajanta.

30 pictures drawn by Robert Gill (the general of British East India Company) on the frescoes of Ajanta were put on display in 1866 in Sydenham Palace. 25 of these pictures were burnt but 5 are still exhibited in Kensington Palace. Getting interested by the frescoes of Ajanta Caves, a number of eminent personalities had visited Ajanta during British period to make transcriptions. The wonderfully designed and carved frescoes were demonstrated to the entire world by these transcriptions. A number of looters in the meanwhile had targeted the multihued frescoes. Ajanta already had lost a lot of its excellent creations. Along with the historical frescoes, a number of caves are now in ruins as well.

According to the construction mechanisms of these immensely popular Ajanta Caves, these can be divided into two subdivisions, such as, Chaitya and Monastery (Vihara). There are 5 chaityas (cave no: 9, 10, 19, 26, 29) where as rests of the 24 caves are known as Viharas.

All these caves show a class-apart commingling of carvings, sculptures and portraits. Here it is different from Ellora caves. Innumerable tales of Buddha along with the lifestyles of that period are depicted marvelously on the walls through the pictures and carvings. Most numbers of portraits can be seen in the caves 1, 2, 10, 16 and 17. You can purchase a ticket spending 10 rupees to watch the grandeur of the cave 5 with the help of artificial lights.

The wonderful depictions of architectural panache can be seen in cave 1, 4, 11, 17, 19 and 26. Even though not many tourists visit Ajanta in the months of monsoon but the season of monsoon comes here with a different charm. It’s not a bad idea to catch a glimpse of the architectural flair of the caves and natural spectacle around during monsoon. Entry to the caves 1, 2, 17 are restricted to few visitors. These caves are kept open during 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. except on Mondays. You don’t have to buy a ticket on Friday to get inside the caves 1, 2, 17. A staircase would take you to the entrance of the cave. Tourists who are unwilling to walk can hire a hauler for them as well. To get to know the details of the ancient creations, displayed on the walls of the caves, you can even hire a guide alongside. The historical values, associated with the singular and unique Ajanta caves, have helped it to include its name in the list of world heritage sites in 1983.

Cave 1: Carved during 600- 642, this primeval cave (Vihara) was built during Mahayan era. Devi Ganga and Yamuna are greeting visitors standing at the entrance of the cave. On top of the crown two protectors are standing to safeguard the cave as well. The hall, covering 19.5 square km, looks pretty for showcasing ancient form of frescoes and appealing sculptures. The hall had laid its foundation on 20 adjoining pillars, all of which exhibit impressive architectural grace and stylishness.

Raja Shibi and eagle are imprinted on the walls. Different kinds of attractive pictures are put on display on the ceiling and on the walls. The fresco of Bodhisatwa, displayed on the walls at the back end, looks staggering. The colossal idol of Buddha of Ajanta is astounding. It would surprise all the visitors as the idol looks different from different sides. If you stand at the right hand side of the idol, then you would see a smiling face where as sadness and dedicational posture are prominently visible from the left hand side and front side of the idol respectively.

The Dharmachakra along with the embossed deer recollect the memories of Sarnath. Bodhisatya Padmapani and two Bodhisatya Abalokiteshwar mural pictures are located at the left hand side and at the right hand side of the entrance of the Anti Chamber. A head of deer, two elephants and six armed man are creatively engraved on the walls of the Cave 1. Apart from these, numerous pretty frescoes along with elegant sculptures decorate the impressive cave. Other frescoes, such as, Nagraja and Nagrani, seductive women, Buddhist Mahabhikshu, Krishna and princess pull huge numbers of holiday makers and Buddhist pilgrims as well.

Cave 2: Cave 2 is sequentially positioned right after the Cave 1 and is carved during the same period when Cave 1 was actually carved out of rocky mountain. The volume of the cave is not very big. It’s only covering an area of 14.6 square meters. The cave is said to be the Buddhist Mahayana Vihara. The cave 2 has 5 rooms and 2 food courts. Both of these food courts are positioned at both the sides of its Garbha Griha. Buddha and 2 Bodhisatya are residing in the Garbha Griha of Cave 2. The cave showcases innumerable pretty portraits. The pictures, drawn on the ceiling, are treats to the eyes. The pictorial depiction of the cave resembles the grace and panache of Greek painting styles. A number of imposing frescoes of this cave have been destroyed with time but still the eye soothing grandeur of this cave is worth watching at least once in your lifetime. Watching the Jataka tales of the frescoes would be the most interesting and enticing experience for all the tourists. To catch the eyes and gain acceptance of all the people who belong to different religious groups, thousands of unearthly and impressive Buddha idols were engraved artistically on the walls of the cave 2. The tales related to the emperor Suddhadhana and Mayadevi, thoughtful Mayadevi, judicial judgment of criminal, game of dice in Indraprastha, Bidhur in Nagaloka, Child Bhikshu Hariti and 23 drakes are the pretty and worthy of mention frescoes of the cave 2.

Cave 4: Cross the incomplete cave 3, to access the largest Vihara-type cave in the area. Covering 27 square meters, the hall of the cave 4, has laid its foundation on 28 pillars. But, one of the prime enticements in the entire terrain, the cave 4, is also an unfinished cave. The sculptures and architectural gracefulness of the cave, however, are laudable.

A human sculpture, made of marbles, is surrounded by seven idols, such as, elephant, lion, snake, fire etc. The simple reason behind carving these idols was to motivate Buddhist devotees to recall the spiritual existence of Tathagata, the epithet of Buddha. Each and every pillar of this cave 4 is classical examples of ancient human creations.

Two Grabha Mandirs are placed at both the sides of a balcony, right in front of the Vihara. A number of appealing Garbha Grihas are there in the cave 4 as well. The idol of meditating Buddha, positioned in the main temple is a grand attraction for the swarms of tourists.

Cave 6: If you don’t consider the incomplete cave 5, then it is the one and only two storied Vihara type cave. One of the oldest caves of the terrain, the Cave 6, was carved long back in 2nd century (B.C). The ritual gesture called Abhaya Mudra of Buddha can be witnessed on the ground floor where as Dharma Chakra Mudra is prominently visible on the 1st floor of the cave. The spectacular ground floor, however, is now in ruins. A number of diminutive holy temples are scattered on the 1st floor.

The ornamentation with fresco pictures, especially displayed at the entrance, would alleviate your spirit and soul on any given day. Dotted idols, made up innovatively of stones, on the 2nd floor, are magnificent to gaze at. For a pleasant surprise, hit on the pillar of the 1st floor and listen to the melodious tunes of Tabor and Pakhawaj.

Cave 7: Different kinds of pretty ornamentations are significantly visible on the walls of the Cave 7. The octagonal pillar which has a shape of an elephant is holding two of the balconies of the Cave 7. Two women, standing on fishes, welcome the hordes of tourists to the Garbha Mandir. Buddha, residing in the chief consecrated temple of cave 7, blesses his followers and devotees. Two Bodhisatwa, placed on fly whisks, are residing at both the sides of the entrance. Another idol of the flying Gandharva is drawing attention of the holiday makers as well.

Cave 8: The rock-cut cave was carved during 1st century (B.C.) and is not closed as it has become a store of various generating substances.

Cave 9: The well adorned entrance of the cave and sun-gavaksha at the entrance are the prime and foremost allurement of the cave. The Chaitya type cave was carved during 100 B.C. The hall (13.5 * 7) of the cave has a height of 7 meters. 21 pillars are standing in a series at both the sides of the road. The prayer hall is placed in between there pillars. The multihued pictures are put on display on the pillars inside the cave. The sunlight comes straight into the fort through the bow shaped vault and gets reflected on the Chaitya.

Even though this important cave was formed during the period of Hinayana but later on in the period of Mahayana during 6th century, a lot of idols, such as, Buddha, Bodhisatwa, Pandmapani and Vajrapani were built.

Cave 10: The Chaitya cave, carved during 110 B.C., was rediscovered by the British hunters. The stylishness of this cave is compared with that of 9th cave. The volume of this cave, nevertheless, is 29*12.5 meters where as its height is 11 meters. The wooden architectures of this cave are now in ruins. There are 39 adjoining octagonal pillars.

The ruler and his wife along with their followers are traveling towards the holy Bodhivriksha. The representation of this looks truly amazing. The procession of the ancient Nagraj, Chaddanta Jataka tales, Shyam Jataka and many more tales have been significantly embossed on the walls of the cave. The precious collections of innumerable portraits of this cave had lost their extravagance and lavishness now. Lot of these pictures has now been shattered. The ceiling of this cave showcases lovely and lavish portraits.

Cave 11: quadrilateral foot stool of this cave deserves praise. The octagonal middle portion and wide top portion of this vihara type cave was carved during 2nd century (11 B.C.) and got its new shape later on in 6th century (A.D.). Different kinds of decorative sculptures and colorful portraits of this architecturally lavish cave houses Buddha in its main hallowed temple.

Cave 12: This Vihara type cave has 12 rooms. The cave was built, carving black stones and was a home of numerous Buddha Bhikshus.

The Cave 13 (carved during 13 B.C.), Cave 14 and 15 (carved during the Mahayana period) are not very popular.

Cave 16: One of the grandest caves of Ajanta for the appealing and alluring frescoes is cave 16, carved out of stones during 475- 500. Two elephants, sitting on their knees, right at the entrance, used to greet the visitors. The idols of seated Nagraj and his wife are marvelous. The Bamana idol is placed atop the pillar and can be accessed crossing 20*3.5 meters balcony.

The life history of Buddha, the first sight of a newborn by Ashit (saint), problems of Suddhadhan, home leaving picture of Siddhartha, Trapusha, Bhallika, the refusal of the invitation of Bimbisara, Buddha at Kapilavastu, haircut of Nanda, pain of Nanda, dying princess, elephant child, deer like eyes, paintings of Buddha and many more portraits are embossed on the walls of the cave. The picture of the dying princess looks astounding. The enjoyable view of the Waghora River from the cave 16 is inspiring.

Previously, the main entrance of Ajanta was there through the cave 16, on the banks of Waghora River.

Cave 17: The enticing power of the Cave 17 of Ajanta is immense as well. The assortment of portraits, kept in the cave, is marvelous and praiseworthy. The cave, carved during 470-480, is still really very well maintained. The anthology of pictures and well thought out topic selections of these pictures would enthrall all of you.

The tales of the last birth of Buddha is expressed excellently on the cave wall. The quadrilateral central hall, covering 19.5 meters, houses 20 contiguous pillars. Family life, Buddha idol in Garbha Mandir, 7 primeval Buddha atop the grand entrance, 1 Maitrya Buddha, 16 Mithun pictures, 6 dancers on the ceiling of the balcony and domination of Nalgiri by Buddha. The portrait of the flying Krishna idol looks remarkable as well.

Well ornamented princes, lovers, appearance of Krishna to the world, disembarkation of Indra from clouds, Mahakapijataka, Six teethed Jataka, Mrigajataka, the tour of Tamradeep of the son (merchant) of Jambudweep, magical power of devils, battle, destruction of Tamradeep, naming convention of Singhal, Sutasoma Jataka, Hansa Jataka, Gopa-Rahul-Buddha, the tales of Biswantar Jataka, examination of sariputta, Shibi Jataka and many more pretty pictures are put on display on the walls of the cave.

The sculptural elegance and anthology of frescoes of a comparatively smaller chaitya, the cave 19 (14*7.3 meters), was carved during Mahayana period. The front façade of the cave depicts excellent architectural grandeur and grace. Apart from the two Gandharb idols at both the sides of the cave, many other idols also decorate the cave. The portico is positioned at the entrance of the cave. Another balcony is there as well. An array of pillars is placed outside of this balcony.

The idols of Buddha and Bodhisatwa draw attention of the devotees to the 14*7.3 meters hall of the cave. The horse-shoe shaped Sun-Gavaksha is placed atop the grand entrance. A stupa is positioned inside where as 15 pillars are there in two different series at the roadsides. The idols of Buddha, Bodhisatwa, Nag and Gandharva are carved at the higher position of the pillar. The sculptural panache of Nagraj and Nagrani are notable as well.

Cave 20: 8.5*7.6 meters Vihara type cave houses 12 inner caves (Garbhaguha). Buddha is residing in Dharmachakra form in the main Garbha Mandir. Buddha here has stepped on a deer. The emperor and queen idols at the right hand side of the inner cave are praiseworthy attraction.

Cave 21: Carved during 7th century, the square shaped cave has 12 pillars which showcase architectural splendor and flair. 14 Garbha grihas are there in this cave. Buddha in the form of Dharmachakra is residing in central Garbha Griha.

The main Garbha Griha of the cave, carved in 6th century, houses an idol of Buddha as well. The ancient colorful frescoes are now discolored and all these frescoes had lost their splendors as well.

The unfinished cave 23 and 24 now are the abandoned caves. 12 pillars are there in cave 23. The cave 24 is incomplete. Otherwise it would have been the largest Vihara (23*23 meters) of Ajanta. The architecture and structure of cave 24 should be seen.

The square shaped and Vihara type cave 25 is another abandoned cave in the vicinity as well. It is, however, is now inaccessible. The last chaitya type cave of Ajanta is the cave 26. The front side of the cave is in ruins. Innumerable Buddha idols are placed in front of this cave in different forms. The old frescoes of this cave also have lost their sumptuousness.

On the banks of the Hiranyavati River the Mahanirvana Buddha idol (9 meters) depicts bas relief architectures. The grand idol is placed in between two Sal trees. Tourists’ can enjoy other bas relief architectural evidences here as well. Buddha is residing underneath the Bodhi tree touching the soil. Three of the daughters of Mara, Tantha, Rati and Ranga, are showing their seductive postures to fascinate Buddha. Buddha is surrounded by the devil army of Mara. Mara is observing all riding on a horse at the left corner. At last, Mara had devoted her to Buddha after being unsuccessful to break Buddha’s concentration while he was meditating.

The 27th Vihara type cave is also partially made. The 28th cave resembles the spectacle of a chaitya and has now become an abandoned one. Tourists won’t be able to access cave 28.

Cave 29 is carved on the upper slope of the rocky mountain. The road to the cave is really tough.

Another cave (30) has been newly discovered at the lower acclivity of the cave 16. Carved in 2nd century during the period of Hinyana, the cave 30 has both heap and vihara. An unreadable inscription had been found from this cave.

To watch the panoramic view of the terrain of entire Ajanta, take a walk to the higher elevation and visit the view point. This is the historical view point, where British had discovered Ajanta from.

How to reach: Ajanta bus stand can be accessed by bus from Jalgaon (59 km away from Ajanta), Bhusawal (80 km away from Ajanta) and Aurangabad (103 km away from Ajanta). You can also avail package tours of MTDC and ITDC from Aurangabad.

Where to stay: Ajanta ‘T’ Junction, Kanhaia Kunja, Ajanta Holiday Resort, Hotel Padma Pani Park and Travelers’ Bungalow. Check our hotel booking links below for photos, rates, options and online bookings.

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