Ajanta Caves are a magnificent set of 30 rock cut Buddhist caves. Famous for Buddhist Paintings and Sculpture, Ajanta Caves are a UNESCO world heritage site. More than half a million tourists visit Ajanta Caves every year to look at the spectacular collection of Murals and sculptures. The cultural influence of Ajanta during the 1st and 2nd century BC not only extended all over India but also to far flung areas like Java in modern Indonesia. Ajanta Caves definitely feature in my list of places to see before you die.
Ajanta Caves are in the Indian state of Maharashtra, about 60 Kms from Jalgaon and 100 Kms from Aurangabad.
Aurangabad is the nearest Airport to Ajanta which In turn is connected to Delhi and Mumbai. The 100 kms journey from Aurangabad to Ajanta Caves can be done by Taxi or Bus.
You can also reach Ajanta Caves by taking a Train till Jalgaon. Taxis and Buses are available from Jalgaon station to Ajanta caves to cover the 60 KM distance.
Ajanta Caves are open for visitors from 9am-5pm on all days except Mondays. It is better to avoid holidays as Ajanta Caves can get really crowded on such days.
Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation's Holiday Resort in Fardapur is the only decent accommodation near Ajanta. Contact no is 02438-24423. Other option is to stay in Jalgaon or Aurangabad where there are plenty of Hotels.
Ajanta Caves are manmade and were carved by cutting into the side of a cliff that is on the side of a U-shaped gorge, beside the River Waghora. There are 30 caves in Ajanta of which 9, 10, 19, 26 and 29 are “Chaitya-Grihas” or Prayer Halls and the rest are Monasteries.
Ajanta Caves were built in 2 phases. The first phase was in 2nd century BC when the older form of Buddhism called Hinayana was prevalent. The Buddha is represented here in the form of pillars, stupas and footprints. The first caves were hewn from the bare rock at the time of The Sātavāhana Empire which started around 230BC.
The second lot was built around 400 AD according to tenets of Mahayana which gave Lord Buddha a human form. Emperor Harishena of the Vakataka dynasty was the patron for the second phase of Ajanta Caves. Even the architectural style shifted between the Hinayana and Mahayana periods, from "Vihara" halls for prayer and living in the shape of a rectangle with small square dormitory cells cut into the walls, to a sanctuary at the rear centered on a large statue of the Buddha.
The theme of most of the Caves is excerpts from Jataka Tales. These relate to the life of Buddha before he was enlightened. Cave 1 has the two most famous images at Ajanta in the form of figures of the protective bodhisattvas Padmapani and Vajrapani on either side of the entrance to the Buddha shrine.
Cave 4 was planned as the largest monastery but unfortunately never got completed. It has a verandah, a hall, sanctum with an antechamber and a series of unfinished cells. An inscription on the pedestal of the Buddha's image mentions that it was a gift from a person named Mathura during 6th century A.D.
The paintings in most Caves were done in the tempera technique on the ground of mud plaster. More than 500 stories from Jataka Tales have been painted on the walls. Four caves still have a well preserved set of large Murals. However many of them have deteriorated and the only way to understand them is through a number copies made in the 19th century.
November is a great time to be at Ajanta. In fact an Ajanta & Ellora festival is organized at Soneri Mahal in Aurangabad during the last week of November every year. It is a cultural extravaganza where singers and dancers perform from all over India.
Ajanta caves were discovered by John Smith, a British army officer in 1819. It was the 28th of April in 1819 when Smith, accidentally discovered the entrance to Cave No. 10 while hunting for Tiger.
The area around Ajanta Caves can get really Hot during the Summer Season (Apr-June) and heavy rains lash during monsoons post that. So the best time to visit Ajanta Caves would be between November and March.
Make sure you carry a torch with you to Ajanta Caves as many of the Caves are poorly lit.
For my travelogues on Other Heritage wonders, visit Great Heritage Holiday Ideas.