- History of Ajanta

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Ajanta and Ellora are the pride of Maharashtra. The rock-cut caves of both these sites are world famous and illustrate the degree of skill and artistry that Indian craftsmen had achieved several hundred years ago. Ajanta dates from 100 B.C. while Ellora is younger by some 600 years. The village of Ajanta is in the Sahyadri hills, about 99 kms. From Aurangabad; a few miles away in a mammoth horseshoe-formed rock, are 30 caves overlooking a gorge, `each forming a room in the hill and some with inner rooms. Al these have been carved out of solid rock with little more than a hammer and chisel and the faith and inspiration of Buddhism. Here, for the Buddhist monks, the artisans excavated Chaityas (chapels) for prayer and Viharas (monasteries) where they lived and taught. Many of the caves have the most exquisite detailed carvings on the walls,'

These caves were discovered early in the 19th century quite by chance by a party of British Officers on manoeuvres. Today the paintings and sculptures on Buddha’s life, belonging to the more mellow and ritualistic Mahayana Buddhism period, are world famous. Copies of them were shown in the Crystal Palace exhibition in London in 1866. These were destroyed in a fire there. Further copies were published soon afterwards and four volumes of reproductions were brought out in 1933 by Ghulam Yazdani, the Director of Archaeology of the then Hyderabad State.In the early 19th century (year 1819) some British soldiers were out hunting in the Deccan plateau. One of them suddenly saw, from a height, a horseshoe rock; His curiosity aroused by the entrance of a cave. The hunting party ventured across the ravine of the Waghur River. And they discovered several caves, against which bush, shrubs earth and stones had piled up. Goatherds for shelter were using a few.

The Government was informed about this finding and soon the Archaeologists began excavate them. Many experts have been restoring them during the last fifty years. The shock of discovery was worldwide.All the rock-cut caves had paintings on verandahs, inner walls and ceilings, these revealed some of the most beautiful masterpieces of world art.
In the grottos were also symbolic Buddhist mounds called Stupas, and cells for monks called viharas. There were giant sculptures of Buddha's, Bodhisattvas (potential Buddha's), or Taras (female Buddhist divinities), as also dwarapalas (doorkeepers).Later, an inscription was found of King Harisena ('moon among princes'), of the Vakataka dynasty of the 5th -6th century A.D. in cave No.17. It seems that the local Vakatakas had relations, thought marriage, with the great Gupta kings of the north.

The caves at Ajanta date from the 2nd century B.C.E. to 650 C.E and were cut into the mountainside in two distinct phases. Discovered by chance in 1819 by British soldiers on a hunt, The Ajanta Caves have become an icon of ancient Indian Art, and have influenced subsequent artists and styles. The nearly thirty caves at the site are not numbered chronologically. Instead, they are numbered based on location, beginning with cave 1 on the north side of the horseshoe.The Ajanta caves are engulfed in darkness. Yet this lack of light is crucial to the experience at Ajanta: it creates a complex setting that demands the viewer’s time while intensifying a sense of the mysterious. There may have been dim artificial lighting created by oil lamps in the past. However, even today, the majority of the caves remain almost completely dark; without the help of artificial lighting or small flashlights, the caves remain in their original state.

The second phase of paintings started around 5th – 6th centuries A.D. and continued for the next two centuries. The specimen of these exemplary paintings of Vakataka period could be noticed in cave nos. 1, 2, 16 and 17. The variation in style and execution in these paintings also are noticed, mainly due to different authors of them. A decline in the execution is also noticed in some paintings as indicated by some rigid, mechanical and lifeless figures of Buddha in some later period paintings. The main theme of the paintings is the depiction of various Jataka stories, different incidents associated with the life of Buddha, and the contemporary events and social life also. The ceiling decoration invariably consists of decorative patterns, geometrical as well as floral.The paintings were executed after elaborate preparation of the rock surface initially. The rock surface was left with chisel marks and grooves so that the layer applied over it can be held in an effective manner. The ground layer consists of a rough layer of ferruginous earth mixed with rock-grit or sand, vegetable fibres, paddy husk, grass and other fibrous material of organic origin on the rough surface of walls and ceilings. A second coat of mud and ferruginous earth mixed with fine rock-powder or sand and fine fibrous vegetable material was applied over the ground surface. Then the surface was finally finished with a thin coat of lime wash. Over this surface, outlines are drawn boldly, then the spaces are filled with requisite colours in different shades and tones to achieve the effect of rounded and plastic volumes. The colours and shades utilised also vary from red and yellow ochre, terra verte, to lime, kaolin, gypsum, lamp black and lapis lazuli.

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