During the Gupta period (5th and 6th centuries A.D.), many more richly decorated caves were added to the original group. The paintings and sculptures of Ajanta, considered masterpieces of Buddhist religious art, have had a considerable artistic influence.
The caves are situated 100 km north-east of Ellora, 104 km from Aurangabad and 52 km from Jalgaon Railway Station. They are cut into the volcanic lava of the Deccan in the forest ravines of the Sahyadri Hills and are set in beautiful sylvan surroundings. These magnificent caves containing carvings that depict the life of Buddha, and their carvings and sculptures are considered to be the beginning of classical Indian art.
Click below for a slideshow of photographs of the Ajanta Caves.
The 29 caves were excavated beginning around 200 BC, but they were abandoned in AD 650 in favour of Ellora. Five of the caves were temples and 24 were monasteries, thought to have been occupied by some 200 monks and artisans. The Ajanta Caves were gradually forgotten until their ‘rediscovery’ by a British tiger-hunting party in 1819.
The Ajanta site comprises thirty caves cut into the side of a cliff which rises above a meander in the Waghora River. Today the caves are reached by a road which runs along a terrace mid-way up the cliff, but each cave was once linked by a stairway to the edge of the water.
This is a Buddhist community, comprising five sanctuaries or Chaitya-grihas (caves 9, 10, 19, 26 and 29) and monastic complex sangharamas or viharas. A first group of caves was created in the 2nd century BC: the chaitya-grihas open into the rock wall by doorways surmounted by a horse-shoe shaped bay.
The ground plan is a basilical one: piers separate the principal nave from the side aisles which join in the apsis to permit the ritual circumambulation behind the (commemorative monument). This rupestral architecture scrupulously reproduces the forms and elements visible in wooden constructions.
A second group of caves was created at a later date, the 5th and 6th centuries AD, during the Gupta and post-Gupta periods. These caves were excavated during the supremacy of the Vakatakas and Guptas. According to inscriptions, Varahadeva, the minister of the Vakataka king, Harishena (c. AD 475-500), dedicated Cave 16 to the Buddhist sangha while Cave 17 was the gift of the prince, a feudatory.
An inscription records that the Buddha image in Cave 4 was the gift of some Abhayanandi who hailed from Mathura.