Where peace prevails
Ajanta, near Aurangabad in Maharashtra, was a centre of Buddhist learning, meditation and prayer in the Second Century B.C.
Exquisite paintings and sculptures adorn the walls of the Chaitya halls. A few of them have stupas and Giant sized idols of the buddha.
The first thing that struck me as I gazed at the ancient caves was the thought that a highly advanced civilisation once had its roots in these very hills. They could not have chosen a better site than this. Ajanta was a centre of Buddhist learning, meditation and prayers from the second century B.C. The Ajanta site flourished for about 700 years.
The monks at Ajanta carved out caves known as Chaitya halls, and these were meant for worship. The halls were embellished with exquisite paintings and sculptures. The common thread running through all these was the Jataka tales and the Buddha in various forms. For instance, in Cave 1, the Buddha is depicted in his magnificent avatar as Bodhisattva with a fine and intricate headdress. He is also depicted, in another panel, as Bodhisattva Padmapani, holding a lotus in one hand and in yet another he is the Bodhisattva Vajropani, with a thunderbolt in hand. He is accompanied by a procession of divine musicians and flying angels. The kalachakra, the wheel of life, is a piece of decoration, a holy one at that, which is depicted under the throne.
The monks led an austere life as can be seen from the rough rock-hewn beds inside the tiny caves, caves within caves, that formed the Viharas or monasteries. A few examples of this are in cave number 12 and 13. In all there are about 29 caves, of which eight are in an unfinished stage. A profusion of paintings adorns the walls and the ceilings.
Long years of weathering the elements have taken a toll on the paintings. Ajanta is famous for its wall and ceiling paintings. However, some of these caves, which served as Chaitya halls had elaborate carvings too. A few of them have stupas and giant-sized idols of the Buddha.
Cave number 19 is one of the most beautifully executed chaityas with lavish interior of carvings with the idol of seated Buddha.
Cave number 26 has the reclining figure of the Buddha in deep sleep that is a depiction of his Mahaparinirvana. While his disciples are shown in a pensive mood mourning the death of their master, the angels rejoice as a celebration for the end of the cycle of birth and death for Gautama Buddha.
The caves are first mentioned in the writings of the Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang, who visited India between A.D. 629 and 645. The caves were "discovered" dramatically during the course of military manoeuvres being undertaken by British officers in 1819. Public attention was drawn to them and the East India Company instructed the Viceroy to procure good copies of the paintings. Publicity, however, was nearly fatal to the original paintings, as many archaeologists and officials cut out the heads to be presented to museums. Ajanta is a World Heritage site.
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