Ajanta: Rediscovered Buddhist Caves Of Ancient India

The East is known for its aesthetics and religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, and a large number of cults. Buddhism originated on Indian lands and later on spread to various parts of Asia. Today, this journey of Buddhism can be understood with the help of the monuments and a lot of remains that are now heritage for the entire world. A large number of Asian countries have such types of monuments and sculptures. In India, Buddhism is not completely vanished yet. It is practiced in some pockets of the country. Still, Indian lands are full of an infinite number of ancient Buddhism temples and monasteries. The Ajanta rock-cut caves and monasteries of Western India depict the golden age of Buddhism in India.

C .SHELARE, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ajanta Caves are situated in Waghora River gorge of Aurangabad district of Indian state of Maharashtra. The caves got this name due to their proximity to the Ajanta village. The caves are famous across the entire world for their rock-cut architecture and mural paintings. The monasteries and temples are hollowed out of granite hills of the great Indian Deccan plateau. The Ajanta Caves is one of the key tourist attractions of Maharashtra.
The Ajanta Caves are cited in the accounts of a lot of Chinese travelers who came to India in search of Buddhist manuscripts or Buddhist education. The latest medieval era record was found in the 17th CE memories of Akbar’s time.

Freakyyash, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons

For a long time, the caves of Ajanta were lost in the depth of time and unknown to the outer world including the West due to its location. Meanwhile, the villagers always knew about it. In 1819, the caves were rediscovered by chance by a British officer John Smith who was on his way to hunt a tiger.
These 30 Buddhist caves were excavated in two phases and undergone several changes in almost 700 years. Initial caves were built under the patronage of Satavahana Kings at the beginning of almost the 2nd century BCE. Later on, During the Gupta period of the Indian Subcontinent, the second phase caves were built by Vakataka Kings of Deccan from 400–650 CE.
From the aspect of classification, Buddhist rock-cut caves are of two types i.e., chaityas and viharas. The chaityas are the sanctuaries and the viharas are monasteries. The Ajanta rock-cut caves were chosen as a UNESCO World Heritage site in the year of 1983. These magnum opuses of Buddhist religious art under the production of the Archaeological Survey of India since 1983.

Photo Dharma from Sadao, Thailand, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Buddhist Caves constitute ancient monasteries and worship-halls of diverse Buddhist backgrounds. The cave paintings present in the caves depict Lord Buddha’s past life and rebirths. These tempera murals also depict Jataka tales, the lives of traders, the common public of the Buddha, etc. The jataka tales are the ancient Buddhist literate. The Jataka tales are folklores in Buddhism that illustrates the earlier births of Lord Buddha. These tales consist of olden ethics and educational thoughts. Similar stories are also found in the Hindu and Jain literature that are contemporary to the Jatakas. The Jataka tales are focus on the symbolism and sacrifices made by Buddha.
According to the written archives, the monasteries of Ajanta were used as monsoon shelters and resting places by monks, and merchants & pilgrims respectively. The murals have survived from both phases. But, in modern times, they are in a very deteriorated condition and only survived in cave no. 16, 17, 1, and 2.
In today’s world, these doors of heritage can act as a mirror of our past if we preserve and conservation them in a rightful way

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