In 1819, Jon Smith, who belonged to the 28th Cavalry accidentally chanced upon the horse-shoe shaped rock while hunting a tiger in and around the Deccan Plateau region unraveling the mystery of the Ajanta and Ellora caves near Aurangabad. The rock hewn architecture of the shrines sculpted between 2nd century BC and the 8th century AD attract the caves as a world heritage site by the UNESCO.
The Ajanta Caves
Home to paintings and sculptures depicting the heavy influence of Buddhist philosophy and religious teachings of the Buddha, Ajanta has 29 caves built as secluded retreats for Buddhist monks. The visitors can see incidents from the life of Buddha, Bodhisattvas, and the Jataka Tales on the walls of these caves. All the paintings were made of mineral dyes. The walls and ceilings of the caves also have paintings that depict the lives of kings, people, beautiful women, their jewellery, hairstyles, etc. The Buddhist monks narrated on Buddha’s incarnations with those marvelous murals.
Shaped in the form of a horseshoe with the Wagura River forming a waterfall just above the caves, they are sculpted out of granite rock on the inner side of the Wagura River valley and are classified as Worship Halls (Chaitya Caves) and Monasteries (Vihara Caves).
This is time for art lovers and painters to learn on tempera technique on the paintings on the walls of Ajanta Caves. In tempera technique the painting is done on a dry surface after one cm thick layer coating of a mixture made of clay, cow dung and rice husk is plastered on the wall. Colors used for the paintings are natural made from natural products.
What to see in Ajanta
Aspiring visitors should not miss:
- Wall paintings of Bodhisattvas, Padmapani and Avalokiteshvara in cave one.
- Paintings that depict the life right from kings to slaves, women, men and children interwoven with flowers, plants, fruits, birds and beasts. Mythological depictions include the paintings of Yakshas, Kinneras (half human and half bird) Gandharvas (divine musicians) and Apsaras (heavenly dancers), the carvings of princesses, lovers, maids and dancing girls.
- Scenes depicting the Persian Embassy, pink elephants, golden geese, and bull fights.
- The painting of flying Apsaras and the image Buddha preaching in cave 17.
The Ellora Caves
Located around 30 kilometers from Aurangabad, Ellora has 34 caves (out of which 12 are Buddhist, 17 Hindu and 5 Jain). The uniqueness of Ellora Caves lies in the combination of three styles of architecture at one place, 12 Buddhist, 5 Jain and 17 Brahmanical caves located side by side. While visiting don’t miss:
- The famed Kailasa Temple in cave 16 is the largest monolithic structure in the world was carved from the top and the sides and not from the base. Today’s sculptors will marvel at the gateway, pavilion, assembly hall, sanctum and tower carved out of a single rock. It was believed that the construction of the Kailasa temple spanned over one century.
- The main temple is flanked on either side by two free standing pillars believed to be the Trishul of Lord Shiva. The corridors of the temples studded with sculpted figures take you to Mahabharata and Ramayana tales.
- Have a glimpse of the Indrasabha temple that has two-storeys. Climb the steps that lead to the temple flanked by a huge Dhwajsthamba and an elephant’s statue.
- Tin Tala Buddhist cave is a three-storied building, built from a solid rock. The cave has handmade smooth floors and ceilings that will satiate the curiosity of art lovers.
Events and Festivals
There are many events and festivals associated with Ajanta and Ellora that will take one to India’s cultural heritage.
- The Ellora Festival of Classical Dance and Music at the caves in the third week of March held every year.
- During the Paithan Fair held in March-April on the bank of the river Godavari to pay homage to Sant Eknath.
- Shivaji Jayanti held in May every year with colorful processions.
- Buddha Jayanti held in May with processions and colorful celebrations all over Aurangabad.
- Pola celebrated in August a thanksgiving gesture from the farmer where they display their decorated cattle.
The bottom line here is the importance of inculcating creativity and imagination in the minds of children and youth. Seeing, observing, and imbibing will surely trigger the imagination leading to creativity at the right age.