"The Ajanta caves show two clear-cut phases of paintings with depiction of Buddha". Discuss.

Ajanta caves are a classic example of painting wherein both the phases of Buddhist art is very well depicted. It can be classified into two phases namely the Hinayana phase (Uniconic) and the Mahayana phase (Iconic).  Hinayana is the earlier phase when symbols were used to worship Buddha as compared to the later Mahayana phase when he was worshipped in the physical form.
Both phases of the excavation and the creation of art were patronised by Hindu kings, the Satavahanas in the early period and the Vakatakas in the latter period.
Hinayana Buddhists did not believe in making any figure of the Buddha. Instead, they worshipped symbols, such as the stupa and the wheel.
The large body of surviving, magnificent paintings were made during the 5th and 6th centuries. By then the Mahayana form of Buddhism had evolved, in which the Buddha is represented in human form and worshipped as a god. Mahayana Buddhism also believes in Bodhisattvas, beings who are on their way to enlightenment and who would help all of humanity to attain salvation.
The Padmapani, the Bearer of the Lotus and Vajrapani, the Bearer of the Thunderbolt are classic example of the Bodhisattva represented in the Mahayana form.
The paintings of the 5th and 6th centuries at Ajanta mainly depict the Jataka tales. These are the stories of the Buddha in his previous lives, when he was still on the path to enlightenment. These stories depict the qualities of a virtuous life and are told to serve as examples for the followers of the Buddha.
On the ceilings of the caves is the depiction of the teeming life of the world, its flowers and fruit, the animals of the world and mythical creatures.

Question for UPSC Mains:
“The Ajanta caves show two clear-cut phases of paintings with depiction of Buddha”. Discuss.

Published: May 1, 2016 | Modified:June 27, 2019

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