Paintings and Sculptures at Ajanta

Ajanta is located about a hundred kilometers from Aurangabad, in the horse shoe shaped gorge of the Waghora River in the Sahyadari. The Ajanta caves are divided into 2 groups, which we can call Saatavahana phase and Vakataka Phase for our convenience.

Saatavahana Phase

The first group of caves which were great shrines and monasteries was carved out in the second century BC, under the patronage of Saatavahana Kings. This phase is often called the Hinayāna phase, as Buddha was revered symbolically. Thus, the first Satavahana period caves lacked figurative sculpture, emphasizing the stupa instead.

Vakataka Phase

The second group of caves was created in 5th and 6th century AD during Gupta and Post Gupta periods under the rule of the Vaktaka Kings, with a renewed activity that was richer and more ample. It is called Mahayana Phase because Buddha has been depicted as a human. The caves of the second period the overwhelming majority of images represent the Buddha alone, or narrative scenes of his lives. The Buddha was represented in Human and these representations are found both on the facades and in the interior.  Finally, the wall painting, profuse and sensitive, constitutes, no doubt, the most striking artistic achievement of Ajanta.

Notable paintings and Sculptures at Ajanta

The paintings of Ajanta are known to be the fountainhead of all the classic paintings of Asia. Ajanta’s paintings occupy the pre-eminent position in the mural traditions of Asia. However, its sculpture, among the finest ever created in India, is often not given the attention it deserves.

Cave 1: This is most famous cave. Seated Buddha in Dharmachakrapravartana mudra is notable sculpture while the notable paintings include Padmapani and Vajrapani.

Cave 2: Sculpture of Yaksha figures (Sankhanidhi and Padmanidhi) to the left and Hariti and her consort Pancika to the right

Cave 16: Largest and certainly the finest and most interesting monastery (Vihara) of Ajanta from the perspective of art and architecture. Its colossal hall, ornate doors and windows, beautifully painted galleries, sculptures, ornamented pillars, cistern was the gift of Varahadeva a minister of Vakataka King Harisena (475-500 A.D.)A central hall is surrounded by 14 cells on three sides, and sanctum housing Buddha image is shown seated in pralambapadasana. The sanctum of this cave is devoid of doorway and antarala. Originally the entire cave was beautifully painted but now very little of the painting now remain. Several interesting scenes from the life of Buddha.

Cave 19: Chaitya. It is in excellent state of preservation and is considered as one of the most perfect specimens of the Buddhist art in India, datable to 5th century A.D. Total 17 pillars and at the centre of the Chaitya stands a globular stupa. This cave has only one entrance door. A sculptural form of Buddha offering begging bowl to his son Rahula and sculpture representing a Nagaraja and his wife, and the opposite site of this image, a porch which probably was place of rest for pilgrims.

Cave 26: Mahaparinirvana of Buddha on the right aisle wall and the assault of Mara during Buddha’s penance adorns the same wall.

One of the most prominent and outstanding figures are of humanized serpents, a Nagaraja and Nagini with an attendant figure as finest sculptures in human forms.  The Mahaparinirvana of the Buddha, when he finally achieves release from the mortal world, is a profoundly moving scene.