Ajanta

Wonders of Ajanta

Print edition : February 21, 2014

The Buddha in pralambha padasana in the sanctum sanctorum, Cave 17, a monastery. He is seated on a simhasana, or throne. There are fly-whisk bearers and warriors on either side of him.

The Buddha in Tushita heaven, Cave 17. Before the Buddha was born, the Bodhisattva, shown here, lived in one of the heavens called Tushita heaven. He is seated on the throne in pralambha pada and is informing the other deities that will descend to the earth to be born to queen Maya.

Chaitya, Cave 26. The stupa is carved with a figure of the Buddha seated in the pralambha pada posture. It has elaborate carvings of the standing Buddha, Avalokitesvara, and so forth. The pillars have carvings, bracket figures and friezes on top. The vaulted roof has stone-ribs, creating an illusion that they are wooden beams.

Mahakapi Jataka, Cave 17. The Bodhisattva, born as a monkey, took pity on a man who fell into a deep pit in the forest. It jumped into the pit and carried the man to safety on its back. However, when the tired monkey was sleeping, the ungrateful man, who was hungry, tried to kill it by throwing a big stone at it. But the generous monkey did him a good turn by showing him the way out of the forest.

Brahmi inscription, Cave 10. It reads "Vasithaputa katahadi", meaning it was gifted by a person by that name. On palaeographic grounds, the script can be dated to the beginning of the 2nd century BCE.

Lady at her toilet, Cave 17. In this offbeat painting, the artist portrays an aristocratic woman admiring herself in the mirror. Maids are on either side of her and there is a female dwarf too. the woman is wearing elaborate jewellery. Adjacent to the painting is a scene from Simhalavadana, a Jataka tale.

The Buddha on pillars, Cave 10. The cave has 39 octagonal-shaped pillars, painted with standing and seated Buddhas. It was the discovery of this cave by the British soldier John Smith that led to the unravelling of Ajanta.

Hasti Jataka, Cave 17. The Bodhisattva, born as a good-natured elephant, threw itself down from a hilltop so that he could become food to hungry travellers. The panels show the travellers feasting on the meat of the animal. Cave 17, a vihara, is a veritable paradise of murals. Every inch of its walls has been painted with gallery after gallery of Jataka tales and hundreds of geometrical and floral motifs.

Conversion of Nanda, Cave 17. Nanda, the Buddha's cousin, is seated cross-legged before a barber tonsuring him (the figure is damaged). A young monk is watching the scene.

Nativity of the Buddha, Cave 2. It shows queen Maya holding on to a sala tree. Brahma is holding a white umbrella and Indra has the baby in his arms. The painting also shows a fly-whisk bearer and others in the group.

Bodhisattva Padmapani, Cave 1. This is the most well-known and appreciated painting at Ajanta. The Buddha and his consort are shown holding lilies in their hands. The artist has featured fly-whisk and mace bearers, an amorous couple, and a kinnara (half-human, half-bird) music band. Padmapani is wearing a tall crown, a necklace and armbands.

Mahaparinirvana, Cave 26. This massive sculpture, 24 feet long and nine feet tall, in a chaitya is on the passing away of the Buddha. The Buddha is reclining on his right side and behind him are two sala trees. On the base of the sculpture are shown his begging bowl, water pitcher and walking stick. Ananda and other disciples are shown sitting in mourning. Sculpted on top are celestials who are rejoicing because of the Buddha's arrival in heaven.

Miracle of Sravasti, Cave 7, where the Buddha transforms himself into a thousand Buddhas.

Shaddanta Jataka, Cave 17. It is about the Bodhisattva born as an elephant with six tusks.

Vajrapani, Cave 1. This painting is equally famous as Padmapani. Vajrapani wears elaborate jewelley, whereas they are absent on Padmapani's person.

The caves at Ajanta, cut out of 76-metre-tall rock in the form of a horseshoe in the Sahyadri hill ranges in Aurangabad district, Maharashtra. Photo: D. KRISHNAN

The mark of the Great Trigonometric Survey (done in the 19th century) on the trail leading to the caves. In the 1990s, the mark, incised on a stone, was given a facelift and year in which this was done was added to it.

Prof. S. Swaminathan, specialist on Ajanta paintings. Photo: M. SRINATH

Danve D.S., Ajanta Caves In-Charge, ASI. Photo: D. KRISHNAN

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