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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Ajanta Caves

Ajanta caves are thirty in all, out of which several are unfinished. Five of these caves are chaitya-grihas (meaning inner sanctums) while the rest are sangharamas or viharas (meaning monasteries). They were declared as world heritage site in 1983. In 1819, they were re-discovered by the modern world. Its structures belong to two distinct phases. The caves of the first phase were built between 2nd century BC to 2nd century AD while caves of the second phase belong to the period of Vakatakas and Guptas. The inscriptions in the cave reveal that Varahadeva, the minister of the Vakataka king, dedicated Cave 16 to the Buddhists while Cave 17 was the gift of the prince. Abhayanandi from Mathura had his name inscribed here by gifting the image of Buddha in Cave 4. The themes of the cave paintings are focused on Buddha and his life events, Bodhisattvas and the Jatakas. 104 km from Aurangabad, these caves have been cut from the volcanic rocks of the Deccan. British Captain John Smith discovered them while on a hunting trip in 1819 and was touched by its unique architecture, sculpture and paintings. The first phase of cave construction speaks of the Hinayana Phase that is depicted in two Chaitya Halls and 4 Viharas while the rest of the caves that belong to latter phase speak of the Mahayana Phase. Mahayana caves exhibit formal religious imagery while Hinayana caves are almost devoid of any carvings or ornamentations. The finest of all monasteries with the most beautiful paintings in Ajanta caves is Cave l, where the Bodhisattvas named Padmapani and Vajrapani are shown with elaborate headdresses at the antechamber doorway.

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