Are you planning your next trip to the beautiful site of Ajanta and Ellora caves?
Well, here is a little information about this Indian heritage for all the enthusiasts out there.
The historic Ajanta and Ellora caves are one of the finest examples of ancient Indian history. Being a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1983 it makes its place on the wishlist of most of the travellers across the globe.
These sublime rock-cut caves are located in the Aurangabad district of my Maharashtra, India. It is adorned by intricate carvings, paintings, and sculptures that reflect historical sentiments of the ancient era. The Ajanta and Ellora caves will give you an insight into the rich Buddhist, Hindu and Jain believes as the caves are an amalgamation of monasteries and temples. Thus, it beautifully portrays religious tolerance which is a remarkable feature of India. This makes it a must-visit for every tourist.
The Ajanta caves dates back in time between the 2nd century BC and 6th century AD. They are 29 in number and are mostly dedicated as Buddhist monasteries. The sculptures ornamenting these ancient caves tells about the life and rebirth of lord Buddha. Historical evidences present that these caves were used for retreat by Buddhist monks and as shelter homes by the pilgrims. According to the survey, the Ajanta caves were built in two phases and under the rule of two different dynasties. The site of Ajanta caves later got hid by the forest and was discovered accidentally in 1819 by a British officer John Smith while he went for tiger hunting. The majestic beauty is now preserved by the Archaeological Survey of India.
The first phase( Satavahana period):
The first phase started from 2nd century BC extending till 1st century AD. According to American art historian Walter Spink, the first phase of Ajanta caves were built under the patronage of the Satavahana dynasty. The caves constructed during this phase are presently numbered as 9, 10, 12, 13, and 15A. Out of these caves, 9 and 10 lack figurative sculptures and are majorly in the form of a stupa. It is divided into a number of worship halls specifically known as Chaityagriha in Indian religions. While caves 12, 13, and 15A are Viharas or Buddhist monasteries. The murals that decorate the walls of the caves depict pictorial tales from Jataka mala.
The second phase( Vakataka period):
The second phase caves were set up during the period between 460 to 480 CE. According to records, these caves were constructed during the rule of the Hindu ruler Harishena of the Vakataka dynasty. The group of caves built during this period includes 1- 8, 11, 14-29. Of these caves 19, 26, 29 are in the form of chaityagrihas. The remaining ones are forged in the form of viharas.
Main attractions of the Ajanta Caves:
The main highlights of the Ajanta caves are caves 1, 2,4, and 17. The Ajanta mainly revolves around the theme of abstract art. It portrays carvings and murals of birds, fruits, and demons. The Ajanta caves are excavated in a horseshoe shape.
Significance of the Ajanta caves:
The Ajanta caves gives us an insight into the lifestyle of the people of the forgone era. It casts light on the luxurious lives of the rich, highlighting their culture and the materialistic expect of their lives. On the contrary, it also shows the divinity and faith of the Buddhist monks who abandoned worldly pleasures to embrace spirituality. The frescoes and the murals are of great archaeological significance and have provided an in-depth knowledge of the different dynasties to the historians.
The Ellora caves are a treat for the human eye as they showcase the brilliance of the architecture and the richness of the Indian history. It is located in a close proximity to the Ajanta caves at a distance of about 100 kilometers away from it. The caves are believed to be constructed around 600 – 1000 CE. The main attraction of these caves is the beautiful blend of Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu cultures. There are about 34 rock caves that are open for you to explore. It comprises of 12 Buddhist( caves 1- 12), 17 Hindu(caves 13- 29) and 5 Jain(caves 30-34) caves. The Hindu and Buddhist caves were built by the Rashtrakuta dynasty while the Jain caves were set up by the Yadava dynasty. The Chronology of these caves are not very clear and studies are still being conducted.
Like the Ajanta caves, the Ellora caves also served as rest houses for pilgrims and worship sites for the saints. But the location of caves on an ancient South Asian trade route indicates it was a vital trading center in the Deccan part of India.
Main attractions of the Ellora caves:
This cave, in particular, is one of the most popular caves of the Ellora site. It houses the monolithic rock structure- the Kailasha temple which is the largest of its type in the world. It is a monument dedicated to Lord Shiva and is molded in the form of a chariot. The Kailasha temple also has intricate sculptures of different mythological gods and goddesses.
Cave 10 has unique wooden artwork and is often known as the “carpenters cave.” The core of the cave has a striking figure of Gautama Buddha seated in a preaching position which creates an aura of sanctity. It also includes structures of Bodhisattvas and saints carved out precisely on the rock walls.
It is one of the earliest caves and is also called Rameshwar Lena. It is built in the form of a typical Hindu temple and has a garbhagriha(sanctorum) in the heart of the temple. There is a Nandi figurine glorifying the entrance. The interiors have multiple carvings including that of Lord Shiva in a dancing pose and Goddess Durga killing the demon buffalo. It also shows the Shiva – Parvati marriage.
Cave 15 or the Dashavatara temple is built in the form of a Buddhist monastery but has Hindu figurative installed in it. The walls show the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu.
Significance of Ellora caves:
The Ellora caves shows some finest art and craftsmanship through its sculptures and carvings. It acts as an important record in the aspect of cultural, religious and historical backgrounds of the Indian history. But apart from its archaeological significance it gives us a greater message of religious harmony- a much needed in the present scenario.
Things to do at Ajanta Ellora caves:
Shopping- The Ajanta and Ellora caves are not only known for their intricate architecture but also for its shopping markets. Flooded with Buddhist sculptures finely carved out by the artisans, silver jewellery, Buddhist and Jainism paintings, footwear and precious stones, the markets are always a paradise for the tourists.
Ajanta Ellora festival-
There is an annual Ajanta Ellora festival organised in the month of November. It highlights the rich Indian culture through the mesmerizing dances and songs.
Best time to visit Ajanta Ellora Caves:
The best time to take a trip to Ajanta Ellora caves is around June-March. The summer months should be avoided as the scorching sun might stop you from exploring the beauty of the rock caves.
How to reach Ajanta Ellora caves:
Ajanta and Ellora caves are one of the most popular tourist destination in India. Being a famous spot it is easily accessible through air, railway and roadway. The nearest airport is the Aurangabad airport.
The Ajanta and Ellora caves are an architecture marvel you should surely not miss. Its a perfect destination to include in your wishlist if you are looking for some fine artwork and an insight into the Indian history.
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Also read about the other amazing places of Maharashtra Ambernath Shivalaya, Bibi Ka Maqbara, Raigad Fort, Harishchandragad Hill Fort, Daulatabad Fort, Shaniwar Wada