The Ajanta Caves are one of the oldest UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India. The carvings and paintings at Ajanta date back to the beginning of the era of classical Indian art. These caves are some of the most mesmerizing ones in the country, especially with paintings that take us back in time all the way between the 2nd century BC and 6th century AD. The caves are now protected by the Archaeological Survey of India.
In the early 19th century, the long buried Ajanta Caves were discovered unknowingly by a British Army Officer. At this juncture, the beautiful sculpted caves that were lying deep within the Sahyadri Hills, above the Waghora River, came into the sight. The cave temples are sited in a horse-shoe shaped cliff, where Wagura is flowing at the bottom.
The Ajanta Caves are a series of 29 Buddhist cave temples in Ajanta, India. Caves are build by cutting the rocks into beautiful piece of art and architecture. These are the finest examples of some of the earliest Buddhist architecture, caves paintings and sculptures, these caves comprises shrines, dedicated to Lord Buddha & monasteries (Viharas) used by Buddhist monks for meditation and study of Buddhist teachings. Everything including the contemporary people, kings, slaves, women, men and children are seen in the Ajanta wall paintings interlaced with flowers, plants, fruits, birds and beasts.
The Ajanta were used by Buddhist monks as prayer halls (chaitya grihas) and monasteries (viharas) for about nine centuries, then abruptly abandoned. They fell into oblivion until they were rediscovered in 1819.
A chaitya is a Buddhist shrine housing a stupa. In modern texts on Indian architecture, the term chaitya-griha is often used to denote an assembly or prayer hall that houses astupa. A vihara is the Sanskrit and Pali term for a Buddhist monastery.
Viharas of Ajanta belong to most ornate and rich structures known from ancient times with numerous statues on facades and inside the structures. In many aspects the art in Ajanta symbolises the golden age of ancient Indian culture, especially during the reign of emperor Harishena of Vakataka dynasty.
Buddhism is mainly divided into two groups Hinyana and Mahayana. The Ajanta Caves perfectly display the fine line of transfer between these two Buddhist sects. The Hinyana sect did not use to revere any deity, and this group worship stupas and the similar rock forms to embody Buddha. On the other hand, Mahayana sect used the idols of different god and goddess they believed in. It is an interesting factor that the Ajanta Caves incorporate both the Prayer Halls (known as Chaitya) and monasteries. These caves also include both the types of Hinyana and Mahayana art, architecture, painting and scriptures.
The wall paintings of the caves are made with the Tempera technique. This technique involves painting on a dry surface, after the wall is coated with 1 cm thick layer of a mixture made of clay, cow dung and rice husks. The painting is coated with a coat of lime on completion. In those times, the colors used to be natural.