Ajanta Caves

Ajanta Caves are the most famous UNESCO  world heritage site and protected by archaeological survey of India. The frescoes of Ajanta are painted in the ancient rock-cut caves site, which is located in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra state 60 km away from Jalgaon railway station.


The art temples of Ajanta depict various emotions and practices like love, patience, worship, sacrifice, sympathy and peace in the form of architecture, sculpture and painting. The bright history of Indian paintings starts from the wall of paintings of Ajanta frescoes and it is known as the golden period of art.

Time – 50 A.D.  to 500 A.D. was the period of change in religious situations in the country.

The common man was tired of the rigid religious caste system as and there was a general desire to break free from restrictions and to adopt new universal religion. The Buddha and Mahavira swami enlightened people as former founded Buddhism and later came up with the cult of Jainism.

Samrat Ashoka the follower of Lord Buddha built stupas or chaityas and viharas for the Buddhist bhikshus .in viharas monks used to live and worshiped in chaityas. The stories of past lives of Buddha known as jataka stories were painted in Bagh caves and Ajanta caves.


This holy pilgrimage of Indian paintings is situated in the Aurangabad district of Maharashtra state. From the railway station of Jalgaon, Pahur and Aurangabad, there are bus routes up to Fardapur. There is a river Bagora at the distance of four miles from the Fardapur which has so many curves and on the last curve of the river, one can see the Ajanta caves. There is a hillock about 300 feet high in a crescent moon formation or in a horseshoe nail formation which seems like a natural place.

These are the art temples of Ajanta where the example of love patience, worship, sacrifice, sympathy and peace in the form of architecture, sculpture and painting. The beauty of the calm atmosphere of this place gives inspiration to the Buddha bhikshus.  The art of the painting of Ajanta has reached its climax due to the atmosphere. From October to December the natural beauty of this place is at its peak.


The caves are carved out of the large rocks. there are in total 30 caves in Ajanta. Previously  29 caves were known and 30 caves is very small and incomplete. latter is the smallest cave in which some scenes of buddhas life have been inscribed and some statues of Buddha are also there.

The caves are of two types :

  1. Chaitya or stupa caves :these were the places of worships  and religious discussions caves no. 9,10,19,26 and 29 are chaitya caves.
  2. Vihara caves or living caves : they were the living places  for Buddha bhikshus . cave no. 1 to 8 , 11 to 18 then 20 to 28 and 30th

Cave no.29 is the best stupa cave. Cave no.1  otherwise is the best cave and is 21 feet long and the most beautiful. The handmade paintings were done in all the caves but now they are visible only in cave no. 1,9,10,11,16 and 17. The paintings of other remaining caves have perished over the years. The 9th and 10th  caves are supposed to be the oldest ones paintings of cave no. 8,12 and 13 have almost vanished  11th and 13th caves were built in 500 A.D. 

Now only caves 1,2,9,10,11,16,17,19 and 21 have got some paintings but 17th cave has got the maximum number of paintings. however 9th and 10th caves were the oldest ones.

The technique of Ajanta frescoes and murals

Ajanta frescoes were done in tempera style .frescoes are paintings which are done on wet plaster in which colours become fixed as the plaster dries and is directly done on the walls and ceilings of Ajanta caves. Ajanta murals are well-sized paintings done on any surface but fixed on a wall.

Colours of Ajanta

Ajanta artist used only limited colours which were prepared from locally available pigment; natural white colours were prepared from lime or chalkstone, blue from Neel (indigo) trees yellow from Pevady, red from red ruddle, yellow colour from arsenic. Rest all the colours used in Ajanta paintings were a mixture of red, blue, yellow and white. the black colour was made from burning the mustard in the oil lamp.

The subject matter of Ajanta painting        

We find different aspects of life painted in Ajanta caves. The lonely life of the village, luxury life of cities, beggars, fishermen, fighting soldiers, hunters, bullfight, birds and animals etc. are the specialities of Ajanta paintings.  The whole religious and philosophical life has been depicted in the background of these figures. Also, themes of court life, feasting processions, men and women at work, festivals, various natural scenes including animals, birds and flowers have been depicted.

The artist use shading to give a 3D effect. Similarly, at Bagh caves,150km away to the north of Ajanta, beautiful frescoes have been found. though the themes in these paintings are both secular and religious they do depict some aspects of Buddhist life and rituals. One of the most famous paintings shows a procession of elephants. another depicts a dancer and women musicians. these have been influenced by the Ajanta style of paintings.

According to the scholars, the paintings of Ajanta can be divided into three parts as regards the subject matter.

They are: – (1) ornamental (2) emotional or expressive (3) descriptive

The first  category includes  animals, birds, flowers, creepers, giants, divine people, snakes, Gandharva, Apsaras, garuda and yaksha

Buddha and Bodhisattva, king and queen, Buddha in a different pose, his birth, death and divine events of his life come under the second category.

The third category consists of jataka stories which are maximum in number.

Characteristics of Ajanta painting

1. LINEAR BEAUTY: The line drawing has added great charm to Ajanta paintings and there’s a beautiful expression of emotion through line art. The pressure of the brushes creates the desired effect and adds additional charm to the paintings. the lines are powerful, flexible thick and thin according to the requirement. the shades of lines are different varying from red to dark brown and then black.

2. EXPRESSION OF SENTIMENTS: The expression of emotion and thoughts is the soul of Ajanta paintings. composition gaiety, friendship, worship, request and restlessness have been beautifully depicted. human emotions like love, shyness, sorrow, fear, courage, anger, hate, strain and beauty have been very successfully depicted in the Ajanta art.

3. DEPICTION OF WOMEN: Women symbolizes beauty and the Ajanta artist have made them look graceful, polite and divine also as the goddess of art, mostly women are painted half nude but there is no vulgarity.

4. DECORATION ON PROOF: The roofs of Ajanta caves are also very beautifully decorated. animals, birds lotus, gods and goddesses have been used in lovely decoration. the speciality in this decoration is that in spite of the limited means available in the dark caves and working in dim lights the artist didn’t compromise with the quality of work.

5. COLOR SCHEME: -The use of limited colours in creating a different colour scheme is the originality of Ajanta paintings, and moreover the retention of brightness in colour for about 2000 years is another great feature .he whole painting has been done by Gerua (ruddle ), Neel ( blue colour), chalk and lime for white colour and paved yellow ruddle for yellow colour.

6. TYPES OF LIFE: Divine and common, both the lives have been beautifully depicted in Ajanta art .royal and rural, both scenes have been painted well.

Name: Boddhistava Padmapani

Artist: unknown

Medium: fresco

Place: Ajanta cave no.1

Period: 5th century A.D.

Courtesy: archaeological survey of India

This painting in cave no.1 shows a Bodhisattva who will soon become Buddha. Bodhisattva here is standing in an attractive pose Tribhanga pose with a blue lotus in his hand. The other hand extended in the space is creating a sense of movement. The elegant features high forehead and elongated eyes looking downwards giving an expression of dignity and calm meditation. Eyebrows are joined at the centre. He has bold shoulders modelled softly with a merging outline giving volume to the body and creating a three-dimensional effect. the torso is round with delicate and rhythmic lines to define the curve. There are highlights on cheeks, sharp nose and chin as well as on the arms and breasts. Jewellery indicate his royal birth. He wears a pearl necklace and a big intricate crown made with sapphire. The long string diagonally worn over the left shoulder across the chest and falling below the right arm is shown with the fine spiral lines. The beads from the centre of his necklace are bigger and decrease in size towards the neck. His left arm has a ribbon tied above the elbow. the cloth around the hip resembles a dhoti of striped silk worm in ascetic style.

Colours are unknown and earthy. Light red, brown green and blue colours are used. Inwards shading of the outline gives fullness to the bodhisattva appearance. Surrounding him in smaller less important depiction are: his disappointed wife standing by his side touching her heart, Mara demon attacking, playful monkeys, birds and kinnara (a mythological creature, half human half bird). Despite all this unrest around him he is detached.

The bodhisattva is depicted as an enlightened being is who is about to achieve final nirvana. Filled with karuna (kindness and care) he looks at the world of suffering and rebirth and on all the beings who suffer in it. on his journey to nirvana he is presented as a faithful and adorable being whose goal is to comfort and calm all beings.

Name: Mara Vijay

Artist: unknown

Medium: stone

Place: Ajanta cave no. 26

Size: 10×12 feet

Courtesy: archaeological survey of India

Period: 5th century A.D.

This sculpture in chaitya hall cave number 26 shows Mara and his armies the resignification representations of doubts and desires that distracted Buddha from time to time. Mara Vijay means victory over the god of lust, depicting the confusion in buddhas mind on the journey to salvation.

The panel shows the story with the image of buddha in the centre surrounded by Mara army along with his daughters. Buddha is shown pointing towards earth as a witness to his generosity with his right hand. Mara on an elephant accompanied by his demon force including some with animal face is attacking buddha from his right. in foreground the daughters of Mara are trying to tempt buddha by dance and music. the dancing figures at lowers   base with the musicians have a building waist and one of the dancing figures has spread out her hands in a dancing posture. On the left lower end, the image of Mara is shown thinking as how to disturb Gautama before enlightenment’s army of Mara is shown marching towards buddha in the first half of the panel whereas the lower half of the panel shows the withdrawing army of defeated Mara. The centrally placed buddha is in Padmasan and a tree at the back is shown with help of dense leaves.

This relief sculpture panel has all energetic and voluminous figures in its complex compositions. All events show dynamic movement. the Ajanta artist were masters in portraying feminine emotions and grace. The female figures are depicted in different postures and gestures of frustration and guilt.

%d bloggers like this: