Ajanta Caves, Ajanta and Ellora Caves Overview
Ajanta Caves are an excellent architectural representation of ancient India situated 99 km away from the city of Aurangabad in Maharashtra. The carvings and sculptures on the walls of these rock-cut caves depict the fables from Jataka and life instances of Buddha. Also considered as one of the eminent World Heritage Sites by UNESCO, Ajanta Caves is a perfect place to explore the rich Buddhist culture.
The Ajanta Caves were constructed between 2nd century BC and 6th century AD and is considered to be one of the most important historical sites in India. These caves were used as a retreat by the Buddhist monks and hence, every nook and corner of the caves resonate a rich cultural history of Buddhism.
The monument complex is packed with shrines which are commonly known as Chaityagrihas and Viharas. The caves are situated within the dense forest and were discovered by a British officer in 1819.
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History of Ajanta Caves
Ajanta caves are monasteries where Buddhist monk of the 2nd century BC lived and learned various aspects of Buddhism. These monasteries were not discovered until a troop of British soldiers came across this architectural marvel in the 19th century. Eventually, they informed the Government and it was spontaneously followed by excavation work. Till date, various parts are excavated and studied by the archaeologists.
It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1983. The most interesting aspect of Ajanta Caves is the time period during which it was built. The caves were constructed during the rule of two dynasties, the Satvahana dynasty which was followed by Vakataka dynasty. During the first phase, Chaityagrihas and sanctuaries around the Waghora River were built. The caves marked as 9, 10, 12, and 15A belong to this period. In the second phase, around 20 cave temples were built with a sanctum and they resemble modern-day monasteries.
Architecture of Ajanta caves
The ceilings and walls of the rock-cut Ajanta caves are adorned with intricate carvings and paintings of various life instances and preaching of Lord Buddha. Ajanta Caves constitute approximately 30 cave sites that represent the hard work and dedication with which they were constructed by the ancient people. The caves depict the teachings of both sects of Buddhism i.e., Hinayana and Mahayana sect. There are 24 Buddhist Viharas and 5 Hindu Temples in the Ajanta Cave complex. Caves 1, 2, 4, 16, 17 are the most beautiful caves and the famous statue of reclining Buddha is located in Cave 26.
Another attention grasping feature of Ajanta Caves is its Viharas, which were the prayer hall of the monks. Each Vihara comprises of a beautiful canopied verandah supported by pillars. Each verandah is connected by doors and windows that look into the main hall. The sidewalls of the hall have doors that lead to the cells where monks used to reside. There is also a magnificent doorway in the main wall of the hall which leads to chamber that houses a massive rock-cut sculpture of Lord Buddha.
The paintings on the walls of caves depict stories of the famous Jakata tales. The paints used were made of imported materials and are both rare and expensive. The artists of those times were imaginative enough to create such a beautiful piece of art given the limited amount of supplies they had.
Best Time to Visit Ajanta Caves
The ideal time to visit Ajanta Caves is during the monsoon or winter seasons. Plan your trip either during the months between June to September or October to March. Do not visit the Caves during summer months as the heat is unbearable and you will be exhausted soon. The temperature usually hovers around 40 degrees during the summer season.
How to Reach Ajanta Caves
Ajanta Caves is well-connected with roadways from the city of Aurangabad. It lies at a distance of about 99 km to the North of the city and can be reached by hiring a private taxi or taking a bus. It usually takes two and a half hours to reach the place via cab. However, if you take a bus, it will take three hours or maybe more to reach the caves. Take a few snacks to munch on during the bus journey.
The bus to Ajanta Caves can be taken from the Aurangabad Central Bus Station which is located in the Aurangabad Road. The bus will drop you at Ajanta Caves Road Entrance and from here you will have to interchange and take another local bus to the main entrance of the caves. From here, it will hardly take 10 minutes to reach the caves.
The nearest airport is at Aurangabad and it is well connected with other major cities such as Udaipur, Delhi, Jaipur, and Mumbai. The region is also linked with a good railway network. Trains such as Devgiri and Tapovan Express provide daily services from Mumbai to Aurangabad junction.