Ajanta Caves, Aurangabad
Aurangabad district in Maharashtra State is a famous place with many tourist attractions and religious sites as well as temples. The Ajanta Caves are one of the most popular and most visited places in Aurangabad district with an extravagant monument. Having 30 rock-cut Buddhist caves that have existed since 2nd century, these caves are exquisite structure that includes sculptures and paintings. They are a great example of the richness of Indian art and painting. These caves are also masterpiece of the Buddhist religious art and have figures of Buddha and depictions of mythological Jataka tales. The architecture of the Ajanta caves is worth witnessing and the caves are cut in the side of a large cliff which is the south side of U-shaped gorge on the river Waghur. They are along the modern pathway that runs across the cliff and were originally reached by the individual ladders from side of river 10–35 m below. The Ajanta caves have been built extravagantly in two phases and the construction started by the 2nd century BCE. The second group of these caves was built in 400–650 BCE. This is a protected monument and is cared by the Archaeological Survey of India. The site has also been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
History and Legend of Ajanta Caves
- This region was previously forested heavily and the caves were hidden in the heavy forests that were later discovered by a British officer in 1819. The buildings are Buddhist monastic that represent many monasteries. These caves have been numbered from 1 to 28 and some of these are unfinished but some have been barely begun. Many of these caves were hidden under the rubble and round the gorge, there are numerous waterfalls and these are audible when the river is high that are audible from outside these caves.
- These caves have the best of the early Indian wall-paintings and there are not many such survivals from areas of the modern Indian region and they are believed to be related to approx. 5th century paintings in the Sigiriya region in Sri Lanka. Ajanta Caves have elaborated architectural carvings that are considered rare.
- A little after being rediscovered, the caves became famous due to their exotic setting and the impressive architecture and also due to the unique paintings. These caves were originally in the territory of princely state of Nizam of Hyderabad and Ghulam Yazdani who was the founder of the archaeology department of Hyderabad State in 1914 had played a major role to conserve and research this site. He had also published series of monographs on the caves. This site was considered adventurous till the Nizam’s government had built a modern path in between these caves among the many other efforts that had been made in order to make the site an easy visit.
Significance of the site and the Ajanta Caves
- The site boasts of the best mural paintings in the country that have survived from earlier and later caves. The paintings also include court-led paintings that are well preserved. Some of the later paintings also concentrate on the Jataka tales that show the previous lives of Buddha as king. These paintings have since deteriorated significantly and a majority of these caves are the vihara halls that were used for prayer and also for living. Such caves are also called as monasteries. There are also some other plainer rooms that were used for sleeping and also for other activities.
- The earlier caves have been built on eastern end of these horse-shoe shaped regions, and now the caves are in less prominent position. Ajanta Caves have been fully inaugurated that are important for the worship by the devotees of Lord Buddha that has an image in central shrine. The cliff of the first cave has steeper slope than other caves and this provides it a tall and a grand facade. Some caves only have left remains as the fine carving have been carelessly thrown down into the slope into the river but some have still been lost and they may have been presumably carried away in the monsoon torrents.
- The carvings on the cave are surfaces embellishments and have scenes from life of Buddha along with decorative motifs. There also is a two pillared portico and the cave also has a front-court along with porch that has simple cells on its both ends. Most areas of these porches had been once covered with the murals and some fragments remain on the ceiling of the cave. On the rear wall to the house, a shrine has been carved with an impressive and elaborate seated image of Buddha and his hands have been made in dharmachakrapravartana mudra.
- The temple has four cells that are located on all the walls and these have paintings that are in fair state in terms of preservation. The paintings depict mainly didactic, ornamental, and devotional scenes that are from Jataka stories that date back to Buddha’s former existence when he was a bodhisattva. The paintings have depicted life of Gautama Buddha and also of his veneration. The caves have two famous individually painted images and also life size figures of bodhisattvas that are Padmapani and Vajrapani that are placed on either side of entrance to Buddha shrine.
- The paintings are on every surface of these caves except the floor but the art work has eroded in some places due to decay and also due to human interference. Many areas thus are painted walls, pillars, ceilings that are fragmentary. The narratives of the paintings are mostly based on the Jataka tales that are depicted on the walls. The paintings inform the community mainly of the teachings of the Buddha and of his life through the successive rebirths.
- Some of the caves have also been saved from volcanic eruptions and thus still contain some major volcanic remains that also increase the attraction and significance of the site. This is today the most popular and most visited tourist destination in the Maharashtra state and is extremely crowded at the time of holiday. The Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation had in 2012 announced their plans to add this site to ASI visitor centre. They are also trying to get a better idea of these paintings and decipher them.
Ajanta Caves Timings
Ajanta Caves are open on all days except Tuesday and are open till sunset. The entry fees per person is Rs. 10/- and Rs 25./- are charged for clicking pictures and videography inside the caves.
How to reach by Rail Road and Air
Aurangabad is one of the most popular tourist hubs and thus has many visitors especially in the holiday season. The past glory and heritage of this city are the main attractions of Aurangabad. The Ajanta and Ellora caves are a major tourist attraction of the city and these caves are recognized as world heritage by UNESCO. Some other places to visit are the spectacular Mughal monuments, Bibi ka Maqbara and many other sites are extremely enjoyable in the city.
The caves also have a dedicated archaeological museum that is also a well noted tourist spot in the city. This place also has many historical and cultural places. The city has many ways to be reached and can be reached through multiple means of transport. Aurangabad is well connected by all major means like air, rail and road as per the tourist’s convenience. The city’s airport connects to all major cities and traveling to this city through air can be a very comfortable option while one can also travel by rail to the city.
By Air: Aurangabad has regular flights from all other major cities of the country and the major airport is the Chikkalthana Airport.
By Rail: Aurangabad is also well connected to all other major cities of India via regular trains. The major stations are Aurangabad, Rotegaon, Chikalthan, Mukundwadi Halt.
By Bus: One can get regular buses to the Aurangabad city from all other major cities of the country. The major bus station is Aurangabad.
The city is well connected and has efficient connectivity by all means of transport to various cities. There are a number of buses connecting Aurangabad to other cities and the journey is a comfortable one.
Hotels in Aurangabad
There are many 3, 4, and 5-Star hotels in Aurangabad that are extremely comfortable and have great services. The major hotels in the city include Hotel Atithi, Lemon Tree Hotel Aurangabad, VITS Hotel, Green Olive, Vivanta by Taj Hotel Oberoi and J P International. All the above hotels are extremely spacious and comfortable with all facilities. The tourists visit Ajanta caves and museums mostly in the holiday season and that is when the hotels are jam packed.
Nearby Attractions and Temples
The major attractions of the city of Aurangabad apart from the Ajanta and Ellora Caves are as follows:
Bibi Ka Maqbara: The place is situated about 3kms from the main city and is the resting place of Aurangzeb’s wife, Rabia-ud-Durrani. This place is an imitation of Taj Mahal, Agra. The burial site or the Maqbara is situated in middle of spacious Mughal garden that has axial ponds and fountains along with broad pathways and clean pavilions.
Panchakki: The 17th century water mill is situated at distance of about 1km from city. The water mill is famous for the vast underground water channel that traverses about 8kms. The mesmerizing artificial waterfall and beautiful water fountains increase the beauty of the place and thus is one of the most visited sites of the city.
Gates in Aurangabad: The most interesting place to visit in the city is the 52 ‘gates’; they have a local history and are visited most often. The historical gates increase the legend of the place and thus are one of the most visited sites of the city.
Naukhanda palace: Built by Malik Ambar, the massive portal gateway is a grand palace in the city with nine apartments. The interior buildings have five zananas, a Divan-i-Aam, a Divan-i-Khas, a masjid and a kacheri and each of this is provided with a garden and also with a cistern.
Salim Ali Lake & Bird Sanctuary: The Salim Ali Sarovar which is popularly known as the Salim Ali Talab, is a major place of interest that is located near Delhi Gate right opposite the Himayat Bagh in Aurangabad. The site is located in northern part of the city and was known as the Khiziri Talab during Mughal Period. The place was renamed after the well known ornithologist and naturalist Salim Ali. The site also has a bird sanctuary and also a garden that is well maintained by the Aurangabad Municipal Corporation.
Aurangabad Caves: The caves are situated at a distance of 5kms, and are nestled amidst the hills. These 12 Buddhist caves date back to 3 A.D. and are of particular interest as there are Tantric influences that are evident in the iconography and also in the architectural designs of these caves. The caves also offer a panoramic view of the whole city as well as of the imposing Maqbara.
Aurangabad has always been held as a town of great importance due to the history and legend associated with it. The popular tourist destination in the country has a lot to offer to the visitors. The town holds major significance in terms of history as well as mythology and is an important Buddhist site. The place has a lot to offer to the tourists and they back a lot in term of spiritualism as well as heritage and thus they keep coming back to experience the utmost enjoyment.