The Ajanta and Ellora caves near Aurangabad are India's contribution to the world of art. Preserved as a world heritage site by the UNESCO, the shrines here are handmade wonders cut out of rock.
All the carvings and architectural work was done between 2nd century BC and the 8th century AD.
The Ajanta Caves
The Ajanta caves, discovered in the 19th century, depict the story of Buddhism. Ajanta has 29 caves that were all built as secluded retreats for Buddhist monks.
The caves are shaped in the form of a horseshoe with the Wagura River
forming a waterfall just above the caves. They are sculpted out of
granite rock on the inner side of the Wagura River valley and are
classified as Worship Halls (Chaitya Caves) and Monasteries (Vihara
Buddha's life is the underlying theme of all the sculptures and paintings, in addition to stories of the Jatakas and Bodhisattvas. The Buddhist monks created these marvelous murals that depict the story of Buddha's incarnations. All the paintings have been etched and painted using mineral dyes. The walls and ceilings of the caves also have paintings of the lives of kings and the common people, beautiful women, jewellery and hairstyles, etc.
on the walls of Ajanta Caves are made using the tempera technique. This
is a complex technique where the painting is done on a dry surface
after a coating of 1 cm thick layer of a mixture made of clay, cow dung
and rice husk is put on the wall. The color used for the paintings has been made from natural products.
What to see in Ajanta
Best preserved wall paintings, including impressive Bodhisattvas, Padmapani and Avalokiteshvara are housed in cave one.
All the carvings and murals in Ajanta are a depiction of the
contemporary society of that period. These artistic pieces show all
kinds of people from kings to slaves, women, men and children
interwoven with flowers, plants, fruits, birds and beasts. Some of the
depictions point to Yakshas, Kinneras (half human and half bird)
Gandharvas (divine musicians) and Apsaras (heavenly dancers).
The flying Apsara painting and the image of the preaching Buddha in cave 17 are also two great works at Ajanta.
The Ellora Caves
The cave temples in Ellora reflect Buddhist as well as Hindu and Jain mythology. Located around 30 kilometers from Aurangabad, Ellora has 34 caves (out of which 12 are Buddhist, 17 Hindu and 5 Jain).
What to see in Ellora
famous is the Kailasa Temple in cave 16 - the largest monolithic
structure in the world - the abode of Lord Shiva. The temple was carved
from the top and the sides and not from the base and this adds to its
uniqueness. The gateway, pavilion, assembly hall, sanctum and tower are
carved out of a single rock. The construction of the Kailasa temple is
supposed to have spanned over a century.
The main temple is flanked on either side by two free
standing pillars and is believed to be the Trishul of Lord Shiva. The
corridors of the temples are studded with sculpted figures that tell
the tales the Mahabharata and Ramayana.
The Indrasabha temple has two-storeys. A high flight of steps
lead to the temple and is flanked by a huge Dhwajsthamba and a statue
of an elephant.
Tin Tala is a Buddhist cave that was fashioned by hand as a
three-storeyed building. Built from a solid rock, the cave has smooth
floors and ceilings that are all hand made.
Events and Festivals
The Ellora Festival of Classical Dance and Music is organized at the caves every year in the third week of March.
During the Paithan Fair held in March-April, pilgrims gather on the bank of the river Godavari to pay homage to Sant Eknath.
Colorful processions preceded by dancers celebrate the birth
anniversary of the great Emperor Shivaji during Shivaji Jayanti (held
During Buddha Jayanti (also held in May) tourists can witness processions and colorful celebrations all over Aurangabad.
Pola, celebrated in August, is a festival when cattle are
decorated and displayed. This festival is a thanksgiving gesture from
the farmer to his cattle.
During Khuldabad Urs, Muslims gather at the tomb of a saint at Khuldabad.
How to Reach
The Ajanta Ellora
caves are accessible by air, road or rail. The closest airport is at
Aurangabad (about 100 kilometers from Ajanta and 30 kilometers from Ellora). Jalgaon is the nearest railhead from Ajanta (59 kilometers).
Aurangabad has a wider choice of accommodation. You can choose to stay at Aurangabad and make day trips to Ajanta and Ellora. Decent accommodation is also available at Ajanta and Ellora.
Shop for Bidri art objects (zinc and copper alloy) with silver inlay or Himroo shawls based on designs from the Ajanta paintings.
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