Ajanta is situated north of Aurangabad in Maharashtra.
It is famous for the Buddhist caves which were cut, carved, and painted at different times from 2nd century BC to 6th-7th century AD, though most of them belong to the later period.
There are in all thirty caves, including the unfinished ones. Out of these five are chaityas and the rest are viharas (monasteries).
Ajanta indicates two phases of rock-cut activity. The earlier phase is characterized by cave 9 and 10 (chaityas) and cave 8 and 12 (viharas) which were constructed in the 2nd or Ist. century BC.
They were influenced by the ancient wooden art tradition as exhibited in the horseshoe form of the gate and the wood-like ribs on the stone roof. These caves contained no image of Buddha as image worship in Buddhism had not started then.
After an interval of about 500 years, the work at Ajanta started again during the time of the Vakataka kings and their feudatories. An important feature of this phase is the appearance of big images of Buddha in the caves.
The painting at Ajanta can be divided into two phase-cave no. 9 and 10 represent the earliest evidence of painting and the pictures reflect the influence of sculptures at Sanchi and Bharhut. The developed form of it can be seen later from the paintings in Caves 1 and 2.
All the paintings though influenced by the Jataka and other Buddhist stories depict the lifestyle of the rich as well as of the common man, besides the flora and fauna.
These paintings called Ajanta murals mainly use four or five colors, viz. red or yellow ochre, lime, lamp black, greenish, Lapis Lazuli (bluish). Except for the last which was not found in earlier paintings, all colors were locally available.
Among all the caves at Ajanta, cave 1 is considered the best and the finest. It is a chaitya and is distinguished from others by its decorated facade. It has a colossal image of Buddha in preaching or dharma – chakra – parivartana mudra. It also contains beautiful paintings which show divine musicians, flying figures (Gandharvas), Buddha saving a pigeon from a hawk, etc.
A panel showing foreigners with caps and beards has been taken by scholars to indicate an embassy sent by a Persian king to the Chalukya emperor, Pulakesin II, as noted by the Persian historian Tabari.