Ajanta Art & Architecture

Ajanta Cave

  • It is located in the Aurangabad District of Maharashtra State.
  • Ajanta has twenty-eight caves.
  • It has four chaitya caves datable to the earlier phase, i.e., the second and the first century BCE (Cave Nos. 10 and 9), and the later phase, i.e., the fifth century CE (Cave Nos. 19 and 26).
  • It has large chaitya viharas and is decorated with sculptures and paintings.
  • Ajanta is the only surviving example of a painting of the first century BCE and the fifth century CE.
  • The caves at Ajanta as well as in western Deccan in general have no precise chronology because of the lack of known dated inscriptions.
  • Cave Nos. 10, 9, 12, and 13 belong to the early phase, Caves Nos. 11, 15, and 6 upper and lower, and Cave No. 7 belong to the phase earlier than the late fifth century CE. The rest of the caves belong from the late fifth century CE to the early sixth century CE.
  • The chaitya Cave Nos. 19 and 26 are elaborately carved. Their facade is decorated with Buddha and, Boddhisattva images. They are of the apsidal vault-roof variety. Cave No. 26 is very big and the entire interior hall is carved with a variety of Buddha images, the biggest one being the Mahaparinibbana image.
  • The rest of the caves are vihara-chaitya caves. They consist of a pillared veranda, a pillared hall, and cells along the walls. The back wall has the main Buddha shrine. Shrine images at Ajanta are grand in size.
  • Some of the vihara caves are unfinished such as Cave Nos. 5, 14, 23 24, and 28.
  • Among the important patrons at Ajanta were
    • Varahadeva (patron of Cave No. 16), the prime minister of the Vakataka king, Harishena;
    • Upendragupta (patron of Cave Nos . 17-20) the local king of the region and feudatory of the Vakataka king , Harishena;
    • Buddhabhadra (patron of Cave No. 26); and
    • Mathuradasa (patron of Cave No. 4).

Ajanta Cave Paintings and Sculptures

  • Many paintings have survived in Cave Nos. 1, 2, 16, and 17 of Ajanta.
  • Paintings have a lot of typological variations.
  • Outward projections are used in the Ajanta paintings of the fifth century CE. Lines are clearly defined and are very rhythmic.
  • Body-color gets merged with the outer line creating the effect of volume.
  • The figures are heavy like the sculptures of western India.
  • The caves of the early phase also have paintings especially Cave Nos. 9 and 10.
  • Paintings in Cave No. 10 are an afterthought as is evident from the plastering over the early inscriptions inside the cave.
  • On the other hand, the paintings in Cave No. 9 are part of the preplanning. They belong to the first century BCE.
  • The figures are broad with heavy proportion and arranged in the picture space in a linear way.
  • Lines are sharp. Colors are limited.
  • Figures in these caves are painted with considerable naturalism and there is no over-stylization.
  • Events are grouped together according to geographical location.
  • Tiered, horizontally arranged figures appear as a convenient choice of artisans.
  • Separation of geographic location has been indicated by using outward architectural bands.
  • Figures appear like the Sanchi sculptures which indicate how the lithic and painting traditions were progressing simultaneously.
  • The frontal knot of the headgear of the figures follows the same pattern as that of the sculptures. However, there are a few different patterns of headgear.
  • The second phase of paintings can be studied from the images of the Buddhas painted on the walls and pillars of Cave Nos. 10 and 9. These Buddha figures are different from the figures painted in the fifth century CE.
  • Such developments in paintings need to be understood in the context of the religious requirement.
  • Cave excavation and painting were simultaneous processes and the dating of the paintings follows the date of the cave excavations.
  • The next stage of development is observed mainly in the paintings of Cave Nos. 16, 17, 1, and 2. However, it does not mean that pictures had not been painted in other caves. In fact, almost in all the finished excavations, pictures have been painted but very few have survived. Paintings have typological variations in these caves.
  • It may also be observed that various skin colors are used in the paintings such as brown, yellowish-brown, greenish, yellow ochre, etc. which represent a multicolored population.
  • Paintings of Cave Nos. 16 and 17 have a precise and elegant painterly quality. They do not bear the ponderous volume of the sculptures in the caves. Movements in the figures are very rhythmic. Brown thick dark lines are used as contours. Lines are forceful and full of energy. Attempts are also made to give highlights in the figural compositions.
  • The paintings of Cave Nos. 1 and 2 are very orderly and naturalistic, well-integrated with the sculptures in the caves. The architectural setting is simple and the arrangement of figures is delineated in the circular form to create three-dimensionality and special effects.
  • Half-closed, elongated eyes are employed.
  • Different guilds of artisans seem to have worked on the paintings of these caves which can be inferred from their typological and stylistic variations.
  • Naturalistic postures and unexaggerated facial features are used as exceptional types.
  • The themes of the paintings are the events from the life of the Buddha, the Jatakas, and the Avadanas.
  • Some paintings such as Simhala Avadana, Mahajanaka Jataka, and Vidhurpundita-Jataka cover the entire wall of the cave.
  • It is worth noting that Chaddanta Jataka has been painted in the early Cave No. 10 with many details and events grouped according to their geographical locations.
  • Events that happened in the jungle and events that happened in the palace are separated by their locations.
  • In Cave No. 10 Chaddanta faithfully follows the Pali text whereas the one painted in Cave No. 17 is very different.
  • In one of the events, the Boddhisattva, Chaddanta, is shown removing his own tusk and giving it to the hunter, Sonuttar.
  • The other important paintings are the famous Padmapani and Vajrapani in Cave No. 1.
  • However, it may be observed that the images of Padmapani and Vajrapani are very common in Ajanta but the best-preserved paintings are in Cave No. 1.
  • Some figures in Cave No. 2 have affiliation with the Vengi sculptures and at the same time, the influence of the Vidarbha sculptural tradition is also observed in the delineation of some sculptures.

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