The Ajanta Caves showcase the Buddhist stories of the period between 200 B.C. and 650 A.D. This group of caves was discovered by few British Officers, who went for a tiger hunt in the site.
There are 29 caves in Ajanta, constructed by some Buddhist monks, using tools like chisel and hammer. These caves were habited by the Buddhist monks, who imparted knowledge and performed rituals in the Viharas and the Chaityas, the age-old seats of learning. The paintings and sculptures of the caves portray stories from the Jataka tales. The caves also feature images of princesses and nymphs.
Ajanta Cave One is built on the eastern end of the horse-shoe shaped scarp. This cave features intricate carvings on its façade, depicting the life of Buddha. Several sculptures are engraved on the entablature and ridges, along with the decorative motifs.
The cave has a front-court that comprises cells fronted by pillared lobby on both the sides. It also features a porch that has simple cells on both the ends and three doorways. In order to brighten up the interiors, two square windows have been carved between the doorways.
Inside the cave, each wall is around 12 metres long and 6.1 metres high. The ceiling inside the cave is supported by twelve pillars that make the aisles along the walls spacious. Towards the rear wall, a shrine has been carved to seat the image of the Buddha in the Dharmachakra Pravartana mudra.
All the walls in the cave are covered with paintings depicting didactic, devotional and ornamental scenes. The scenes are based on the stories mentioned in the Jatakas, which revolve around the life of Gautama Buddha.
Ajanta Cave Two, which lies adjacent to Cave One, is renowned for the paintings on its walls, ceilings and pillars. This cave has pillared lobby on both the ends and a porch, which is supported by pillars that are ornamented with design. The paintings on the ceilings and walls depict the tales of Jatakas, which are stories of the life of Buddha in his former existence as Bodhisattva.
The doorway on the rear wall of the porch leads to a hall, which features four colonnades. These colonnades support the ceiling and stand in the centre of the hall surrounding a square. Capitals on the rock-beams that are kept above and below the colonnades are carved in ornamental, human, animal, vegetative and semi-divine forms.
Except the floor, every surface of the cave is painted with narratives of the Jatakas tales, to teach visitors about Buddha's preaching and his life. Visitors can read the narratives, which depict various episodes of his life.
Ajanta Cave Six is the first important cave of the Mahayana phase. This cave is supported by octagonal pillars that do not bear any capital or base. The pillars are extended at the end of the front and the rear aisles, which allow pilgrims to round about the Buddha's throne.
This cave also features an image of Buddha sitting with his feet squat on the base, in a rigid pose. The porch doorway of this cave has carvings of female figures. The passage between the entrance and the interior of the building houses an intricately carved medallion.
In the middle of the cave there is a painting of Bhikshu with Lotus, which belongs to the 5th century. The painting depicts round bellied worshipper, who has calm expression on his face. Cave 5 and cave 7 are located adjacent to this cave and are known for T-shaped porched doorway and verandah, respectively.
Ajanta Cave Nine is known among tourists for its Chaitya gathering hall and two early paintings, namely the Frieze of Animals and Herdsmen Naga Worshippers. This cave also features Giant Horseshoe Window on the façade. The carving of this window and pillars are similar to that of wooden structures in earlier times.
Ajanta Cave Ten was constructed at the same time as cave nine. This cave houses a Chaitya gathering hall, which is 28.5X2.3 m wide and 11 m high. The cave also has a stupa shrine, which is surrounded by an ambulating passage. Visitors in this cave can see the famous ‘King with His Retinue’ paintings that are similar to the relief carvings at Sanchi in Madhya Pradesh.
The painting on the left wall depicts King worshipping the Buddha tree, along with his group of advisor. On the other hand, the right wall has series of paintings, one of which depicts the Shada-danta Jataka and Buddha in his elephant incarnation. Right wall of the cave also has one painting that shows Elephants in the jungle, including six-tusked elephant, which is supposed to be Buddha in his previous incarnation.
Another painting on this wall depicts a princess seated on a stool, who faints after looking at the six-tusked elephant brought to the king. In the same painting, next scene shows that the queen wants this elephant killed and when the tusks of the killed elephant are being brought before the court, she faints.
This cave also has painting of Bodhisattva on the pillar, which shows two monks kneel in front of Buddha. This painting also has flying angels above his head, indicating that the monks are being lifted to the heaven. Another painting in this cave depicts Buddha and a one-eyed monk.
Ajanta Cave Eleven is themed around the transition from Hinayana to Mahayana. This cave houses one of the earliest images of Buddha at Ajanta. In this cave, Buddha shrine is attached to a stupa, which depicts a compromise between stupa worship and image worship. Religious significance of this cave is that it depicts the transition from the earlier Hinayana phase to the later Mahayana phase of worship.
Ajanta Cave Sixteen is known for its porch doorway that has images of two Goddesses carved on the pilasters. This cave features life-size figure of Buddha seated with his feet down the base. The large veranda in the cave leads to the hall, which houses six cells on each side.
The inner shrine of this cave houses a Giant Statue of Buddha in Abhaya Mudra, which is also called the teaching gesture. Painting on the left wall of this cave is considered to be one of the finest paintings in the world art. This painting depicts the wife of Gautama's cousin, Nanda, who is suffering from the shock after hearing the news of her husband becoming a monk.
Some of the other paintings on the walls of this cave include Buddha with a begging bowl, Prince Siddharth stretching the bow and descents of Buddha from the Tushita heaven. Another painting in this cave, called the Sutasama Jataka, narrates the story of the previous incarnation of Bodhisattva and the son of the King of Indraprastha, Sutasama.
Ajanta Cave Seventeen features a porch doorway, which has painting of seven past lives of Buddha with Maitreya. The painting on the left door is entirely different from that on the right door. Doorway of this cave is T-shaped and has an image of goddess supported by pilasters.
The shrine in this cave is supported by pillars, which are carved as well as painted. This shrine has image of Buddha seated in the Yogasana and hands held in the Dharmachakra Mudra. The image also has Bodhisattva attendants holding fly-whisks and dwarfs bringing garlands.
The floral work and geometric paintings in the cave depict that this cave was painted in the transition phase between Hinayana and Mahayana. Wall of this cave has a painting of Apsaras and the Flying Spirits floating across the sky. The popular painting of Indra and the Apsaras is among the major attractions of the cave. Another famous painting in the cave shows a king and queen with their attendants participating in a royal procession.
Painting that depicts another version of the Shada-danta Jataka, as that in cave 10, can also be seen in this cave. Wall of the cave is also adorned with painting of Prince Sinhala, who conquered Lanka and a scene showing the return of Buddha as a beggar to meet his wife and child.
Ajanta Cave Eighteen is famous for the painting of princess looking at her mirror. In this painting an Indian woman is shown grooming herself in front of a mirror. Another scene in this painting depicts the woman after she has done her grooming and her female attendants holding a tray. In this painting, a little child is looking at the woman from below.
Ajanta Cave Nineteen basically houses a Chaitya gathering hall, along with disfigured paintings and sculptures. The Chaitya gathering hall in this cave has intricate carving and pilasters. In the centre of this hall, there is a big stupa, on the base of which dancing dwarfs are carved.
Under the arched Chaitya window, the sculpture of solemn Buddha is carved. Below the Buddha are the carvings of urchins, who have a cheerful expression. Another attraction of this cave is the statue of Standing Buddha atop the tall stupa, which is crowned with an umbrella that touches the roof. The painting of Naga king with his queen and attendants is another major attraction of the cave.
Cave Twenty One:
Ajanta Cave Twenty One also features a Chaitya gathering hall that dates back to 5th and 6th century AD. The verandah (gallery) of the hall opens into a court, which comprises colonnade that is supported by 26 pillars to form aisles. This hall also houses a cylindrical stupa with a passage for circumambulation.
The left wall of the cave has a large statue of dead Buddha, which is known as Buddha in Parinirvana. On the same wall there is a relief sculpture called ‘Temptation of Buddha’, by the demon Mara.
Cave Twenty Four:
Ajanta Cave Twenty Four is known for its unfinished pillars that are situated in the front of an aisle. This cave is ideal for learning about the evolution of the pillar style, as visitors can find simple earliest pillars as well as complex octagonal pillars.
This cave also features pilaster at right end of the porch, which has beautiful carvings on them. The carvings at this cave are incomplete as patronage at Ajanta was ceased in the late 7th century.
Cave Twenty Six:
Ajanta Cave Twenty Six dates back to 5th century and has the Chaitya Horseshoe arch where various images of the Buddha are sculpted. These caves have circumambulatory passage, walls of which feature paintings that depict Sravasti Miracle.
Another painting that forms a major attraction is of the Nagas, Nanda and Anupananda, who are shown holding a stem of lotus. The stem of lotus flower has been depicted as the cosmic axis on which the Buddha is seated.
Inside the caves, the first pillar on the left side has a carving of goddess standing under a fully blossomed tree. Furthermore, the caves also feature Buddha head with curly hair and large ear lobes.
Cave Twenty Seven:
Ajanta Cave Twenty Seven boasts a Naga Dwarpala on the outer flank of the shrine. This cave also features a porched doorway, which resembles the shrine doorway of cave 2.