Maharajas' Express Blog

Ajanta Excursion with Maharajas’ Express


“The Ajanta Caves are located in the Indian State of Maharashtra near Jalgaon, just outside the village of Ajintha. The Ajanta caves are carved and cut onto the side of the south of a U shaped gorge on the river Wagura. These magnificent caves are Buddhist monastic buildings representing different monasteries or colleges. The numbering of the caves denotes that there are 28 caves, some fully finished and some barely begun.

The Ajanta caves form the largest corpus of Indian wall paintings. They are unique in india though they are often related to the Sigiriya 5th century paintings in Sri Lanka.

Like the other Buddhist monasteries Ajanta has a large accent on teaching .Specific caves were assigned for the monks to live in. Records tell us that Dinnaga , a Buddhist scholar lived and taught at Ajanta in the 5th century . In its heydays the settlement would have housed several hundred teachers and pupils.

Historians are in agreement that the caves were made in two phases, separated by several centuries. The earliest groups of caves , according to historian Walter Spink, were made between 100BCE to 100 CE. They might have been carved under the patronage of the Satavahana Dynasty who were the local rulers.

The first Satavahana period caves lacked figurative sculpture, and celebrated the stupa. In the caves of the second period ,the overwhelming majority of images represent the Buddha with focus on him alone or reflect scenes from his life. Spink believes that the Satavahana period caves were abandoned because of the predominance of Hinduism during that followed this period. Hinayana Buddhism was the major influence at the time.

The second phase is known as the Vakataka period and was probably built over a longer period of time between the 4th to the 7th centuries CE. The second phase is called the Mahayana or great vehicle phase. Some twenty cave temples were built simultaneously. They were mostly viharas with a sanctuary at the back. The most intricate and elaborate architecture is attributed to this period. The caves were probably an extension of the earlier works. Caves 19, 26 and 29 are chaitya grihas and the rest viharas. This phase flourished under the patronage of Harishena.

After his decline the caves were largely abandoned on April 28, 1819 the caves were rediscovered by British officer John Smith while on a hunting expedition. Within a few decades, the caves became famous for their exotic setting, imposing architecture, and above all their prolific and all but unique paintings.

All the paintings appear to be works of court painters who were well versed in the paintings of a wealthy court life.The ceilings are also painted with an exotic and elaborate motif which was influenced by sculpture. The paintings in cave 1, which according to Spink were commissioned by Harisena himself, relate the Jataka tales which show previous lives of the Buddha as a king, rather than as an animal or human commoner, and elaborate on contemporary palace life.

The iconography of the caves is spectacular. The mix of architectural brilliance and creative painting has made Ajanta a must see destination for those who seek the real India. What better way to explore this poetry in stone than with the splendid leading luxury train Maharajas’ Express?”