Ajanta, cave 19
Ajanta, cave 19
The Ajanta Caves in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra, India are about 30 rock-cut Buddhist cave monuments which date from the 2nd century BCE to about 480 or 650 CE. The caves include paintings and sculptures described by the government Archaeological Survey of India as "the finest surviving examples of Indian art, particularly painting", which are masterpieces of Buddhist religious art, with figures of the Buddha and depictions of the Jataka tales. The caves were built in two phases starting around the 2nd century BCE, with the second group of caves built around 400–650 CE according to older accounts, or all in a brief period of 460 to 480 according to the recent proposals of Walter M. Spink. The site is a protected monument in the care of the Archaeological Survey of India, and since 1983, the Ajanta Caves have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Ajanta caves are cut into the side of a cliff that is on the south side of a U-shaped gorge on the small river Waghur, and although they are now along and above a modern pathway running across the cliff they were originally reached by individual stairs or ladders from the side of the river 10–35 m below.
The area was previously heavily forested, and after the site ceased to be used the caves were covered by jungle until accidentally rediscovered in 1819 by a British officer on a hunting party. They are Buddhist monastic buildings, apparently representing a number of distinct "monasteries" or colleges. The caves are numbered 1 to 28 according to their place along the path, beginning at the entrance. Several are unfinished and some barely begun and others are small shrines.
The caves form the largest corpus of early Indian wall-painting; other survivals from the area of modern India are very few, though they are related to 5th-century paintings at Sigiriya in Sri Lanka. The elaborate architectural carving in many caves is also very rare, and the style of the many figure sculptures is highly local, found only at a few nearby contemporary sites, although the Ajanta tradition can be related to the later Hindu Ellora Caves and other sites.
The four completed chaitya halls are caves 9 and 10 from the early period, and caves 19 and 26 from the later period of construction. All follow the typical form found elsewhere, with high ceilings and a central "nave" leading to the stupa, which is near the back, but allows walking behind it, as walking around stupas was (and remains) a common element of Buddhist worship (pradakshina). The later two have high ribbed roofs, which reflect timber forms, and the earlier two are thought to have used actual timber ribs, which have now perished. The two later halls have a rather unusual arrangement (also found in Cave 10 at Ellora) where the stupa is fronted by a large relief sculpture of the Buddha, standing in Cave 19 and seated in Cave 26.