Facts & Figures

The Evidences of the Architectural Past of India

ajanta ellora caves

ajanta ellora caves

Ajanta and Ellora are the pride of Maharashtra, India. The rock-cut caves of both these sites are world famous and illustrate the degree of skill and artistry that Indian craftsmen had achieved several hundred years ago. Ajanta dates from 100 B.C. while Ellora is younger by some 600 years. The village of Ajanta is in the Sahyadri hills, about 99 kms. From Aurangabad; a few miles away in a mammoth horseshoe-formed rock, are 30 caves overlooking a gorge, `each forming a room in the hill and some with inner rooms. Al these have been carved out of solid rock with little more than a hammer and chisel and the faith and inspiration of Buddhism. Here, for the Buddhist monks, the artisans excavated Chaityas (chapels) for prayer and Viharas (monasteries) where they lived and taught. Many of the caves have the most exquisite detailed carvings on the walls, pillars and entrances as well as magnificent wall paintings.

These caves were discovered early in the 19th century quite by chance by a party of British Officers on manoeuvres. Today the paintings and sculptures on Buddha’s life, belonging to the more mellow and ritualistic Mahayana Buddhism period, are world famous. Copies of them were shown in the Crystal Palace exhibition in London in 1866. These were destroyed in a fire there. Further copies were published soon afterwards and four volumes of reproductions were brought out in 1933 by Ghulam Yazdani, the Director of Archaeology of the then Hyderabad State. Ajanta has formed an epicentre of interest for those who appreciate and are eager to know more about Indian history and art.

Interesting facts about Ajanta caves

  • These caves are listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It was done in the year 1983.
  • The Ajanta cave were discovered in the year 1819 by British Army’s Officer in Madras Regiment
  • Ajanta caves are excavated in a horse shoe shaped rock surface.
  • The caves rises up to 76 m, overlooking the Waghora stream.
  • Ajanta caves were excavated between 2nd century and 6th century.
  • All the caves were connected to the stream with flight of stairs.
  • There are in total 30 excavations.
  • Out of the total, five caves are chaityagrihas (stupa monument halls) while the rest are viharas (monastic halls of residence).
  • With regard to date and style, the earliest excavations belong to Hinayana sect of Buddhism. This comprises of total five caves, i.e. 9 & 10, which are chaityagrihas while 8, 12, 13 & 15 A are viharas.
  • Ajanta caves date back to the pre-Christian era, with Cave 10 being the earliest, dating from the second century B.C.
  • Stupas are the object of worship in these caves.
  • The caves have been carved such that they look like wooden construction.
  • The second phase of cave construction is different from the earlier as it includes depiction of Buddha image, both in sculpture and painting.
  • The paintings in the caves also belong to two different phases. The fist phase paintings belong to 2nd century B.C. while the second phase paintings belong to 5th – 6th centuries A.D.
  • The main theme of paintings in the caves is the illustration of various Jataka stories and events from the life of Buddha.
  • The base surface of the paintings on walls and ceilings consisted of a rough layer of ferruginous earth mixed with rock-grit or sand, vegetable fibres, paddy husk, grass and other fibrous material of organic origin.
  • The second coat was of mud and ferruginous earth mixed with fine rock-powder or sand and fine fibrous vegetable material. This surface was finally worked with a thin coat of lime wash.
  • Over the lime washed surface, outlines were drawn boldly and spaces were filled with requisite colors in different shades and tones to achieve the effect of rounded and plastic volumes.
  • The colors and shades used were red and yellow ochre, terra verte, lime, kaolin, gypsum, lamp black and lapis lazuli.
  • The main binding material used in the paintings was glue. Thus, the paintings at Ajanta are not frescoes as they are painted with the help of a binding agent.

Interesting Facts about Ellora caves

  • Ellora caves are locally known as ‘Verul Leni’.
  • The Great Kailasa (Cave 16) at Ellora boasts of being the largest single monolithic excavation in the world.
  • Ellora caves have been hewn out of the volcanic basaltic formation of Maharashtra, known as ‘Deccan Trap’.
  • The caves are datable from circa 6th-7th century A.D. to 11th-12th century AD.
  • The hills that have served as the venue of Ellora caves form a part of the Sahyadri ranges of the Deccan. These ranges date back to Cretaceous era of the Geological time scale (about 65 million years ago).
  • There is inscriptional evidence related to Rashtrakuta Dynasty, on the back wall of the front mandapa of Cave 15.
  • The Great Kailasa (Cave 16) is attributed to Krishna I (c. 757-83 A.D.), the successor and uncle of Rashtrakuta Dantidurga.
  • Caves 1 to 10 and Cave 21 (Ramesvara) are generally attributed to the Kalachuris of Mahismati.
  • Brahmanical caves and two Buddhist caves (caves 11 and 12) are attributed to the Rashtrakuta times.
  • The style of execution and fragmentary inscriptions of the Jaina caves hint to their origin being post the reign of Rashtrakutas.
  • Ellora caves are open from sunrise to sunset all days of the week, except, Tuesday.
  • The Great Kailasa is a freestanding, multi-storied temple complex, built to resemble Mount Kailasa – the abode of Lord Shiva.
  • Dashavatara cave (Cave 15) at Ellora depicts the ten avataras of Lord Vishnu.
  • The entrance of Ramesvara cave (Cave 21) is adorned with figurines of River Goddesses – Ganga and Yamuna.
  • The design of Dhumar Lena (Cave 29) is similar to the cave temple on Elephanta Island, near Mumbai.
  • Buddhist caves mostly consist of viharas or monasteries, which include living quarters, sleeping quarters, kitchens, and other rooms.
  • Vishwakarma cave (Buddhist cave 10) is also known as “Carpenter’s Cave” and houses a 15 foot statue of Buddha, seated in a preaching pose.
  • Amongst all Buddhist caves, the first nine (caves 1-9) are monasteries, while the last two – Do Tal (cave 11) and Tin Tal (cave 12) have three stories.
  • The Jain caves at Ellora stand adorned with exceptionally detailed art works.
  • Chhota Kailash (cave 30), Indra Sabha (cave 32) and Jagannath Sabha (cave 33) are the most remarkable Jain caves.
  • Ellora caves, in combination with Ajanta caves, have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.