Ajanta caves are thirty in all, out of which several are unfinished. Five of these caves are chaitya-grihas (meaning inner sanctums) while the rest are sangharamas or viharas (meaning monasteries). They were declared as world heritage site in 1983. In 1819, they were re-discovered by the modern world. Its structures belong to two distinct phases. The caves of the first phase were built between 2nd century BC to 2nd century AD while caves of the second phase belong to the period of Vakatakas and Guptas. The inscriptions in the cave reveal that Varahadeva, the minister of the Vakataka king, dedicated Cave 16 to the Buddhists while Cave 17 was the gift of the prince. Abhayanandi from Mathura had his name inscribed here by gifting the image of Buddha in Cave 4.
The themes of the cave paintings are focused on Buddha and his life
events, Bodhisattvas and the Jatakas. 104 km from Aurangabad, these
caves have been cut from the volcanic rocks of the Deccan. British
Captain John Smith discovered them while on a hunting trip in 1819 and
was touched by its unique architecture, sculpture and paintings. The
first phase of cave construction speaks of the Hinayana Phase that is
depicted in two Chaitya Halls and 4 Viharas while the rest of the caves
that belong to latter phase speak of the Mahayana Phase. Mahayana caves
exhibit formal religious imagery while Hinayana caves are almost devoid
of any carvings or ornamentations. The finest of all monasteries with
the most beautiful paintings in Ajanta caves is Cave l, where the
Bodhisattvas named Padmapani and Vajrapani are shown with elaborate
headdresses at the antechamber doorway.
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