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Ajanta – Medieval Indian Art, Architecture and Culture


  • The Ajanta caves are situated at a distance of about 100 km north of Aurangabad in Maharashtra.
  • Totally 30 caves have been scooped out of volcanic rocks.
  • Though chiefly famous for mural paintings, there are some sculptures too.
  • The Hinayana sect of Buddhism started the excavation of caves in Ajanta.
  • The patrons were the kings who ruled the Deccan plateau during the period c. 200 BCE to 200 CE.
  • Inscriptions speak of the patrons who range from kings to merchants.
  • First phase of the caves belong to the period from c. 200 BCE to 200 CE.
  • The second phase started from c. 200 CE to 400 CE.


  • Ajanta caves are the repository of rich mural paintings.
  • Paintings of the early phase are mostly in caves nine and ten, which belong to the period of the Satavahanas.
  • The authors of Ajanta paintings followed ingenious techniques.
  • First, they plastered the ridged surface of the volcanic rock.
  • This plaster was made of vegetable fibres, paddy husk, rock-grit, and sand.
  • This surface was overlaid with a thin layer of lime, ready to receive the pigment.
  • Recently it was noticed that a stretch of cloth was reinforced on the surface for the application of pigment.
  • The colours were extracted out of natural objects and minerals.
  • The prominent colours used are black, red, white, yellow, blue and green.
  • The aesthetic features of the paintings are garland, necklaces, headgear, ear-rings and the perfection of the movements of the human hands.
  • The story panels are attractive and informative.
  • Scenes from the Jataka stories and select episodes from the life history of Buddha are the central theme of the paintings.
  • The celestial figures of Kinnaras, Vidyadharas and Gandharvas are depicted in paintings and sculptures.
  • In the paintings of the later period Bodhisattva is shown in larger relief.
  • Though a variety of human moods are presented, the dominant ones are of compassion and peace.
  • Light and shadow are intelligently used.
  • Human figures depicted in different colours have been interpreted to mean that they are from different ethnicities.

Architecture and Sculpture

  • Architecturally, Ajanta caves are grouped into two:
    • chaityas and
    • viharas.
  • The chaityas have vaulted ceilings with long halls.
  • In the rear end of the halls the statue of Buddha is seen.
  • The sculpture of Buddha in the garba-griha is in the classical model.
  • His image is the embodiment of benevolence.
  • Heaviness is the general character of the sculptures.
  • Sculptures of Yakshis and Hariti with children are signifi cant.
  • Bodhisattva carved out independently is another important feature.
  • The popular Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara is depicted in painting and sculpture.

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