Ajanta, situated in the Aurangabad district of Maharashtra is considered as the masterpiece of Buddhist religious art. The series of 29 caves filled with pictorial description of the Jataka tales or the Buddhist stupas is considered as a World Heritage site.
It is said that the Ajanta caves were abandoned in the later part of 5th Century and was rediscovered by a British officer after 1300 years in 1819. When the Ajanta caves were rediscovered, it had been covered by dense jungle and the caves had become abode of animals, bats and birds.
Being a student of Architecture, I was already aware of the type of Buddhist architecture present in Ajanta caves and had drafted the details of many caves as part of many assignments.
When we reached Ajanta, we could not see any caves from outside. After climbing at least 50 rugged steps, the first glimpse of Ajanta was a series of caves arranged in a horse shoe shape. After climbing those rugged steps we were all panting and from the view I could estimate that we have to walk a long distance to see the last cave.
After a tight security check, we entered the horse shoe shaped area and entered the first cave. The cave was totally dark. No one was allowed to click the camera or light a torch as the rays of the light might damage the Jataka paintings on the walls and ceilings of the cave. There were few licensed guides who had special lanterns to show the cave paintings. Within that cave there was another attic where a huge statue of Buddha in meditating pose was residing. Our guide then took a lantern and put the lantern on the left knee of Buddha. We were amazed to see that the light and shadow played in such a way that it seemed that Buddha was smiling. Then he placed the lantern just in front of Buddha. The expression changed and Buddha was no longer smiling rather it seemed that he was deeply meditating. Then the guide placed the lantern beneath the right knee and the expression on Buddha’s face changed to an anger. His eye brows were lifted and lips tightly held against each other to show his anger. We were all taken aback by this amazing use of light and shadow to change the expression in Buddha’s face.
I left the cave enchanted by the beautiful light & shadow show to visit the next caves. This monastic complex comprised of a number of viharas( halls of residence) or chaita-grihas (halls comprising stupa monuments). The chaitas and viharas were scooped out of the hilly tract and were covered with dense greenery on all side. As I travelled from one vihara to another my respect for the artisans who crafted those monuments reached its zenith. The excavation exhibited a variety of viharas – while some were simple and mundane while others had ornate columns and pillars. Some viharas had porch while had others had shrines inside them.
Even the passage way from one cave to another was not straight. Sometime we had to walk down the stairs and then again climb up to reach the next cave. There was no shortcut to reach the last cave neither there was any short route to come back to the point where we started from. After seeing 5-6 caves, we were tired and were panting, but such was the addiction to see the next cave that we took rest for a minute, drank water and moved on till we reached the last cave. Even after seeing the last cave when we were coming back, we were peeping inside the caves we had already visited. Such was the beauty of the rock-cut cave mountains that even after walking for such a long distance on the rugged steps, we ignored our tiredness as we were pre-occupied by the beauty of this ancient monastery.
The caves of Ajanta left us enchanted and I would suggest that if you are going to Ajanta please reserve one full day for Ajanta caves only so that you can savour the beauty of Ajanta to the fullest.
We had visited Ajanta in January and it was very hot during daytime while in night the weather was pleasant and cool. It is better to carry a bottle of water and a cap when you are visiting Ajanta to avoid any sun-stroke. Carry light woolen garment for night during winter.
HOW TO GO
Jalgaon is the nearest railway station to Ajanta and Aurangabad is the nearest airport. Regular services of state buses are available from Mumbai, Pune, Jalgaon, Ahmednagar, Ahmedabad, Shirdi, Nasik, Dhule, Indore, Hyderabad, and Bijapur to Aurangabad, and from Jalgaon to Ajanta.