Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Visit to Ajanta Caves

By Shriram Khadilkar
Photography: Shriram Khadilkar

Lord buddha in preaching pose flanked by Bodhisattvas, Cave 4, Ajanta

Back from his recent visit to the Ajanta caves, Shriram Khadilkar finds it difficult to break free from the onslaught of memories of visually rich wall paintings and local legends…

Picture this: It is mid-afternoon, around 3 pm; the sunlight is harsh yet there is a nip in the air. We are standing exactly at the opposite side of the Ajanta caves, barely one kilometre away; lost in the panoramic view. In front of us, spread in a horse-shoe-shape, are the entrances of almost all Ajanta caves in a sequence, carved into the mountainside.

We stood enraptured by the caves; and the langur monkeys watched us equally transfixed by our brooding inertia. This was my first look at Ajanta from a distance and from the angle of a birds-eye view. 

Ajanta from my Vantage Point

Although I have visited the Ajanta caves innumerable times, nothing, absolutely nothing had prepared me for this breath-taking view. After an hour or so of soaking in the view, we trekked downhill to the village Lenapur (named after the cave Lena), home to the artists, who embellished the walls of the caves with their detailed artistry - labour of love that took close to seven hundred years to accomplish. Nobody knows the whereabouts of these artists, once they accomplished the Ajanta works. Today the village is inhabited but not by artists.

Today, Lenapur looks like this

Boddhisattva Padmapani in Cave no.1Image Source: adventureswithjulia.files.wordpress.com

Our next stop was at village Ajanta, a few kilometers from the caves. We crossed the Rural Health Centre, once home to British artist Robert Gill, who worked at Ajanta from 1844 to 1863.  The spot was a beauty by itself. Situated well inside the Aurangabad Gate and just in front of the Baradari, (the place where bara meaning twelve small waterfalls merged into one large splash near the gate; the gushing water coming down at a speed created deep well-like holes in the hard black stone. There are twelve (bara) holes – hence the name Baradari), the single-storey residence still sports some decorated motifs bordering the ceilings of a few rooms. Incidentally, the original fencing wall is surprisingly intact.


Decoration on the ceiling in Robert's house

As I trudged along with my troupe, my mind wandered….and I found myself standing in front of the famed Ajanta wall paintings. . .  Natural colours bring the paintings to life even today. Away from direct sunlight for years, they are still intact.  The colours are opaque or semi-opaque; made of vegetable dyes and roots of trees or by grinding stone or clay. Many times two or three colours were mixed to get the tertiary or quaternary shades.

Wall Painting in Ajanta Image Source: boardingticket.files.wordpress.com                                                                                              

Images of flying Gandharva, Padmapani, Maya, events related with the life of Buddha… all cruised along my mind’s eye; the most beautiful being that of the black princess. I like her figure the most; she is truly beautiful. And she is beautiful because the drawing is good,  feminine elements are portrayed very strongly. As if the painter wanted to create such ethereal beauty that the onlooker would forget that she is black skinned.  With colours so deep and still fresh, she is adorned with a whole lot of ornaments, depicting her riches. The image is very expressive… though there is black, the black is beautiful.

Wall Paintings in Ajanta Image Source: indiaamongothers.wordpress.com

Back to the present, almost jolting me out of my near-real trance, I realized that a reverie could also be an intense experience. After all, the beauty of Ajanta is pervasive; whether you peeping into the caves or walking around. The fact remains that Ajanta was beautiful, is beautiful and will remain beautiful. . .                                                                                                                                                                                                                          


  1. wow that must have been some visit
    Posted by Frans Commelin

  2. I hope you saw Ellora also. I've been around the world a couple of times and the enormous monolithic structures at Ellora and Ajanta were the most amazing things I've ever seen. Posted by Paul Swendsen


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