About 107 kms from the city of Aurangabad, the rock cut caves of Ajanta nestle in a panaromic gorge, in the form of a gigantic horseshoe. Among the finest examples of some of the earliest . Buddhist architecture, cave paintings and sculptures, these caves comprise Chaitya Halls, or shrines dedicated to Lord Buddha and Viharas or monasteries used by Buddhist monks for meditation and the study of Buddhist teachings.
The thirty rock-hewn caves at Ajanta, cut into the scarp of a cliff are either Chaityas (chapels) or Viharas (monasteries). On the walls of the caves are paintings, many still glowing with their original colours. The outer walls are covered with brilliantly executed sculpture. The Buddhist theme of the Ajanta paintings recounts the life of Lord Buddha and tales of his previous earthly experiences.
The view point from where John Smith first glimsed the caves, provides a magnificent sight of the U-Shaped gorge and its scenic surroundings.Ajanta has been designated as a World Heritage Site, to be preserved as an artistic legacy that will come to inspire and enrich the lives of generations to come. The caves including the unfinished ones are thirty in number, of which five (9, 10, 19, 26 and 29) are chaitya-grihas and the rest are sangharamas or viharas (monasteries). After centuries of oblivion, these caves were discovered in AD 1819.They fall into two distinct phases with a break of nearly four centuries between them. All the caves of the earlier phase date between 2nd century BC-AD.
The caves of the second phase were excavated during the supremacy of the Vakatakas and Guptas. According to inscriptions, Varahadeva, the minister of the Vakataka king, Harishena (c. 475-500 AD), dedicated Cave 16 to the Buddhist sangha while Cave 17 was the gift of the prince, a feudatory. An inscription records that- Buddha image in Cave 4 was the gift of some Abhayanandi who hailed from Mathura.
A few paintings which survive on the walls of Caves 9 and 10 go back to the 2nd century BC-AD. The second group of the paintings started in about the fifth century AD and continued for the next two centuries as, noticeable in later caves. The themes are intensely religious in tone and centre round Buddha, Bodhisattvas, incidents from the life of Buddha and the Jatakas. The paintings are executed on a ground of mud-plaster in the tempera technique.
The Ellora Caves are a group of 34 caves that symbolises the brilliance of Buddhist architecture in India. The caves are representatives of three faiths- Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. 12 of the caves areBuddhists, 17 in the centre represent Hindu faith while remaining 5 caves to the north are representatives of Jainism. Entry fee for Indians who are above 15 years is Rs 10.00 and for foreigners it Buddhists, 17 in the centre represent Hindu faith while remaining 5 caves to the north are representatives of Jainism.
The Ellora caves were carved between 350 AD and 700 AD. The caves have a universal significance as they represent an amalgam of the pantheon of India gods and goddesses. Ellora is a centre of Tantarism and magical and occult practices can be observed here. There are 12 Buddhist caves, 17 Hindu temples and 5 Jain temples. The Buddhist caves date back between 200 BC to 600 AD. The Hindu temples date back from about 500 AD to 900 while the temples representing Jainism date from about 800 AD to 1000 AD. Among the three groups of structures, the Hindu caves are the most beautifully designed.
Spreading over an area of 1 mile ( 2 km), the Ellora caves are a collection of thirty-four magnificent rock-carved temples. The temples are carved out of basaltic cliffs. The Hindu caves are the most elaborately designed. Cave 16 is called Kailasa for its location in the Kailas range of the Himalayas. In this cave resides the Hindu God Shiva. This cave was built in during the rulership of Krishna I ( about 756- 773). The Kailasa cave is known all over for its brilliant architecture and its elaborate workmanship. Cave 12 is a Buddhist cave and is also known as Tintala. The most fascinating fact about the cave is that this 3-storey structure has been carved out of a solid rock.