BENGALURU: After imbibing the sculptured magnificence of Ellora, we travelled more than three hours to see the world-famous paintings in the Ajanta cave temples. Older than Ellora, the beauty of Ajanta has to be seen to be believed. As a child, most of us would have read the Jataka Tales. Well, if you want to enjoy the pictorial description of these famous stories, then Ajanta is the place for you. Carved all along a high cliff, one has to travel a little bit if you want to see at least the important ones out of the 30 caves. In fact, the entire cave complex is in a U-shape that has been exquisitely carved from top to bottom.
The caves are so dark and dingy that one cannot make out whether they are paintings, relief works or carvings. It is better to visit this UNESCO World Heritage Site with a guide as one needs proper light to see the paintings. Many a fresco have started deteriorating with excessive paint loss and so one can hardly make out the artists’ intent. The Jataka Tales in Cave 1 depict the earlier life of Buddha as Prince Siddharta and not as a commoner.
Built between the era of 2nd-6th century BC, many caves are incomplete, some are dilapidated while some are beautiful with spectacular sculptures, wall paintings and elaborate carvings on ceilings, pillars, pilasters and columns. As we made our way to Cave 19, the sculptured figures on either side of the arch and the high panels depicted the prowess of the artists of those days. Most caves are elaborately carved and it is not possible to see all of them in one visit, so select and visit the prominent ones.
Although most of the caves at Ajanta basically house living quarters, prayer and meditation halls for Buddhist monks, the architectural beauty in many of them is spectacular. There are Buddha statues in various positions and forms that one can see in Cave 19 or 29 (Chaitya Griha). Since these caves were monasteries for the training of monks and their living quarters, no cave is connected and one has to come outside again to enter another cave.
The Ajanta cave temples too like Angkor Wat temples of Cambodia, were hidden, covered by jungles and undisturbed for many centuries till they were discovered by a British officer in 1819. Back then, this place was accessible only from the river side by climbing individual stairs. For the benefit of the tourists, a modern pathway has been built all along the cave temples for easy access. Despite this, there is lot of walking to be done, so wear sensible shoes and carry drinking water as one has to walk in the blazing sun for a large part of the day and that too up and down the cliff. Make it a point to hire a guide; otherwise you may miss seeing important paintings, hearing the musical tones of some columns or even some of the prominent caves.