Buddhist monks and craftsmen began excavating and decorating the Ajanta Caves in the 2nd century BC. Filled with an incredible variety of paintings and sculptures, the Ajanta Caves are some of the most splendid examples of Buddhist art and architecture found in India.
There are 29 separate cave complexes whittled directly into a U-shaped scarp of rock. The caves functioned as Buddhist temples and monasteries, and the majority of the caves’ walls and sculptures found inside the UNESCO World Heritage Site depict the stories of The Buddha’s incarnations before enlightenment, which are known as Jatakas. Though many of the paintings are millennia old, they are remarkably well preserved despite the passage of time.
As Buddhism’s influence waned in India, the structures in Ajanta were abandoned in favor of Ellora Caves about 60 miles away. Ellora is another UNESCO World Heritage Site with 34 cave structures divided between Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain religions. Constructed between the 5th and 10th centuries the varied nature of the structures is a testament to the religious harmony prevalent during this period of Indian history.
Most of the Buddhist structures were monasteries used to house monks and teach classes, but the Vishwakarma cave is a stunning shrine dedicated to The Buddha featuring a vaulted ceiling carved to resemble wood beams similar to styles found in Gothic cathedrals in Europe. In the center of the shrine rests a seated Buddha image in the teaching pose.
Kailasa temple is the centerpiece of the Hindu structures, and the most splendid of all the buildings found in Ellora. Kailasa was carved from a single piece of rock as a depiction of Mount Kailash, where the Hindu deity Shiva is said to reside.
The Jain rock cut temples were the last of the structures created in Ellora, and the structures’ smaller size and simple exteriors reflect Jain asceticism, but the interiors of many of the buildings showcase intricately detailed carvings like the lotus flower cut into the ceiling of The Indra Sabha temple.
The best time to visit the Ajanta Caves is between October and March with the region’s most pleasant weather. The high temperatures that start in April and last through June give way to refreshing rainfall between July and September, which engorges the Waghora River, and makes the gorge the complex is located in a lustrous green.
The Ajanta Caves are located about 50 miles outside Aurangabad in the Western Indian state of Maharashtra. The Ellora Caves are about 20 miles from Aurangabad. The UNESCO World Heritage Sites are best reached by private vehicle departing from Aurangabad while on our luxury tours of India.
The Ajanta and Ellora Caves hold some of the earliest and most elaborate Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu artwork in India. For lovers of art, architecture, and cultural enthusiasts the stunning cave structures are a must-see while on tour in India.
Appropriate Attire :
Dress for warm weather with light clothing, and bring along a stout pair of shoes to explore the deep cave structures.