These long-hidden caves in the cliffs above a meander in the Waghora river now unveil their secrets to visitors. Inside, the life story and legends of the Buddha are told in magnificent frescoes and rock carvings, masterpieces of religious art whose impact once reached far beyond India’s borders.
The Ajanta caves, now a World Heritage site, were carved out in two distinct periods: in the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE and in the 5th and 6th centuries CE under the Gupta dynasty, when Buddhism was at its peak in India. The later, more elaborate caves are a stunning testimony to the development of Indian art and the decisive impact on it of India’s Buddhist community at that time.
These 29 sumptuous Buddhist caves were hollowed out of the volcanic rock of a cliff on the south side of a U-shaped wooded gorge. Five of them were temples and 24 were monasteries. It is reckoned that some 200 monks would have lived there. The caves were later abandoned and forgotten until 1819 when they were accidentally rediscovered by British officers on a tiger hunting party.
The technical skill and delicacy of the Ajanta wall paintings represent a high point in Buddhist art and had a major influence on Buddhist temple art throughout India and in Southeast Asia (Java) for the next thousand years.
In the 7th century the caves were abandoned in favour of those at Ellora.
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