The UNESCO World Heritage Listed Buddhist caves of Ajanta in the state of Maharashtra date from around 200 BC to 650 AD, predating those at neighbouring Ellora. As Ellora developed and Buddhism gradually declined, so did interest in Ajanta. However, a British hunting party stumbled upon them in 1819 and their beauty was again unveiled. It is highly likely their isolation and lack of disturbance has contributed to their fine state of preservation, in particular some of the remarkable paintings to be found in the caves.
Hewn from the near-vertical sides of a horseshoe-shaped ravine, some 30 caves face out onto the Waghore River. The oldest caves are mainly in the middle and five of the caves are chaityas whilst the other 25 are viharas. The famous ‘frescoes’ of Ajanta are not technically frescoes, as a fresco is a painting done on a wet surface that absorbs the colour. The Ajanta paintings are more correctly tempera, since they were painted on a dry surface. The rough-hewn rock walls were first coated with a thick layer of clay and cow dung mixed with rice husks. A final coat of lime was then applied to produce the finished surface on which the artist painted. This was then polished to produce a high gloss. The colours were obtained from a variety of minerals and ochres.
The artists only source of light were oil-lamps and sunshine reflected into the caves by metal mirrors and pools of water. Under the circumstances, the mastery of line, perspective and shading is extraordinary.
A flamboyant showcase of Rajasthani architecture and a firm favourite on tourist itineraries as the third corner of India’s ‘Golden ...