3. Ajanta is a great art treasure.
Its caves are a fine example of
They contain some exquisite sculptures,
and more importantly,
paintings of unrivalled beauty.
4. In these caves can be seen the development of Art
from early phase of the pre-Christian era,
reaching classical perfection,
falling off into mannerism
and then to baroque ornamentation
and, finally, lapsing into artistic decline
5. Ajanta is a storehouse of information
about the period:
ideas of beauty and morality,
its sense of wit.
6. The paintings tell us about
the technical aspects of their art:
preparation of the ground,
execution of the painting itself,
with sense of perspective, space division,
preparation of the pigments,
harnessing of the visual and tactile senses,
pacing of the narrative.
7. The Ajanta paintings are the earliest
surviving paintings of India,
religious or secular
The spirit of Ajanta influenced
the religious art
of the whole of Asia
8. In fact, the Ajanta painting tradition is truly
an indigenous religious art tradition.
The Buddha and His disciples were Indians.
The Indian artist, while depicting Buddhist
themes, did not feel the need to make
a translation from foreign to familiar terms
10. The caves of Ajanta are situated
in the district of Aurangabad
in the state of Maharashtra.
Ajanta is about 100 km from Aurangabad and
about 60 km from Jalgaon.
An extended stay at Aurangabad
would be rewarding,
as the equally important
monuments of Ellora are
only about 30 km away.
15. First Phase
Hinayana period (2nd - 1st centuries BC)
The earliest caves (Nos. 8, 9, 10, 13 & 15A)
during the rule of the Satavahana-s,
who had their capital at Pratishthana.
During their rule there was
brisk trade and commerce
within the land and
with the Mediterranean world,
which brought in enormous riches.
16. Second Phase
Mahayana period (4th – 6th centuries AD)
The second phase was of
greater artistic activity at Ajanta
and the remaining caves were excavated
during the rule of
the Vakataka and the Chalukya dynasties
from the 4th to the 6th centuries AD.
18. The rulers, the Satavahana-s,
the Vakataka-s and the Chalukya-s,
were themselves Hindus,
but allowed Buddhism
to flourish in their territory.
But there was no direct royal help
during almost the entire period.
But the rich mercantile community,
organising itself into guilds,
had provided the requisite patronage.
19. The entire Ajanta chapter is
a tribute to the religious tolerance
of the Hindu rulers.
21. The precious caves remained
abandoned till 1817
when they were discovered
by a company of British soldiers.
Soon pioneer archaeologists were
attracted to the caves that were lost
to civilization for more than 1200 years.
22. James Burgess and William Gill
made copies of some of the paintings
and exhibited in London in 1866.
Unfortunately almost all of these perished
in a disastrous fire.
Later some copies were made
by Griffiths and Lady Herringham,
and published in 1896 and 1915.
Under the patronage of the Nizam,
the then ruler of Hyderabad,
Yazdani edited and published
two volumes on the paintings in 1933.
25. The caves,
lying deep inside the Sahyadri Hills,
are hollowed out on the deep face
of a horseshoe-shaped hillside
with the Waghora river
flowing through it.
The caves are aligned
in a horseshoe form.
There are a total of 29 caves.
The caves are numbered
not on the basis
of period of excavation,
but on their physical location.
The general arrangement was not
pre-planned, as they sprang up
sporadically in different periods.
35. The caves of Ajanta offer an instructive field
for the study of the evolution of
It is unique in the sense
that it can be viewed
as an enterprise of a sculptor.
The cave architecture,
at Ajanta and elsewhere,
betrays the strong influence
of wooden construction.
36. The team was probably drawn from
the profession of carpenters,
with goldsmiths and ivory-carvers
joining hands with the sculptors.
37. The evolution of rock architecture
took place during two periods:
the Hinayana period
of the pre-Christian era and
the later Mahayana period.
39. Mahayana period (4th century onwards)
In the second phase
sculptural compositions filled
the facade, the shrines, etc.
Side by side with
the excavation of new caves
the existing Hinayana caves
were suitably modified.
49. During the first phase, the Buddha
was not shown in the human form,
but only through symbols,
the Wheel, the Bodhi Tree
and the Feet of the Buddha.
But during the Mahayana period
sculptures and paintings
of the Buddha
and the Bodhi-sattva-s,
50. The sculpture of Ajanta
to the great art-tradition
of contemporary India.
Sculpture from the 4th century AD,
is remarkable for
its grace, elegance,
restraint and serenity.
61. Episodes from the life of
the Buddha form
the next important theme.
Life of the Buddha
62. Life of the Buddha
Gautama was meditating under the Bodhi tree
to attain enlightenment.
Mara, the Evil Spirit, made many attempts
to dislodge Gautama from His resolve.
Mara sent his three most beautiful daughters
to distract Him.
When this failed,
Mara summoned his demons
to dislodge Gautama.
But Gautama was calm and unmoved.
73. Earlier phase (2nd - 1st centuries BC)
The Raja with his Retinue, Cave 10
Narration arranged is
in the form of long canvass,
at eye level,
progressing from episode to episode
74. Later phase (4th century AD onwards)
Later the paintings overspread
the entire surface of the wall.
In these paintings narratives proceed
from scene to scene and
from act to act
The scenes are not separated
into frames that might disturb
of the viewing devotees.
75. Later phase (4th century AD onwards)
An interesting feature of the narration,
from the earlier times,
is that a strict chronology of events
was not followed.
In many panels scenes are
to the location of the scenes.
The composition of Matriposhaka Jataka,
is typical of this period.
76. Bodhisattva born as Matri-poshaka,
a white elephant, lives in a forest
taking care of his blind parents.
Once the elephant rescues a man, and
not to divulge his presence to any one.
done on dry wall,
In the West
painting is done
on a moist wall,
called fresco buono
Indra’s Descent, Cave 17
Last Supper, da Vinci
86. It might have taken centuries
for the Indian artist
to develop the technique of
preparing the wall for painting, and
also to select suitable pigments
with an appropriate binder.
The importance of these
may be seen from the fact that
the Ajanta paintings have withstood
the ravages of time
with remarkable resilience.
87. We have no clue to the technique
of preparing the wall.
But the treatises
which were written later
based on the Ajanta experience
give us an idea.
Vishnu-dharmottara (7th century)
explains the process of preparing
the base plaster and
the finish coat, called ‘vajralepa’.
Preparation of Wall
88. It consisted of powdered brick,
burnt conches and sand,
mixed with a molasses
and decoction of Phaseolus munga.
To this were added
mashed ripe bananas or tree resins and
the pulp of bilva fruit.
After drying it was ground down and
mixed with molasses and water
until became soft for coating.
Preparation of Wall – Base Plaster
89. Buffaloskin was boiled in water
until it became soft.
Sticks were then made of the paste and
dried in the sunshine.
When colour was mixed with this,
it made it fast, and
if white mud was mixed with it,
it served as a perfect medium
for coating walls.
Preparation of Wall – Finish Coat
90. Pigments used
Most pigments were minerals
red ochre, vivid red, yellow ochre,
indigo blue, chalk white,
terra verte and green
Only Lapis lazuli was imported
Lamp-black was the only non-mineral
91. Painting Sequence
A preliminary sketch in iron ore
was drawn while the surface
was still slightly wet,
followed by an under-painting in
grey or white.
On this surface the outline was filled in
with various colours,
proceeding from underpainting
to the appropriate colours
of the subject.
94. The paintings of Ajanta are
the earliest representation
of Indian painting tradition
available to us.
Even the earlier paintings at Ajanta,
of the 2nd century BC,
a sophisticated technique,
achievable only after centuries of
Unfortunately we have no trace of such
95. To get to know this great tradition
one may turn to the treatises written
based on the Ajanta experiment.
96. Treatises were codified based
on Ajanta experience
Brihat-samhita (6th century)
Kama-sutra (6th century)
Vishnu-dharmottara (7th century)
Samarangana-sutra-dhara (11th century)
97. ‘Six Limbs of Painting’
a well-known treatise on erotics
iti chitram shaDAngakam
bhAva suggestion of mood
lAvaNya-yojanam infusion of grace
vArNika-bhangam application of colour
98. ‘Eight Limbs of Painting’
a treatise on Architecture
bhUmi-bandhana preparation of surface
varnika crayon work
rekha-karma outline work
lakshaNa features of face
vartana-karma relief by shading
dvika-karma final outline
120. Use of Blue Colour (Lapis Lazuli)
In the later period lapis lazuli,
a blue, imported mineral
came to be used as an effective medium
for creating visual depth,
warm red and brown tones
123. The relationship between
painting and dance
is a remarkable unique
Vishnu-dharmottara (7th century AD)
stresses the impossibility of attaining
a proper expression of feeling
without the knowledge of dance
124. There are paintings from the earlier
as well as the later periods of Ajanta art
that depict dance scenes.
Here is an unaffected dancer
from pre-Christian era
153. Shad-danta Jataka, Cave 17
A relaxed monkey,
sweep of brush
forming a curve
155. Women of Ajanta are
the art connoisseur’s delight.
The Ajanta artist has painted
the whole range of
ladies of court and their maids,
in their house-hold chores
156. The woman
was the theme
that gave full scope
of creative genius
for the Ajanta artist.
157. The artist had succeeded
the soft roundness of her breasts,
the curves of her hips,
the turn of her head,
the gestures of her hands and
the slanting glance of her eyes.
158. ‘Clothed in Nakedness’
It is intriguing that
most of Ajanta heroines
are depicted naked,
or in near nudity,
while all the others
in the same scene
are fully clothed
172. Vishnu-dharmottara says:
"He, who paints waves,
flames, smoke, …
the movement of the wind,
is a great painter."
Ajanta painters took
in composing scenes
with great zest.
173. In the Scene when Indra and
descent to worship
the floating clouds,
the swaying foliage and
apsaras and gandharvas
flying swiftly through the air,
produce a fantastic movement
182. Hariti shrine, Cave 2
On the pedestal of Goddess Hariti
is shown a class-room.
While the students in the front rows
are attentive to the teacher,
the backbenchers are enjoying
themselves by chasing a ram!
202. For reasons unknown,
the Ajanta artist did not paint
religious themes on the ceilings.
But expert workmanship is evident.
These drawings have taken
the texture of a carpet,
the eyes and filling the senses.
226. By sheer chance, the development of style
from the beginning to its final decline
can be witnessed
within the physical limits of Ajanta.
In this respect Ajanta has no parallel.
227. Pre-Classical Period (2nd-1st Centuries BC)
Classical Period (4th-5th Centuries AD)
Period of Mannerism (5th-6th Centuries AD)
Baroque Period (Mid-6th Century AD)
Period of Decline (End-6th Century AD)
229. The earliest paintings of Ajanta
of the 2nd-1st century BC
cannot be classified as archaic.
These paintings present
lively men and animals.
They belong to
the transitional period
that was to carry them on to
the classical phase.
231. Raja with Retinue, Cave 10
The composition is characterised by restricted
use of colours, mostly brown in various tones.
Most characters are shown in the three-fourth
profile, a monotony avoided in the later periods.
232. Shad-danta Jataka, Cave 10
Only a line sketch of this grand composition,
belonging to the same period is available
to appreciate the lost glory.
234. Classical Period
This style means perfect mastery
of the subject.
Everything is idealised,
realism is only for creating
things of beauty and perfection.
There is a dignity and nobility,
no exaggeration, no excess,
no overstatement and
235. Votaries with offerings, Cave 2
modelling and the gentle,
of the characters
bear the stamp
of the classical period.
A wash technique,
called airika creating
an illusion of depth
is employed here
237. The posture of
the couple and
the sombre colours,
make the painful scene
the classical period,
the scene brings out
Visvantara Jataka, Cave 17
241. Baroque is a style of
over-ornamentation and exaggeration.
Action takes place in a maze of pillars
in royal pavilions.
The eye-slits are stretched out of proportion.
Men look effeminate and
women exaggeratedly feminine.
Both men and women wear
245. Artistic standards
were in the decline
from the end of the 6th century.
Period of Decline
Mercifully this phase did not last long,
for the Ajanta caves were soon
for reasons unknown.
246. The poses are now
with heavy heads,
is too crowded.
Period of Decline
252. The paintings of Ajanta,
in style, in type and in technique,
exerted their influence
on Indian art
for centuries to follow.
The paintings in the Bagh caves
in Ellora, in Sittannavasal,
are perpetuation of the refinement
of the great murals
of the Ajanta caves.
255. With the spread of Buddhism to Indian Asia
Buddhist mural decoration
initiated at Ajanta
diffused into these parts.
The paintings of Sigiriya in Srilanka,
of Bamiyan, of Turfan in China and
of Horyu Kondo in Japan
are regional variation of
the Ajanta idiom
257. The end of the Ajanta epoch
The creative period of Ajanta ended
as mysteriously as it had begun.
Some of the unfinished caves,
which were quite obviously
show that the emigration took place
over a comparatively short span of time.
258. Ananda Coomaraswamy says ..
The frescoes of Ajanta preserve an infinitely
precious record of the golden age of Indian
259. This is the picture of a halcyon age, where
renunciation and enjoyment are perfectly
attuned, an art at once of utmost intimacy