Ajanta Caves, Maharashtra, India a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO

A Panoramic View of Ajanta Caves - Lying along the gorge of Waghur river Ajanta Caves were carved during two distinct periods, the first from 200 B.C to 100 A.D and the second from around the 5th to 6th century AD.

The chaityas and viharas at Ajanta caves were used for meditation, a place to rest but predominantly as a place for everyone to learn be it the residing monks or travelers or visiting devotees.

The sculptures, paintings, murals and reliefs at Ajanta Caves are also a chronicle a rhythmic narration of every aspect of human life from birth to death depicting and reflecting all aspects of contemporary life beliefs, gods, culture - even weapons used, ornaments worn…

Devotees of Buddha during that time were supposed to walk through the cave and read the paintings which were used as a medium of communicating Buddha's teachings about 'life through successive rebirth'.

Ajanta Caves located in the Aurangabad district, Maharashtra, India is a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO. How to reach Ajanta Caves?

Tag : Ethereal Ajanta | Content: gud2travel.com | Image: Akshatha Inamdar | Update: 16-Mar-2021

Murals at Ajanta, still aglow after centuries, Ajanta Caves recognized by UNESCO as the most valuable heritage site of Ancient India

Cave 1 is natural gallery and one of the most popular of the monastery caves at Ajanta. Every inch of the cave was originally painted, though much has worn away over the centuries. The doorway to the antechamber is flanked by murals of two great bodhisattvas. On the right, holding a thunderbolt, is Avalokitesvara (or Vajrapani), the most important bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism. On the left, holding a lotus flower, is the bodhisattva Padmapani.

The sidewalls of Cave 1's antechamber show two scenes from the Buddha's life: his temptation by Mara just before his enlightenment and the miracle of Sravasti, where the Buddha multiplied himself into thousand images.

Above the left porch of Cave 1 are friezes of the ‘Three Signs’ (a sick man, an old man, and a corpse) that the Buddha saw on his fateful journey outside the palace that led him to become a monk. In the sanctum is a colossal sculpture of the Buddha in the preaching pose. Murals on the walls of the main hall depict numerous Jataka Tales, stories of the previous lives of Gautama Buddha. How to reach Ajanta Caves?

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Painting of Bodhisattva Padmapani, Ajanta Cave 1, Maharashtra, India

Avalokiteśvara or Padmapani’s painting can be found to the left of the main shrine in Ajanta Cave 1. The term “bodhisattva” refers to a person who has been awakened by the Buddhist spirit and according to Mahayana doctrine, Avalokiteśvara postponed his ascension into Buddhahood until he assisted every being in achieving Nirvana. 

Avalokiteśvara has innumerable forms across Asia. Originally, a masculine form, Avalokiteśvara is also known as the feminine Guanyin in China, and Kuan Yin in Japan.

In the painting, he is delicate as well as elegant. He is adorned with pearls, amethyst, and his magnificent crown in ancient times must have shown extreme detail that has faded over time.

Padmapani’s eyes are lowered - many attribute that as being in a meditative state - his spirituality does set the tone and mood of the cave. In his right hand, he holds a lotus blossom, which is a symbol representig his spiritual awakening.

Ajanta Caves located in the Aurangabad district, Maharashtra, India is a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO. How to reach Ajanta Caves?

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Painting of Mahajanaka from Jataka Tales, Ajanta Cave 1, Maharashtra, India

Cave 1 is well known for many significant murals and paintings apart from bodhisattvas Padmapani and Vajrapani. Embellished in the 5th century or the Vakataka period - it is fairly easy to detect scenes from Jataka Tales that visually narrate Mahajanaka, Mahaummagga, Champeyya ++

This scene is one of the paintings depicting the Mahajanaka Jataka tale where the king announces his abdication to become an ascetic. 

Paintings from the Second Phase are extensively narrative in form with multiple scenes stitched to form a visual storyline. 

The caves of the first phase were fully painted but only a small part of the original paintings survive as they were abandoned for centuries.

Ajanta Caves located in the Aurangabad district, Maharashtra, India is a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO. How to reach Ajanta Caves?

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Painting of Mahajanaka[2] from Jataka Tales, Ajanta Cave 1, Maharashtra, India

Frame cosntitutes Mahajanaka denouncing his kingdom and riding out of his palalce with a large retinue - part of the Mahajanaka Jataka tale.

Most caves are built in a horse shoes shape and so is Cave no 1 at Ajanta Caves Complex. It was the last one to be excavated as well as universally appreciated as the most stunning - it does have many well-preserved paintings.

Amongst the many tales of Jataka depicted in paintings and sculptural panels in Cave 1 - the narrative is believed to have accentuated royal splendor - bsically you will find many Jataka tales depicting 'kings in Cave 1' - it is believed that the Vakataka King Harisena or his ministers may have strongly influenced the content as it was funded by King Harisena.

Ajanta Caves located in the Aurangabad district, Maharashtra, India is a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO. How to reach Ajanta Caves?

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Painting of Hamsa Jataka Tale, Ajanta Cave 1, Maharashtra, India

Painting from Ajanta Cave 1, depicts a scene from Hamsa Jataka - Bodhisattva who lived as a golden goose - and in this frame the King and his courtiers are listening to the golden goose with rapt attention. Faintly one can see the golden goose sitting on a throne at the bottom right corner of the painting and women holding a plate of fruits.

Jataka tales are usually about stories around the many incarnations of Buddha – originally passed down through generations in an oral form – at Ajanta it was conveyed in its extensive and impressive art forms - available since centuries to anyone irrespective of ideologies or faith or devotion. 

Ajanta Caves located in the Aurangabad district, Maharashtra, India is a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO. How to reach Ajanta Caves?

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Columns at Ajanta Cave 1, Maharashtra, India

Do spend a few moments reflecting on the ornamentation over the exterior of Cave 1 as it has one of the most embellished sculpted façades with many carved panels on columns and ridges. The decorative motifs on the porch are interspersed with scenes carved from Buddha's life, interspersed with Meditating monks, Apsaras, and even Lions, Elephants, Horses and Bulls.

Ajanta Caves located in the Aurangabad district, Maharashtra, India is a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO. How to reach Ajanta Caves?

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Rock Sculpted Buddha, Ajanta Cave 2, Maharashtra, India

Cave 2 is believed to have been carved during the Vakataka rule or between 475 and 477 CE. You would also find paintings that depict the Hamsa, Vidhurapandita, Ruru, Kshanti Jataka tales and the Purna Avadhana. 

The second period of sculpting and carving is also known as the Vakataka period (5th century) - as many caves were being built or re-embellished under the patronage of the Vakataka dynasty and predominantly by King Harisena. And by the 6th century with the fall of Vakataka dynasty the caves were once again abandoned.

The second period was dominated by Mahayana Buddhism and some believe had Hindu influences too. 
Ajanta caves during both periods were predominantly used by Buddhist monks as centers of residential learning and meditation.

Ajanta Caves located in the Aurangabad district, Maharashtra, India is a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO. How to reach Ajanta Caves?

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Sculpture of Hariti, Ajanta Cave 2, Maharashtra, India

Do not miss the stark and stunning panel of goddess Hariti in Cave 2. Ajanta Caves located in the Aurangabad district, Maharashtra, India is a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO. How to reach Ajanta Caves?

As per ancient Buddhist legend, Hariti was a Yakshini (Yalshas, Yakshinis are divine beings with benevolent and malicious characteristics), also a demoness largely feared as she kidnapped infants to feed her hundreds of children. The bereaved mothers pleaded to Buddha to save them. Buddha hid Hariti's youngest child and a desperate Hariti after having searched everywhere reached Buddha to seek his help.

Buddha helped her understand that her pain and anguish for her missing child was no different than the agony and sadness felt by the parents of infants she and her children had eaten. Hariti then vowed to protect all children, and would now on eat and feed only pomegranates instead of flesh. Following her remorse and repentance, the Buddha blessed Hariti in being a protector not just of unborn children or expectant mothers, but also of Buddhist stupas, viharas, people and morals.

Note - Hariti is not only believed to be protective deity and fertility goddess in Buddhism - but is considered divine in Jainism and Hinduism too. Hariti is also the consort of Panchika Kubera, King of the Yakshas and Lord of Wealth.

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Ornate Column, Ajanta Cave 2, Maharashtra, India

The exterior part of Ajanta Cave 2 and its hall are supported by robust pillars that have detailed carvings and paintings that include flowers, animals, local people or the divine.

Ajanta Caves located in the Aurangabad district, Maharashtra, India is a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO. How to reach Ajanta Caves?

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Painting, Ajanta Caves 2, Maharashtra, India

The exemplary artistry and finesse found at Ajanta shines through the blackened surfaces as the sculptural or painted narratives flow unrestricted from one cave wall to the next effortlessly – as though waiting for us to discover the many teachings or tales within them. I am specifically talking about Ajanta Caves 1, 2, and 26. 

This painting depicts Birth of Buddha.

Ajanta Caves located in the Aurangabad district, Maharashtra, India is a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO. How to reach Ajanta Caves?

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Buddha in Ajanta Cave 4, Maharashtra, India

Cave 4 is an unfinished Vihara that houses a mammoth image of the Buddha in preaching pose flanked by bodhisattvas and apsaras flying above. It has an exquisitely sculpted door frame and the rear wall of its verandah contains the panels of Avalokitesvara. 

Ajanta Caves located in the Aurangabad district, Maharashtra, India is a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO. How to reach Ajanta Caves?

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Buddha flanked by bodhisattvas in Ajanta Cave 4, Maharashtra, India

Every vihara at Ajanta has a seated Buddha in its garbha-griha mostly in his preaching mudra or dharmachakra mudra. The seated Buddha till date is an essence of peace, inner quietude and strength. 

Ajanta Caves located in the Aurangabad district, Maharashtra, India is a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO. How to reach Ajanta Caves?

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Painting in Ajanta Cave 6, Maharashtra, India

This painting in Cave 6 where Buddha is seated expressing dharmachakra mudra or a teaching posture is one the most intact ones and represents the Mahayana devotional worship.

Ajanta Caves located in the Aurangabad district, Maharashtra, India is a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO. How to reach Ajanta Caves?

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Buddha in Abhaya Mudra, Ajanta Cave 6, Maharashtra, India

Cave 6 is two-storey vihara - a monastery where both levels have attached cells. The colossal Buddha shrine in Cve 6 is seated on a throne. The walls and sanctum's door frame are intricately carved with themes that include mythical creatures, apsaras, elephants...

Art on the lower level walls depict the Miracle of Sravasti and the Temptation of Mara legends. 

Ajanta Caves located in the Aurangabad district, Maharashtra, India is a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO. How to reach Ajanta Caves?

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Buddha, Upper Level, Ajanta Cave 6, Maharashtra, India

The only double-storey vihara among the Ajanta Caves, Cave 6 houses many votive sculptures including this image of Buddha in a teaching posture holding a dharmachakra mudra. The entrance to the shrine is through an intricately carved door.. 

One could say that the Ajanta caves were a milestone of heightened activity in Buddhist temple architecture and were built in two clear phases – undoubtedly both the times under Hindu rule: the first during the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE under the rule of the Satavahanas; and the second during the rule of the Vakatakas in the 5th to 6th century period. The second phase prospered predominantly under King Harisena, the mighty Vakataka king who ruled the undivided region right from the western to the eastern sea and helped create an architectural brilliance that outlived him.

Ajanta Caves located in the Aurangabad district, Maharashtra, India is a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO. How to reach Ajanta Caves?

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Illustration of Ajanta Cave 7, Maharashtra, India

The Cave 7 is a Vihara with eight small rooms for monks. The sanctum has Buddha in a preaching posture with art panels around him narrating the Miracle of Sravasti.

This frame is from the Illustration of the Rock-cut Temples of India by James Fergusson - a Scottish architectural historian  (22 January 1808 – 9 January 1886) who was well known for his work on historical architecture and antiquities across the world and especially India.

Ajanta Caves located in the Aurangabad district, Maharashtra, India is a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO. How to reach Ajanta Caves?

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Seated Buddha in Ajanta Cave 7, Maharashtra, India

The shrine in Cave 7 is unique, as it houses an image of the enlightened one - Buddha in a sitting posture, with a halo carved over his head. Buddha in this vihara is also flanked by Bodhisattvas and flying apsaras above.

Inner walls of the Cave 7 antechamber exhibit a sculptural depiction of the Miracle of Sravasti. 25 carved seated Buddhas in various postures and facial expressions are found on the left side of the antechamber whereas the right side has 58 seated Buddha reliefs in different postures, all placed on lotus. The antechamber leads to the sanctum and you will find carved two females standing on makaras or mythical sea creatures) on its door frame.

Ajanta Caves located in the Aurangabad district, Maharashtra, India is a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO. How to reach Ajanta Caves?

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Chaitya without Buddha, Ajanta Cave 9, Maharashtra, India

Caves 9, 10, 12, 13 and 15 are believed to be from the first period built under the patronage of the Satavahana dynasty and these caves are largely influenced by Hinayana Buddhism. Caves 9 and 10 are Chaitya-grihas (a Buddhist prayer hall with a Stupa at one end), while caves 12, 13 and 15 are Viharas (halls of prayer and living).

Hinayana Buddhism (earlier system of Buddhist doctrine) that spans from Buddha’s lifetime to roughly 200 AD, was a period where Buddha was revered in the form of a Stupa in prayer halls called Chaityas (you can see this cave No 9 and 10). The Stupas without a Buddha mark these caves as distinctly different from the caves from the second period between 5th and 6th century.

From the 1st century AD these caves were largely deserted for centuries and historians have not been able to find a reason yet.

Ajanta Caves located in the Aurangabad district, Maharashtra, India is a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO. How to reach Ajanta Caves?

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Painting, Ajanta Cave 10, Maharashtra, India

The paintings in cave 10 include both Hinayana and Mahayana teachings - though the latter are discernible, the former are more faded. The paintings are numerous and from both the periods narrating the Jataka tales [ - the tale about six tusked elephants - the story of the son who dedicates his life serving his blind parents].

Cave 10 is chaitya griha with a large single-arched entrance with an austere façade. Its stupa has no image sculpted of Buddha and the enlightened one is represented only as symbols = Bodhi tree, Paduka (wooden slippers) or the Wheel. In contrast to the stupas of the second period as in Caves 19 & 26 that have an image of Buddha sculpted on stupa's its front face.

Ajanta Caves located in the Aurangabad district, Maharashtra, India is a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO. How to reach Ajanta Caves?

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Buddha with Sujata, Ajanta Cave 11, Maharashtra, India

The Cave 11 is a vihara - a monastery built in the later period or the 5th century. The cave has a hall with a long rock bench opening into six rooms. The sanctum of this cave features a pradakshina path around the seated Buddha.

The Cave 11 also has paintings of Bodhisattvas - note paintings of Padmapani, a couple praying, peafowls, and a female figure have survived in the better condition than others. 

Ajanta Caves located in the Aurangabad district, Maharashtra, India is a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO. How to reach Ajanta Caves?

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Painted Ceiling, Ajanta Cave 17, Maharashtra, India

Cave 17 is large and has the most advanced vihara architecture with much larger doors and windows as compared to other caves letting in more light and extensively surrounded by carved gods and goddesses as well as murals that narrate many ancient tales.

The paintings on the ceilings take on an artistic theme similar to designs you would find in saris or carpets woven brilliantly in those times captivating the eyes and applauding the skills of those ancient artisans. One of the themes is floral motifs in concentric circles. You will also find many rectangular panels filled with ornate motifs of fruits and flowers many times lotus. 

Ajanta Caves located in the Aurangabad district, Maharashtra, India is a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO. How to reach Ajanta Caves?

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Seated Buddha in Ajanta Cave 19, Maharashtra, India

The Chaitya griha in Cave 19 like the other Chaitya caves is apsidal, with two side aisles. Its round pillars with floral reliefs have a fluted shaft topped with Buddha carvings in its capitals. elephants, horses and apsaras surround the Buddha in the capitals. It also has paintings of Buddha in different postures as well as expressing teachings via different mudras. 

Ajanta Caves located in the Aurangabad district, Maharashtra, India is a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO. How to reach Ajanta Caves?

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Buddha Stupa, in Ajanta Cave 19, Maharashtra, India

Cave 19 is a chaitya griha or simply prayer hall which was embellished in the fifth century CE.

Cave 19 is a major departure from the earlier Hinayana Buddhist tradition as it has a huge sculpture of Buddha carved into the stupa - standing in varada hasta mudra - a depiction that supports the Mahayana Buddhist establishment. 

Ajanta Caves located in the Aurangabad district, Maharashtra, India is a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO. How to reach Ajanta Caves?

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Illustration, Ajanta Cave 19, Maharashtra, India

Cave 19 must have looked spectacular when finished with its painted arches and painted ceilings.

This frame is from the Illustration of the Rock-cut Temples of India by James Fergusson - a Scottish architectural historian  (22 January 1808 – 9 January 1886) who was well known for his work on historical architecture and antiquities across the world and especially India. 

Ajanta Caves located in the Aurangabad district, Maharashtra, India is a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO. How to reach Ajanta Caves?

Tag : Ethereal Ajanta | Content: gud2travel.com | Image: James Fergusson | Update: 18-Mar-2021

Nagaraja in Ajanta Cave 19, Maharashtra, India

Do explore the carving of Nagaraja with his wife holding a lotus in Cave 19. Ajanta Caves located in the Aurangabad district, Maharashtra, India is a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO. How to reach Ajanta Caves?

The frame depicts Naga king Champeyya and his consort Suman in the royal palace. Champeyya tale is about the life of Bodhisattva born as a Naga king Champeyya in the Champa river married to Naga princess Sumana.

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Buddha in Ajanta Cave 21, Buddha, Maharashtra, India

Cave 21 is a vihara or a monastery and its hall has twelve rock cut chambers, a sanctum and twelve pillared and pilastered verandah.

Cave 21 has rock sculpted Buddha in a preaching posture and you can see many evidences around the hall that it was once entirely painted. 

Pillars of Cave 21 have ornate reliefs that have apart from pretty Apsaras - sculptures of Nagaraja and Nagarani - devotees bowing down with a namaste mudra.. One can learn a lot about ancient times by the clothes, jewelry, hairstyles detailed in carvings...

Ajanta Caves located in the Aurangabad district, Maharashtra, India is a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO. How to reach Ajanta Caves?

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Relief, Ajanta Cave 23, Maharashtra, India

Cave 23 like Cave 21, 22, and 24 is a vihara or a monastery. The cave is unfinished but does have ornate exterior especially its Naga Mucalinda sculpture. 



Note - Buddha meditating under the protection of Mucalinda is very common in Buddhist art. Mucalinda is a naga and as per Buddhist legends - he is the mighty King of Serpents who came from patal-lok to protect Buddha from a fierce storm. Once the storm cleared the serpent king bowed before the Buddha in his human form and returned to his palace. 

Ajanta Caves located in the Aurangabad district, Maharashtra, India is a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO. How to reach Ajanta Caves?

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Buddha Stupa in Ajanta Cave 26, Maharashtra, India

Cave 26 is elaborate and exquisite Chaitya-griha - it has many elements that represent Buddha's life in the horseshoe shaped cave with exquisitely carved side aisles for pradikshana.

Cave 26 displays the fine sculptures of Buddha, and its fairly easy to spot the narrative sculptures of the Sravasti miracle based on the legend when Buddha revealed himself in all his various forms in the skies above the village of Sravasti.

Ajanta Caves located in the Aurangabad district, Maharashtra, India is a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO. How to reach Ajanta Caves?

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Monks Praying at Ajanta Cave 26, Maharashtra, India

Cave 26 is a prayer hall a chaitya-griha which is much larger than Cave 19 though has a similar structural layout. An inscription also mentions the vision behind this caves patronage 'a memorial on the mountain that will endure as long as the sun and the moon continue to shine'.

At the center of the apse in Cave 26 is a rock-cut stupa with an image of the Buddha on a base with 18 panels. The shrine has a three tiered torana as well as sculpted apsaras. On top of the stupa is a nine-tiered harmika - symbolic for nine saṃsara (Buddhism) heavens in Mahayana cosmology. The surrounding walls, pillars, the brackets are extensively filled with carvings of Buddhist teachings - even the entire path is filled with sculpted Buddhist teachings and legends. 

Ajanta Caves located in the Aurangabad district, Maharashtra, India is a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO. How to reach Ajanta Caves?

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Buddha's Parinirvana Sculpture, Ajanta Cave 26, Maharashtra, India

Cave 26 has a gigantic Buddha sculpted in rock - impossible to not be drawn to the the sculpted Mahaparinirvana of Buddha.

It’s entrance has Buddha statues too – shows that artisans during those times had not only a grasp of narrative carvings but could deliver versatility in size be it mammoth to intricate.

Ajanta Caves located in the Aurangabad district, Maharashtra, India is a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO. How to reach Ajanta Caves?

Tag : Ethereal Ajanta | Content: gud2travel.com | Image: Akshatha Inamdar | Update: 18-Mar-2021

Sculpted panel on Mara's Temptation, Ajanta Cave 26, Maharashtra, India

Cave 26 has a large sculpted panel (this frame is only partial one) depicting the legend called the 'Temptations by Mara'.

You will find the sensual Mara's daughters trying to distract the meditating Buddha. Mara's army is sculpted on both the left and right side of the panel threatening Buddha with violence.

On the top right corner of the actual panel is the image of a frustrated Mara as he accepts his failure as he couldn't succeed in breaking ascetic Buddha's focus or resolve. 

Ajanta Caves located in the Aurangabad district, Maharashtra, India is a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO. How to reach Ajanta Caves?

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Ornate Columns, Ajanta Cave 26, Maharashtra, India

Cave 26 like Cave 1 was amongst the last excavated caves at Ajanta with elaborate sculptures surrounded by intricate carvings.

Ajanta Caves located in the Aurangabad district, Maharashtra, India is a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO. How to reach Ajanta Caves?

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Mara's Daughters Sculpture, Ajanta Cave 26, Maharashtra, India

The walls at Ajanta Caves are filled with sculpted Jataka stories depicting the many lives of Buddha. Displaying extraordinary elegance its a classic way to introduce millions to the golden age of Indian artistic excellence.

This frame is part of a large sculpted panel of Temptation of the Buddha found in many caves including Ajanta Cave No 26; the sensous and beautiful daughters of Mara are carved right below Buddha. 

Ajanta Caves located in the Aurangabad district, Maharashtra, India is a World Heritage Site recognized by UNESCO. How to reach Ajanta Caves?

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How to reach Ajanta Caves, Near Aurangabad, Maharashtra, India?

Ajanta Cave No. 1 has two of the most famous paintings and Ajanta is universally known by those protective bodhisattvas - Padmapani and Vajrapani. You find these paintings on either side of the Buddha shrine. This painting is of Bodhisattvas Padmapani.

How to reach Ajanta Caves by air? Which is the nearest airport to Ajanta Caves?
Aurangabad airport is the nearest airport to Ajanta Caves and is at a distance of about 104 km.

How to reach Ajanta Caves by train? Which is the nearest railway station to Ajanta Caves?
Jalgaon railway station is the nearest to Ajanta Caves and it is at a distance of about 58 km.

You could also opt to reach by train via Aurangabad railway station and it is at a distance of about 104 km from Ajanta Caves.

Both Jalgaon and Aurangabad are well connected by train to many cities in India.

The best time to visit Ajanta Caves is from November to February as the climate is much cooler.

Tag : Ethereal Ajanta | Content: gud2travel.com | Image: Abhideo21 | Update: 18-Mar-2021