Beauty set in rock

A view of the Ajanta caves. Photo : Anupama Katakam

A view of the Ajanta caves. Photo : Anupama Katakam

The serene figure of Buddha (Bodhisattva Padmapani) holding a lotus in his hand or the dreamy beauty of Ajanta might be familiar to most of you. They stand testimony to India's rich heritage and centuries-old artistic expertise. Images and sculptures like these adorn the interiors of the canyons of the Deccan trap along the ancient trade route between Paihan and the historical city of Ujjain. Nestled in the Sahyadri hills near the ravine of Waghora is the cave complex comprising 29 caves with Chaitya grihas (temples) and viharas (monastries) that are laboriously carved out of rocks. They served as an important religious centre of many Central Indian dynasties and the murals and sculptures reflect important social and political developments time.

Some of the paintings in Ajanta are believed to date back to second century BC. The work was undertaken under the patronage of various rulers and feudatories and the monastery lost its support with the fall of the Vakataka empire. For around 1300 years, these magnificent sculptures and enthralling murals were left to oblivion but years of weariness and negligence have not diminished the splendour that captivates the visitors even several centuries after their creation. It was British Army Captain John Smith who accidentally came across the cave complex during one of his hunting expeditions in 1819.

The first caves in Ellora were created shortly after previous shrines like Ajanta were abandoned and it follows the style of Ajanta in many aspects, but shows other influences and new trends as well. Ellora caves also known as “Verul Leni” is located along the Aurangabad-Chalisgaon road. There are 34 monasteries and temples dating from A.D. 600 to 1000, extending to over more than two km. The caves have depictions of Buddhist, Jain and Hindu deities and mythical scenes. The caves of Ajanta numbered from one to 12 are the largest Buddhist cave temples in India and belong to the Mahayana branch of Buddhism. Some of the Hindu shrines were created before the Buddhist ones while some were created after the decline of Buddhism. A number of depictions relate to Shaivism — a branch of Hinduism devoted to Shiva. The famous Kailasanatha Temple of Ellora, considered the largest and most magnificent monolithic excavation in the world, rises 30 metres above the courtyard. Another group of the caves is devoted to the Digambara branch of Jainism.

According to an inscription relating to Ellora, even the artist who created it was wonderstruck that he could build it. The larger-than-life images of deities, huge elephants and bulls, and the scale of the structures dwarf the human being standing in front.

The deities are depicted like human beings and on display are human emotions as in the scene of Siva and Parvati playing dice in the presence of Sivaganas (Shiva's attendants). The Nataraja figure at Ellora that expresses the energy of dance and dynamism of movements and the scene of Ravana shaking Mount Kailasa are fine examples of their artistic excellence.

Ajanta and Ellora are recognised as UNESCO heritage sites and are under the maintenance of the Archaeological Survey of India. The increasing number of tourists and some of the conservation efforts that caused reverse results have aroused concerns among many about the future of these treasures of Indian art.Walk in time

The dexterous use of lines, strokes, space and the care given to the form of human beings, animals and birds by these ancient artists are amazing. Their skilful hands gave life to dynamic movements and human emotions of love, greed, compassion and indignation. As you enter these caves, you step back in time to feel the atmosphere in which the subjects of these art works lived. Their costumes, jewellery, mannerisms, hairstyle and even social life and relationships are all there on the walls for us to see and feel. The central theme of paintings and sculptures in Ajanta are scenes from Jataka Tales (collection of literature based on the previous births of the Buddha) and incidents from the life of Buddha. Decorative geometrical and floral patterns are carefully used. A palette of natural colours consisting of red and yellow ochre, terra verte, lime, kaolin, gypsum, lamp black and lapis lazuli are used for these paintings.

Looking within

In Ajanta the patterns are semi-abstract and semi-realistic. The aesthetic compositions, simple and powerful lines and clever use of perspectives show their knowledge of iconographic scriptures, but they haven't attempted to follow those strictly. Human figures in these paintings are more dominant than other components. They have successfully employed three-dimensional effect and played with lines and shades to bring in a relief effect in some of the paintings. Another significant feature is how they have brought linearity of perspective onto the vertical plane, depicting the background at the highest band, followed by middle ground and the foreground at the eye level .

The festival

The Ellora Ajanta Aurangabad Festival celebrated at the end of November every year is aimed to bring to limelight the historical and pictorial sites in and around Aurangabad which include Ajanta, Ellora, Daulatabad, Bibi-ka-Maqbara, Panchakki, Lonar and Shirdi.

The festival is conducted by Aurangabad Festival Committee under the chairmanship of the Divisional Commissioner Aurangabad in association with MTDC .

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Printable version | Sep 17, 2022 11:49:30 pm |