In the early 19th century (year 1819) some British soldiers were out
hunting in the Deccan plateau. One of them suddenly saw, from a height,
a horseshoe rock; His curiosity aroused by the entrance of a cave. The
hunting party ventured across the ravine of the Waghur River. And they
discovered several caves, against which bush, shrubs earth and stones
had piled up. Goatherds for shelter were using a few.
The Government was informed about this finding and soon the Archaeologists
began excavate them. Many experts have been restoring them during the
last fifty years. The shock of discovery was worldwide.
All the rock-cut caves had paintings on verandahs, inner walls and ceilings,
these revealed some of the most beautiful masterpieces of world art.
In the grottos were also symbolic Buddhist mounds called Stupas, and
cells for monks called viharas. There were giant sculptures of Buddha's,
Bodhisattvas (potential Buddha's), or Taras (female Buddhist divinities),
as also dwarapalas (doorkeepers).
Later, an inscription was found of King Harisena ('moon among princes'),
of the Vakataka dynasty of the 5th -6th century A.D. in cave No.17.
It seems that the local Vakatakas had relations, thought marriage, with
the great Gupta kings of the north.
NUMBER OF CAVES:
The total numbers of caves are 30. Most of them were finished, A few were
half finished, A pathway, scooped out from stone, runs as a crescent by
the caves for pedestrians. From this, one can have a glorious view of
the ravine below.
For many years, expert scholars and other learned men form all over the
world, have visited the Ajanta caves. Millions of pilgrims and tourists
have been there. Every one wonders why the caves were scooped out on this
particular horseshoe rock, in the middle of the Deccan Plateau.
The great scholar, late Prof. D.D. Kosambi, suggested that all the caves
in the caves in the Western Ghats, from shudhaghar, through Karla, Bhaja,
Nasik, Pitalkhora, to Ajanta are located on the crests of an ancient trade
route from the Arabian sea in to the Deccan. This may be one good reason,
which can explain the carving in the Ajanta rocks, nearby were the Mandis
or trade centers, of Deogiri and Jalgaon.
The second reason was clearly the texture of the granite rock. This was
in layers, which could be easily cut with instruments available to the
craftsman in those days.
The third reason is that the Buddhist monks always preferred to live in
secluded spots. They went to collect alms from the village and small towns
and trade centers, but came back for quiet contemplation in ravines and
gorges, away from the crowds.
The painting and sculptures in the caves are of Buddhist origin; Gautama
Buddha (600 B.C.) was against painting and Sculpture. He forbade image
of himself. Also he was against the use of colorful clothes such as may
excite desire he did not admit women to the order of nuns. He felt that
all life was pain. The best way to attain salvation (Nirvana) was to suppress
all for happiness.
Why then did the monks paint pictures
of the Buddha or monks images of him and potential Buddha's?
After the death of the Buddha, many aboriginal and suppressed people accepted
the faith of the 'Enlightened one'. It is well known that, with illiterate
people, images come before ideas, these converts wanted to worship images
of the Buddha and his incarnations, as the Hindus worshipped their gods.
The Buddhist monks made up many stories of Gautama's previous incarnations.
For instance, he was supposed to have been a lotus at one time in another
birth, he was an elephant. In still another birth, he was prince; the
monks painted these human stories. Also they were carved in reliefs near
the symbolic Stupa or mound grave, over the Buddha's relics like his tooth
or hair Neil. The pilgrims began to worship the symbolic painting and
images. And then the monks raised this kind or worship into a holy ritual.
The Hinayana or the phase of Buddhist denial of pleasure, thus slowly
become Mahayana, the Buddhism of acceptance of desire - so long as men
and women may remember the pain of existence.
To sum up the difference the Hinayana and the Mahayana phases of Buddhism,
we may say:
The Hinayana Buddhism asked the people to rely on themselves and practice
the eightfold path of right behavior. The Buddha was not like Hindu God,
Whom the worshipper could ask for help.
The Mahayana made the Buddha almost into gods perhaps under the influence
of Hinduism, by the time this more liberal faith emerged, Buddhism accepted
women in the Sangha, or the order of monks and nuns, and promised to help
people to attain Nirvana by practicing certain rites. By the time the
Ajanta caves were carved, the Buddhists had evolved imagery almost parallel
to the Hindus.