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Ajanta Caves

The Ajanta Caves are 29 (approximately) rock-cut Buddhist cave monuments which date from the 2nd century BCE to about 480 CE in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra state of India. The caves include paintings and rock-cut sculptures described as among the finest surviving examples of ancient Indian art, particularly expressive paintings that present emotion through gesture, pose and form.

According to UNESCO, these are masterpieces of Buddhist religious art that influenced the Indian art that followed. The caves were built in two phases, the first phase starting around the 2nd century BCE, while the second phase was built around 400–650 CE, according to older accounts, or in a brief period of 460–480 CE according to later scholarship. The site is a protected monument in the care of the Archaeological Survey of India, and since 1983, the Ajanta Caves have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Ajanta Caves constitute ancient monasteries and worship-halls of different Buddhist traditions carved into a 250-feet wall of rock. The caves also present paintings depicting the past lives and rebirths of the Buddha, pictorial tales from Aryasura’s Jatakamala, and rock-cut sculptures of Buddhist deities. Textual records suggest that these caves served as a monsoon retreat for monks, as well as a resting-site for merchants and pilgrims in ancient India. While vivid colours and mural wall-painting were abundant in Indian history as evidenced by historical records, Caves 16, 17, 1 and 2 of Ajanta form the largest corpus of surviving ancient Indian wall-painting.

Panoramic view of Ajanta Caves from the nearby hill
The Ajanta Caves are mentioned in the memoirs of several medieval-era Chinese Buddhist travellers to India and by a Mughal-era official of Akbar era in the early 17th century. They were covered by jungle until accidentally “discovered” and brought to Western attention in 1819 by a colonial British officer on a tiger-hunting party. The Ajanta Caves are located on the side of a rocky cliff that is on the north side of a U-shaped gorge on the small river Waghur, in the Deccan plateau. Further round the gorge are a number of waterfalls, which, when the river is high, are audible from outside the caves.

With the Ellora Caves, Ajanta is the major tourist attraction of Maharashtra. They are about 59 kilometres (37 miles) from the city of Jalgaon, Maharashtra, India, 60 kilometres (37 miles) from Pachora, 104 kilometres (65 miles) from the city of Aurangabad, and 350 kilometres (220 miles) east-northeast from Mumbai. They are 100 kilometres (62 miles) from the Ellora Caves, which contain Hindu, Jain and Buddhist caves, the last dating from a period similar to Ajanta. The Ajanta style is also found in the Ellora Caves and other sites such as the Elephanta Caves and the cave temples of Karnataka.

The Ajanta Caves are generally agreed to have been made in three distinct periods, the first belonging to the 2nd century BCE to 1st century CE, and a second period that followed several centuries later.

The caves consist of 36 identifiable foundations, some of them discovered after the original numbering of the caves from 1 through 29. The later identified caves have been suffixed with the letters of the alphabet, such as 15A, identified between originally numbered caves 15 and 16. The cave-numbering is a convention of convenience, and has nothing to do with chronological order of their construction.

Caves of the first (Satavahana) period
The earliest group constructed consists of caves 9, 10, 12, 13 and 15A. This grouping, and their belonging to the Hinayana (Theravada) tradition of Buddhism, is generally accepted by scholars, but there are differing opinions on which century in which the early caves were built. According to Walter Spink, they were made during the period 100 BCE to 100 CE, probably under the patronage of the Hindu Satavahana dynasty (230 BCE – c. 220 CE) who ruled the region. Other datings prefer the period of the Maurya Empire (300 BCE to 100 BCE). Of these, caves 9 and 10 are stupa containing worship halls of chaitya-griha form, and caves 12, 13, and 15A are vihāras (see the architecture section below for descriptions of these types). The first Satavahana period caves lacked figurative sculpture, emphasizing the stupa instead.

According to Spink, once the Satavahana period caves were made, the site was not further developed for a considerable period until the mid-5th century. However, the early caves were in use during this dormant period, and Buddhist pilgrims visited the site, according to the records left by Chinese pilgrim Faxian around 400 CE.

Caves of the later, or Vākāṭaka, period
The second phase of construction at the Ajanta Caves site began in the 5th century. For a long time it was thought that the later caves were made over an extended period from the 4th to the 7th centuries CE, but in recent decades a series of studies by the leading expert on the caves, Walter M. Spink, have argued that most of the work took place over the very brief period from 460 to 480 CE, during the reign of Hindu Emperor Harishena of the Vākāṭaka dynasty. This view has been criticised by some scholars, but is now broadly accepted by most authors of general books on Indian art, for example Huntington and Harle.

The second phase is attributed to the theistic Mahāyāna, or Greater Vehicle tradition of Buddhism. Caves of the second period are 1–8, 11, 14–29, some possibly extensions of earlier caves. Caves 19, 26, and 29 are chaitya-grihas, the rest viharas. The most elaborate caves were produced in this period, which included some refurbishing and repainting of the early caves.

Spink states that it is possible to establish dating for this period with a very high level of precision; a fuller account of his chronology is given below. Although debate continues, Spink’s ideas are increasingly widely accepted, at least in their broad conclusions. The Archaeological Survey of India website still presents the traditional dating: “The second phase of paintings started around 5th–6th centuries A.D. and continued for the next two centuries”.

According to Spink, the construction activity at the incomplete Ajanta Caves was abandoned by wealthy patrons in about 480 CE, a few years after the death of Harishena. However, states Spink, the caves appear to have been in use for a period of time as evidenced by the wear of the pivot holes caves constructed close to 480 CE. The second phase of constructions and decorations at Ajanta corresponds to the very apogee of Classical India, or India’s golden age.

According to Richard Cohen, 7th-century Chinese traveler Xuanzang’s reports about the caves, and the scattered graffiti from the medieval centuries uncovered at the site suggests that the Ajanta Caves were known and probably in use, but without a stable or steady Buddhist community presence at the site. The Ajanta caves are mentioned in the 17th-century text Ain-i-Akbari by Abu al-Fazl, as twenty four rock-cut cave temples each with remarkable idols.

Discovery by the Western world
On 28 April 1819, a British officer named John K Smith, of the 28th Cavalry, while hunting tigers, “discovered” the entrance to Cave No. 10 when a local shepherd boy guided him to the location and the door. The caves were well known by locals already. Captain Smith went to a nearby village and asked the villagers to come to the site with axes, spears, torches and drums, to cut down the tangled jungle growth that made entering the cave difficult. He then vandalised the wall by scratching his name and the date over the painting of a bodhisattva. Since he stood on a five-foot high pile of rubble collected over the years, the inscription is well above the eye-level gaze of an adult today. A paper on the caves by William Erskine was read to the Bombay Literary Society in 1822.

Within a few decades, the caves became famous for their “exotic” setting, impressive architecture, and above all their exceptional and unique paintings. A number of large projects to copy the paintings were made in the century after rediscovery. In 1848, the Royal Asiatic Society established the “Bombay Cave Temple Commission” to clear, tidy and record the most important rock-cut sites in the Bombay Presidency, with John Wilson as president. In 1861 this became the nucleus of the new Archaeological Survey of India.

During the colonial era, the Ajanta site was in the territory of the princely state of the Hyderabad and not British India. In early 1920s, the Nizam of Hyderabad appointed people to restore the artwork, converted the site into a museum and built a road to bring tourists to the site for a fee. These efforts resulted in early mismanagement, states Richard Cohen, and hastened the deterioration of the site. Post-independence, the state government of Maharashtra built arrival, transport, facilities and better site management. The modern Visitor Center has good parking facilities and public conveniences and ASI operated buses run at regular intervals from Visitor Center to the caves.

The Ajanta Caves, along with the Ellora Caves, have become the most popular tourist destination in Maharashtra, and are often crowded at holiday times, increasing the threat to the caves, especially the paintings. In 2012, the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation announced plans to add to the ASI visitor centre at the entrance complete replicas of caves 1, 2, 16 & 17 to reduce crowding in the originals, and enable visitors to receive a better visual idea of the paintings, which are dimly-lit and hard to read in the caves.

Architecture and sculpture

The caves are carved out of flood basalt rock of a cliff, part of the Deccan Traps formed by successive volcanic eruptions at the end of the Cretaceous geological period. The rock is layered horizontally, and somewhat variable in quality. This variation within the rock layers required the artists to amend their carving methods and plans in places. The inhomogeneity in the rock have also led to cracks and collapses in the centuries that followed, as with the lost portico to cave 1. Excavation began by cutting a narrow tunnel at roof level, which was expanded downwards and outwards; as evidenced by some of the incomplete caves such as the partially-built vihara caves 21 through 24 and the abandoned incomplete cave 28.

The sculpture artists likely worked at both excavating the rocks and making the intricate carvings of pillars, roof and idols; further, the sculpture and painting work inside a cave were an integrated parallel tasks. A grand gateway to the site was carved, at the apex of the gorge’s horseshoe between caves 15 and 16, as approached from the river, and it is decorated with elephants on either side and a nāga, or protective Naga (snake) deity. Similar methods and application of artist talent is observed in other cave temples of India, such as those from Hinduism and Jainism. These include the Ellora caves, Ghototkacha caves, Elephanta Caves, Bagh Caves, Badami Caves and Aurangabad Caves.

The caves from the first period seem to have been paid for by a number of different patrons to gain merit, with several inscriptions recording the donation of particular portions of a single cave. The later caves were each commissioned as a complete unit by a single patron from the local rulers or their court elites, again for merit in Buddhist afterlife beliefs as evidenced by inscriptions such as those in Cave 17. After the death of Harisena, smaller donors motivated by getting merit added small “shrinelets” between the caves or add statues to existing caves, and some two hundred of these “intrusive” additions were made in sculpture, with a further number of intrusive paintings, up to three hundred in cave 10 alone.

The majority of the caves are vihara halls with symmetrical square plans. To each vihara hall are attached smaller square dormitory cells cut into the walls. A vast majority of the caves were carved in the second period, wherein a shrine or sanctuary is appended at the rear of the cave, centred on a large statue of the Buddha, along with exuberantly detailed reliefs and deities near him as well as on the pillars and walls, all carved out of the natural rock. This change reflects the shift from Hinayana to Mahāyāna Buddhism. These caves are often called monasteries.

The central square space of the interior of the viharas is defined by square columns forming a more-or-less square open area. Outside this are long rectangular aisles on each side, forming a kind of cloister. Along the side and rear walls are a number of small cells entered by a narrow doorway; these are roughly square, and have small niches on their back walls. Originally they had wooden doors. The centre of the rear wall has a larger shrine-room behind, containing a large Buddha statue.

The viharas of the earlier period are much simpler, and lack shrines. Spink places the change to a design with a shrine to the middle of the second period, with many caves being adapted to add a shrine in mid-excavation, or after the original phase.

The plan of Cave 1 shows one of the largest viharas, but is fairly typical of the later group. Many others, such as Cave 16, lack the vestibule to the shrine, which leads straight off the main hall. Cave 6 is two viharas, one above the other, connected by internal stairs, with sanctuaries on both levels.

Worship halls
The other type of main hall architecture is the narrower rectangular plan with high arched ceiling type chaitya-griha – literally, “the house of stupa”. This hall is longitudinally divided into a nave and two narrower side aisles separated by a symmetrical row of pillars, with a stupa in the apse. The stupa is surrounded by pillars and a concentric walking space for circumambulation. Some of the caves have elaborate carved entrances, some with large windows over the door to admit light. There is often a colonnaded porch or verandah, with another space inside the doors running the width of the cave. The oldest worship halls at Ajanta were built in the 2nd to 1st century BCE, the newest ones in late 5th century CE, and the architecture of both resembles the architecture of a Christian church, but without the crossing or chapel chevette. The Ajanta Caves follow the Cathedral-style architecture found in still older rock-cut cave carvings of ancient India, such as the Lomas Rishi Cave of the Ajivikas near Gaya in Bihar dated to the 3rd century BCE. These chaitya-griha are called worship or prayer halls.

The four completed chaitya halls are caves 9 and 10 from the early period, and caves 19 and 26 from the later period of construction. All follow the typical form found elsewhere, with high ceilings and a central “nave” leading to the stupa, which is near the back, but allows walking behind it, as walking around stupas was (and remains) a common element of Buddhist worship (pradakshina). The later two have high ribbed roofs carved into the rock, which reflect timber forms, and the earlier two are thought to have used actual timber ribs and are now smooth, the original wood presumed to have perished. The two later halls have a rather unusual arrangement (also found in Cave 10 at Ellora) where the stupa is fronted by a large relief sculpture of the Buddha, standing in Cave 19 and seated in Cave 26. Cave 29 is a late and very incomplete chaitya hall.

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The form of columns in the work of the first period is very plain and un-embellished, with both chaitya halls using simple octagonal columns, which were later painted with images of the Buddha, people and monks in robes. In the second period columns were far more varied and inventive, often changing profile over their height, and with elaborate carved capitals, often spreading wide. Many columns are carved over all their surface with floral motifs and Mahayana deities, some fluted and others carved with decoration all over, as in cave 1.

The paintings in the Ajanta caves predominantly narrate the Jataka tales. These are Buddhist legends describing the previous births of the Buddha. These fables embed ancient morals and cultural lores that are also found in the fables and legends of Hindu and Jain texts. The Jataka tales are exemplified through the life example and sacrifices that the Buddha made in hundreds of his past incarnations, where he is depicted as having been reborn as an animal or human.

Mural paintings survive from both the earlier and later groups of caves. Several fragments of murals preserved from the earlier caves (Caves 10 and 11) are effectively unique survivals of ancient painting in India from this period, and “show that by Sātavāhana times, if not earlier, the Indian painters had mastered an easy and fluent naturalistic style, dealing with large groups of people in a manner comparable to the reliefs of the Sāñcī toraņa crossbars”. Some connections with the art of Gandhara can also be noted, and there is evidence of a shared artistic idiom.

Four of the later caves have large and relatively well-preserved mural paintings which, states James Harle, “have come to represent Indian mural painting to the non-specialist”, and represent “the great glories not only of Gupta but of all Indian art”. They fall into two stylistic groups, with the most famous in Caves 16 and 17, and apparently later paintings in Caves 1 and 2. The latter group were thought to be a century or more later than the others, but the revised chronology proposed by Spink would place them in the 5th century as well, perhaps contemporary with it in a more progressive style, or one reflecting a team from a different region. The Ajanta frescos are classical paintings and the work of confident artists, without cliches, rich and full. They are luxurious, sensuous and celebrate physical beauty, aspects that early Western observers felt were shockingly out of place in these caves presumed to be meant for religious worship and ascetic monastic life.

The paintings are in “dry fresco”, painted on top of a dry plaster surface rather than into wet plaster. All the paintings appear to be the work of painters supported by discriminating connoisseurship and sophisticated patrons from an urban atmosphere. We know from literary sources that painting was widely practised and appreciated in the Gupta period. Unlike much Indian mural painting, compositions are not laid out in horizontal bands like a frieze, but show large scenes spreading in all directions from a single figure or group at the centre. The ceilings are also painted with sophisticated and elaborate decorative motifs, many derived from sculpture. The paintings in cave 1, which according to Spink was commissioned by Harisena himself, concentrate on those Jataka tales which show previous lives of the Buddha as a king, rather than as deer or elephant or another Jataka animal. The scenes depict the Buddha as about to renounce the royal life.

In general the later caves seem to have been painted on finished areas as excavating work continued elsewhere in the cave, as shown in caves 2 and 16 in particular. According to Spink’s account of the chronology of the caves, the abandonment of work in 478 after a brief busy period accounts for the absence of painting in places including cave 4 and the shrine of cave 17, the later being plastered in preparation for paintings that were never done.

Spink’s chronology and cave history
Walter M. Spink has over recent decades developed a very precise and circumstantial chronology for the second period of work on the site, which unlike earlier scholars, he places entirely in the 5th century. This is based on evidence such as the inscriptions and artistic style, dating of nearby cave temple sites, comparative chronology of the dynasties, combined with the many uncompleted elements of the caves. He believes the earlier group of caves, which like other scholars he dates only approximately, to the period “between 100 BCE – 100 CE”, were at some later point completely abandoned and remained so “for over three centuries”. This changed during the Hindu emperor Harishena of the Vakataka Dynasty, who reigned from 460 to his death in 477, who sponsored numerous new caves during his reign. Harisena’s rule extended the Central Indian Vakataka Empire to include a stretch of the east coast of India; the Gupta Empire ruled northern India at the same period, and the Pallava dynasty much of the south.

According to Spink, Harisena encouraged a group of associates, including his prime minister Varahadeva and Upendragupta, the sub-king in whose territory Ajanta was, to dig out new caves, which were individually commissioned, some containing inscriptions recording the donation. This activity began in many caves simultaneously about 462. This activity was mostly suspended in 468 because of threats from the neighbouring Asmaka kings. Thereafter work continued on only Caves 1, Harisena’s own commission, and 17–20, commissioned by Upendragupta. In 472 the situation was such that work was suspended completely, in a period that Spink calls “the Hiatus”, which lasted until about 475, by which time the Asmakas had replaced Upendragupta as the local rulers.

Work was then resumed, but again disrupted by Harisena’s death in 477, soon after which major excavation ceased, except at cave 26, which the Asmakas were sponsoring themselves. The Asmakas launched a revolt against Harisena’s son, which brought about the end of the Vakataka Dynasty. In the years 478–480 CE major excavation by important patrons was replaced by a rash of “intrusions” – statues added to existing caves, and small shrines dotted about where there was space between them. These were commissioned by less powerful individuals, some monks, who had not previously been able to make additions to the large excavations of the rulers and courtiers. They were added to the facades, the return sides of the entrances, and to walls inside the caves. According to Spink, “After 480, not a single image was ever made again at the site”. However there exists a Rashtrakuta inscription outside of cave 26 dateable to end of seventh or early 8th century, suggesting the caves were not abandoned until then.

Spink does not use “circa” in his dates, but says that “one should allow a margin of error of one year or perhaps even two in all cases”.

Hindu and Buddhist builders
The Ajanta Caves were built in a period when both the Buddha and the Hindu gods were simultaneously revered in Indian culture. According to Spink and other scholars, not only the Ajanta Caves but other nearby cave temples were sponsored and built by Hindus. This is evidenced by inscriptions wherein the role as well as the Hindu heritage of the donor is proudly proclaimed. According to Spink,
The role of Hindu artisans is confirmed by archaeological excavations across the river from the Ajanta caves. The caves must have employed a large workforce of artisans who likely lived for extended period of time nearby, across from the river near the site. Excavations have uncovered extensive brick structures for workers and visiting elite sponsors, along with Shaiva and Shakta Hindu deities such as a red sandstone image of Durga Mahishasuramardini. According to Yuko Yokoschi and Walter Spink, these excavated artifacts of the 5th century near the site suggest that the Ajanta caves deployed a huge number of builders.


Natives, society and culture in the arts at Ajanta
The Ajanta cave arts are a window into the culture, society and religiosity of the native population of India between the 2nd century BCE and 5th century CE. Different scholars have variously interpreted them from the perspective of gender studies, history, sociology, and the anthropology of South Asia. The dress, the jewelry, the gender relations, the social activities depicted showcase at least a lifestyle of the royalty and elite, and in others definitely the costumes of the common man, monks and rishi depicted therein. They shine “light on life in India” around mid 1st millennium CE.

The Ajanta artworks provide a contrast between the spiritual life of monks who had given up all materialistic possessions versus the sensual life of those it considered materialistic, luxurious, symbols of wealth, leisurely and high fashion. Many frescos show scenes from shops, festivals, jesters at processions, palaces and performance art pavilions. These friezes share themes and details of those found in Bharhut, Sanchi, Amaravati, Ellora, Bagh, Aihole, Badami and other archaeological sites in India. Ajanta caves contributes to visual and descriptive sense of the ancient and early medieval Indian culture and artistic traditions, particularly those around the Gupta Empire era period.

The early colonial era description of Ajanta caves was largely orientalist and critical, inconsistent with the Victorian values and stereotyping. According to William Dalrymple, the themes and arts in the Ajanta caves were puzzling to the 19th century Orientalists. Lacking the Asian cultural heritage and framework that sees “nothing odd in the juxtaposition of monk and dancing girl”, and with no knowledge of Jataka Tales or equivalent Indian fables, they could not comprehend it. They projected their own views and assumptions, calling it something that lacks reason and rationale, something that is meaningless crude representation of royalty and foreigners with mysticism and sensuousness. The 19th-century views and interpretations of the Ajanta Caves were conditioned by ideas and assumptions in the colonial mind, saw what they wanted to see.

To many who are unaware of the premises of Indian religions in general, and Buddhism in particular, the significance of Ajanta Caves has been like rest of Indian art. According to Richard Cohen, Ajanta Caves to them has been yet another example of “worship this stock, or that stone, or monstrous idol”. In contrast, to the Indian mind and the larger Buddhist community, it is everything that art ought to be, the religious and the secular, the spiritual and the social fused to enlightened perfection.

According to Walter Spink – one of the most respected Art historians on Ajanta, these caves were by 475 CE a much revered site to the Indians, with throngs of “travelers, pilgrims, monks and traders”. The site was vastly transformed into its current form in just 20 years, between early 460 CE to early 480 CE, by regional architects and artisans. This accomplishment, states Spink, makes Ajanta, “one of the most remarkable creative achievements in man’s history”.

Foreigners in the paintings of Ajanta
The Ajanta Caves painting are a significant source of socio-economic information in ancient India, particularly in relation to the interactions of India with foreign cultures at the time most of the paintings were made, in the 5th century CE. Depictions of foreigners abound: according to Spink, “Ajanta’s paintings are filled with such foreign types.” They have sometimes been a source of misinterpretation as in the so-called “Persian Embassy Scene”. These foreigners may reflect the Sassanian merchants, visitors and the flourishing trade routes of the day.

The so-called “Persian Embassy Scene”
Cave 1, for example, shows a mural fresco with characters with foreigner faces or dresses, the so-called “Persian Embassy Scene”. This scene is located at the right of the entrance door upon entering the hall. According to Spink, James Fergusson, a 19th-century architectural historian, had decided that this scene corresponded to the Persian ambassador in 625 CE to the court of the Hindu Chalukya king Pulakeshin II. An alternate theory has been that the fresco represents a Hindu ambassador visiting the Persian king Khusrau II in 625 CE, a theory that Fergusson disagreed with. These assumptions by colonial British era art historians, state Spink and other scholars, has been responsible for wrongly dating this painting to the 7th century, when in fact this reflects an incomplete Harisena-era painting of a Jataka tale (the Mahasudarsana jataka) with the representation of trade between India and distant lands such as Sassanian near East that was common by the 5th century.

International trade, growth of Buddhism
The Cave 1 has several frescoes with characters with foreigner faces or dresses. Similar depictions are found in the paintings of Cave 17. Such murals, states Pia Brancaccio, suggest a prosperous and multicultural society in 5th-century India active in international trade. These also suggest that this trade was economically important enough to the Deccan region that the artists chose to include it with precision.

Additional evidence of international trade includes the use of the blue lapis lazuli pigment to depict foreigners in the Ajanta paintings, which must have been imported from Afghanistan or Iran. It also suggests, states Branacaccio, that the Buddhist monastic world was closely connected with trading guilds and the court culture in this period. A small number of scenes show foreigners drinking wine in Caves 1 and 2. Some show foreign Near East kings with wine and their retinue which presumably add to the “general regal emphasis” of the cave. According to Brancaccio, the Ajanta paintings show a variety of colorful, delicate textiles and women making cotton. Textile probably was one of the major exports to foreign lands, along with gems. These were exported first through the Red Sea, and later through the Persian Gulf, thereby bringing a period of economic and cultural exchange between the Indians, the Sasanian Empire and the Persian merchants before Islam was founded in the Arabian peninsula.

While scholars generally agree that these murals confirm trade and cultural connections between India and Sassanian west, their specific significance and interpretation varies. Brancaccio, for example, suggests that the ship and jars in them probably reflect foreign ships carrying wine imported to India. In contrast, Schlinghoff interprets the jars to be holding water, and ships shown as Indian ships used in international trade.

Similar depictions are found in the paintings of Cave 17, but this time in direct relation to the worship of the Buddha. In Cave 17, a painting of the Buddha descending from the Trayastrimsa Heaven shows he being attended by many foreigners. Many foreigners in this painting are thus shown as listeners to the Buddhist Dharma. The ethnic diversity is depicted in the painting in the clothes (kaftans, Sasanian helmets, round caps), haridos and skin colors. In the Visvantara Jataka of Cave 17, according to Brancaccio, the scene probably shows a servant from Central Asia holding a foreign metal ewer, while a dark-complexioned servant holds a cup to an amorous couple. In another painting in Cave 17, relating to the conversion of Nanda, a man possibly from northeast Africa appears as a servant. These representations show, states Brancaccio, that the artists were familiar with people of Sogdia, Central Asia, Persia and possibly East Africa. Another hypothesis is offered by Upadhya, who states that the artists who built Ajanta caves “very probably included foreigners”.

Paintings and the cave artwork have become eroded due to decay and human interference. Therefore, many areas of the painted walls, ceilings, and pillars are fragmentary. The painted narratives of the Jataka tales are depicted only on the walls, which demanded the special attention of the devotees. They are didactic in nature, meant to inform the community about the Buddha’s teachings and life through successive rebirths. Their placement on the walls required the devotee to walk through the aisles and ‘read’ the narratives depicted in various episodes. The narrative episodes are depicted one after another, although not in a linear order. Their identification has been a core area of research since the site’s discovery in 1819.

Impact on modern paintings
The Ajanta paintings, or more likely the general style they come from, influenced painting in Tibet and Sri Lanka.

The rediscovery of ancient Indian paintings at Ajanta provided Indian artists examples from ancient India to follow. Nandalal Bose experimented with techniques to follow the ancient style which allowed him to develop his unique style. Abanindranath Tagore and Syed Thajudeen also used the Ajanta paintings for inspiration.

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