The Ajanta and Ellora Caves are collections of ancient caves, located in the Aurangabad district of Maharashtra in India. The caves feature several mural paintings and rock-cut sculptures. They are protected monuments under the Archaeological Survey of India and UNESCO World Heritage Sites. They both are equally popular tourist monuments in Maharashtra.
The Ajanta Caves are carved on a vertical horseshoe-shaped cliff above the Waghora River’s left bank on the Western Deccan Plateau. The caves are Buddhist cave monuments showcasing Theravada (Hinayana) and Mahayana Buddhist traditions and art. They showcase the beauty of Buddhist religious art. The first excavation was done during the Satavahana dynasty about 2nd century BCE to 1st century BCE and the second was done during the Vakataka dynasty in the 5th to 6th centuries CE. The cave paintings recount the Jataka Tales, Buddhist legends explaining the previous births of Gautama Buddha.
In accordance with the Theravada traditions, the caves are simple and have sparse mural paintings since Buddha was worshipped as a symbolic form. The caves were used as Chaitya grihas (sanctuary) and sangharamas or viharas (monasteries). The chaitya grihas have a vaulted ceiling and an apsidal end along with a chaitya window, a horseshoe-shaped window. Inside, there is a row of evenly spaced columns and side aisles. In the centre of the apse is the object of worship shaped like a chaitya or stupa, cut from rocks. The monasteries have a congregation hall and a range of cells on three sides as the dwelling for the Buddhist monks. For the Mahayana traditions, Buddha was worshipped in an idol form. The caves have rich mural paintings and were constructed under renewed architectural and sculptural interest.
The 34 caves at Ellora are located in the Charanandri Hills on the Deccan Plateau. These are examples of religious co-existence and impressive architectural wonders done by the followers of Buddhism, Brahmanism, and Jainism. The caves 1–12 were excavated during the 5th and 8th centuries and they display the Mahayana philosophy of Buddhism. The caves 13–29 of the Brahmanical group were excavated during the 7th and 10th centuries. In the 9th and 12th centuries, the caves 30–34 were excavated and exhibit Jaina philosophy.
Ellora Caves is known for the Kailashnath Temple, cave 16; this is dedicated to the god Shiva and chariot-shaped monument. There are also sculptures displaying several Hindu deities. This temple is the largest of the rock-cut Hindu temples at this cave monument. There are preserved paintings from different periods on the ceilings of the front pillared hall. There are scenes from Mahabharata and Ramayana on the temple hall’s base. There are also five shrines detached on the temple grounds with three being dedicated to Yamuna, Ganga, and Saraswati, the river goddesses. At 32 meters high, this temple is the largest rock-cut monolithic temple in the world. The construction is attributed to King Krishna I (756 – 773) from the Rashtrakuta dynasty in the eighth century. The Vishvakarma Cave is number 10 and chaitya or worship hall. This cave has one of the biggest seated Buddha figures.
Let’s Take a Quick Look at the Differences Between the Two Cave Monuments:
A. Religious Background:
- The Ajanta Caves are Buddhist cave monuments. They showcase the beauty of Buddhist religious art.
- The Ellora Caves have seventeen Hindu caves, twelve Buddhist caves, and five Jain caves. This is evidence of coexistence and religious tolerance in ancient India.
B. Time Period:
- The Ajanta Caves were built partly in the 2nd century BCE and partly from 400 to 650 CE under the Satavahanas, Vakatakas and Chalukyas dynasties.
- The Ellora Caves date back from 600 to 1000 CE under the Rashtrakutas, Kalachuris, Chalukyas and the Yadavas dynasties.
C. Number of Caves:
- The Ajanta Caves have thirty including the unfinished ones.
- The Ellora Caves has a hundred caves in total but only thirty-four are open to the public.
D. Major Attractions:
- The Ajanta Caves are known for architecture, paintings, and sculptures.
- The Ellora Caves are known for architecture and sculptures, especially the Kailashnath Temple.
The Ajanta and Ellora Caves are famous examples of rock-cut cave architecture, religious tolerance, and ancient Indian art traditions. They showcase how culture and traditions change over large periods of time.
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