Ajanta Cave Temples 16 & 17, Maharasthra

high-definition creative commons photographs from caves 16-17 at Ajanta, Maharasthra, which contain many fine paintings, together with a description.

Ajanta Caves 1-12 Ajanta Caves 16-17 Ajanta Caves 19-26

The Ajanta Cave Temples
Description from Burgess and Fergusson, The Cave Temples of India (1885), Chapter VIII

(slightly re-edited)

Ajaṇṭā... is situated [in the Gautala Wildlife Sanctuary at the its eastern end, and] at the head of one of the passages or ghāṭs that lead down from the Indhyādri hills, dividing the table-land of the Dekhan from Khāndesh, in the valley of the Tapti. Four miles W.N.W. of this town are the caves to which it gives name.

Most other groups of Buddhist caves are excavated on the scarps of hills, with extensive views from their verandahs; those of Ajaṇṭā are buried in a wild, lonely glen, with no vista but the rocky scarp on the opposite side. Read more...

They are approached from Fardapur, a small town at the foot of the ghāṭ, and about three and a half miles north-east from them. They are excavated in the face of an almost perpendicular scarp of rock, about 250 feet high, sweeping round in a curve of fully a semicircle, and forming the north or outer side of a wild secluded ravine, down which comes a small stream.

Above the caves the valley terminates abruptly in a waterfall of seven leaps, known as the sāt kuṇḍ, the lower of which may be from 70 to 80 feet high, and the others 00 feet more.

The caves extend about 600 yards from east to west round the concave wall of amygdaloid trap that hems in the stream on its north or left side, and vary in elevation from about 35 to 00 feet above the bed of the torrent, the lowest being about a third of the arc from the east end.

The whole of the caves have been numbered... commencing from the east or outer end, and terminating at the inner extremity by the caves furthest up the ravine. This enumeration, it will be understood, is wholly without reference to either the age or purpose of the caves, but wholly for convenience of description. The oldest are the lowest down in the rock, and practically near the centre, being numbers 8 to 13, from which group they radiate right and left, to no. 1 on the one hand, 29 on the other...

In some respects the series of caves at Ajaṇṭā is more complete and more interesting than any other in India. All the caves there belong exclusively to the Buddhist religion without any admixture either from the Hindu or Jaina forms of faith, and they extend through the whole period during which Buddhism prevailed as a dominant religion in that country.

Two of them, a Chaitya cave and a vihāra, 9 and 8, certainly belong to the second century before Christ, and two others, No. 26, a chaitya at one end of the series, and No. 1, a vihāra at the other end, were certainly not finished in the middle of the seventh century, when Buddhism was tottering to its fall.

Between these two periods, the 29 caves found here are spread tolerably evenly over a period of more than eight centuries, with only a break, which occurs, not only here, but everywhere, between the early and Mahāyāna forms of faith. Five or six caves at Ajaṇṭā belong to the former school, and consequently to the first great division into which we have classed these monuments. The remaining 23 belong as distinctly to the second division, and possess all the imagery and exuberance of the latter school.

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Map of Ajanta Caves
Map by Goran tek-en


you can control the movement through the panorama with your mouse


Cave 16
Description adapted from signs erected by the Archeological Society of India at the Caves

This is the largest (19.5 X 22.25 X 4. 6 m) and certainly the finest and most interesting monastery at Ajaṇṭā, famous for portraying the various episodes of Buddha's life. An inscription found on the wall of verandah, records the gift of this cave by Varāhadeva a minister of Vakataka King Harisena (475-500 A. D.)

It consists of a verandah, hypostylar hall, a sanctum, chapels and cells. The sanctum has a circumambulatory and houses Lord Buddha on a lion throne, in Dharmacakra posture. Lord Buddha is flanked by chauri-bearing Bodhisattvas and celestial nymphs carrying garlands. The pillars are tall, devoid of any carvings, but once contained beautiful paintings.

The previous birth stories of the Buddha, known as Jātakas, are artistically and ingeniously drawn on the walls. The ceilings are filled with floral, faunal and a geometrical designs and the whole ceiling creates an impression of a fluttering pavillion.

It has masterpieces of paintings like the Death of a Princess, Asita's Prediction, the Conversion of Nanda, Maya's Dream, the Miracle of Śrāvasti and Sujāta offering Kheer. Some of the paintings here are also inscribed.

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Cave 17
Description adapted from signs erected by the Archeological Society of India at the Caves

This is one of the finest and magnificent of the Mahāyāna monasteries, known for its display of the greatest number of Jātaka stories. A brahmi inscription, on the wall of the courtyard records the excavation of this cave by a feudatory prince under Vakataka King Harisena (475 - 500 A. D.)

The monastery is also called the zodiac cave from a circular painting of a gigantic wheel, which is also painted on the verandah wall. It consists of a verandah, hypostylar hall, a sanctum with an antechamber, chapels and cells. The sanctum houses a huge image of Lord Buddha, flanked by Bodhisattvas and flying figures hovering above them.

The cave has some of the best-preserved paintings of the Vakataka age. Twenty octagonal pillars, mostly painted devoid of any carving, support the hall. The doorframe is lavishly carved and painted. The lintel of the main door portrays the seven Buddhas including Maitreya.


Photographs by Anandajoti Bhikkhu

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