Ajanta Caves showcase some of the best instances of ancient sculptures and murals. These caves, 29 in number are 24 monasteries and five temples. About 200 monks and artisans occupy them. These caves are hailed for their grandiose beauty and enjoy being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. They were the greatest Buddhist monastery from 2nd to 7th century BC. Caves here are carved from the horse-shoe twisted stone cliffs. Buddhist monks chiseled out these beautiful caves between 200 BC and 650 AD as chaityas (prayer halls) and viharas (monasteries). They have superb frescoes and excellent sculptures. Ajanta caves are categorized in two phases: the Hinayana phase and the Mahayana phase. Some of the important Ajanta cave sculptures in India are elaborated below.
Cave 1- It houses some best specimens, specifically the two bodhisattvas of Vajrapani and Padmapani and a seated Buddha sculpture. The Wheel of Life is placed beneath his statue.
Cave 2- It is a wonderfully painted ceiling which looks like tent. Its remarkable feature is animated sculptures. Intricate patterns adorn its walls that show scenes of Gautam Buddha’s birth.
Cave 4- This is a squarish monastery housing a sanctum sanctorum, hall, pillared verandah and is the largest monastery at Ajanta. The door frame is elegantly sculpted. Bodhisattva as reliever of Eight Great Perils is carved flanking to the right. The hall’s ceiling preserves an exceptional geological characteristic of a lava flow.
Cave 5- This is an unfinished monastery. Its significant features are lavishly carved door frame and female figures on makaras.
Cave 6-This is a monastery which is double storeyed. Its lower storey consists of sanctum sanctorum, hall and a pillared hall. A hall with cells, subsidiary cells and sanctum sanctorum are housed in the upper storey. In both the shrines, Lord Buddha is placed in the attitude of preaching. The representation of Temptation of Mara and Miracle of Sravasti are the significant paintings. Sculptural portrayal of Buddha in a variety of postures and attitudes can also be noticed in this cave.
Cave 9- It is flaunted not only with sculptures but also with wonderful frescoes.
Cave 11- The sculpture of Lord Buddha is connected to a stupa. It is an intermingling of image and stupa worship.
Cave 12 and Cave 13- Gorgeous paintings that radiate in the dark and life-size and miniature sculptures are here.
Cave 15 and Cave 16- Thee caves elucidate the illustrative marvel and point out some more astonishing aspects of sculptures and paintings that make over the rocky cave walls.
Cave 17 - Its discriminating murals portray devotees with offerings in the Royal Procession.
Cave 20- It is a pillar less monastery having a hall, sanctum sanctorum, cells and a pillared verandah. A Brahmi message in the verandah is also there. Another significant sculptural panel of this cave is the sculpture of seven Buddhas along with attendants.
Cave 21- It is a monastery having a hall having twelve pillars and twelve cells on three sides, pillared verandah and sanctum sanctorum. Four are with pillared porches out of 12 cells. Seated Buddha in preaching attitude is there in the sanctum. Trace of paintings are noticed which consist of a panel depicting Buddha preaching a congregation.
Cave 22- This monastery houses an astylar hall, sanctum sanctorum, four unfinished cells and a tapered verandah. On the back wall of the shrine, Buddha seated in pralamba-padasana is carved. Painted figures of Manushi-Buddhas with Maitreya and the sculptural depiction of Buddha in different forms can be seen here.
Cave 23- This is again incomplete monastery housing sanctum sanctorum, a pillared verandah, an astylar hall, antechamber and side cells. The cave is specially celebrated for luxurious pillar décor along with pilasters and the naga doorkeepers.
Cave 24- This is an incomplete monastery and also the second greatest excavation following cave 4 of Ajanta. It houses sanctum sanctorum and a pillared verandah. Outside the verandah, a chapel with pillared porch is unearthed. The sanctum consists of a seated Buddha in pralamba-padasana.
Cave 25- This monastery consists of a pillared verandah, an astylar hall and a courtyard which is enclosed and excavated at an elevated level. Two cells are present on the left end of the verandah and there are no cells in the hall. The hall is devoid of holy place.
Cave 26- This cave has imposing carvings from the life of Lord Buddha. Rest of the caves consist of a lot of additional frescoes and murals. A number of them shed light on stories from the Jataka tales and also episodes from the Buddha’s life are depicted here. Superb sculptures are eye-catching and their excellent detailing adds to the artistic beauty of the Caves.
Cave 26- This cave could have been component of Cave 26 and it houses two storeys, put of the two, the upper one is to some extent collapsed. This is a monastery which consists of a hall with antechamber, four cells and sanctum sanctorum. Inside the sanctum, Buddha is housed in teaching attitude.
Cave 28-This cave is amongst the monasteries that are unfinished. Only the pillared verandah of this monastery was excavated.
Cave 29- This is a fragmentary chaityagriha. It is just in the initial stage of excavation. This cave is situated at the highest level, positioned between Caves 20 and 21.
At Ajanta caves, you can enjoy your day gripped by a single colossal image or get engaged with a million illustrative delights. Each and every cave has its own story to narrate. So visit Ajanta cave sculptures in India and find out them for your exquisite pleasure. Don’t forget to go to the ‘viewpoint’ on the flat-topped hill opposite the caves before you leave. You will certainly catch an astonishing visualization of the entire cluster and the gorge.