Most of the caves in Ajanta were built-in the 2nd century B.C. under the rule of Shatavahana dynasty. Nearly all paintings are centered on Buddha, Bodhisattvas, incidents from the life of Buddha and Jatakas. The second string of caves have been built-in the 5th century A.D. under Vakataka dynasty. But, since 480 A.D. these caves had been forgotten and lost in the forest cover until 1819 A.D. when a British officer accidentally discovered the same during a Tiger hunt.
Again, as in Ellora caves, owing to a large travel group and lack of time my cave explorations have been done in bit of haste and the photographs are taken handheld under very poor lighting, so excuse the excessive grains in most photos. The Archaeological Survey of India has installed very dim lights inside the caves, which actually serve a purpose – harsh lighting can spoil the delicate and already fast degrading paintings and camera flashes are a strict no; still I did notice some perfectly stupid people using their camera with flash.
This is probably the most celebrated painting of Ajanta. It’s a painting which goes by the name Padmapāni (“Holder of the Lotus”). The main character in the painting is also popularly referred to as ‘Avalokitesvara’, which means “sound perceiver”, literally “he who looks down upon sound” (i.e., the cries of sentient beings who need his help.
Avalokiteśvara is a bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. A little too theosophical? Well, the term Bodhisattva is mainly used to denote people who already have a considerable degree of enlightenment and seeks to use their wisdom to help other human beings to become liberated. Whereas, Buddha or Buddha hood refers to someone who is in the state of perfect enlightenment!
The plaster made of clay, hay, dung and lime was applied on the rock surface after making the rock surface rough (by chiseling) for better adhesiveness. The drawings have been done and the colour applied when the plaster was still wet to ensure that the wet plaster soaked the colour which has prevented colour fading or decay to a large extent. These colours are known as ‘earth colors’ or ‘vegetable colors’ as various kinds of stones, minerals, and plants were used in combinations to prepare different colors.
The making of human images of Buddha had been considered sacrilegious for a long time; it’s only from the 5th century onwards that they have started making Buddha images and sculptures. Probably the most important characteristic of the image of Buddha is the ‘Mudra’, or hand gestures, of the Buddha. These well-defined gestures have a fixed meaning throughout all styles and periods of Buddha images. In the above picture as the left hand of Buddha statue is partly destroyed it is either ‘Vitarka Mudra’ or ‘Dharmachakra Mudra’.
Dharmachakra Mudra: The gesture of teaching usually interpreted as turning the Wheel of Law. The hands are held level with the heart, the thumbs and index fingers form circles.
Notice the size of feet and head, and the seating posture. The proportions and dimensions of each Buddha sculpture is intentional and for a purpose. The artist, by these characteristics, communicates a multitude of subtle meanings and intentions to the viewer.