The Ajanta and Ellora caves are located amidst the densely wooded Sahyadri ranges of Maharashtra state. Ajanta is 100 km away from Aurangabad in northern India, whereas the Ellora caves are just 30 km away. Deep in a narrow gorge flows the river Waghur. Jalgaon (60 km) and Bhusawal (30 km) are the towns closest to Ajanta.
The history of these caves dates back to 2nd and 5th century AD. The sculptures and paintings of the caves depict the Bodhisattvas, Buddhism and everyday activities of life in 5th century. However with the emergence of Chalukya and Rashtrakuta powers in the 7th and 8th centuries, the caves were bestowed with Hindu architecture and art. It was in 1819 that John Smith, an officer of Madras Calvary discovered the Ajanta caves while he was hunting in this mountain range. These sculptures and paintings on hard rock are enthralling.
Carved along a half-moon curved rock face, this series of 34 caves houses some of the best rock cut architecture of India. The caves are full of distinctive influences of various religions like Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.
Right from the first cave up till the 20th cave of Ellora, tourists can discern the strong influence of the Chalukyas. These caves are characterized with Buddhas and Buddhist motifs. Tourists can see the statue of teaching Buddha in the 10th cave which is named the Viswakarma cave. Cave 12 has Bodhisattvas.
Various aspects of Hindu mythology are depicted from 13th till the 29th caves. The wonderfully hewn Kailasanatha temple (266 ft by 154 ft) on a rock face is one of the best of its kind in India. Because of this temple, UNESCO has chosen Ellora as a World Heritage Site. The credit for constructing this temple goes to the Rashtrakuta King, Krishna I. The temple is dedicated to Mount Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva.
Goddess Lakshmi panel :Visitors when strolling in the courtyard can encounter two elephants pouring water on Goddess Lakshmi, who is seated on a lotus flower. Beside this panel, stands two majestic 56 ft high pillars with beautifully carved lotus flowers and garlands.
Hall of Sacrifice:This hall of sacrifice is embarked with life size sculptures of Goddess Kali, Goddess Durga and Goddess Chamundi. According to Hindu mythology, the wishes of devotees will be fulfilled if they sacrificed animals to these Goddesses. These images are so realistic, that they will intimidate the tourists.
The last five caves (30th – 34th), are dedicated to Jainism. These caves of Ellora depict the final years of the 9th century. Cave 32 is renowned for its lotus ceiling which is intricately hewn out. It was called the Indra Sabha.
Ajanta Caves:These caves are classified as the Hinayana caves (2nd – 1st Century B.C) and the Mahayana caves (5th – 6th Century A.D). In the latter caves, Buddha was sculpted in human form. However, in the former ones, Buddha was hewn out in the form of a Bodhi tree and the Wheel of Law.
The Ajanta caves were established during the reign of the Vataka dynasty. The caves were also the abode of various monks, craftsmen and artists. Visitors can see large scale and smaller scale images of Buddhas in the prayer hall and monasteries.
Cave 10 is the oldest one in Ajanta which dates back to 2nd Century B.C. Tourists can witness the largest number of paintings in the Vihars of the 17th cave. In this cave one can see black skinned Apsara (Angel) undergoing a make-up. There is also the standing Apsara in adoration of Buddha which is intricately carved out.
The cave 26, where lies a 26 feet long Par Nirvana Buddha along with his disciplines chanting and mourning is also captivating. On the ceilings of primary shrine in Cave 2, visitors encounter the great Mandala paintings. More paintings of Jataka tales can be seen in the Vihar cave.
The nearest airport to these caves is located 100 km away in Aurangabad. Jalgaon (60 km) is the nearest railhead. It also has an excellent network of roads.