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the many-splendoured delights of Ajanta compiled by Subramanian Swaminathan


September 2007

Period of Excavation

The earliest caves in Ajanta were excavated during the rule of the Satavahana-s, who had their capital at Pratishthana (called Paithan in Maharashtra today). During their rule there was brisk trade and commerce within the land and with the Mediterranean world, which brought in enormous riches.

First Phase
Hinayana period (2nd - 1st centuries BC)
Caves 8, 9, 10, 13 & 15A were excavated during the rule of the Satavahana dynasty. During this period there was only limited sculptural activity.

The second phase was of greater artistic activity at Ajanta during the rule of the Vakataka and the Chalukya dynasties from the 4th to the 6th centuries AD.

Second Phase
Mahayana period (4th 6th centuries AD)
Remaining caves were excavated during the rule of the Vakataka & the Chalukya dynasties.

The rulers, the Satavahana-s, the Vakataka-s and the Chalukya-s, were themselves Hindus, but allowed Buddhism to flourish in their territory. But there was no direct royal help during almost the entire period. But the rich mercantile community, organising itself into guilds, had provided the requisite patronage.

The entire Ajanta chapter is a tribute to the religious tolerance of Hindu rulers.

The precious caves remained abandoned till 1817 when they were discovered by a company of British soldiers. Soon pioneer archaeologists were attracted to the caves that were lost to civilization for more than 1200 years.

James Burgess and William Gill made copies of some of the paintings and exhibited in London in 1866. Unfortunately almost all of these perished in a disastrous fire.

Later some copies were made by Griffiths and Lady Herringham, and published in 1896 and 1915. Under the patronage of the Nizam, the then ruler of Hyderabad, Yazdani edited and published two volumes on the paintings in 1933.

Rahul and Yashodhara meet the Buddha, Cave 17
Rahul and Yashodhara meet the Buddha, Cave 17 - Mural

Rahul and Yashodhara meet the Buddha, Cave 17 - Reproduction by Herringham

Reproduction by Herringham