The Ajanta Caves in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra state of India are about 30 rock-cut Buddhist cave monuments which date from the 2nd century BCE to about 480 or 650 CE. According to UNESCO, these are masterpieces of Buddhist religious art that influenced Indian art that followed, the site is a protected monument in the care of the Archaeological Survey of India, and since 1983, the Ajanta Caves have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Ajanta Caves constitute ancient monasteries and worship halls of different Buddhist traditions carved into a 250 feet wall of rock, textual records suggest that these caves served as a monsoon retreat for monks, as well as a resting site for merchants and pilgrims in ancient India. The Ajanta Caves site are mentioned in the memoirs of several medieval era Chinese Buddhist travelers to India and they were covered by jungle until accidentally discovered and brought to the Western attention in 1819 by a colonial British officer on a tiger hunting party. The Ajanta caves are located on the side of a cliff that is on the north side of a U-shaped gorge on the small river Waghur. Further round the gorge are a number of waterfalls, which when the river is high are audible from outside the caves, with the Ellora Caves, Ajanta is the major tourist attraction of the Marathwada region of Maharashtra. They are about 60 kilometres from Pachora Junction railway station,104 kilometres from the city of Aurangabad and they are 100 kilometres from the Ellora Caves, which contain Hindu, Jain as well as Buddhist caves, the last dating from a period similar to Ajanta. The Ajanta style is found in the Ellora Caves and other sites such as the Elephanta Caves. The Ajanta Caves are generally agreed to have made in two distinct periods, the first belonging to the 2nd century BCE to 1st century CE. The caves consist of 36 identifiable foundations, some of them discovered after the numbering of the caves from 1 through 29. The later identified caves have been suffixed with the letters of the alphabet, the cave numbering is a convention of convenience, and has nothing to do with chronological order of their construction. The earliest group constructed consists of caves 9,10,12,13 and this grouping and that they belong to the Hinayana tradition of Buddhism is generally accepted by scholars, but there are differing opinions on which century the early caves were built. According to Walter Spink, they were made during the period 100 BCE to 100 CE, other datings prefer the period of the Maurya Empire. Of these, caves 9 and 10 are stupa containing worship halls of chaitya-griha form, and caves 12,13, according to Spink, once the Satavahana period caves were made, the site was not further developed for a considerable period until the mid-5th century. However, the caves were in use during this dormant period. The second phase of construction at the Ajanta Caves site began in the 5th century, Spink, have argued that most of the work took place over the very brief period from 460 to 480 CE, during the reign of Hindu Emperor Harishena of the Vākāṭaka dynasty. This view has been criticised by scholars, but is now broadly accepted by most authors of general books on Indian art, for example Huntington. The second phase is attributed to the theistic Mahāyāna, or Greater Vehicle tradition of Buddhism, Caves of the second period are 1–8,11, 14–29, some possibly extensions of earlier caves
The Ajanta Caves
Panoramic view of Ajanta Caves from the nearby hill
Cave 9, a first period Hinayana style chaitya worship hall with stupa but no idols.
Cave 26, a second period Mahayana style worship hall with stupa and idols, circa 5th century CE.