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The Ancient Indian Art, Architecture, and Sculpture of The Ajanta and Ellora Caves

Chitrangada loves the richness of Indian art, culture and traditions. As a writer, she wants to spread information about Indian culture.

The World Famous paintings: The Padmapaani, The Vajrapaani, Ajanta Caves, India

Padma Paani And Vajrapaani -Ajanta caves paintings— World Heritage Site

Padma Paani And Vajrapaani -Ajanta caves paintings— World Heritage Site

Ajanta caves

Ajanta caves

The magnificent art, architecture and sculpture in the caves

Few years ago, I had the opportunity to visit, one of the most exquisite examples of Indian Art, Architecture and sculpture. This historical site is located, in the caves of Ellora and Ajanta, in the state of Maharashtra, India.

Astonishingly beautiful art, paintings and sculptures leaves the visitors spellbound in these caves.

The timeless beauty of the magnificent paintings, sculpture, and architecture on the inside walls of the caves have a mysterious attraction.

The Ellora caves date back to 7th to 9th century A.D., while the Ajanta caves dates back to 2nd century B.C.

They have been identified by UNESCO as a World heritage site.

Here is a brief account of this mesmerising World Heritage Site.

Ajanta and Ellora caves, source: You tube

Ellora caves

Ellora caves

The caves of Ajanta and Ellora

The caves of Ajanta and Ellora

Indian art and sculpture

Indian art and sculpture

The Indian art and sculptures

The Indian art and sculptures

The Ellora Caves

Ellora caves is a world heritage site. It is located about 28 km(18 miles), towards the west of Aurangabad, in Maharashtra state.

  • These caves are nestled in the lap of the Charanandri hills. They extend over 2 kilometers in the North-South direction.
  • The cave art of Ellora depict three major religions--Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. Elaborate carvings can be seen on the cave walls of Gods and Goddesses.
  • The carvings are actually chiseled into rocks to such perfection that these carvings have been greatly appreciated and are world famous.
  • There are about 34 caves, out of which 12 caves are Buddhist, 17 are Hindu, and the remaining 5 represent Jainism.
  • The most remarkable carved shrine is the 'Kailash temple', in cave no.16.
  • All these caves are lavishly carved and sculpted with epic themes which exhibit the genuine, daring, and artistic skill in chiseling rocks at great heights, such that they look 'live.'

Here is an account of some of the significant caves.

~Cave number 1: It is the earliest of the Buddhist excavation, where there are 8 cells, that were used by the monks for residential purpose, as there are no images of Gods and Goddesses.

~Cave number 2: It is elaborately done and one can find images of Buddha and Bodhisattavas and Dwarpals (gatekeeper).

~Cave number 3 and 4 are more or less similar to cave no. 2.

~Cave number 5: It is a 'Vihara' and supposedly was used as a class room or a dining hall. Deep in the interior is a shrine and inside a Buddha image in the posture of 'Dhamachakra mudra'.

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~Cave number 6: The unique feature of this cave is the figure of Hindu Goddess of learning, 'Saraswati' whom the Buddhist called, 'Mahamayuri'. We can also find figures of river Goddesses, 'Ganga' and 'Yamuna.'

~Cave number 9: The figure of Tara, with six fears carved around her of the snake, sword, elephant, fire etc. This cave is well decorated facade, windows separated by figures of dwarfs.

~Cave number 10: This cave is well decorated and its ceiling is a ribbed rock wonder, sculpted in imitation of its wooden prototypes snakes. A cobra and a naga is sculpted in such a way that it seems to be supporting the stone ribs. Light comes into the cave through the 'horse shoe' window over the porch. A big image of Buddha seated in front of a high stupa can be seen here.

~Cave number 11: This is a two level cave, called 'Do thal', with images of Hindu Gods.

~Cave number 12: Three level cave called, 'Teen thal', which has image of Buddha in the meditation pose.

The Buddhist caves at Ellora with a vast pantheon of Buddha, Bodhisattavas, Saktis, suggest a specific philosophy, known as the 'Vajrayan' cult, which means vehicle of the thunderbolt.

This philosophy teaches self discipline and meditation as a means to attaining Buddhahood, which ultimately helps to attain Nirvana.

The World famous Paintings of Ajanta caves

The World famous Paintings of Ajanta caves

Ajanta Caves—Some significant features

  • The 29 Ajanta caves are thoroughly Buddhist and were used by monks as monasteries.
  • Experts in old artistry have visualized that the rocky walls were first covered with a mixture of earth, cow dung and rice husk mixed together.
  • After it had set a thin coat, a mixture of lime, lime juice and water was applied.
  • When this became dry, sketches were drawn, and painted with available, local and common ingredients such as vegetable etc.
  • Female figures are drawn and painted artistically.
  • Some of the highlights can be described as follows:

~ Cave number 1: It‘s a big hall with 20 pillars, beautifully carved. They depict stories of Buddha's previous life and there is a huge Buddha figure, bearing expressions of peace, meditation, and sublime.

On the wall near the sanctum is the world famous posture of 'PADMAPANI'. The lotus in the hand of Buddha is a sign of peace and purity.

On the right side wall are the pictures of 'VAJRAPANI'' and the black princess.

There is a court scene painted to depict the kings receiving gifts. Animals, birds, flowers, and fruits can also be seen beautifully painted and carved on the ceilings of the cave walls.

The queen can be seen seated in the swing and enjoying.

A spectacular bull painting, which seen from any angle appears charging at the viewer.

~ Cave number 2: In this cave on the left are stories showing Swan birth, Buddha's mother, the birth of Buddha are shown very beautifully painted on the ceiling and cave walls.

~Cave number 4: This is perhaps the biggest one having 28 pillars. A big figure of Buddha as a bastion against the eight fears.

~ Cave number 6 : This cave has 2 tiers. In the assembly hall the figure of Buddha in Padmasana posture. The second tier has an assembly hall with pillars and the door panels have crocodile heads and garland of flowers forming an arch.

~ Cave number 7: It has six Buddha figures and door keepers at the entrance.

~ Cave number 9: It has 22 pillar and is called Chautya cave. It is one of the oldest cave.

~ Cave number 10: The Heenayana temple with about 40 pillars, beautifully carved. A stupa in Pali language of Brahmi script suggests it belongs to 2nd century B.C.

~ Cave number 11: has a big assembly hall and inside the sanctum, a Buddha figure.

~ Cave number 16: This cave has some very important paintings, depicting incidents that took place during the life of Buddha.

~ Cave number 17: Paintings of Buddha visiting his family after he had renounced the world. His wife and son giving alms to him.

Buddha is shown having a very tall and broad body, while the wife and the son have small bodies.

The paintings at the ceiling look as if made of cloth with border all around.

Ajanta-Ellora caves, source:You tube

To sum up

  • This is a brief account of the beautiful and vast spread cave art of Ajanta and Ellora.

Whether it is the magnificent paintings of the Ajanta caves or the full of life sculptures of the Ellora caves, they are sure to leave you speechless after you visit them.

  • There is no doubt that these art works need lot of care to protect them and the government is doing everything they can.
  • They have stood the test of time and are included in the list of World heritage sites.
  • And we should hope that they remain like this for a long long time.

Take care to gather all information through a reputed travel guide, if you plan to visit these caves.

Be prepared for an unforgettable experience, at this World Heritage Site

References for further reading:

1. Ajanta Caves, via Wikipedia

2. Buddh heritage carved in stone, India Travel

3. Ellora caves, via Wikipedia

Chitrangada Sharan

The Buddha sculpture

The Buddha sculpture

The ancient Indian sculpture

The ancient Indian sculpture

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Chitrangada Sharan


Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on September 20, 2016:

Thanks Suzette for your appreciation of the hub!

These caves are so wonderful that I feel that my description of its magnificence is not enough. One has to see it personally to believe it.

Glad to read your feedback! Thank you for your kind words!

Suzette Walker from Taos, NM on September 19, 2016:

I missed this the first time around. Glad to read it now. The cave paintings/drawings are beautiful . I have never heard of these caves before this. We need to learn more about such things in school. It is interesting that they are Biddist Hindu and Jaism. What a beautiful country you have .

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on May 14, 2015:

Thank you Akriti Mattu, for your kind visit and appreciative comments!

You are right--Our cultural diversity is something to be proud of.

Thanks again!

Akriti Mattu from Shimla, India on May 13, 2015:

This is a well written hub. I've been to Ajanta and Ellora Caves and they are magnificent. The cultural diversity of our country never fails to amaze me :)

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on May 01, 2015:

Thank you chef-de-jour, for your appreciation of the hub!

I agree with you that all ancient art and architecture is magnificent and precious. They help us understand the life and times of the people living in those times.

I am glad that you are thinking of visiting India. Do make a visit to these wonderful Ajanta, Ellora caves as well.

Many thanks for your votes and share!

Andrew Spacey from Sheffield, UK on April 30, 2015:

Fascinating to read about these caves. It's humbling to think about these ancient artists deep in the shadows, working away with their natural paints and brushes. Such skill they show - subtle shading and tone. All ancient art is wonderful because it helps our modern minds put things into perspective :art comes from the instincts to express and these cave paintings and sculptures are fine examples of beauty and skill.

I would love to visit India one day.If I do I shall set aside a few days for these wondrous caves - thank you. Votes and a share.

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on September 22, 2014:

Thanks Paula Atwell, for your visit and comments!

Paula Atwell from Cleveland, OH on September 21, 2014:

These are incredibly detailed. :)

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on September 21, 2014:

Thank you Anne Harrison, for your kind visit and comments!

I am glad you liked the hub. Thanks for the Follow as well.

Anne Harrison from Australia on September 20, 2014:

I knew nothing about these caves, and now can't wait to visit! Thank you, voted up

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on August 11, 2014:

Hi peachpurple!

Great to see you visit my hub after a long time! Thank you for your appreciation!

Yes these paintings and sculptures are very much there and in fact I had visited quite recently along with my family. This is a great tourist attraction from all over the world and the beauty and mystery is to be seen to be believed. You may get a better idea of the place by watching the video provided above.

Thanks again for stopping by!

peachy from Home Sweet Home on August 10, 2014:

beautful photos and great illustrations. Are these places still preserves?

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on July 25, 2014:

Thank you aviannovice, for your visit and appreciation!

I am glad you found this hub informative. Yes they are wonders of the world indeed.


Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on July 24, 2014:

These sound very impressive and expressive. Thanks for giving us information on such wonders of the world.

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on July 23, 2014:

Thank you Dianna, for stopping by!

Glad you liked this hub. Your comments are greatly appreciated!

Dianna Mendez on July 22, 2014:

The caves sound fascinating and have so much to offer a tourist. Thanks for sharing this with readers.

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on July 21, 2014:

Thanks DeborahNeyens, for your kind visit and appreciation!

Glad you liked it!

Deborah Neyens from Iowa on July 20, 2014:

Thanks for the tour through these caves. I've never seen anything like them. Fascinating!

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on July 17, 2014:

Thank you manatita44, for your kind visit and wonderful comments!

Your admiration for Indian art and music is greatly appreciated.

Thanks again!

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on July 17, 2014:

Thank you Jodah, for your kind visit and positive comments!

You are right that the beauty of these paintings and sculptures lies in the simplicity, with which they were made. Not using anything artificial perhaps, is the reason for their longevity, I believe.

Thanks again for voting up and your comments!

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on July 17, 2014:

Thank you Suzanne, for your kind visit and appreciation!

The most beautiful aspect of these paintings and sculptures is this, that in spite of being so old, they still leave you spellbound by their magic. And the fact that they were made with simple tools and natural ingredients available, is just amazing.

Thank you for voting up!

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on July 17, 2014:

Thank you Devika, for your kind visit and positive comments! Glad you liked this hub!

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on July 17, 2014:

Thank you Michelle, for your visit and appreciation!

manatita44 on July 16, 2014:

Majestic in beauty! Timeless music! Mother India has always been known for Its vast beauty, opulence, history and sacred relics of its past Giants of history. The video reminded me of Anchor Wat, in Cambodia, There are some similarities in the art.

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on July 16, 2014:

Wonderful hub. The architecture, paintings and sculpture in these caves is incredible. It is amazing what people could do with just there ingenuity and desire and very limited tools. It would be a great place to visit. Thanks for sharing. Voted up.

Suzanne Day from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia on July 16, 2014:

What beautiful paintings! I often follow aboriginal art in Australia and have to say that even though these cave paintings are so old, the artists knew what they were doing. Voted beautiful and up!

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on July 16, 2014:

Most interesting and so different. The photos are beautiful and I have learned about another culture with such great interest.

Michelle Liew from Singapore on July 16, 2014:

Exploring caves is going through a thing of beauty. Thanks for sharinhpg, Chitra!

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on July 16, 2014:

Thank you Nell, for your kind visit and wonderful comments!

Yes, the beauty of these caves and the art work therein is indeed fascinating.

I am glad you liked the article! Thanks!

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on July 16, 2014:

Thank you ARUNKANTIji, for your kind visit and added inputs in this hub!

I agree with you that monsoon season enhances the beauty of this place. The beauty and art of these caves is so vast that it cannot be summed up in few words. I was mesmerized to see its beauty, when I visited this magnificent place. It was difficult to cover/see the whole area in one day.

Thank you so much for your wonderful comments and support!

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on July 16, 2014:

Thank you Ericdierker, for your kind words and support!

I am glad you liked this article.

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on July 16, 2014:

Thank you billybuc, for being the first to comment!

Your kind words are very encouraging. Thanks for your support!

Nell Rose from England on July 15, 2014:

How fascinating chitrangada! I love Caves and I love the sculptures, they are so mysterious! wonderful tour, thanks, nell


An excellent hub on the Indian caves which are World heritage sites. Let me add-Any visit to these places should be well planned as seeing important caves properly takes lot of time and those having inclination for Archeology and Arts in general would derive tremendous interest from the sculptures and paintings. Although one may visit from March to November best time for visit is during monsoon when the entire area takes a lush green look with every stream filled with rainwater offering the extra scope to enjoy the beauty of nature. Thank you for sharing.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on July 15, 2014:

Very interesting and informative. The caves and culture are fascinating.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on July 15, 2014:

I love to learn about new cultures, so thank you for this information.

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