Our Ajanta rediscovery

As long as sun rays fall on this earth emitting the colourful hues of redness in various avataar, let human beings enjoy the majestic monastary dedicated to Vajrapani in all its crowning glory……

Source : Inscription on cave 16

No wonder Ajanta caves have been designated as World Heritage site from 1983 considering its rich legacy and heritage.

We had visited both the destinations first time around in 1991 during rainy season from Jalgaon, our second trip was during summer of 1998 and to check out the developments post it being declared a world heritage monuments we undertook our third trip on a Dusherra day in 2015.

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Ajanta as a destination is full of myth and mystery and each time one tends to discover something new. During our earlier trips most of the caves were closed for renovation or repair or maintainence, it is now heartening to notice majority of the 31 caves are open to public, except for minor repairs from time to time. Secondly we find that the paintings on the facade are enriched as it were by means of filler aesthetically. Inorder to retain its heritage value majority of the paintings are left untoched by modern artists. In fact majority of the copies which were earlier made either by the British or Japanese seemed to have been destroyed by fire and earthquake respectively. So the myth like pyramids sticks to Ajanta that whoever tries to emulate would be subject to retribution or loss.

One intriguing fact is possibility that Emperor Ashoka was in someway involved in commissioning of this magnificient edifice since the stupas resemble the Sanchi Stupa in some miniature fashion…..well historians would definitely find it worthwhile to dig into the mystery. Ashoka ( 304-232 BC) reign seems to be conciding with period of construction of Ajanta caves. Ashoka seems to have sent his special emissaries to all parts of the globe including Maharashtra. One Maha Dharma rakhhita Stahvira was deputed to Maratha region. He along with feudatory Harishena might have conceived & commissioned this magnificient cluster of monuments. In all probability they kept the project a secret one from the emperor himself to be revealed later as a surprise gift.

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Let the wealthy individuals contribute towards raising an edifice worthy and everlasting, otherwise what is the use of their riches, when it cannot liberate and spread joy and happiness among humanity…

source : extract from inscriptions on cave no 26.

Finally the theory of abandonment of Ajanta Caves is primarily because of lack of sponsorers and secondly because of competitive spirit of two religious factions between Hindus and Buddhists. Majority of the destinations have co-existed with other religions, but Ajanta seems to be an exception or isolation probably because of the conservative segment of Buddhist monks who preferred to fill up the area and preserve it for civilisation to realise at a later date the value of preachings of Buddha ( 480 BC – 400 BC )

The horse shoe shaped hillock across the Shayadri range was a ideal spot alongside Waghur river flowing along the valley, to keep the artisans well taken care, to commission the Ajanta caves. The earliest of the caves were not in the serial order of modern era. Probably cave no 9 was the earliest cave commissioned along with 10,12,13 and 15 A. Most of these caves were ascribed to Satvahana period ( 230-210 BC) immediately after the death of Emperor Ashoka in 232BC. Cave nos 9 & 10 are prayer halls with Stupas, which is referred to as Chaityagrahas or place of worship ( dating to Hinayana period ) Cave nos 12, 13 & 15 A are Viharas where the monks used to reside.

Originally all these caves were approached by means of ladder or crude steps carved on the rocky facade jutting out of the waghur river bed. The pathways to the Ajanta caves were designed by the Nizams architect to ensure the tourists safety. Ghulam Yazdani who was incharge of Archealogy department under the Nizams for almost 3 decades commissioned the pathway for tourists and completed them in 1936 AD. A modern bridge after 1998, across the river was further incorporated by the ASI to prevent the stampede making it a one way affair literally after completing the tour.

Epilogue :

Everyone is aware that tourism happens to be largest employing industry in the world, but unfortunately it is not the case in India, primarily because Govts of the day are encouraging monopolistic practises by their policies of giving exclusive franchisee rights etc. The motto of the govt departments particularly concerning travel and tourism should encourage maximum people to be involved whether in form of guides, ticketing, hotels, hawkers, restaurants, etc. Private enterprises will never employ more people considering the erosion of their bottoms. ( profitability ) In this context we passed on certain suggestions to MSRTC who are organising a conducted day tour to Ajanta and Ellora caves.

The world heritage status of Ajanta caves seems to have bought in some responsible tourism with creation of parking bay at T junction which is 4 kms away. Secondly there has been considerable landscaping and afforestation efforts going on continuously, the effect can be seen in the photographs from the view point during rainy season. Day will not be far off when we can witness the river being filled with water and 3 D reconstruction of mural paintings shown in a planetarium.

Additional Information on Ajanta Caves can be obtained from my earlier blog which has detailed coverage :

Ajanta treatise

Ajanta Abandoned Indiabackpacker

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