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Ajanta Ellora Caves

The Wonderous Ajanta Caves

It was in 1819 when John Smith , a British army officer in pursuit of a tiger came across a cave near Ajanta village in India. More than thirty caves carved inside the rock of the mountainside and arranged in a horseshoe shape—the well-known Ajanta Caves—have now been discovered in that area. The caves are believed to have been constructed around 200 BCE and were used as retreat places for Buddhist monks during the monsoon season. The caves were abandoned after the 7 th century CE when Buddhism declined in India, but are still considered sacred by locals.

During their use, the caves were expanded and decorated. They are full of beautiful paintings and create a serene atmosphere for the visitor. Many of the paintings and sculptures depict the life of Buddha, as well as his previous incarnations, known as Jatakas; however, an interesting feature is that the number of female depictions is as abundant as the males. To the common viewer, images of semi-naked women in caves used as monk retreats can be unusual. Paintings with half men, half animal depictions are also present. We know that all over the world similar depictions appear in almost all myths and religions, but again the question is why here? Is it possible all of them ‘imagined’ these things, or used them allegorically to depict something else? Or is it possible that those beings did exist in ancient times, and if yes, who made them and where were they from?

Some researchers have proposed that the arrangement of the caves is not just random. A few dome-shaped caves contain Stupas with the Buddha carved in them, and some researchers suggest that they are arranged in such a way as to be in line with solstices. One in particular, cave 19, is oriented to the winter solstice, and on that day the sun goes through the opening on the top front of the cave and illuminates the stupa in the back. Similarly, cave 26 is oriented to the summer solstice so that, on that particular day, the sun will illuminate the stupa in this cave. Precise calculations and tools would have been needed to be able to orient the caves to the solstices since the caves are carved inside the rock.

The stupas were designed to be used as a way for Buddha to ascend to the heavens—and in some cases doors were attached to them. Some have claimed that the Stupas were some kind of flying machines for Buddha to literally ascend into the heavens.  Others believe that some form of technology was used in the construction of the network of caves. For now, it remains a mystery.

Related Links

Ajanta Caves - Unesco

Ajanta and Ellora Caves

Ancient Temples Carved from Rock

Ajanta Caves - Archaeological Survey of India

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