This group of thirty rock-cut Buddhist monasteries is particularly famous for its mural paintings, which came into my life some time before I left London to see the world.
The V&A museum, where I used to work, has a large collection of 19th century oil on canvas copies of these paintings and the large rolled ones occupied a prime spot in one of the off-site storage facilities my colleagues worked in. I was often hearing about the Ajanta paintings being moved or unrolled for inspection or discussing where best to store them in the future. It felt strange to come to see the real thing.
The paintings, together with the carving and sculpture are seen as masterpiece of Buddhist art.
The caves are located in a cliff around a U-shaped bend in a river. They were built in two phases, the first from around 200BC to 100AD and the second in the 5th and 6th centuries AD, where the decoration is more ornate. The site was abandoned around 650AD favour of the Ellora site (see previous post) 100km away.
After this, the cave entrances became obscured by regrowing forest and whilst not forgotten by the local population, went mostly unvisited. They were accidentally ‘rediscovered’ in 1819 by a British army officer out hunting tigers. In typical fashion, he vandalised a painting by carving his name and the date in the wall.
To visit the caves, you have to get a bus from the main entrance to the ticket office. Before you reach the bus though, you run the gamut of a maze of souvenir stalls and men trying to sell you overpriced torches in order to better see the paintings. I already have a tiny torch so declined. It proved virtually hopeless though, in the deep gloom of the cave, so I mostly saw the paintings by the light of the huge torches wielded by tour guides, but even they were only able to spotlight a tiny part of the overall design. I found myself wishing I’d had a good look at the V&A copies before I’d left!
Since flash photography is quite rightly forbidden, all I can show you are some murky pictures taken inside plus a few bits of painting in the exterior arcade of some caves. I would urge you to do a Google image search to get an idea of the true wonderfullness of these frescos as well as having a look at the photographs of the V&A copies.
For the Lego model, I’ve built the outside facade of one of the more ornate caves, although I couldn’t get far enough away to take a whole photograph of it.
Please try to ignore the bits of light showing between the bricks!