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Ajanta  Ajanta takes the name after the village Ajin?ha in Aurangabad district in the state of Maharashtra


Ajanta takes the name after the village Ajinṭhā in Aurangabad district in the state of Maharashtra (N. lat. 20 deg. 32' by E. long. 75 deg. 48'). It is celebrated for its cave art and architecture. As of 1983, the Ajanta Caves have been an UNESCO World Heritage Site specifically nominated for the international World heritage program.

The caves are in a wooded and rugged horseshoe-shaped ravine about 3 1/2 m. from the village of Ajinthā. It is situated in the Aurangābād district of Mahārāşţra State in India (106 kilometers away from the city of Aurangabad). The nearest towns are Jalgāon (60 kilometers away) and Bhusāwal (70 kilometers away). Along the bottom of the ravine runs the river Wāghūr or Waghōrā (from the root vyāghra in Sanskrit meaning the tiger), a mountain stream. There are 29 (officially numbered by the Archaeological Survey of India) caves, excavated in the south side of the precipitous scarp made by the cutting of the ravine, and vary from 35 to 110 ft. in elevation above the bed of the torrent.

The monastic complex of Ajanta consists of several vihāras (monastic halls of residence) and chaitya-grihas (stupa monument halls) cut into the mountain scarp in two phases. The first phase is called the Hinayāna phase (referring to the Lesser Vehicle tradition of Buddhism, when the Buddha was revered symbolically). At Ajanta, cave numbers 9, 10, 12, 13, and 15A (the last one was re-discovered in 1956, and is still not officially numbered) were excavated during this phase. These excavations have enshrined the Buddha in the form of the stupa, or mound. The second phase of excavation started on the site after a lull of over three centuries. This phase is popularly known as the Mahāyāna phase (referring to the Greater Vehicle tradition of Buddhism, which is less strict and encourages direct depiction of the Buddha through paintings and carvings). Some prefer to call this phase the Vākāṭaka phase after the ruling dynasty of the house of the Vākāṭakas of the Vatsagulma branch. The dating of the second phase has been debated among scholars. In recent years a consensus seems to be converging on fifth century dates for all the Mahāyāna phase caves. According to Walter M. Spink, a leading Ajantologist, all the Mahāyāna excavations were carried out from 462 to 480 CE. The caves created during the Mahāyāna phase are the ones numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, and 29. Cave 8 was long thought to be a Hinayāna cave, however current research shows that it is in fact a Mahāyāna cave.

There were two chaitya-grihas excavated in the Hinayāna phase that are caves 9 and 10. Caves 12, 13, and 15A of this phase are vihāras. There were three chaitya-grihas excavated in the Vākātaka or Mahāyāna phase that are caves 19, 26, and 29. The last cave was abandoned soon after its beginning. Caves 19 and 26 have a rather uncommon arrangement made to the central object of worship wherein the stupa is fronted by an image of the Buddha in standing and seated positions respectively. The rest of the excavations are vihāras: caves 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 27, and 28.

The vihāras are of various sizes the maximum being about 52 feet. They are often square-shaped. Their excavation exhibits a great variety, some with simple facade, others ornate; some have a porch and others do not. The hall was an essential element of a vihāras. In the Vākāṭaka phase, early viharas were not intended to have shrines because they were purely meant to be halls of residence and congregation. Later, shrines were introduced in them in the back walls, which became a norm. The shrines were made to house the central object of reverence that is the image of the Buddha often seated in the dharmachakrapravartana mudra (the gesture of teaching). In the caves with latest features, we find subsidiary shrines added on the side walls, porch or the front-court. The facades of many vihāras are decorated with carvings, and walls and ceilings were often covered with paintings.

Changes in Buddhist thought in the first century BCE had made it possible for the Buddha to be deified and consequently the image of the Buddha as a focus of worship became popular marking the arrival of the Mahāyāna (the Greater Vehicle) sect.

In the past, scholars divided the caves in three groups, but this is now discredited in light of fresh evidence and research. This theory of dating believed that the oldest group of caves dated from 200 BCE to CE 200, the second group belonged, approximately, to the sixth, and the third group to the seventh century.

The expression Cave Temples used by Anglo-Indians for vihāras without the shrine is inaccurate. Ajanta was a kind of college monastery. Hsuan Tsang informs us that Dinnaga, the celebrated Buddhist philosopher and controversialist, author of well-known books on logic, resided there. This, however, remains to be corroborated by further evidence. In their prime the vihāras were intended to afford accommodation for several hundreds, teachers and pupils combined. It is tragic that none of the caves in the Vākāţaka phase were ever fully completed. This was because the ruling Vākāṭaka dynasty suddenly fell out of power leaving the dominion in a likely crisis, which forced all activities to a sudden halt at the time of Ajanta's last years of activities. This idea first pronounced by Walter M. Spink is increasingly gaining acceptance based on the archaeological evidence visible on site.

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