When you travel to Ajanta, you will love to visit popular tourist spots and enjoy the local culture. Amongst other Things to do in Ajanta, you can surely explore some of the best things to do in Ajanta to make your trip a fulfilling one. On a trip to Ajanta things to do can include exploring Ajanta attractions and visiting the places of interest.
Amongst the oldest group of caves are the caves which number 9, 10, 12, 13 and 15A. The Satavahana Dynasty who ruled this region from 100BCE to 100CE had these caves made under their patronage. When Lord Buddha was revered, the Hinay?na tradition of Buddhism dominated the society. Hence, the phase when these caves were made is often referred to as the Hinayna phase. Caves of the Mahayana or the second period do not portray the complete elaborate cast of supernatural individuality characteristic of the art phase of Buddhism. There is a lack of figurative sculpture in the Satavahana Period which emphasizes on the stupa instead. In the Mahayana period, the astounding majority of art pieces represent Buddha alone and scenes narrating incidents and stories of his life.
It was believed that these caves were built over a long time span from 4th to 7th centuries. But in the recent past, studies by cave experts have shown that most of the construction in the later caves was done from the 460 – 480 CE. This was the period during which the Vakataka Dynasty reigned under Emperor Harishena. But, the website of The Archaeological Survey of India still shows the old dating, and says that "The second aspect of paintings began from the 5th – 6th centuries and prolonged for the next couple of centuries.”
There are Mural paintings that survive from all the groups of the caves. Numerous fragments of murals conserved from the Satavahana caves are definitely unique survivals of painting depicting court life in India of this period. They show that by the times of the early caves, if not earlier, the painters of India had mastered a fluent and easy naturalistic style in the art. Among the later caves there are four which have mural paintings which are large and well preserved. These paintings have come to illustrate Indian mural painting those who don’t specialise. These paintings fall into two groups, the most popular and well-known ones being in Caves 16 and 17. These paintings were used to decorate palaces and temples. They show details of how the wealthy people lived in court and hence familiarity and interest in this lifestyle. Literary sources reveal that painting was extensively practised and acknowledged in the enclosure of the Gupta palace and Gupta regime. Elaborate and sophisticated decorative motifs, many of which are derived from sculpture, are painted on the ceilings of the caves. Jataka Tales, which depict the lives of Buddha as a ruler and king over a human or animal, are concentrated in the paintings in cave one.
Cave 1 was made on the eastern side of the structure which was in the shape of a horse shoe. With the absence of soot on the foot of the shrine from butter lamps and the paintings not being damaged enough, it is evident that this cave is amongst the latest caves which were excavated. There is a front-court which has cells fronted by pillared doorways on both sides, three doorways – one central and two sides, carved between the doors are two square windows. To hold the ceiling and construct spacious aisles along walls are 12 pillars making a colonnade. The paintings mostly depict devotional, didactic and ornamental scenes from the Jataka Tales which state stories about Buddha’s earlier existences. Two individual paintings, the ones most famous are those which are bigger than life size figure paintings of Padmapani and Vajrapani, the Bodhisatvas. These paintings are on each side of the doorway to the main shrine of Buddha.
Cave 2 is famous for the paintings that are protected on its ceilings, pillars and walls. Preserved better than cave 1, it looks almost like the cave before it. Decorated with designs, Cave 2 has support of robust pillars. Paintings of this cave on its ceilings and walls which depict the stories from Jataka Tales are extensively published. These paintings are didactic demand the attention of the devotees. Like the stories depicted in cave 1 affirm kingship, those the second cave show nobility and power of women in important roles, suggesting that the patron was a woman not known. On both sides of the door are square-shaped windows which add light to the interiors.
From the Satavahana period of construction, Caves 9 and 10 are Chaitya halls. It is believed that Cave 10 was made in 1st century BCE. Also, cave 9 was built approximately a century later. Dating back from the second period are shrinelets, i.e., small shrines, from caves 9A – 9D and 10A. The cave 10 paintings have some which have survived from the first period and also have many from the second period yet incomplete and not very modernized. There are also a large number of paintings from the recent excavations. Mostly all these paintings and inscriptions depict Buddha’s life. These paintings were done by almost over 300 artists, some of whose hands prints are still visible.
The excavation of which began right at the close of the final period, Cave 3 was soon abandoned. Cave 6 is a Vihara and is spread over two floors. Along with this cave, cave 5 also had only its lower floor finished, leaving the upper one beautifully incomplete. It has a shrine of Buddha and several private votive structures. Cave 7 has a magnificent and large exterior with two porticos which were never taken into the depths of the cliff due to the rock faults causing problems in several caves. Hence, it contains only a shrine and two porticos with an antechamber.
The Ellora Caves lie only a 100km away from the Ajanta caves and is usually clubbed with the visit to Ajanta. One of the best examples of ancient Buddhist civilization, the Ellora caves are a collection of 29 caves, influenced by Buddhist Architecture. Like the Ajanta Caves, even the Ellora caves have paintings which depict the Jataka Tales of Buddha’s stories. These two caves are excellent examples of incomparable engineering and artistic brilliance and count in the most visited tourist spots in the words. These caves quietly narrate stories of the royal prince who left all his riches to adapt to his saint-like characteristics and became the Buddha. These caves are calm and meditative.
The other tourist attraction in this area other than the Ajanta Ellora caves and the Buddha sculptures is the Kailasa Temple which is one of the biggest monolithic erections in the world. The Daulatabad fort, The BibiKaMaqbara and other Buddhist monasteries around the cave complex are a must see. A tourist can also go to Aurangabad which is situated around 104km away from Ajanta Ellora Caves and can see the Panchakki, the Caves at Aurangabad along with Aurangabad City Walls.
If you plan to walk from Ajanta to Ellora or the other way round, the journey can be quite treacherous and hence make one very thirsty. Stalls with soft drinks and local food stalls, and stalls selling fresh juices and handy snacks are available throughout the journey. MTDC restaurants are present at both Ajanta and Ellora if you would prefer eating at restaurants. This chain serves appetizing array of food, drinks and refreshments.
A lot of small bazaars outside the Ajanta Ellora Caves can be seen and one can shop for silver, fabrics, local and handmade structures of Buddha, beads and semi-precious stones. In Ellora one can find bigger shops where the tourist can buy footwear, apparel and accessories and enjoy shopping. Paintings of different Hindu Gods and local images along with Jain paintings and paintings of Buddha are also available here.