Paintings in Indian art : art from Ajanta caves

In a serene valley and a vibrant natural atmosphere in the district of Aurangabad, in present day Maharashtra, near a village called Ajanta, are present 29 rock cut Buddhist shrines and monasteries. These are the famous Ajanta caves which is a UNESCO world heritage site.

The shrines were built over 700 years, maybe the earliest around 2000 years ago. They were forgotten and happened to be discovered by officers of the Madras Army in 1819. The temples which are rock-cut have been laboriously cut and chiselled from the crust of the steep rocks over centuries by the Buddhist monks. The art is in various states of preservation at Ajanta. Accounts of the caves have been given by  Sir James Fergusson, Lady Herringham, Ghulam Yazdani, Burgess et al.image001

Panoramic view of Ajanta caves

By Freakyyash – photo taken by Freakyyash, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The caves of the Ajanta are associated with the Vakataka dynasty, allies of the Gupta dynasty (320 A.D. to approximately 495 A. D.) Art and sculpture flourished under the Gupta dynasty in the fifth century. The Ajanta paintings were made between 2nd century and end of sixth century A.D. Cave no. IX,X,XII and XIII are the earliest caves. The caves are of two types; Vihara, monastery for living, which are four sided having acentral hall with cells along three sides with stone bed.The other type is the Chaitya, which were the assembly caves,having a rectangular portico and side aisles, in the form of an apse at the end.


An early chaitya, Ajanta caves

By Shaikh Munir – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

As per art scholars the art of Ajanta was thousand years ahead of its time. The artistic expression combined with technical excellence and choice of subjects, perfection of lines, forms, colours is an inspiration for all artists and art lovers. The figures and scenes in the various caves of Ajanta is a living world of human beings, foliage and flowers, birds and animals and refelct the very essence and soul of the period they were painted in.


Scenes from everyday life, Ajanta painting

By Woudloper – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

“……the appeal of Ajanta is not merely to the artist or the expert but to every sensitive human being………’’   said India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

The theme of Ajanta paintings revolves around the jataka stories, the legends of Buddha’s reincarnations. Various facets of human life happiness, love, yearning, suffering are beautifully captured. Buddhas and bodhisattvas, palace scenes, plants, flowers animals are all seen.


A king with his queen, Ajanta caves

By Vu2sga – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The colours used include terra verde, red and yellow ochre,lamp black and lapis lazuli. The surfaces were prepared with a base layer of clay mixed with rice husk and gum, upon which a coat of lime was applied.

Women are portrayed in the Ajanta paintings in different moods and roles. She is a queen, attendant, apsara (celestial nymph), dancing girl, maid etc. Women are seen wearing  jewellery and have elaborate hairstyles. Her feminine features have been reproduced very lovingly by the artists. The slanting eyes, gestures of hands, roundness of breasts, curves of her hips,turn of her head etc.The central character is usually semi-nude, while others are fully clothed. Many women are dark complexioned.image014

Dancing girl along with musicians, Ajanta painting

From a poster


Apsara, Ajanta painting

From a poster


Attendants, Ajanta paintings

From a poster

File:Ajanta Entrance cave 17.jpg

Entrance of cave 17,part of the ceiling before entrance, Ajanta.

By Londenp (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (, via Wikimedia Commons


Scene from a Jataka tale, Ajanta painting

By Meister des Mahâjanaka Jâtaka – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain,


References :

Guide to Ajanta frescoes, Hyderabad : Government of Hyderabad, 1953

Ajanta paintings, New Delhi : Lalit Kala Akademi,1956


Posted by : Soma Ghosh



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