Category Archives: Ajanta

Ajanta Caves : some glimpses of sculptures

          Deep cut or excavated caves in the Aurangabad district of Maharastra in Western India are the now well-known Ajanta Caves. Made into a 75 metre wall of rock, between 2nd century B. C and 5th century A.D these caves are a marvel in art, sculpture and rock-cut architecture. The earliest caves are believed to have been excavated during the Satavahana period and belong to the Hinayana tradition of Buddhism. During the reign of King Harisena (r. 460-478 A.D)  of the Vakatakas, whose feudatories and minister supported the ”sangha”, the Mahayana Buddhists contributed to over 20 impressive cave excavations at Ajanta. These were embellished with mural art, sculpture and great architecture. The caves are cut into a mountain wall above the Waghora river.

Image result for ajanta caves art and architectureView of Ajanta Caves, 2nd century B.C to 5th century A.D, Maharashtra.

        The architecture of the caves were customised to the monastic needs of the Buddhists to include assembly halls, living quarters and spaces for meditation. A few caves are from the pre-Vakataka period. Some glimpses from sculptural marvels from the caves are showcased –

Cave 1 – Made under Harisena, this cave has an elaborate carved facade, with relief sculptures on the entablature and ridges, and most surfaces embellished with decorative carving. There are scenes carved from the life of the Buddha, animals, as well as a number of decorative motifs.

Frieze, Cave 1, Ajanta.

Cave 4 – This cave is squarish, with a large image of the Buddha in preaching pose flanked by bodhisattvas and celestial nymphs hovering above. It consists, of a verandah, a hypostylar hall, sanctum with an antechamber and a series of unfinished cells. This monastery is the largest among the Ajanta caves and it measures nearly 970 square metres.

Buddha and bodhisattvas, Cave 4, Ajanta.

Cave 6 – It is two storeyed monastery  made up of a sanctum, a hall on both levels. The lower level is pillared and has attached cells, the upper hall too has subsidiary cells. The sanctums on both level feature a Buddha in the teaching posture.  The Miracle of Shravasti  and Temptation of Mara is depicted in the lower level walls. Only the lower floor of cave 6 was finished. The unfinished upper floor of cave 6 has many private votive sculptures, and a shrine Buddha.

Buddha and bodhisattvas, Cave 6, Ajanta.

Cave 7 – a monastery of a single storey having a sanctum, a hall with octagonal pillars, and eight small rooms for monks. The sanctum Buddha is shown in preaching posture. There are many art panels narrating Buddhist themes. This cave has a grand facade with two porticos. The veranda has eight pillars of two types. One has an octagonal base with amalaka and lotus capital. The other lacks a distinctly shaped base, features an octagonal shaft instead with a plain capital. The veranda opens into an antechamber. On the left side in this antechamber are seated or standing sculptures, those of 25 carved seated Buddhas in various postures and facial expressions, while on the right side are 58 seated Buddha reliefs in different postures, all on lotuses.

Buddhas, antechamber, Cave 7, Ajanta.

Cave 19 –  This structure was completed during the Vakataka rule which which is grand chaitya hall. It has a courtyard with attached cells. It has an elaborate facade and a single entrance to the cave having a portico with pillars. It has a circular window  with lot of decoration around the opening. There are decorated pilasters and cornices. The grid has many sculptures, mostly Buddha figures. There is Naga group on the facade.

Entrance, Cave 19, Ajanta.

Naga group, facade of Cave 19, Ajanta.

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Entrance sculptures, Cave 19, Ajanta.

Cave 9 – This cave has a distinct apsidal shape. The aisle has a row of 23 pillars. The ceiling is vaulted. The stupa is at the center of the apse, with a circumambulatory path around it. The stupa sits on a high cylindrical base. It is a chaitya or worship halls from the 2nd to 1st century B.C, the first period of construction,  reworked upon at  the end of the second period of construction in the 5th century. Many sculptures adorn the facade, mostly Buddha images.

Cave 9, entrance, Ajanta.

Cave 9, Buddha with Ananda, Ajanta.

Cave 9, apsidal hall with stupa, Ajanta.

Cave 11-  It is monastery and the cave veranda has pillars with octagonal shafts and square bases. The ceiling of the veranda shows evidence of floral designs and eroded reliefs. The center panel is of the Buddha seen with votaries lining up to pray before him.

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Exterior, Buddha with a devotee, Cave 11, Ajanta.

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Elephant, Cave 16, Ajanta.

 

Cave 26 – It is  a worship hall or chaitya, with elements of a vihara design. The interior view of the cave gives a general appearance of a Mahayana vihara. An inscription states that a monk Buddhabhadra and his friend minister serving king of Asmaka, gifted this large cave. It has two upper stories and four wings of the cave were planned, but these were abandoned and only the carved Buddhas on the right and left wall were completed. The cave consists of an apsidal hall with side aisles for circumambulation . This path is full of carved Buddhist legends, three depictions of the Miracle of Sravasti in the right ambulatory side of the aisle, and seated Buddhas in various mudras. At the center of the apse is a rock-cut stupa with an image of the Buddha in front, 18 panels on its base, 18 panels above these, a three tiered torana above him. On top of the stupa is a nine-tiered harmika, a symbolism for the nine samsara in Mahayana cosmology. The walls, pillars, and brackets are intricately carved with Buddhist themes.

Entrance, Cave 26.

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Side shrines, Cave 26, Ajanta.

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Reliefs, Cave 26, Ajanta.

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Column designs, Cave 26, Ajanta.

Chaitya hall with stupa, Cave 26, Ajanta.

The enshrined Buddha is sitting in the pralambapadasana posture, with his legs down, maybe representing Maitreya, the future Buddha.

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View, Chaitya hall with stupa, Cave 26, Ajanta.

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Stupa, Cave 26, Ajanta.

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Capitals, Cave 26, Ajanta.

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Aisle, Cave 26, Ajanta.

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Pariniravana of the Buddha, Cave 26, Ajanta.

 

 

References :

  1. The art of ancient India/Huntington, Susan,L,New York : Weatherhill, 1985.
  2. wikipedia.org
  3. Images from Wikimedia commons

 

Posted by :

Soma Ghosh

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Bygone splendour : a history of the Satavahanas

       The Satavahanas were a South Indian dynasty who ruled for four and a half centuries. They were next to the Mauryas in authority and managed to ward off invaders and ensured peace in Dakshinapatha (southern region of the Indian peninsula) Their age had high economic prosperity, Puranic theism became prominent, Mahayana Buddhism which was more universal became prominent than Hinayana Buddhism. Prakrit flourished as the official language though Sanskrit too gained importance. Their sculptural and aesthetic brilliance can be gauged by their contributions at Amaravati, Bhaja, Nashik, Pitalkhora and Sanchi.

         The sources of the age are scanty and sometimes not reliable and there seems to be difference of opinion between historians. Numismatic evidence is found and the record at Nashik are considered the most important. The Kathasaritsagara is believed to be based on the Prakrit text Brihatkatha from Satavahana times.The Yugapurana of the Gargisamhita and early Jain literature contain information about the Satavahana kings. The times are also reflected in Hala’s Gathasaptasati and Kamasutra of Vatsyayana.

          The inscriptions found of the Satavahanas are around 25 out of which only few are royal records and the others are of private individuals. Most of them are Buddhist in content. The Junagadh inscription of Rudraraman notes the last Saka-Satavahana war. Neighbouring Kalinga King Kharavela mentions their conflict with the Satavahanas in the Hathigumpha inscription at Udaigiri Odisha. Satavahana time coins have been found at places like Nevasa, Kondapur, Maski, Tripuri, Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda. These coins validate the historicity of the rulers as mentioned in the Puranas. However though sometimes unclear, numismatic evidence helps in finding the racial affinities and how the empire disintegrated etc. The Matsya Purana says that altogether 30 kings ruled for 470 years. Vayupurana says 17 rulers and 270 years of rule. The early historians identify the Satavahanas with the Andhras and that they flourished in the Krishna-Godavari region of Eastern Deccan. Their seat of power was Srikakulam or Dhanyakataka. Later historians differ saying they were servants of the Andhras as they are mentioned as Andhrabhrityas in the Puranas. However the Satavahanas is the name of a family and they ruled Andhra, who were vassals of the Mauryas. They inherited the Prakrit language from them. The Puranas indicate that Sirimukha was the founder of the dynasty. He has also been called Sisuka,Srimukha, Chismoka etc.The inscriptions on the relievo-figures at Nanaghat refer to him as Sirimukha Satavahana. This could be interpreted as : son of Satavahana. Satavahana ruled from Paithan, as a vassal of King Asoka of the Mauryas and later consolidated the position for declaring  independence in the Deccan with his son Sirimukha as successor; around 230 B.C. Punch marked coins are attributed to him. He ruled for 23 years; built stupas and viharas for Jainas. He changed his religion during his last days. He was succeeded by his brother Kanha(208-198 B.C) because his son Satakarni was of a young age. He ruled for ten years and his minister or mahamatra got carved a cave for monks at Nashik.

         Satakarni I succeeded him who was most illustrious among the early Satavahanas. His queen Naganika described him as virasura in the Nanaghat inscription recorded after his death. He ruled for 18 years and tried to expand his kingdom; came into conflict with King Kharavela of Kalinga but managed to keep his empire intact. He conducted many sacrifices and worked for the welfare of the Brahmin community. He conducted many sacrifices. He died leaving behind four young sons;Kumara Hakusiri, Sati Srimat, Kumara Satavahana and Vedisiri (the eldest) or Purnotasanga (179 B.C- 161 B.C) who succeeded him and ruled independently.The sons partitioned the empire. Rani Naganika was regent with her father Maharathi Tranakayiro who assisted her in guiding the empire

         Satakarni II was another great king who ruled for 56 years and who restored unity in the split dominions of the empire. Many kings ruled between this king and Gautamiputra Satakarni. Some names include Apilaka, Meghasvati,Kuntala Satakarni,Pulomavi,Hala Satavahana etc. The kingdom went into eclipse between King Hala and Gautamiputra Satakarni, the 26th ruler of the dynasty. This was due to the invasion of the Sakas from the Indus region. The famous work Periplus of the Erythrean Sea  by a Greek sailor, notes these conflicts.

          Gautamiputra Satakarni revived the empire (106 A.D to 130 A.D) and is remembered as one of India’s greatest monarchs. Number of coins found in the Deccan area along with the Nashik Prasasti recorded by his mother Bala Sri give a picture of his reign. As per the Nashik Prasasti, the Satavahana kingdom was limited to the region east of Paithan, parts of Andhradesa and Kalinga, at the time he ascended the throne. However, he undertook many campaigns and destroyed the Kshaharatas defeating Nahapa and recovered regions upto Malwa. His empire extended between Aravalis to the Nilgiris from Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal. He was a skilled archer, learned in the Vedas, a dutiful son and a benevolent king.

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Gautamiputra Satakarni celebrating his victory on Nahapa, a satrap of Gujarat in Western India,artist’s impression.

By Ambrose Dudley [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

        Gautamiputra Satakarni was succeeded by his son Vasistiputra Pulomavi II. He came into conflict  with Chastana and lost Malwa and Saurastra to the Kardamakas. But as per the Nasik and Karle inscriptions Pulomavi retained his control over Maharashtra. He was succeeded by Sivasri or Vasistiputra Satakarni; many coins found in Andhra region bearing his legend have been found. He was most likely a brother of Pulomavi II. He attempted to recover same Satavahana dominions from the Kardamakas.

        As per the Puranic sources Sri Yajna Satakarni is the last great king of the Satavahana dynasty. He had a reign of 29 years and flourished in the last quarter of 2nd century. He is known from inscriptions at Nashik, Kanheri and a large number of coins from all over Deccan, Madhya Pradesh, Berar, Baroda etc. He conquered Central and Western Deccan and the Narmada valley. He patronised Acharya Nagarjuna for who he built a mahachaitya and a mahavihara at Sriparvata (Nagajunakonda). Acharya Nagarjuna built the stone railing around the great stupa at Amaravati. Vijaya Satakarni succeeded him. The process of disintegration of the empire had started in the reign of Pulomavi II and speeded up as subordinate ruling families such as the Kuras of Kolhapur, Chutuis of Banavasi and Ishkavakus of Vijaypuri became formidable and got greater powers for themselves. Vijaya was succeeded by Chandra Sri followed by Puloma and is the last king as per the Puranas. After Sri Yajna the kingdom got divided into independent units under the collateral branches of the dynasty.

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Vashistiputra Pulomavi inscribed on coin.

By PHGCOM [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

          The Satavahanas followed Kautilya’s Arthasastra and manavadharma sastra and was a     hereditary monarchy; the king was called called raja or maharaja. There were autonomous units, though the main empire was under the direct rule of the king who had officers like viswasamatyas, rajamatyas and mahamatras who were officers on special duties. Land revenue was the main source of income for the king’s treasury.

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Royal ear-rings from 1st Century BC India.

By PHGCOM – self-made, photographed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3032128

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Indian ship on lead coin of Vasistiputra Pulomavi.

By PHGCOM [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commonsimage009

Vasisitiputra Satakarni inscribed on coin.

By Uploadalt – Own work, photographed at British Museum, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12223527

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Coin of  Sri Yajna Satakarni.

By The original uploader was Per Honor et Gloria at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Common.

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Satavahana empire.

CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

     The Satavahanas carried on internal trade and external trade and Nashik, Paithan, Tagara, Govardhana were market towns. They encouraged maritime activities and had ship-marked coins. The Satavahanas imported wines from Rome. They also imported tin, lead,coral and topaz. They exported ivory, agate, carnelian, pepper,silk etc.

       All religions flourished during their rule. The Satavahanas used Prakrit, Sanskrit and also Telugu and Kannada.

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An aniconic depiction of Mara’s assault on Lord Buddha, Amaravati, 2nd century.

CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=378416

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Panduleni caves, Nashik, Maharashtra.

By Rashmi.parab – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21747608

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Images of Jain Tirthankaras at Panduleni complex ,Maharashtra

by Raama – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7975011

The artistic achievements of the age can be seen from the remains of stupas, chaityas and viharas. Buddhism flourished during the Satavahanas. At Amaravati a renowned centre of Buddhism, a unique school of art evolved. The stupa ia monument built on the remains of the Buddha or an eminent Buddhist monk. The stupas were built of brick; Jataka tales and scenes from Lord Buddha’s life were sculpted.

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Mahastupa relief from Amaravati at museum in Chennai, Tamil Nadu.

By Soham Banerjee [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commonsimage023

Remnants of Mahastupa at Amaravati, Andhra Pradesh.

By Adityamadhav83 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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Donor couples, Karle caves, Maharashtra.

By Amitmahadik100 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28220816

      Chaityas was a Buddhist temple with a stupa as the object of worship. They were covered out of rock at Nasik, Kanheri, Karle, Bhaja, Junnar, Mahad etc. Chaityas have a rectangular hall and divided into nave,apse and the side aisle. The apse has a solid stupa.  Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda had brick stupas. Viharas cut out of rock with an open verandah and a hall surrounded on three sides by rows of cells having benches made of stone.; monks resided in them.

      The Ajanta chaitya can be dated to around 1st century B.C. The Pandulena chaitya is of 1st century A.D. Motifs are carved around the arch and above the entrance are seen sockets and grooves most probably for the musician’s gallery. At Karle, the early Hinayana chaitya is a gift of a merchant of Vaijayanti (present Banavasi). At the front are two huge lion pillars, the hall having a vestibule with three entrances. Exquisitely carved donor couples are seen on the front wall. At Kanheri, rock cut activity began during Yajna Sri Satakarni’s reign during second half of 2nd century A.D. The 3rd chaitya is attributed to him.

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Chaitya at Karle, Maharashtra.

By Amitmahadik100 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28220810

         The art of the Satavahana era was affected by the state of polity. The art  at Bhaja and Amaravati was mostly during the reign of Satakarni I. The early caves at Pitalkhora and Ajanta were executed during  reign of Sirimukha and Satakarni I, so also the earliest sculpture at  Amaravati. Sanchi, located 9 km from Vidisha, an important ancient town during Maurya and Sunga empires, the gateways or toranas were erected during the reign of Satakarni II in 1st century B. C. The Satavahana creations are very grand. The rock-cut temples are in a good state in Maharashtra; the Sanchi stupa has been reconstructed; the Amaravati stupa remains can be seen in museums. Some sculpture examples include a yaksha from Pitalkhora, the Bhaja Vihara caves decorated with carvings and pillars with a lotus capital crowned with mythical animals. Some ivory objects found at Begram(ancient Kapisha) in Afghanistan show  clearly the influence of Satavahana art, both Sanchi and Amaravati styles.

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Great Stupa with torana, Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh.

By Suvro Banerjee – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49228316

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Lord Indra, Bhaja caves, Maharashtra.

By Amitmahadik100 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28220002

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Begram ivory, Afghanistan.

By PHG at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7048722

References :

  • The age of the Satavahanas/Dr. B. S.L. Hanumatha Rao, Hyderabad: P.S.Telugu University, 2001.
  • Satavahana Art/M.K. Dhavalikar/Delhi : Sharda Publishing House,2004.

Posted by :

Soma Ghosh

 

 

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, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3327472

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.

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An early chaitya, Ajanta caves

By Shaikh Munir – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21114124

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.

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Scenes from everyday life, Ajanta painting

By Woudloper – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36174777

“……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.

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A king with his queen, Ajanta caves

By Vu2sga – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21800839

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

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Apsara, Ajanta painting

From a poster

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Attendants, Ajanta paintings

From a poster

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

By Londenp (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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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, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=155294

 

References :

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

Ajanta paintings, New Delhi : Lalit Kala Akademi,1956

 

Posted by : Soma Ghosh