There are thirty caves at Ajanta and some of them date back to as far back as the 2nd century BC. These caves are dedicated to the Buddhist religion and have been declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. In the following lines, we have provided information on the major caves at Ajanta.
The first cave that we comes across, as we enter the Ajanta Cave Temples, has been named as cave one. It is believed to date back to the 6th -7th century and has been adorned with auspicious motifs on its doorway. The paintings seen on the interiors and exteriors of the caves include different images. For example – Great Buddha, a Goddess on the upper left corner of the shrine doorway, a Cherubic Dwarf, a Bodhisattva believed to be Padmapani Avaokitesvara, Bodhisattva Vajrapani, Four Deer with a Common Head, Lovers, a Dark Princess believed to be an Andhra Princess, a Dancing Girl with Musicians, a Princess Reclining by a Pillar, a Maid seated on the Ground, Proceedings in a Persian Court, the Golden Geese, the Pink Elephant, a Bull Fight, etc.
The shrine doorway of cave two is different from the conventional ones. One of the most important as well as impressive features of this cave is an image of Avalokitesvara with a flywhisk – heavy-limbed and swaying. The rear portion of the cave stands adorned with the intricately done Harati and Panchika panel. On the base of the cave are paintings of the main figures well as the attendants. The other wall paintings in the cave include those of Thousand Buddhas, Votaries with Offerings, Women on Swings, etc.
The fourth numbered cave in Ajanta was built during the same time as the cave number 17. There is an impressive image of seated Lord Buddha in the shrine. The other images of the Lord found here are not completely finished. Apart from that, one can see paintings of Kneeling Devotees, a Goddess under a Flowering Tree, Dwarf musicians playing Instruments, etc.
Cave number 5 has a porched doorway and is adorned with cheerful carvings.
Cave 6 is believed to be the first important cave of the Mahayana phase. It comprises of a central pillar in the lower story, along with an image of seated Lord Buddha. Unlike other caves, the pillars here have no ornamentation. The assumption that this cave was built in the later stage has been based on the fact that instead of attendant Bodhisattvas, it has attendant Buddhas. The other paintings in this cave include those of a Couple in the Medallion and a Bhikshu with Lotus.
Cave number 7 is adorned with a painted ceiling and simple carving.
Cave number 9 boasts of a Chaitya Gathering Hall, along with two early paintings, a Fresco of Animals and Herdsmen, Painting of Naga Worshippers and a Giant Horseshoe Window.
Cave 10 is of the same shape and size as cave number 9. It has a huge Chaitya Gathering Hall and a splendid Stupa Shrine. The paintings in the cave include that of a King with his Retinue, Shad-danta Jataka, Elephants in a Jungle, a Princess fainting at the sight of Tuskers, a Bodhisattva on a Pillar, Lord Buddha and the One-eyed Monk, Shyama Jataka, etc.
Cave number 11 is representative of the time when transition was taking place in Buddhism, from the Hinayana sect to the Mahayana sect. It comprises of a magnificent image of Lord Buddha, attached to a stupa.
Cave number 16 has its patterned doorway adorned with images of two Goddesses – on neatly carved pilasters. The image of Lord Buddha inside the cave is more than life size and the throne of the Lord is shown supported by animals. The images seen inside the cave show Lord Buddha, a Dying Princess (Wife of Gautama’s cousin – Nanda), Lord Buddha with a Begging Bowl, Prince Siddharth Stretching the Bow, Descent of Lord Buddha from Tushita Heaven, Sutasama Jataka, etc.
Cave 17 has a contemporary porched doorway. The cave stands adorned with a beautiful image of the seven Buddha’s of the past, with Maitreya. The T-shape shrine doorway is embellished with a Goddesses supported by pilasters. This doorway is highly decorative. The image of Lord Buddha shows him seated in the Yogasana, with his hands in the Dharmachakra Mudra. The other images are those of Apsaras and Flying Spirits, Indra and the Apsaras, Royal Procession, Shad-danta Jataka, Prince Simhala, the Return of Lord Buddha, etc.
One of the most impressive images seen inside cave number 18 is that of a princess looking at her mirror, with a child looking at her from below.
Cave number 19 is basically a Chaitya Gathering Hall, which stands ornamented with a number of paintings and sculptures. The images seen here include a Standing Lord Buddha and a Naga King with his queen and attendants.
Cave Twenty One
Cave number 21 boasts of beautifully carved pillars. It also has a Chaitya Gathering Hall, which dates back to 5th-6th century AD, and has a colonnade composed of 26 pillars. The paintings seen here are those of Lord Buddha in Parinirvana and the Temptation of Lord Buddha by Demon Mara.
Cave Twenty Four
Cave number 24 has unfinished pillars on the front, pilaster at right end of the porch and T-shaped porched doorway that was built in the late 7th century.
Cave Twenty Six
Cave number 26 dates back to the 5th century and has a Chaitya Hall, with a horseshoe-shaped arch made. The paintings found here are those of Sravasti Miracle, Nagas, Nanda and Anupananda, a Goddess, Lord Buddha’s Head with Curly Hair and a Family Group.
Cave Twenty Seven
Cave number 27 has been adorned with an image of Naga Dwarpala, on the outer flank of the shrine. It has a porched doorway, based on the shrine doorway of cave 2.