Art in Ajanta caves - Paintings

Art in Ajanta caves - Paintings

Question - Discuss the art in Ajanta caves with reference to the paintings.

– Ajantha caves are located in the western part of Maharashtra, the Ajanta caves are an architectural marvel.

– A group of 29 caves carved into the facade of a hill served as halting places for monks. Out of these five are chaitya grihas containing Buddhist shrines. Most of the chaityas have votive reliefs and ornamentation in form of sculptures.

– The most outstanding feature is the painting which cover the walls of the caves. There is a good balance achieved in the paintings between bright colors and soft lines, sensual images of lovers and images of composed sages.

– The jatakas form the theme of the paintings in Ajanta along with various events from Buddha's life. The ceiling decoration invariably consists of decorative patterns, geometrical as well as floral.

– The paintings are divided into two broad phases. The earliest is in form of fragmentary specimens in caves 9 and 10, which are datable to 2nd century BCE. Resemblance in the head gear and ornamentation with that of Sanchi and Bahrut is seen.

– The second phase spread between 5th-6th century CE where change in style is seen in caves 1,2,16 and 17. A decline in the style of art is seen indicated by some lifeless images of Buddha.

How it was done: The artists drew the outlines of the pictures using red cinnabar which was then filled in with an undercoat of terre-verte. The base surface of the paintings on walls and ceilings was then covered with a thick coating of paste made from clay, cow-dung, animal hair and vegetable fiber. This was given a second coat of mud and ferruginous earth mixed with fine rock-powder or sand and fine fibrous vegetable material. This surface was then finally worked on with a thin coat of lime wash.

Bold outlines were drawn over the lime washed surface and spaces were filled with colors in different shades to achieve the desired effect. The colors were derived from natural water soluble substances like kaolin chalk for white, lamp soot for black, glauconite for green, ochre for yellow and lapis lazuli for blue. Glue was the main binding material used. This was applied only after the undercoat was completely dry. This shows that the paintings at Ajanta are not frescoes since they are painted with the help of a binding agent. Finally the murals were painstakingly polished with a smooth stone to bring out their natural luster.

The only source of light was the oil lamps and the little time that sunshine could enter the cave especially with the help of metal mirrors. The extraordinary feat achieved by the artists of Ajanta is thus famous all over the world.


• John Smith, a British captain, discovered these caves in the year 1819 accidentally while hunting in the forest.

• The earliest excavations belong to Hinayana sect of Buddhism.
Post your comment