Ajanta Cave 1 – Ancient Buddhist Monastery

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Bodhisattva Padmapani

Ajanta Cave 1 is the celebrated and one of the most beautiful of the Ajanta caves. This is the cave which visitors will first come across. There are 30 caves in Ajanta around a horse-shoe shaped bend in the rocks.

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Prince Mahajanaka

Construction of Ajanta Cave 1

This is a Buddhist monastery (vihara), dating back to fifth century. It has a verandah leading to a big hall which has ornate pillars, big sculptures and the acclaimed wall paintings. At one end of the hall is the sanctum sanctorum that holds a sculpture of seated Buddha in preaching position.

Paintings cover the entire cave, including the pillars and sculptures. The ceiling is full of coloured paintings.

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Paintings and Pillars

Bodhisattva Padmapani

This is perhaps the best known of the paintings in Ajanta Caves. Padmapani in Sanskrit literally translates into one who holds the lotus. Bodhisattva is one who aspires to be a Buddha. Here he is holding a blue lotus in his right hand.  He wears a magnificent crown. The eyes are half-closed and looks downward. You see a chiselled nose, broad chest and a narrow waist. An Ekavali or a single pearl string adorns the neck. The pearl string contains a blue sapphire in the middle. The pearls become smaller as they go around. This design you can still see in practice.

Folklore has it that the artist would place a bucket of water, with a mirror at the bottom, at entrance to the cave. The reflected light from the mirror would light up the dark cave. The artist would then be able to work on the paintings.

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Painting of Persians

Painting of Persians

The picture above shows a painting of a Persian nobleman. Of fair skin, he holds a cup in his hand, probably of Persian origin. His clothes, headgear and curtains are all in Persian style.

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Amorous Couple

Prince Mahajanaka

On the left side of the Cave No 1, you can see the famous mural of Prince Mahajanaka. He was heir to the throne of Mithila and grew up in exile. Mahajanaka’s kingdom was seized by his uncle. After many years, his uncle died. Mahajanaka married his beautiful daughter Shivali and regained his kingdom. One fine day, he renounces everything despite being cajoled by Shivali and others against it. He then sets forth in search of self-realisation. 

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Buddha in Teaching Mudra

Inside the shrine there is a big sculpture of Buddha who is sitting in Padmasana pose in teaching mode. At the centre of the base you will see a wheel abutting two deer. The deer symbolise the deer park at Sarnath where he delivered his first sermon. The wheel represents dharma-chakraIt is one of the eight auspicious symbols of Buddhism

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Ceiling Paintings

Ceiling Paintings

Look up at the ceiling and you will observe geometric designs and patterns. There are also peacocks which are adorned in intense blue paint made using powdered lapis lazuli. A decorative vegetable motif resembles the green bell pepper. Furthermore there is an animal with bull’s head whose body alters into whirling flowing lines.

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One of the ceiling panels illustrates a running elephant surrounded by flowers.The elephant gallops playfully. India Post issued definitive stamps featuring the Ajanta Panel on 15 August 1949. Stamp colour is slate violet and the face value is 3 paise.

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Ajanta Caves

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