Ajanta Ellora Caves: History, Location, Paintings of Ajanta and Ellora Caves| UPSC

By Aarna Tiwari|Updated : October 10th, 2022

The Ajanta Ellora Caves are acclaimed outstanding examples of ancient rock-cut caves situated close to Aurangabad in Maharashtra, India. Buddhist monasteries, Hindu and Jain temples, as well as beautiful sculptures, mosaics, and paintings, can all be found in the Ajanta Ellora caves complex. These caves are UNESCO World Heritage Sites that attract visitors from all around the globe.

The article discusses all the essential details about the Ajanta Caves and Ellora Caves, that are relevant for the UPSC Exam. Other than this, the article sheds light on the history of caves, their architecture and paintings and who built the caves.

Table of Content

Ajanta Ellora Caves History

Ajanta and Ellora caves are among the oldest Buddhist architectural sites in the world. The artwork in the Ajanta and Ellora caves were listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1983. They are renowned Buddhist sacred art masterpieces and have profoundly influenced India's artistic development.

The Ajanta Ellora caves are located near Aurangabad in Maharashtra. Ajanta Caves lies amid the Sahyadri ranges on the Waghora River. They were constructed between 200 B.C. and 650 A.D. Ellora Caves are located some 100km away from Ajanta Caves in the Aurangabad district of Maharashtra. The Ellora Caves are newer than the Ajanta Caves and were built between 5th and 11th centuries A.D. by numerous guilds from Vidarbha, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu.

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Ajanta Caves

The Ajanta Caves are a complex of rock-cut caverns located near Aurangabad, Maharashtra, in the Sahyadri hills (Western Ghats). The caves were built between 200 B.C. and 650 A.D and were inscribed by the Buddhist monks, under the patronage of the Vakataka kings. The Ajanta Caves houses twenty-nine Buddhist caves, twenty-five of which were utilised as Viharas or residential caves, and four utilised as Chaitya or prayer halls.

  • Fresco painting technique was employed to create the figures in these caves. The artworks' outlines were painted in red colour. The scarcity of blue in the paintings is one of the most remarkable elements.
  • Mostly, the paintings depict Buddhism, including Buddha's life and Jataka stories.
  • Travel reports of Chinese Buddhist travellers Fa Hien (reign of Chandragupta II; 380-415 CE) and Hieun Tsang (period of emperor Harshavardhana; 606-647 CE) mention the Ajanta caves.
  • In 1983, the caves were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Ellora Caves

The Ellora Caves are one of the world's largest Hindu temple cave complexes. They are situated nearly 100 kilometres from the Ajanta caves in Maharashtra's Sahyadri range. The monasteries and temples in the caves were dug beside each other in the wall of a steep basalt cliff and span more than two kilometres. The structures were carved out of the Charanandri hills' vertical face.

  • The Ellora caves are a collection of hundred caves, thirty-four of which are available to the public. Out of the 34 caverns, 17 are dedicated to Hinduism, 12 to Buddhism, and 5 to the Jain faith.
  • The Ellora Caves were built by numerous guilds from Karnataka, Vidarbha, and Tamil Nadu between the 5th and 11th centuries A.D.
  • The Ellora caves are more recent than the Ajanta caves. The structures were built in three phases: from 550 AD to 600 AD by Hindus, from 600 AD to 730 AD by Buddhists, and from 730 AD to 950 AD by Hindus and Jains.
  • Kailasa Temple (Kailasanatha; cave 16) is the most impressive amongst the Ellora cave temples. It contains the world's biggest single monolith rock excavation. It is named after the Hindu god Shiva, who resides on a mountain in the Himalayan Kailasa Range.

The Ellora monuments were patronised by the Rashtrakutas, Kalachuris, Chalukyas, and Yadavas. Parts of the Hindu and Buddhist caves of Ellora were built by the Rashtrakuta and Kalachuri dynasties, while the Jain caves were built by the Yadava dynasty. They were constructed close to one another to depict the religious concord that prevailed in ancient India.

Ajanta Paintings

One of the best surviving examples of ancient Indian art is the Ajanta Paintings. According to UNESCO, these are the pinnacles of Buddhist religious art that impacted Indian art. Rather than being frescoes, Ajanta's artworks are murals. High qualities are displayed in the Buddha and other Ajanta cave paintings, such as the Buddha's serene, regal visage. Among the most significant are the Naga figures, Hariti and Panchika figures, Buddha's Mahaparinirvana, the temptation scene, and so on. The three-dimensional appearance of a painting reveals the perfection and acute observation of the artist.

Ellora Caves Paintings

Five caves at Ellora include mural paintings. The paintings were created in two series, the first during the time that the caverns were being carved, and the second series several centuries afterwards. Sharp features and pointy noses characterise the sinewy forms. Ellora is where the later Gujarathi style's characteristic projecting eye first appears. The core composition of the following series is a parade of Saiva holy men. The apsaras that fly are graceful. 

Ajanta Ellora Caves UPSC

The Ajanta and Ellora caves are prime examples of rock-cut architecture, famous during ancient India. The topic is a pat segment of the UPSC Syllabus and is extremely important for the upcoming UPSC CSE 2023

Ajanta Caves and Ellora Caves UPSC Questions 

Question: Which of the following is/are true about Ajanta wall paintings?

  1. Few cave paintings in Ajanta are influenced by Vengi and Vidarbha sculptures.
  2. Only individual natural colours were used in Ajanta paintings.
  3. “Dying princess” painting from Jataka tales is seen in Ajanta caves.

Select the correct answer from the following codes

  1. Only 1
  2. Only 1 and 3
  3. Only 2 and 3
  4. 1,2 and 3

Answer: Option B

Question: Consider the following statements regarding the Ellora Caves:

  1. It is a group of 34 caves which includes 5 Buddhist caves.
  2. The Ellora complex was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993.

Which of the given statements is/are correct?

  1. 1 only
  2. 2 only
  3. Both 1 & 2
  4. Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: Option D

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Ajanta Ellora Caves FAQs

  • The Ajanta Ellora Caves are located in the Aurangabad district of Maharashtra, India. The Caves are two massive rock-cut caves that epitomise Indian artistry and architectural prowess.

  • Ajanta Caves and Ellora caves were listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1983. Both caves are considered masterpieces of Buddhist religious art.

  • In contrast to Ajanta, which is known for its stunning Buddhist-themed murals on cave walls, Ellora is known for its sculpture and architecture that represent the three major religions practiced in that region at the time: Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism.

  • The Ajanta caves were created between the years 200 B.C. and 650 A.D. Under the sponsorship of the Vakataka kings, Harishena being one of notable, they were inscribed by Buddhist monks. A group of 30 caverns in Maharashtra known as the Ajanta Caves are outstanding examples of Buddhist sacred art. The earliest collection of caves are those from the Satavahana era.

  • Ajanta features thirty caves, including the incomplete ones, five of which are chaityagrihas (sanctuaries); the remaining twenty are sangharamas or viharas (monastery). The Ajanta caves are located in the hills of Ajanta and were carved out of a sheer cliff above the left bank of the river Waghora.

  • These Ajanta and Ellora Caves are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and have contributed immensely to the the Ancient History and Art & Culture of India. To download Notes of Ajanta Ellora Caves, click here.

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