A man continues to enjoy himself in paradise as long as long as his memory is green in this world “ declares the patron Harisena on cave 26 “ One should endeavour to build a memorial on the mountain ranges of Sayadhri that will endure for as long as the moon and sun shines “
This is what Harisena along with his hired artisans along with the Buddhist monks strived in the Ajanta valley till 477 AD, when it was abandoned with a sudden loss of motivation beyond comprehension.
Why Ajanta was abandoned is a mystery explored by many a historians. The entire Ajanta complex was probably inhabited by Neolithic mankind prior to Buddhist monks discovering the safe den for their monastic living. They began construction of the famous 30 cave complex in early 2nd Century BC. For almost 350 years they were surveying the area and laying the basic foundation for a grandiose plan for building an edifice eulogizing Lord Buddha. In 450 AD in Harisena they found a willing sponsorer to trigger the building activity and completing the cave viharas and chaityas. The lovely mural paintings were completed using the locally available vegetable dyes and other binding materials such clay etc.
During the final years of Hiresena betrayal by his feudatories, who scorned the effort of building the now famous Ajanta caves because of dying influence of Buddhism. It was primarily because Buddhism was on the wane and it was leading to revival of Hinduism and beginning of Jainism. Harisena who was involved in building of the Ajanta caves seems to have been poisoned by his feudatory king Asamaka. Thus the entire workmen shifted from the Ajanta complex leaving the incomplete edifice and shifted to Ellora and other parts of the country. The persecution theory of Buddhist monks goes for a toss, and there was no moghul or islamic invasion of this region during that time fearing which an exodus has taken place. Another valid reason maybe there was an attempt to alter the Buddhist legacy evidenced in cave 15 A which may have prompted abandonment of the entire valley by the monks to preserve its heritage.
In 1819 AD John Smith, a british army officer on an hunting expedition trying to hunt a tiger, spotted in the area was lead by a young boy into the cliff opposite the Ajanta complex. Smith spotted Cave No 10 with a huge arch which ultimately lead to the discovery of the paradise lost to civilization for nearly 1400 years. This helped in conservation of the mural paintings which were earlier considered Frescos erroneously.
Ajanta is basically a tribute to Lord Buddha, ( 400 – 480 B C) who renounced his family life at the age of 29. and attained nirvana. Buddha discarded the yogic way of living to adopt a middle path. At a sexually active age he abandoned world pleasures and took to preaching the middlepath.
1. To refrain from taking life (non-violence towards all life forms)
2. To refrain from taking that which is not given (not committing theft)
3. To refrain from sensual (including sexual) misconduct
4. To refrain from lying (speaking truth always)
5. To refrain from intoxicants which lead to loss of mindfulness (specifically, drugs and alcohol)
6. To refrain from eating at the wrong time (only eat from sunrise to noon)
7. To refrain from dancing and playing music, wearing jewelry and cosmetics, attending shows and other performances
8. To refrain from using high or luxurious seats and bedding
Ajanta is located 107 kms from Aurangabad. The nearest railway line is Bhusawal or Jalgaon, Aurangabad on Hyderabad route. There is an airport at Aurangabad connecting Mumbai and Poona. We approached by an unconvential route travelling through Nasik, Shirdhi, Bheemashankar, Ahmednagar, Paitan and landed in Ajanta on a summer day. The best time to visit Ajanta is during the monsoon without any doubt. One find the nature in blossom along with water falls and river bed flowing with water. Winter is the most preferred time to visit Ajanta in lieu of the cold climate.
In all 30 caves were excavated in a horse shoe valley. The valley houses a small stream known as waghora. Each and every cave was connected by flight of steps to this stream for monks and artisans to utilise for drinking and other daily chores. There are five caves which were Chaitagrihas ( 9, 10, 19, 26 & 29 ) and the rest of the caves are viharas. The caves can be divided into Hinyana period ( formless, when stupa was revered ) and Mahayana period which worshipped the statue of the Buddha.
All other caves were sponsored by the Vakatakas King Harisena and his ministers. The grandiocese plan to be associated with an edifice, during the contemporary Gupta period, enamoured the relatively unkown King in Indian History. Some even claim the rule of Vakataka as the golden age equvalent to Gupta period. The reign of Harisena ( 450 AD to 477 AD ) is subject of many conspiracies and blood bath after he got associated with construction. Nevertheless the work on completing the mamoth task was taken up earnest with artisans, sculptors, and painters imported from all parts of the country.
Varadeva, the minister of Harisena dedicated cave no 17 to the buddhist Sangha and cave no 16 too was dedicated by his son to the Buddhist cause. A description of Ajanta caves was furnished by Huien Tsang, who visited the country during the first half of the 7th century, even though he did not visit it personally because of its inaccessability due to the abadonment.
There is some trace of Rashtrakutas involvement in trying to revive Ajanta heritage during the the 8 and 9th century with statue of Buddha being installed and paintings with theme of Buddha as its epicentre. The main theme of the paintings are inspired from the jataka tales and different episodes from the lifestyle of Buddha. During this period contemporary lifestyle and geometric and floral patterns are explored on the ceilings.
FRESCOS PAINTINGS MISNOMER :
Ajanta paintings were earlier claimed to be frescos but disproved by present day historians conclusively. Fresco painting involves usage of limestone and in wet condition painting. This is mural form of painting which involves elaborated preparation of smoothening the rocky surface and chiselling it with rough patches to embedd the layer of clay with granules of sand with rice husks, grass, cowdung to form a base or canvas for painting. The second coat of similar mixture was given to firmly embedd the foundation for the final painting. A small coat of limestone paint was given to create a canvass. An outline of the potrait was drawn using the peacock feathers and twigs. A rich blend of vegetable dyes were prepared from Mango bark, Indigo, Jamun, Saffron, Lamp black, etc was used to sketch the potrait associated with jataka tales. The chief bind agent in the form of glue from the sapodila tree was used to bind the colours in all its richness.
Black tar-like bitumen, incidentally, is a naturally occurring ‘thermoplastic polymer’, the ancient equivalent of Superglue may have been used as a base for binding the material on the rock surface. Sapodilla resin may well have been used in the mortar sticking together the great canvas, which was known in Aztec times too. No wonder the growth of sapodilla in the adjacent area testifies support to my theory.
COMPARISON WITH MICHELANGELO'S SISTINE CHAPEL PAINTING
Michelangelo, was originally commissioned to build the Pope's Tomb, which he slowly lost interest and got permission to paint the 12 apostles of Jesues. Later he modified the concept to include creation of Adam and Eve,Garden of Eden,Great Flood, Creation etc. He completed the paintings from 1508 to 1512 under the patronage of the Pope and with all the resources at his disposal.
Whereas the little known sculptors turned painters had to churn out the magnificient mural paintings under difficult light condition and work with crude and experimental binding material and natural vegetable dyes. The names of the artists have been buried in history without recognition. It took them almost 40 years to complete the series of paintings, with different themes on Jatakas with a semblence of eroticism creeping in later stages due to influence of Chalukyas and Rashtrakuta artisans. Only one alleged artisan Banoti's name is featuring in some epigraphs along with the King Harisena.
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