'Ajanta Caves are one of the most awe inspiring and historically rich heritage sites in the world’. I had, obviously heard and read a lot about these caves, to be able to make such a statement. But it was only when I actually visited the place last year, that I realised the profundity of it all!
To my mind, there have been three distinct phases in the long life of these caves. The first phase was when the caves were first spotted, dug, sculpted and elaborately painted in the early part of the first millennium. The second was when Capt. John Smith, chanced upon these jewels, while on a hunting trip in the thick jungles of Deccan in 1819. The third and the last phase is the present. Each and every time a visitor sets foot at their door, they, both the visitor and the caves; get a fresh lease of life.
It must be a long and weary journey for these centuries’ old caves, alone in the desolate jungles, but for the guiding light of Buddha and his followers, they have dutifully survived to spread his message to this age!
There are 32 caves in-toto, all in a single line on the horse shoe shaped hill side. The very first look at these caves left me spell bound. In spite of having sifted through a number of websites and books in advance, nothing prepared me for the real stuff. I was like..."Wow! Ancient is SO real". Gingerly, I started walking towards them.
The first two caves are home to the world famous paintings, one of which has even been done by mum in batik back home! The paintings, 'frescoes' actually, depict the life and times of Prince Siddharth, who later became Buddha as mentioned in the 'Jataka' stories. They are all over...on the walls, ceiling, pillars, porch... each and every nook and corner is covered with some moment or incident related to Buddha's life. And they are done with such flair that one look at them and you feel enamoured by their charm. Look in any direction and you would find something interesting happening. You are in the midst history, literally.
As I wandered from one cave to the other, I was trying to imagine, how the place must have been... some two thousand years ago... when it was still 'under construction'… the time, when it was buzzing with monks and artists…the time when there was no electricity or any other modern day comforts…when animals and humans used to share the same space.
Each cave had a unique charm to it. The stone carvings of Buddha in the different caves are so identical that it is difficult to imagine how the sculptors must have replicated the same details of design from one cave to the other and that too without any modern technology or aid.
Then there was the famous 'Sleeping Buddha' - a long horizontal stone carving depicting Buddha resting in peace.
But the real magic awaited me at the end of the tour. As I approached the last of the caves with the overbearing thought of knowing it already, having seen so many similar caves, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was an incomplete cave! Apparently, the work on this cave might have started, when it was abandoned soon due to some reason. That is when, I had my magic moment.
As I became slow, patient and silent, I began to faintly hear the chants of the monks, the sculptor's hammering, the workers' murmur, the painter's strokes on the walls...I felt I had gone back in time. Just had to feel the rhythm!
And for that, I believe, one should visit this place in a non-touristy season...lesser the crowd, the better it is. Just sit and observe - the best way of experiencing this ancient place.
Oh! By the way, remember to wear slip-ons and not shoes as almost all the caves require the visitors to go inside bare feet. Rightly so...