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Lions Roar : May 2019
EFORE ENTERING the Ajanta Caves, I put coverings over my shoes, which look like blue shower caps. That’s so tourists like me don’t damage the ancient art and architecture of this unique Buddhist monastery and UNESCO World Heritage Site. For a moment I just stand outside dumbly in my coverings, under the white-hot sun, and try to take in the marvel of this horseshoe-shaped ravine. The Ajanta Caves, located in the Indian state of Maharashtra, were not formed by nature. Gouged out of the cliff face by hand, the thirty-one caves in the complex are arranged in a pleasingly uniform curved line, their mouths embellished with pillars and sculptures of buddhas and elephants. Since this is the rainy season, the floor of the ravine and the top of the cliff are lush with greenery, and these two emerald borders serve to highlight the car ved brown stone. I finally tear myself away from the exterior view and begin weaving my way in and out of the individual caves. They’re rich with Buddhist sculpture and extensive murals, many depicting scenes from the Jataka Tales, the traditional stories of the Buddha’s previous incarnations. These murals, I learn, are some of the finest—and only—examples of early Indian painting still in existence, making them extremely significant from an art history perspective. For Buddhists, though, the Ajanta Caves are more than an archeological artifact: they’re a meaningful pilgrimage site. In their construction, the caves offer a glimpse into how the dharma was expressed in different times and, by extension, they can give us a fresh perspective on how it’s expressed in our lives today. The Ajanta Caves were created in two phases. The earlier caves, known as the Hinayana Caves, were excavated from the first century BCE to the first century CE. In this period, the Buddha wasn’t represented in human form but rather through The Ajanta Caves in Maharashtra, India, are thirty- one humanmade caves, dating from the second century BCE to the fifth century CE. For more than a thousand years they were all but forgotten. ANDREA MILLER visits the ancient artistic wonder known as the Ajanta Caves. As an inscription inside says, it’s best to attain nirvana, but second best is living in beauty. B PHOTOBYNIKREATES/ALAMYSTOCKPHOTO LION’S ROAR | MAY 2019 43