Ajanta Caves & Ellora Caves

Ajanta caves and Ellora caves are among the earliest Buddhist architectures. The Ajanta – Ellora caves have evolved during the period 2nd century BC to 6th Century AD. The paintings and sculptures of Ajanta and Ellora caves are  UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1983 and are considered masterpieces of Buddhist religious art that have had a great influence in the development of art in India. 

This article aims to discuss the facts about Ajanta and Ellora caves that hold relevance for the IAS exam.

Aspirants might encounter questions on Ajanta caves and Ellora Caves under Art and Culture section in UPSC Prelims, and about its architecture in the Mains. 

Additionally, candidates can check the links provided below to assist their exam preparation – 

NCERT Notes: Art Of Indus Valley Civilisation NCERT Notes: Temple Architecture
Art and Culture During the Delhi Sultanate Period NCERT Notes: Indo-Islamic Architecture
Dravidian Architecture In India Art & Culture of Gupta Empire
NCERT Notes: Post-Mauryan Trends in Indian Art  NCERT Notes: Pallava Dynasty – Art And Architecture
NCERT Notes: Mauryan Empire: Art & Architecture Mahabalipuram: An Architectural Extravaganza

Ajanta Caves

  1. Ajanta caves are located in the Sahyadri ranges (Western Ghats). These are a series of rock-cut caves on Waghora river near Aurangabad in Maharashtra.
  2. There are a total of 29 buddhist caves in Ajanta of which 4 were used as Chaitya or prayer halls while 25 were used as Viharas or residential caves..
  3. Ajanta Caves are crescent shapes in the form of a gigantic horseshoe.
  4. The caves were developed in the period between 200 B.C. to 650 A.D.
  5. Ajanta Caves encompass both Theravada (Hinayana) and Mahayana Buddhist traditions. (Candidates can read the difference between Hinayana and Mahayana on the linked page.)
  6. The Ajanta caves were inscribed by the Buddhist monks, under the patronage of the Vakataka kings – Harisena being a prominent one, Satavahanas, and Chalukyas.
  7. The Chinese Buddhist travellers Fa-Hien [AD 337 – AD 422] who visited India during the reign of Chandragupta II and Hiuen Tsang [602 CE – 664 CE] came during the reign of emperor Harshavardhana mentions in their travel accounts about the Ajanta caves.
  8. Paintings in Ajanta Caves are generally themed around Buddhism – the life of Buddha and Jataka stories. The figures carved in Ajanta caves were done using fresco painting. The outlines of the paintings were done in red colour. The absence of blue colour in the paintings is one of the striking features.

Aspirants can check out the related links given below to do comprehensive preparation of upcoming exams – 

Buddhism – Definition, Origins, Teachings Teachings of Buddha
List of Buddhist Councils and Buddhist Texts Harshavardhana – Empire of Harsha
Sanchi Stupa and Lion Capital Mauryan Empire (322 BCE -185 BCE)
Satavahana Dynasty – Facts about Satavahana Empire List of Important Foreign Envoys Who Visited Ancient India
Madhubani Paintings for UPSC Tanjore Paintings: Facts and Details
Prehistoric Rock Paintings Ancient History Mural Painting Tradition – After Ajanta
Miniature Painting Tribal Paintings of India

Ellora Caves

  1. It is located nearly 100 Kms away from Ajanta caves in the Sahyadri range of Maharashtra.
  2. The temples and monasteries extending over more than 2 km, were dug side by side in the wall of a high basalt cliff.  The structures were excavated out of the vertical face of the Charanandri hills.
  3. Ellora Caves are one of the largest rock-cut Hindu temple cave complexes in the world.
  4. Ellora caves are a group of 100 caves at the site of which 34 caves are open to the public. 17 caves out of these 34 are themed around Hinduism, 12 caves depict the themes of Buddhist and 5 caves are of Jain faith.
  5. The set of caves in Ellora were developed during the period between the 5th century and 11th century A.D. by various guilds from Vidarbha, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. 
  6. Ellora caves are newer as compared to Ajanta caves. The chronology of constructions is as follows – 550 AD to 600 AD – Hindu Phase, 600 AD to 730 AD – Buddhist Phase, and 730 AD to 950 AD – Hindu and Jain Phase.
  7. The most remarkable of the Ellora cave temples is Kailasa Temple (Kailasanatha; cave 16),  It features the largest single monolithic rock excavation in the world. It is named for the mountain in the Kailasa Range of the Himalayas where the Hindu god Shiva resides.
  8. The patronage of Ellora monuments includes Rashtrakutas, Kalachuris, Chalukyas and the Yadavas. The Rashtrakuta dynasty and Kalachuris constructed part of the Hindu and Buddhist caves of Ellora and the Yadava dynasty constructed a number of the Jain caves. They were built close to one another and illustrated the religious harmony that existed in ancient India.

Also, go through the following links to prepare for the art and culture section of the UPSC exam even better –

The Rashtrakutas 755 AD – 975 AD Chalukya Dynasty – Rulers, Extent of Chalukya Empire
Deccan Kingdoms – Hoysalas, Kakatiyas Differences between Buddhism and Hinduism
NCERT Notes: Jainism In India Difference between Buddhism and Jainism

Aspirants can also check out various Cave architecture in Ancient India on the linked page. 

Get the detailed UPSC Syllabus for the prelims and mains examination and start your Civil Services Exam preparation accordingly.

Frequently Asked Questions on Ajanta and Ellora Caves


Q 1. Why are Ajanta and Ellora Caves significant?

Ans. The paintings and sculptures in the caves of Ajanta and Ellora are inspired by Buddhism and its compassionate ethos. It was declared as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 1983 as the paintings and sculptures of Ajanta and Ellora are considered masterpieces of Buddhist religious art and have had a great influence in the development of art in India.

Q 2. How many Ajanta and Ellora Caves are there?

Ans. The Ajanta is a set of 29 caves, and is among the finest examples of some of the earliest Buddhist architecture, cave paintings and sculptures. There are 34 Ellora caves that contain Buddhist Chaityas or halls of worship, Viharas or monasteries and Hindu and Jain temples.
Related links for UPSC preparation:

IAS Salary UPSC Books
UPSC Previous Year Question Papers  Daily Current Affairs for UPSC
All India Radio Spotlight for UPSC 100 Difference between Articles
UPSC Notes PDF Comprehensive News Analysis
PIB Summary and Analysis List of Government Schemes in India

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