The present book is a culmination of twenty-four years of research on Ajanta Paintings. It is a pioneering attempt to provide a true picture of Ajanta Paintings, mainly on the basis of literary sources. All the murals of Ajanta are based on episodes from Pali Tipitaka, Atthakatha, Ceylonese chronicles, H.B.S. books- Mahavastu , Divyava dana , Asvaghosha's treatises - Buddha Carita, Sundaranand Kavya, Saddharma Pundarika: which have been carefully studied. The author has collected the findings and evidences from Ancient Indian History and Culture, Buddhist art and architecture, archaeology and inscriptions. All these have been scrupulously tallied.
Nearly thirty unidentified murals have been identified for the first time and seventeen murals which were misinterpreted, have been rectified. Besides, thirty-one murals are acquainted with brief information. The plans of the caves and locations of the murals have been attested neatly for the convenience of the readers and visitors. The monograph contents fifty coloured plates photographs taken on the site, of eleven caves namely, Cave Nos. 1,2,6,7,9,10, 11, 16, 17, 19 and 26. Nearly hundred plates of Line-drawings of the murals and the images will help to give a clear idea of the cave paintings. The purpose of line- drawings is to assist the photographs and reveal the differences in past and present conditions and make murals more knowledgeable.
The monograph will reveal a new panorama of Ajanta paintings and enhance the joy of their beauty, especially when one is informed about the literary sources.
Dr Meena Talim has retired as a Professor and head of the departments of Pali and Ancient Indian Culture. St. Xavier's (1990) She was the first person to be awarded Ph.D. in Pali from University of Mumbai (1960). Her contribution to the Buddhism in various aspects- Social. Historical Literary Medicine Art and Architecture is remarkably significant. Her publications include. "Buddhavamso" (1969), 'Women in early Buddhist Literature" (1972), "Bagh Paintings- Identification and Interpretation" (2002), "Science of Medicine and Surgery in Buddhist India" (2009), "Edicts of King Asoka-a new vision" (2010), "Life of Women in Buddhist Literature" (2010) & Buddhist Art Vol. I & II (forth coming). She has contributed more than eighty-five research papers to Indological journals, magazines and to seminars National and International Conferences and symposiums. Dr Talim is presently working as an Honorary Professor at K.J. Somaiya Centre for Buddhist Studies and Visiting Professor at University of Mumbai, Mumbai.
In the History of the world, Ajanta is the most favourite subject of historians, archaeologists and artists. Ajanta is an unique site which is well admired by all including Buddhist and non-Buddhist devotees who throng here with love and devotion. There are nearly Thirty-one Caves at Ajanta which belong to different periods ranging from Second Century B.C.E. to Seventh Century C.E. In early 19th Century the caves were first discovered by army men in 1819, but the first scholarly report was tendered by Prof. J. Fergusson in 1843. Caves were then in a dilapidated state therefore copying of the paintings was allotted to Robert Gill who had completed thirty paintings, in the period of six years (1849-1855), Unfortunately, all these paintings were destroyed in the fire that broke at Indian Museum, South Kensington in 1866. Prof. John Griffith undertook the job of copying the paintings and worked on them from 1872 to 1885. This laborious work of Prof. Griffith was destroyed in 1896, as the fire broke in Indian Museum, South Kensington, However, undaunted by the calamity Prof. Griffith with the help of his students recopied a large number of the paintings and we are fortunate to have some of them in his two volumes on Ajanta Paintings.
Prof. J. Fergusson and James Burgess undertook the job of archaeological survey of the caves (1871) and studied them through paintings. sculptures and inscriptions. We can not forget the efforts of E.B. Havell and Ananda Coomarswamy who in their philosophical and critical ways established the greatness of Ajanta paintings. The followed number of eminent scholars like F. Oldenberg, H Luder, Bhau Daji, A Foucher, Lady Herringham, G. Yazdani, Dr. Mirashi, Dr. Karl Khandalawala. Dr M.N. Deshpande, Dr. M.Dhawalikar, Dr. D. Schlingloff. Dr. W. Spink and many a great scholars. All these scholars have contributed valuable researches on Ajanta Caves and paintings. Many of these scholars. Archaeologists, art-historians and artists, have had devoted their lives for the study of these caves. I am aware of all these stalwarts and their Himalayan contributions and yet I am attempting to bring forth to light, some of the areas which have remained unnoticed and untouched.
The Pall and Sanskitised-Pali literature have played an important role in providing material for Ajanta paintings. The paintings have been delineated on the walls, columns pilaster and ceilings of the caves. These murals have been illustrated with a certain purpose. They narrate the stories of the Bodhisattvas episodes from the life of Buddha of his disciples and convey principle teachings of the Buddha. The source of an inspiration of these paintings can be traced in Theravadin literature from Fifth Century B.C.E. to Fifth Century C.E. approximately; mainly from Sutta Pitaka, Vinaya Pitaka, Atthakathas and Varhsa Literature. Amongst all these literary sources. Jataka-Katha was most popular. The joy of appreciating these
paintings becomes exuberant and exotic after knowing the exact event or episode or the story on which the painting is based. The Jataka stories relate paramita theory of Theravadins, but we also have episodes from the books of Khuddaka nikaya, Dtgha, Majhima, Samyutta nikayas, commentaries and Mahavarnsa, which provide us not only theological information’s but historical facts of ancient times.
In Mahayana Literature we notice use of Mahasamghika-Lokuttaravadin books like Divyavadana, Mahavastuavadana, Sundaranand a Kavya of Asvaghosha, but none from Vaipulya-sutras of first Century C.E. to fourth Century C.E. Amongst Mahayana Literature Sundaranada Kavya is more popular and many murals are based on this treatise. There are only two Avadanas from Diyavadana, namely Simhal and Purna and two from Mahavastuavadana, namely Trisakuniya and Shyama, but all have resemblance with Pali Jatakas.
As far as Vajrayana Literature is concerned we do not find any book on which Ajanta painting was based. There are two murals in the Caves which depict monster of the Paticcasamupada (Law of Causation), a prominent tenet of Vajrayanist; but it is based on Tipitaka - Pali-sources.
As stated above, the paintings in Ajanta Caves are mostly based on the Jataka-Kathas (stories) Jataka-Kathas co-relate with Bodhisattva and Parami theories and the prominence is given to assist the theory of Pararnis (perfection). Theravadin tradition follows ten Paramis, namely, Dana (Charity), Sila (Virtue), Nekkham (Renunciation), Panna (Wisdom), Viriya (Energy), Khanti (Forbearance), Sacca (Truth), Adhitthana (Steadfastness), Metta (Compassion) and Upekkha (Indifference). All the murals of Ajanta portray one of these ten Paramis. But sometimes, even two Paramis can be located in one mural viz. in Mahajanaka Jataka (Nekkham + Adhitthanal and in Sibi Jataka (Dana + Adhitthana ) can be observed.
This observation furthermore reveals that artist of Ajanta have taken more interest in depicting human emotions, more so, that would portray teachings of the Buddha,
collected from Theravadin Source. Theravadin Culture was then dominant at Ajanta Caves from Second Century B.C.E. to Third Century C.E. The priestly class have accepted Theravadin episodes, for the sake of popularity of these stories and for propagating norms of the Buddha.
The Mahayana presence started projecting through introducing images of Bodhisattvas and Buddhas in Chaityagriha and Viharas. However, Asvaghoshas Sundurananda- Kavya had captured the minds of people and artists therefore have painted love story of Nanda-
Sundari vivaciously. Besides, these paintings were parallel to Theravadin teachings of Anicca and Dukkha, hence there was no bifurcation in ideology. But depicting
Bodhisattvas in murals or as images was significant; in a way it was an intrusion in the Theravadin Caves.
I am aware that Theravadin, Jataka - katha
have also depicted Bodhisattvas to expound
the 'Parami', but it directly does not make an
impact on the mind about the concerned
Bodhisattva but of the 'Parami' that he had
performed. On the other hand Mahayanist
Paintings of Bodhisattvas are very clear about
the intention and gradually they introduced
eight Bodhisattvas as special entities.
Eventually, paintings and sculptures of
Mahayanist minor deities like Kubera,
Yaksha, Vidyadharas, Apsaras and Nagas
were given more scope. Vajrayana sect could
not make impact in the caves; perhaps the
cult never became popular in Maharashtra
(consequently at Ajanta) as other two sects,
unlike in north and north-east India.
In India tradition of painting on the wall was very ancient. One can observe cave- paintings from Megalithic age in Madhya Pradesh and other parts of India. This
indicates that art of painting on the wall was
not new to artist-guilds- Vinaya Pitaka refers
to colouring of wall with mud, clay and wood.
The palaces, houses, towers and huts were
well-plastered and coloured. It narrates "The
walls of the houses made of wood, stone,
bricks and even leafy cottages should be
plastered from inside with lime and mud
and then on this surface pictures can be
drawn with white or red colours."! Such a
work was a especial job done by a person
known as "Cittakammalikhitaka" (one who
does the job of drawing picture)," Ambapali,
the courteason and King Prasenajita had
picture-halls (cittagara)." Dr Nihararanjana
Ray writes, "Besides portraiture and mural
paintings we also find widely known practices
such as lepya-chitra, lekya-chitra, dhuli-
In Mauryan period stone-art was
introduced by King Chandragupta and it
became very popular. King Asoka (3rd Cent.
B.C.E.) encouraged cave architecture which
gradually moved towards Maharashtra by
second Century B.C.E. Ajanta Caves were
smoothly plastered, before paintings.
However, I shall not dwell on this point, but
would like to draw your attention to an
achievement and skills of the artist-guild.
They have not done any mistake in sketching
or colouring. This indicates that artist-guilds
were not novice, ameaturist but experienced
Another notable characteristic was that
they had studied the story or an episode
from the Buddhist Literature, very carefully.
Therefore, they have not missed even a
smallest point, however insignificant it may
be; viz. Prince Vessantara is mostly shown
with his two children, as he was a family-
man. Thus each and every mural is faithfully
delineated, according to literary source. This
helps us to diagnose the panel correctly.
Ajanta artists have used 'Chitrakathi' style
which is advantageous for identifying the
painting. One can observe an involvement
of an artist to take a trouble to know exact
story and consciously portray it in the mural.
Artists of Ajanta are expert in human-anotomy, acquatic-anotomy and vegetation.
They have never lost sense of proportion in
delineating a sole figure or crowd. They are
particular about showing human emotions
on the faces or through their hand-gestures.
It is amazing to observe that each and every
personality in the crowd, whether a King,
Queen, attendant, minister, guard, door-
keeper or a beggar depict their emotions.
This helps us to understand exact situation
of an incidence that has been painted in the
The stories that deal with non-human
beings like Devas, Nagas, Yakshas, Apsaras,
Kinnaras, Gandharvas, Kuber or Demons-
all have been painted carefully. Anyone can
make out the differences between these
various species. Though anatomically they
resemble human-anatomy, yet the little
variations in the faces or limbs make the
difference. Devas are shown with halo and
beautiful faces, Nagas with serpent-hood
above the head, Yakshas with peculiar curly
hair style that runs up to shoulders, Apsaras
with floating position in the clouds, Kinnaras
with bird -like feet, Gandharvas with musical
instruments, Kuber with big stomach and
short stunted feet and Demons with rough
thorny, hair protruding eyes and long molars.
All these minor peculiarities makes everyone
clear about their gene.
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