One of the most astounding discoveries in the past few decades is the hidden treasures of Ajanta and Ellora caves. Located close to the city of Aurangabad in the inner fold of the Sahyadri hills, these caves are supreme example of human artistry and endurance. The location of these caves deep into the natural vegetation away from the din of the city offers a veritable refuge where tourists can admire the masterpiece of art engraved and sculpted in these rock cut caves.
Ajanta Caves
Ajanta Caves

Designated as World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Ajanta caves were isolated from the outer world for a long time until they were discovered by a British army officer John Smith during a hunting jaunt in 1819. Discovered and refurbished, the caves of Ajanta today form a favorite jaunt of connoisseurs of heritage, art and culture from all around the world.

The Ajanta Caves dating back to 2nd century BC were carved out of the deep curved mountain side with the help of hammers and chisels by the assiduous Buddhist monks. There are total of 29 rock-cut caves which comprises of various paintings and sculptures depicting Buddhist religious art.

Sculptures inside the rock cut caves
Sculptures inside the rock cut caves

There are numerous Chaityas and Viharas in these caves which clearly indicate that it was the center of Buddhist study. Out of these 29 caves, cave number 1, 2, 16 and 17 contains the best mural paintings as compared to the other caves. Similarly, some of the best sculptures can be found in the cave number 1, 4, 17 and 19.

Paintings done on the fragmented surface of walls, ceilings and pillars within the caves of Ajanta narrate many stories and events from Jataka, the tales about previous lives of Lord Buddha. Some incredibly beautiful paintings and sculptures that are housed within these caves include Bodhisattva Padmapani, Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, The Birth of the Buddha and Thousand Buddhas.

Ellora Caves
Carvings in Ajanta Caves – World Heritage Sites in India

Unlike Ajanta caves, Ellora Caves were never rediscovered. Emblazoned as UNESCO World Heritage Site, these caves epitomizes the Indian rock-cut architectural heritage as well as religious harmony prevalent in India since ages. The art work in these caves is representative of three different religious faiths Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism and considered as fine specimens of ancient Indian art.

There are around 12 Buddhist caves, out of which cave 10 is a Chaitya hall and contain a 15 ft tall statue of Lord Buddha in a sermonizing pose. Next set of caves is dedicated to Hinduism. There are about 17 caves devoted to Hinduism. Among them the most popular is the Kailasanatha Temple (cave 16) which is entirely dedicated to Lord Shiva and considered as the largest monolithic structure in the world.

The rest 5 caves of Ellora represent Jain philosophy and traditions and were constructed with intricate details. The famous among these Jain caves is the Indra Sabha which is a two-storeyed cave and houses a monolithic shrine of Lord Mahavir. Every year during winters, Aurangabad Festival committee in association with MTDC organizes a classical dance and music festival known as Ellora Ajanta Festival to put spotlight on these architectural wonders.

World Heritage Sites in India
Ajanta Caves interior

Ajanta and Ellora Caves are fine specimens of ancient architectural heritage of India and the expertise with which these rock cut caves are sculpted, painted, carved and chiseled out and the sheer magnitude of creativity is awe inspiring. Located deep in the inner fold of the Sahyadri hills in perfect isolation from the chaos of daily life, these caves are fine repository of ancient Indian art and symbolize perfect harmony among different religious faiths.

Of many modes to travel to Ajanta and Ellora Caves in Maharashtra, luxury trains offer perhaps the most wholesome experience. Both Deccan Odyssey and the Indian Maharaja rail tour takes the guests in supreme luxury of their elegant interiors to these world heritage rock-cut cave destination. For more details of these train journeys, you may like to visit the website of the Indian Luxury Trains.