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Pictures: Philippe Stalder


The Ajanta caves are regarded as the finest surviving examples of Indian art, particularly painting. These masterpieces of Buddhist religious art depict numerous different figures of the Buddha (meditating, teaching and sleeping) as well as several Jataka tales. Between the 2nd century BCE and 480 CE Buddhist monks cut 28 caves out of the rocks that surround a hairpin curve of the river Waghur. The Ajanta caves functioned as residential, education and worship areas for the monks and accommodated several hundred teachers and pupils. They have been an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983.


Built around the river Waghur: Map of Ajanta caves. Picture: Goran tek-en CC BY-SA 4.0 (5. April 2015)


Contrary to the Ajanta caves, the 34 Ellora caves were not only built by Buddhists (caves 1-12) but also by Hindus (caves 13-29) and Jains (caves 30-34). They were furthermore built six centuries later, between the 5th and the 10th century. Their geographic proximity illustrates the peaceful coexistence of different religions which was typical for this period of Indian history. The most impressive monument is cave number 16, which is also known as the Kailasa temple. With its astonishing size of 18m x 46m x 82m it is one of the largest rock-cut Hindu temples. The Kailasa temple is a monolithic structure which means that it was built by vertical excavation so carvers had to start at the top of the original rock, and excavated downward.


Monolithic structure: The Kailasa temple. Picture: Haribhakt CC BY-SA 4.0