How did they make fresco paintings at Ajanta?

Painting in Cave 17 is a vihara, dating from the late 5th century, probably 50 years after Cave 16. This cave corresponds to late phase of excavation or Mahayana Buddhist religious orientation.

Cave 17’s ceiling is a marvel. Unlike Caves 1 and 2, it does not hold lines of square medallions and geometric designs. Instead, it has single, large circular medallion at its center, resembling a carpet or roof of a tent. The central medallion is surrounded by gliding and flying celestial deities, again reminiscent of Renaissance angels. There are also mythical figures, including half human-half bird deities (kinnaras).

Monks usually are clothed by their robe, which leaves only the right shoulder bare. 7 Buddhas are seen seating in row and the 8th crowned Buddha on right is the future Maitreya Buddha!

To receive these paintings the walls were left somewhat rough on the surface, and were then covered with a thin coating of plaster composed of fine dust, in some instances at least. of pounded brick, mixed with fibre and the husks of rice. This was smoothed and covered with a coating of some ground colour, on which the designs were drawn and then painted. The pillars / walls being smoothed with the chisel seem to have received only a heavy ground coating to prepare them to receive the scenes or figures to be drawn on the dried plaster. Rather than using egg as a binder (as in Western technique), artists at Ajanta used gum or glue.

Excerpts from books by by David Raezer, Jennifer Raezer and Fergusson & Burgess.

Things TO-DO in Mumbai / Bombay!

To visit all milestones in the city.

To see all gargoyles in the city.

To see all art deco buildings in the city.

To see all clock towers in the city.

To check Instagram’s weekend project and participate.

To geotag all baobab trees in the city. To find out monograms in city & decode them.

The photos have captions mentioning the resource articles.

Suggestions are welcome. What more?

Ajanta Caves, UNESCO World Heritage site at Aurangabad, Maharashtra in Incredible India! 

Cave 16 has a number of distinctive features — an elephant-guarded entrance stairway; high quality paintings; unique ceiling reliefs; and an exceptional Buddha image.

Cave 16, one of the largest viharas at Ajanta, was built in the late 5th century (462-478), corresponding to the Late Phase of excavation. It was sponsored by a minister in the court of King Harisena, Varahadeva.

1 & 2 – Entrance Stairway of Cave number 16:
The cave’s exterior has a distinctive feature: a stairway — the start of which is marked by elephant reliefs — rises from the river to the level of the entrance. While such an arrangement was likely pervasive at Ajanta, this is only cave at which it remains intact.

3 & 6 – attractive figurative reliefs positioned on the ceiling of the front gallery (between the main hall and the entrance wall). They depict celestial deities, musicians, and attendants, all of which appear in flight.

4 – multiple viharas, which were monk’s living quarters, providing personal space.

5 – In the shrine: The Buddha image – displaying the standard dharmachakra (teaching) mudra and seated on a lion throne with both feet planted firmly on the ground — is one of the best executed at Ajanta; its carving reveals an exceptionally high level of detail. He is flanked by mythical guardian creatures below and his two trusted disciples, Mogallan and Ananda, above.
Excerpts from Approach Guides – India revealed – The Caves of Ajanta, Ellora & Elephanta.

How to differentiate between the earlier dated 2nd century BCE & the latter 4th century CE paintings in cave number 10 at Ajanta Caves at Aurangabad, Maharashtra, India?

This Cave number 10 was the first cave rediscovered by British Army Officer John Smith in 1819, that led to the finding of the entire cluster of caves at Ajanta.

Likely the oldest cave in Ajanta, Cave 10 similarly conveys a profound spiritual energy. Its simple yet powerful forms provide another raw look into India’s earliest rock-cut architecture. The original paintings are somewhat simple, the 5th century paintings of Buddhas on the columns are well preserved and delicately rendered.

Ajanta Caves – cave number 10 was made in 2nd century BCE. It houses the BIGGEST stupa at Ajanta and the stupa is plain & hemispherical in shape.

On basis of inscriptions this cave was excavated by the gifts made by Vasisthipura Katahadi, Kanahaka of Bahada, monk Dharmadeva while the paintings were made by various devotees.

The importance of this cave lies in its preserving the early specimens of Indian paintings. The paintings belong to two different periods: the earlier dated 2nd century BCE & the latter 4th century CE – i.e.- separated by 600 years. As with Cave 9, it was refurbished in the Late Phase, so it holds some 5th century decoration too!

The cave is Theravada (Hinayana) Buddhist in religious orientation.The plain octagonal pillars, ceilings & walls are painted with Buddhist themes, designs, & Jataka Tales.

This BIGGEST Stupa of Ajanta is a ¾ sphere-shaped anda, sitting atop a double-tiered (versus single-tiered in Cave 9), yet still low lying, platform. The square harmika’s inverted pyramid top remains intact, while the triple umbrella chattra has been destroyed. There is no Buddha image fronting the stupa, as was typical in Early Phase Theravada/Hinayana versions.

Along with Cave 9, Cave 10 houses the oldest painted images at Ajanta. Only a few survive, due in large part to a 5th century overpainting.

The difference between the paintings belonging to 2 different periods separated by 600 years is: the more vibrant paintings of Buddhas belong to the latter 4th century CE; whereas the very faint floral and geometric designs conspicuous by absence of Buddha images belongs to earlier dated 2nd century BCE.

Click on the photos for more information in captions.

This is Cave number 9 at AJANTA CAVES at Aurangabad, Maharashtra, India.

It is a chaitya, was likely built in the 1st or 2nd century BCE; it is one of the oldest caves at Ajanta. It corresponds to the Early Phase of excavation and is Theravada Buddhist in religious orientation. Keep in mind, Cave 9 was refurbished in the Late Phase (5th century CE), so it also holds some 5th century decoration.


The facade has a massive ¾ circle chaitya arch window ; above (in shadow) and below it, there are smaller decorative blind relief chaitya arches.

Early Phase Theravada Buddhist chaityas — have minimal exterior decoration; further, it NEVER includes images of the Buddha in physical form, opting instead for symbolic representations.

Accordingly, one of the two large Buddhas, seen standing on the facade’s perpendicularly projecting sidewalls in varada (bestowing blessings) mudra do not date from the cave’s original Theravada construction and are necessarily Late Phase Mahayana additions.


This chaitya has the simplest layout of any at Ajanta. The cave is entered through a single central entrance. Two rows of unadorned octagonal columns divide the interior space into a central nave flanked by two side aisles. A simple Early Phase stupa sits opposite the entrance.

The vaulted ceiling’s original wooden ribs (most likely teak) — inserted on the inside of the sanctuary to replicate earlier all-wood structures — are now lost, leaving only a flat-surfaced stone ceiling.

The Stupa has a low platform and ¾ sphere-shaped anda; while the harmika’s inverted pyramid top is in place, the chattra is lost.


Cave 9 houses the oldest painted images at Ajanta, dating from its original excavation. However, there are not many and they were largely painted over in the Late Phase (5th century CE); the overpainting of the originals is clear in some areas. That said, original paintings are still visible in pic 3.


It is an Early Phase original painted procession of devotees, as if in circumambulation around the stupa. Note the ABSENCE of Buddha’s image.


It is a Late Phase painting, that may have been painted over the early phase paintings. Note the PRESENCE of Buddha.

Excerpts taken from the book – Approach Guides – The caves of India – Ajanta, Ellora & Elephanta.

BC/BCE & AD/CE – Chronological Thinking

What is more ancient or what is latest? What came first?

Please check the 3 things in a sequence.

1) This YouTube video beautifully explains the chronology in less than 4 minutes with diagram!

2) This screenshot taken from this website will help you calculate the dates mentally.

3) This Date Duration Calculator helps us calculate time interval between any 2 dates!

DHARMACHAKRA BUDDHA IN AJANTA CAVES, Aurangabad, Maharashtra, India.

The primary Buddha image, flanked by Bodhisattva attendants, is in good condition in cave number 4.

Seated, he displays the typical dharmachakra (teaching) mudra; at his sides stand two large, high quality reliefs of his disciples, Mogallan and Ananda.

The base of the platform on which the Buddha sits holds the clearest depiction of the narrative associated with the dharmachakra mudra:

The two deer serve as reminders of the location in which the Buddha gave his first post-enlightenment sermon: Deer Park in Sarnath, India (just north of Varanasi).

The deer face inward toward a wheel, which symbolizes the teachings of the Buddha. Followers gather around to hear the sermon.

This is one of the four recognized positions for the Buddha.

This Buddha in Dharmachakra mudra is seated with legs crossed, heals pointed upward; with both feet on the ground. His right hand is held at the level of the chest, palm facing outward, while the index finger and the thumb join at the tips to form a circle; these joined fingers touch the joined index finger and thumb of the left hand, whose palm faces inward.

Written material from the book, Approach Guides – The Caves of India – Ajanta, Ellora & Elephanta

My Impressions:

1 gives you the scale of the sculpture. The real human is equal to the miniature followers!

2 shows you the deer, wheel and the followers.

3 shows you close up of the deer (? Indian black buck deer, male).

4 shows you the devotees (2 males and 1 female).

Veena’s WanderLust! Insight into a traveler’s mind:

My travel thirsty friend, Dr. Veena M – just returned from her debut solo journey across India. She is kind enough to share her experience with us along with tips & tricks and DO’s & DON’Ts. 

This short album is my effort to portray her travels! Do check how Veena kept her presence of mind & prevented an untoward incident.

@veenamadavi shares her adventures on Instagram and Facebook.

#Wanderlust to #Gharapuri #Caves on #Elephanta #Island, #Mumbai

11th December 2016, 1-day Sunday outing.


I was going to go to this Island after a gap of about 8 years or so. The last time I went there was in 2008. Some fond memories!

The blog post is divided into 3 parts:
1) How to go?
2) Photos & my experience.
3) Cost incurred.


Google Map link to Elephanta Island is 


Elephanta Island also known as Gharapuri Island is UNESCO world heritage site known for its ancient caves dating back to late 5th to late 8th century AD.

From Apollo Bunder at Gateway of India near Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, purchase return launch ticket between Gateway & Elephanta Island. The 1 way journey between these 2 points by launch will take at least 1 hour 30 minutes.


The first launch starts at around 9 am from Gateway of India and the last launch from Elephanta Island is around 5 pm. But please check these timings before you start the journey. Neither Indians nor foreigners are allowed to stay overnight on this island.


As you land on the Elephanta Island, a free mini train ride takes you from the jetty to the entrance gate of the island. 


Check here for mini train video.

A nominal entry fee is charged and you are in. The steps will lead you to the centre of the island where the famous caves are located. MTDC-run restaurant serves food, refreshments & beverages.  There are 2 hillocks on either side of the caves. The one on the MTDC-run restaurant side is the Cannon Hill and the other has hill has some unfinished caves and a pond at the top. 


You will notice the JNPT (port area) and a lake from top of the Cannon Hill. 2 huge black cannons (currently out of use) dominate the Cannon Hill and used to fire and control the area around the Elephanta Island during the British Raj. 


The other lesser visited hill that houses the unfinished caves and the pond is easy to climb, so as to say. You will know why very soon, if you read further on.


It is divided into 2 parts: the fun time and the agony time.

Fun time: We were a group of 32 friends and the trip was arranged by a good friend of mine.  We were one of the first few tourists to land on the island and after a short introduction to the history and the geography of the place by my friend, we moved ahead.  


Lord Ganesh in one of the wall murals at Elephanta Caves.


Enthusiasm was in the air and it took us quickly up the Cannon hill where we all happily posed and I saw a flock of flamingoes skimming the open seas. A quick breakfast at the Cannon Hill and we were soon at its foot, to explore the famous caves. It was noon by then and the sun was hot enough to make us have a couple of kulfis to beat the heat!


For lunch, we trekked up the other hill on the Island and reached a pleasant spot. There was a pond containing muddy water and long vines had engulfed the forest here. Lianas as they are called. We had our lunch here and explored around. There was not much to see, but plenty of shade and a welcome relief from the heat. We started our return and that starts the second part, agony time.


Agony time: I was ecstatic and describing my Ladakh journey to my friends and how beautiful the Pangong Lake is. We were planning to go there soon. We started our descent from the hill top. We all were standing and talking when a friend (Dr.JT, fondly called by all as Thakur) called me for a photo shoot. I looked up in his direction and the next moment I had collapsed in agony, writhing in pain. I had placed my foot over a pyramid shaped stone lying just at the next step and I twisted my left ankle. My entire foot buckled and twisted behind. I sat upon my own foot. It was all my toes pointing backwards. A friend (NG) quickly lifted me up and my foot came to normal position. But it looked deviated, away from the midline. I felt it rattled. The pain was severe in my left ankle and I tried to hop and climb down the hill, supported by my friends. But the pain prevented me from taking any more steps. I said I will rest and meanwhile my friends went to search for a piggyback ride for me. They call it a doli or a palanquin or a chair fastened to bamboos, which is lifted by at least 4 persons at the same time. 


I was brought down the hill in this palanquin. The downhill terrain of the hill and the sun made it difficult for those who were lifting this doli. They were cursing at each step, but taking care not to drop me. We bypassed the main stepped road, because it was full of tourists and movement was difficult. So we continued the jungle route. Yet there were tourists all around and they all were giving me strange looks, as to why am I being carried in this way. A few of my friends even gave cheers and shouted slogans in my victory. It was  hilarious and embarrassing scene. 


Finally we reached the flat land and the carriers placed me in the mini train. I hopped out in pain and reached the jetty where our launch was waiting. A ride back to Gateway of India. Now it took me 45 minutes to reach the exit and the barricaded areas of Gateway. The place is congested, especially when you are hurt and are hopping and taking support of every wall and there are thousands of tourists jostling for some space to click photos or just to go somewhere. My friend (Dr.AJP) gave me an helping hand and got us a taxi. 

Diagnosis time: My teacher (Dr.ASN) was with me and had given me first aid and had stabilized my injured foot. He took me to the hospital, where we took x-rays of my broken foot. My teacher (Dr.PSM) rushed in to see me though it was a Sunday! An off for the doctors. He had already diagnosed on the phone that I had a fracture. It was confirmed. 


Left ankle Bi-malleolar fracture – total 3 – 2 oblique fractures of the lateral malleolus and 1 chip frature of the medial malleolus. My left foot is now in below-knee plaster and I have been advised complete non weight bearing on left leg for 2 months. My Sir (Dr.ASN) dropped me at my place at night. I have to use crutches while walking. So now 2 months of seeing the ceiling fan!


Left Ankle, Bi-malleolar fractures – total 3: 2 oblique fractures on lateral malleolus and 1 chip fracture on medial malleolus.


Home to railway station rickshaw = 30/-.
Return train ticket = 30/-.
Taxi from Churchgate to Gateway of India = 25/-.
Return launch ticket between Gateway of India and Elephanta Caves = 180/-.
Elephanta Island Entry ticket = 5/-.
Elephanta Caves entry ticket = 30/- for Indians and 500/- for foreigners.
2 Kulfis = 40/-.
Palanquin downhill from hill top to mini train = 2500/-.
Taxi from Gateway of India to Hospital = 500/-.
3 X-ray films = 1050/-.
Rickshaw from hospital to home = 200/-.
TOTAL = 4590/-!

PRICELESS: Support of my friends!! I would like to thank all of them, especially:


1) Dr. ASN, who remained my mental support that I will make it and I will be better and who accompanied me till I reached home. He administered first aid to me at the time of my collapse.
2) Dr. PSM, who diagnosed my condition on the phone and put me in ease when on Sundays, it is his off. I was lucky that he was in the town and actually arranged my X-rays at the hospital. Meeting him was such a relief.
3) Dr. JT, who arranged the doli / palanquin, so I could be moved from hill top to the base of the hill.
4) NG and his wife Dr.DNG, who stayed with me and supported me when I was writhing in pain. I needed cash to reach home and NG paid for the doli on my behalf.
5) Dr AJP, who supported me and shielded me from jarring and helped me walk or hop whenever I had to.

This order of expressing my gratitude is not important as, if they were not there, I would have been miserable. My sincere thanks to my friends and the group for cheering me up and helping me keep my morale in times of distress.

The most important lesson I learnt was never travel solo and always go with a company of at least more than 4. Because though I had done this Elephanta Caves trek and trip many times, and is really an easy grade trek, you never know when you might need help.