My presentation at the Ajanta caves focused in on themes of monastic asceticism compared to worldly luxury at the caves. The research that informed this presentation focused in on the way the caves were important features in trade routes, how monks became integrated with local societies, and the somewhat paradoxical way kings patronized ascetic sites of worship with lots of money. All these features were made very present in my research. However, upon arriving at the site, the caves presented far less explicit explanations of this history than did words on a page. The copious amount of information that I uncovered through my readings took a great deal of effort to form. The caves taken in isolation show none of these answers. In order to see the themes at play, one must dig deep into the geography, reliefs, and local history of the caves. As a result of visiting the caves and realizing this, I gained a new appreciation for the deep research and time that went into the scholarly accounts of such caves.
For more information about the above three identified features of the Ajanta caves, the following sources are very helpful:
Geographic trade route relations:
Chakrabarti, Dilip K. “Buddhist Sites across South Asia as Influenced by Political and Economic
Forces.” World Archaeology 27, no. 2 (1995): 185-202.
Monastic integration to society:
Strenski, Ivan. “On Generalized Exchange and the Domestication of the Sangha.” Man, New Series, 18, no. 3 (1983): 463-77.
Patronage for religious merit:
Spink, Walter M. “The Caves at Ajanta.” Archaeology 45, no. 6 (1992): 52-60.