The caves at Ajanta are an incredible testament to the abilities and devotion of ancient Indian people. These caves are not only beautiful, but incredibly complex. While many of the caves contain monastic cells the primary purpose of the caves is contested. This is what my research focused on. During my research I discovered that there is some debate as to who the caves were meant for. Were they carved for Buddha? monastic retreat? or something else? While the caves are clearly Buddhist shrines the presence of another deity is also clear. The Naga King is a local water deity that was worshipped in the region long before the Buddha. The hillside that the caves are cut into was thought to be the home of the Naga King. Because of this the people that carved the caves saw it as incredibly important that the Naga King be represented and welcomed in the caves as well. There is an inscription on the entry way to cave 16, which states that the this place was the home of the Naga King. This inscription is just a few stairs above a small cutout in the rock, which contains a statue of the Naga King. This small cutout is actually believed to have been the home of the Naga King. Through my research I found that while the Buddha is the primary focus of the caves, his worship and presence in the region is done with the blessing and protection of the Naga King.
Below are some sources for more information about this subject:
DeCaroli, Robert . “”The Abode of the Naga King”: Questions of Art, Audience, and Local Deities at the Ajaṇṭā Caves.” Ars Orientalis 40 (2011): 142-61. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23075934.
Weiner, Sheila L. “Ajantā Iconography and Chronology.” East and West 26, no. 3/4 (1976): 343-58. http://www.jstor.org/stable/29756316.
Spink, Walter M. “The Caves at Ajanta.” Archaeology 45, no. 6 (1992): 52-60. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41766316.