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.
On Wednesday Jan. 11 I was able to present in front of the class about my research topic about the caves at Ajanta. Unlike the presentations we gave during the fall semester in class I was able to present at the actual site of Ajanta which was something that was unimaginable. My research on Ajanta largely focused on the economic aspects of the caves. Much like Connor’s research, I also looked at the caves not only as site for religious worship but also one of economic importance to the region because the caves sat on a trade route. Some of the researchers I looked into heavily discussed the amount of power donors had over the creation of the caves. Most of my sources focused on the exteriors of the chitya halls since they look very regal and kind of palace like to support their claims that the caves at Ajanta were to be built in a grand way to kind of be built for a king.
Here are some great sources to look at that I used for my research:
Brancaccio, Pia. “The Cave as a Palace and the Forest as a Garden: Buddhist Caves and Natural Landscape in Western Deccan,” Paper presented at the annual Dumbarton Oaks Colloquium, Washington D.C., November 14, 2014.
Singh, Manager and Babasaheb Ramrao Arbab. “Architectural History and Painting Art at Ajanta: Some Salient Features.” Arts (2013): 134-150. Accessed December 3, 2016. Doi10.3390/arts2030134.
Spink, Walter M. “Patterns of Patronage.” in Arguments of Ajanta, vol. 2 of Ajanta: History and Development. Leiden: Brill, 2006.
For most of the morning before our trip to Ajanta, my mind was wrapped around the presentation that I was going to give later that day. I spent that morning and part of the bus ride going over my thesis and annotated bibliography deciding what I was going to say, but by the time the bus stopped, I still did not feel confident in what I was going to present. I later realized that the reason I did not feel ready for my presentation was because I had never actually seen the Ajanta caves in person. Luckily seeing the amazing view calmed my nerves and made me excited to explore.
Even after seeing the view and exploring the first cave of Ajanta, the moment did not truly become real for me until I saw Buddhist monks. REAL BUDDHIST MONKS! After studying and practicing Buddhism for the past couple of years, I thought very highly of Buddhist monks, so it was kind of like seeing celebrities. Although I felt as excited as an Indian child when they see Re, Gabby, or Connor, I felt that asking for a selfie might not have been entirely appropriate; so instead, I made a mental note and moved on. I was also amazed by the godlike Buddha statues in most of the temples. Upon entering a cave, the statue, which was sometimes illuminated, would immediately steal my gaze and draw me closer. I would have to say that my favorite Buddha statue out of the many that I got to see yesterday was the statue in Cave 11. If anyone needs a reminder of which one that was, refer to my previous post or checkout the background on my phone.
Aside from my interest in Buddhism, I think the reason that I enjoyed our visit to Ajanta so much was because it had been my research topic. This allowed me to move about the caves with more of an art historian’s perspective than I did any other day, paying special attention to cave maintenance and water damage. I also found that as we moved from cave to cave, I was able to recognize more Naga depictions, which made me more comfortable for my presentation. After experiencing the caves leading up to 16 and gaining clarity from Professor G(I can say it but I won’t even attempt to spell it) regarding the things that I already knew, I was able to give a confident and stress-free presentation. To top off my Ajanta experience, we all got to turn the unfinished cave into our play house, which is a moment that will always bring me joy when remembering Ajanta.
First and foremost thank the Gods that the semester is finally over!!! This has been one of the most stressful but yet eventful semesters here at Colgate. With finals finally being over I can finally look forward to going home for a couple of weeks to be with family for the holidays but what I am most excited for is this trip. I am feeling all types of emotions but I am mostly excited for what I believe will be an unforgettable experience. I look forward to surrounding myself in a completely different culture than mine. I am so excited that I have installed a countdown app on my phone to countdown the days leading up to January 7th, ONLY 22 MORE DAYS!!!!!
Looking forward to reading about your thoughts as you travel in India. This will also be a great way for your friends and family back home to keep track of your adventures.