Ajanta, a UNESCO world heritage site, is famous for its Buddhist rock-cut cave temples and monasteries with their extraordinary wall paintings. The temples are hollowed out of granite cliffs on the inner side of a 20-meter ravine in the Wagurna River valley, 105 km northeast of Aurangabad, at a site of great scenic beauty. About 30 caves were excavated between the 1st century BCE and the 7th century CE and are of two types, caityas (“sanctuaries”) and viharas (“monasteries”). Although the sculpture, particularly the rich ornamentation of the caitya pillars, is noteworthy, it is the fresco-type paintings that are the chief interest of Ajanta. These paintings depict colorful Buddhist legends and divinities with an exuberance and vitality that is unsurpassed in Indian art. [Adapted from Encyclopedia Britannica]
The world famous paintings at Ajanta also fall into two broad phases. The earliest is noticed in the form of fragmentary specimens in cave nos. 9 & 10, which are datable to second century B.C. The headgear and other ornaments of the images in these paintings resemble the bas-relief sculpture of Sanchi and Bharhut. The second phase of paintings started around 5th – 6th centuries A.D. and continued for the next two centuries. The specimen of these exemplary paintings of Vakataka period could be noticed in cave nos. 1, 2, 16 and 17. The variation in style and execution in these paintings also are noticed, mainly due to different authors of them. A decline in the execution is also noticed in some paintings as indicated by some rigid, mechanical and lifeless figures of Buddha in some later period paintings. The main theme of the paintings is the depiction of various Jataka stories, different incidents associated with the life of Buddha, and the contemporary events and social life also. The ceiling decoration invariably consists of decorative patterns, geometrical as well as floral.