Ajanta Paintings (Unidentified and Misinterpreted)

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Item Code: NAL213
Author: Meena Talim
Publisher: Buddhist World Press
Language: English
Edition: 2013
ISBN: 9789380852140
Pages: 316 (Throughout Color and B/W Illutrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 11.5 inch x 9.0 inch
Weight 1.50 kg
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Book Description
About the Book

The present book is a culmination of twenty-four years of research on Ajanta Paintings. It is a pioneering attempt to provide a true picture of Ajanta Paintings, mainly on the basis of literary sources. All the murals of Ajanta are based on episodes from Pali Tipitaka, Atthakatha, Ceylonese chronicles, H.B.S. books- Mahavastu , Divyava dana , Asvaghosha's treatises - Buddha Carita, Sundaranand Kavya, Saddharma Pundarika: which have been carefully studied. The author has collected the findings and evidences from Ancient Indian History and Culture, Buddhist art and architecture, archaeology and inscriptions. All these have been scrupulously tallied.

Nearly thirty unidentified murals have been identified for the first time and seventeen murals which were misinterpreted, have been rectified. Besides, thirty-one murals are acquainted with brief information. The plans of the caves and locations of the murals have been attested neatly for the convenience of the readers and visitors. The monograph contents fifty coloured plates photographs taken on the site, of eleven caves namely, Cave Nos. 1,2,6,7,9,10, 11, 16, 17, 19 and 26. Nearly hundred plates of Line-drawings of the murals and the images will help to give a clear idea of the cave paintings. The purpose of line- drawings is to assist the photographs and reveal the differences in past and present conditions and make murals more knowledgeable. The monograph will reveal a new panorama of Ajanta paintings and enhance the joy of their beauty, especially when one is informed about the literary sources.

About the Author

Dr Meena Talim has retired as a Professor and head of the departments of Pali and Ancient Indian Culture. St. Xavier's (1990) She was the first person to be awarded Ph.D. in Pali from University of Mumbai (1960). Her contribution to the Buddhism in various aspects- Social. Historical Literary Medicine Art and Architecture is remarkably significant. Her publications include. "Buddhavamso" (1969), 'Women in early Buddhist Literature" (1972), "Bagh Paintings- Identification and Interpretation" (2002), "Science of Medicine and Surgery in Buddhist India" (2009), "Edicts of King Asoka-a new vision" (2010), "Life of Women in Buddhist Literature" (2010) & Buddhist Art Vol. I & II (forth coming). She has contributed more than eighty-five research papers to Indological journals, magazines and to seminars National and International Conferences and symposiums. Dr Talim is presently working as an Honorary Professor at K.J. Somaiya Centre for Buddhist Studies and Visiting Professor at University of Mumbai, Mumbai.


In the History of the world, Ajanta is the most favourite subject of historians, archaeologists and artists. Ajanta is an unique site which is well admired by all including Buddhist and non-Buddhist devotees who throng here with love and devotion. There are nearly Thirty-one Caves at Ajanta which belong to different periods ranging from Second Century B.C.E. to Seventh Century C.E. In early 19th Century the caves were first discovered by army men in 1819, but the first scholarly report was tendered by Prof. J. Fergusson in 1843. Caves were then in a dilapidated state therefore copying of the paintings was allotted to Robert Gill who had completed thirty paintings, in the period of six years (1849-1855), Unfortunately, all these paintings were destroyed in the fire that broke at Indian Museum, South Kensington in 1866. Prof. John Griffith undertook the job of copying the paintings and worked on them from 1872 to 1885. This laborious work of Prof. Griffith was destroyed in 1896, as the fire broke in Indian Museum, South Kensington, However, undaunted by the calamity Prof. Griffith with the help of his students recopied a large number of the paintings and we are fortunate to have some of them in his two volumes on Ajanta Paintings.

Prof. J. Fergusson and James Burgess undertook the job of archaeological survey of the caves (1871) and studied them through paintings. sculptures and inscriptions. We can not forget the efforts of E.B. Havell and Ananda Coomarswamy who in their philosophical and critical ways established the greatness of Ajanta paintings. The followed number of eminent scholars like F. Oldenberg, H Luder, Bhau Daji, A Foucher, Lady Herringham, G. Yazdani, Dr. Mirashi, Dr. Karl Khandalawala. Dr M.N. Deshpande, Dr. M.Dhawalikar, Dr. D. Schlingloff. Dr. W. Spink and many a great scholars. All these scholars have contributed valuable researches on Ajanta Caves and paintings. Many of these scholars. Archaeologists, art-historians and artists, have had devoted their lives for the study of these caves. I am aware of all these stalwarts and their Himalayan contributions and yet I am attempting to bring forth to light, some of the areas which have remained unnoticed and untouched. Literary Endowment
The Pall and Sanskitised-Pali literature have played an important role in providing material for Ajanta paintings. The paintings have been delineated on the walls, columns pilaster and ceilings of the caves. These murals have been illustrated with a certain purpose. They narrate the stories of the Bodhisattvas episodes from the life of Buddha of his disciples and convey principle teachings of the Buddha. The source of an inspiration of these paintings can be traced in Theravadin literature from Fifth Century B.C.E. to Fifth Century C.E. approximately; mainly from Sutta Pitaka, Vinaya Pitaka, Atthakathas and Varhsa Literature. Amongst all these literary sources. Jataka-Katha was most popular. The joy of appreciating these paintings becomes exuberant and exotic after knowing the exact event or episode or the story on which the painting is based. The Jataka stories relate paramita theory of Theravadins, but we also have episodes from the books of Khuddaka nikaya, Dtgha, Majhima, Samyutta nikayas, commentaries and Mahavarnsa, which provide us not only theological information’s but historical facts of ancient times.

In Mahayana Literature we notice use of Mahasamghika-Lokuttaravadin books like Divyavadana, Mahavastuavadana, Sundaranand a Kavya of Asvaghosha, but none from Vaipulya-sutras of first Century C.E. to fourth Century C.E. Amongst Mahayana Literature Sundaranada Kavya is more popular and many murals are based on this treatise. There are only two Avadanas from Diyavadana, namely Simhal and Purna and two from Mahavastuavadana, namely Trisakuniya and Shyama, but all have resemblance with Pali Jatakas.

As far as Vajrayana Literature is concerned we do not find any book on which Ajanta painting was based. There are two murals in the Caves which depict monster of the Paticcasamupada (Law of Causation), a prominent tenet of Vajrayanist; but it is based on Tipitaka - Pali-sources.

As stated above, the paintings in Ajanta Caves are mostly based on the Jataka-Kathas (stories) Jataka-Kathas co-relate with Bodhisattva and Parami theories and the prominence is given to assist the theory of Pararnis (perfection). Theravadin tradition follows ten Paramis, namely, Dana (Charity), Sila (Virtue), Nekkham (Renunciation), Panna (Wisdom), Viriya (Energy), Khanti (Forbearance), Sacca (Truth), Adhitthana (Steadfastness), Metta (Compassion) and Upekkha (Indifference). All the murals of Ajanta portray one of these ten Paramis. But sometimes, even two Paramis can be located in one mural viz. in Mahajanaka Jataka (Nekkham + Adhitthanal and in Sibi Jataka (Dana + Adhitthana ) can be observed. This observation furthermore reveals that artist of Ajanta have taken more interest in depicting human emotions, more so, that would portray teachings of the Buddha, collected from Theravadin Source. Theravadin Culture was then dominant at Ajanta Caves from Second Century B.C.E. to Third Century C.E. The priestly class have accepted Theravadin episodes, for the sake of popularity of these stories and for propagating norms of the Buddha.

The Mahayana presence started projecting through introducing images of Bodhisattvas and Buddhas in Chaityagriha and Viharas. However, Asvaghoshas Sundurananda- Kavya had captured the minds of people and artists therefore have painted love story of Nanda- Sundari vivaciously. Besides, these paintings were parallel to Theravadin teachings of Anicca and Dukkha, hence there was no bifurcation in ideology. But depicting Bodhisattvas in murals or as images was significant; in a way it was an intrusion in the Theravadin Caves.

I am aware that Theravadin, Jataka - katha have also depicted Bodhisattvas to expound the 'Parami', but it directly does not make an impact on the mind about the concerned Bodhisattva but of the 'Parami' that he had performed. On the other hand Mahayanist Paintings of Bodhisattvas are very clear about the intention and gradually they introduced eight Bodhisattvas as special entities. Eventually, paintings and sculptures of Mahayanist minor deities like Kubera, Yaksha, Vidyadharas, Apsaras and Nagas were given more scope. Vajrayana sect could not make impact in the caves; perhaps the cult never became popular in Maharashtra (consequently at Ajanta) as other two sects, unlike in north and north-east India.

About Paintings
In India tradition of painting on the wall was very ancient. One can observe cave- paintings from Megalithic age in Madhya Pradesh and other parts of India. This indicates that art of painting on the wall was not new to artist-guilds- Vinaya Pitaka refers to colouring of wall with mud, clay and wood. The palaces, houses, towers and huts were well-plastered and coloured. It narrates "The walls of the houses made of wood, stone, bricks and even leafy cottages should be plastered from inside with lime and mud and then on this surface pictures can be drawn with white or red colours."! Such a work was a especial job done by a person known as "Cittakammalikhitaka" (one who does the job of drawing picture)," Ambapali, the courteason and King Prasenajita had picture-halls (cittagara)." Dr Nihararanjana Ray writes, "Besides portraiture and mural paintings we also find widely known practices such as lepya-chitra, lekya-chitra, dhuli- chitra etc.

In Mauryan period stone-art was introduced by King Chandragupta and it became very popular. King Asoka (3rd Cent. B.C.E.) encouraged cave architecture which gradually moved towards Maharashtra by second Century B.C.E. Ajanta Caves were smoothly plastered, before paintings. However, I shall not dwell on this point, but would like to draw your attention to an achievement and skills of the artist-guild. They have not done any mistake in sketching or colouring. This indicates that artist-guilds were not novice, ameaturist but experienced one.

Another notable characteristic was that they had studied the story or an episode from the Buddhist Literature, very carefully. Therefore, they have not missed even a smallest point, however insignificant it may be; viz. Prince Vessantara is mostly shown with his two children, as he was a family- man. Thus each and every mural is faithfully delineated, according to literary source. This helps us to diagnose the panel correctly.

Ajanta artists have used 'Chitrakathi' style which is advantageous for identifying the painting. One can observe an involvement of an artist to take a trouble to know exact story and consciously portray it in the mural.

Artists of Ajanta are expert in human-anotomy, acquatic-anotomy and vegetation. They have never lost sense of proportion in delineating a sole figure or crowd. They are particular about showing human emotions on the faces or through their hand-gestures. It is amazing to observe that each and every personality in the crowd, whether a King, Queen, attendant, minister, guard, door- keeper or a beggar depict their emotions. This helps us to understand exact situation of an incidence that has been painted in the panel.

The stories that deal with non-human beings like Devas, Nagas, Yakshas, Apsaras, Kinnaras, Gandharvas, Kuber or Demons- all have been painted carefully. Anyone can make out the differences between these various species. Though anatomically they resemble human-anatomy, yet the little variations in the faces or limbs make the difference. Devas are shown with halo and beautiful faces, Nagas with serpent-hood above the head, Yakshas with peculiar curly hair style that runs up to shoulders, Apsaras with floating position in the clouds, Kinnaras with bird -like feet, Gandharvas with musical instruments, Kuber with big stomach and short stunted feet and Demons with rough thorny, hair protruding eyes and long molars. All these minor peculiarities makes everyone clear about their gene.


Chapter 1: Cave No. 1
1A Palace Scene - Manikantha ,Jataka5
2Four Heads on a Salver - Mahaumanga, Jataka - Amaradevi9
3Temptations of Mara - Daughters of Mara14
4A Palace Scene - Udaya Jataka19
5A Scene from Mahaumanga, Jataka - Mahosada24
6King Uggasena and King of Nagas - Champeyya Jataka28
7A Bacchanalian Scene - King Khusru and Queen Shirin32
1A Lady reclining on a couch - Sundarinanda37
2A Palace Scene - Dancing girls: Mahajanaka Jataka (?) - Vessantara, Jataka41
3A King Attending the Sermon of the Hermit - Mahanaradakassapa, Jataka51
4A Bhikshu at a palace door (?)56
5Lustration and Renunciation - Vessantara Jataka59
6Princess Malini and the Buddha - Mahavastu Avadana63
7A Court Scene : Persian Embassy (Persians in the Court of King Asoka)66
1King Sibi of Mahabharata71
2Sankhapala Jataka72
Chapter: 2 CAVE NO. 273-98
1God Indra and his four wives - Kulavaka, Jataka80
2Yaks ha and Yakshini - Guttila, Jataka84
3The Birth of Buddha - King Sudhodhana and Mayadevi88
4Votaries Bringing Offerings - Radha Jataka94
5A Lady kneeling at the feet of Raja (?) - Kharaputta Jataka95
6A Decorative Design: The Monster98
1A Lady standing against a pillar - Queen Gotam102
2The Buddha in various attitudes - Not a Miracle of Sravasti105
3A Mythical world of Nagas113
1Adoration of the Bodhisattva116
2Exile of a Lady117
3Vidhurapandita Jataka118
4Purana Avadana - Divyavadana119
5The Birth of the Buddha - Nidankatha120
6Mahahamsa, Jataka121
7Chapter 3 CAVE NOS. 6, 9, 10 & 16122
1A Bhikshu - A Brahmin Up as aka127
2Two Scenes from the Life of Buddha - Mahavagga131
3Arrival of King to worship the Bodhi-tree - King Asoka139
4Necklace of Visakha-migaramata144
5A Row of Seven Standing Buddhas - Buddhavamsa148
6The Mahaumanga, Jataka152
1The Buddha in Dharmacakramudra - First Sermon (?)161
2The Buddha in Teaching Attitude - First Sermon (?)161
3Chaddanta , Jataka - Elephant with six tusks (?)166
4A Palace Scene: The conception (?) - Yasa Thera170
C.A BRIEF INFORMATION ABOUT OTHER MURALS - Caves 6, 10 and 16 ...177-186
1Temptation of Mara - Nidankatha,178
2The figures of the Buddha179
3Suvannasarna, Jataka180
4Chaddanta Jataka181
5Hasti, Jataka (Jatakamala)182
6The Dying Princess - Sundarananda Kavya183
7Conversion of Sundarananda - Sundarananda Kavya.184
8Various scenes from the life of the Buddha.185
9Episodes from the life of the Buddha - Nidankatha.186
Chapter 4 : CAVE NO. 17
1The Last Charity of the Prince - Vessantara, Jataka191
2King holding a Sword in his Hands - Dhammadhaja, Jataka195
3King Bimbisara in a prison - Sumangala Vilastru200
4Queen of Aritthajanaka in distress - Mahajanaka, Jataka204
5The Group of Heretics - Divyavadana208
6A Toilet Scene - Princess Sundari - Sundarananda Kavya212
7Prince Sundarananda - Bewildered - Sundarananda Kavya216
8A Brahmin caught by a Yakkhim - Padakusalamanava Jataka219
9Engirna of Flying Horse - Valahaka Jataka223
1The Wheel of "Law of Causation" in Ajanta Paintings228
2King Mahajanaka leaving the Palace - Mahajanaka Jataka243
3The Buddha with Yasodhara and Rahula - Mahavastu Avadana248
1Indra and Apsaras250
2Nalagiri Elephant - Mahavagga251
3Chaddanta, Jataka (No. 514)252
4Mahakapi Jataka (No. 407)253
5Hamsa, Jataka (No. 534)254
6Vessantara, Jataka (No. 547)255
7Mahakapi, Jataka (No. 516)256
8Simhala Avadana (Divyavadana)257
9Sivi Jataka (No. 499)258
10Matuposaka Jataka (No. 455)259
11Mahimsaraja, Iataka (No. 278)260
12Nigrodhamiga, Jataka (No. 12)261
13Suvannasarna Jataka (No. 540)262
1heological Evolution of Bodhisattvas in Ajanta Paintings266
2Buddha Images in Ajanta Caves279

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