Ancient Art and Culture: Cave Paintings

As we have discussed that Gupta Period was the watermark period of Art and Culture in Ancient India. This was the Golden age of Indian Architecture. The Temple architecture in North India reached at its climax during Gupta Period.

Though the religion of the Gupta Rulers was Brahmanical. But they also patronised the Buddhism and Jainism. So, they were tolerant rulers. But before the Gupta Period, the chief architecture of the Ancient India was Stupas and Caves. Initially, the caves were carved mostly by the human and nature relationship. But after the 6th Century BCE, the Caves became the Vihara for the Buddhist, Jaina or Ajivikas Monks.

We have studied that Buddhist Monks lived in Vihara and their Prayer Halls were Chaitya. Later on, these Caves developed as the centre of religious meetings. So, here we will have a look on the Cave Paintings of Ancient India.

Cave Paintings

The earliest example of Cave Painting was Caves in Bhimbetka (Madhya Pradesh). The caves at Bhimbetka shown the relationship between Animals and Human.

Bhimbetka Cave Paintings
Bhimbetka Cave Paintings

We found may Cave Paintings in Deccan region. The oldest Deccan cave, at Bhaja near Poona, was the meeting hall for the Buddhist Monks.

Buddhist Monks attending an Assembly: Bhaja Cave Paintings
Buddhist Monks attending an Assembly: Bhaja Cave Paintings

The most famous of the Cave Paintings in India is Ajanta and Ellora Caves.

Ajanta Cave Paintings

Ajanta is near to Aurangabad in Maharashtra State. There are 29 Cave in Ajanta, dated from 2nd Century BCE to 7th Century CE. The Caves at Ajanta are entirely dedicated to the Buddhism theme. Out of the 29 Caves, 4 are Chaityas and remaining all are Viharas of Buddhist Monks.

Ajanta Cave Painting
Ajanta Cave Painting

These Caves are carved on the perpendicular cliff of Mountains. The excellent sculpture and lovely Paintings which adorned these caves, make the Ajanta Cave as the most glorious monuments of Ancient India. The theme of the Painting of the caves is inspired by the Jataka Tales of Buddha.

Jataka Tale Depiction
Jataka Tale Depiction

Everyone in their life should visit Ajanta Caves at least once. Because the Cave Paintings are the best example of the Indian Ancient Art. Chinese Traveller Fa-Hein and Hiuen Tsang also mention about the Ajanta Caves in their Texts.

Ellora Cave Paintings

Ellora is also near to the Aurangabad, Maharashtra. It is some thirty miles away from the Ellora. There are total 34 caves, dated from the 5th Century to 8th Century CE. Though most of the Caves here are associated with Hinduism. But Ellora Caves are the most secular in nature. (Although the meaning of secularism in the west is nothing but the separation of the church from the political system 😉 )So, one should not use the term secular here. Because, India was, is and will always be a tolerant country. Here, one respect all religious sects and also gave them equal importance.

So, one can say that the Ellora caves have pieces of evidence related to Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Out of 34 caves, dominant are of Hinduism, 12 are of Buddhism and 5 are of Jainism. However, in contrary to the Ajanta Caves, these caves carved out on the sloping side of the hill. Here most of the temples have a courtyard.

Cave number 16: Kailashnath Temple

Kailashnath Temple, Ellora
Kailashnath Temple, Ellora

The most splendid achievement of Ellora is the Great Kailashnath Temple, carved out of a Monolith Rock. This extraordinary example of the Ancient Indian Civil Engineering is excavated on the instruction of Rashtrakuta Rular Krishna-I (756-773 CE). This temple was by the Labours with extraordinary skills. As the temple was carved from the beginning at the top of the cliff and working down to the base.

Bagh Cave Paintings

Bagh caves are near to the Bagh river in Madhya Pradesh. There are 9 Buddhist Caves dated 6th Century CE.

Bagh Cave Painting
Bagh Cave Painting

Junagarh Cave Paintings

Junagarh Caves are located in Gujarat. The main distinguishing feature of these caves is Uparkots ie Citadel. The Uparkots are 30-40 feet high artificial platform connected by the staircase to the Hall.

Junagarh Uparkot Caves
Junagarh Uparkot Caves

Nashik Cave Paintings

There are 23 Buddhist caves belonging to the Hinayana sect of Buddhism. Caves dated around 1st Century CE found here. Also called as Pandav Leni.

Pandavleni Caves at Nashik
Pandavleni Caves at Nashik

Montpelier/ Mandapeshawar Cave Paintings

These caves are near by Mandapeshawar in Maharashtra State. The caves, dated 8th Century CE. However, these caves were initially of Brahmanical origin. But later on, these caves converted into the Christian caves.

Mandapeshawar Caves
Mandapeshawar Caves

This was brief about the Cave Paintings of the Ancient India. The art and architecture of the Ancient India were so vast that one can not compile it in a post of the few counted words. Even in this post also I have described the cave paintings in very few words. India is the country to explore. The more you explore it the more you will get.

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