Sunday, July 7, 2013

Buddhist temple of Pitalkhora

 Buddhist temple of Pitalkhora 

Sahyadri or Western Ghat mountains, located on western sea board of India, are fairly well known. This mountain ridge rises from the southern tip of the Indian peninsula and spreads parallel to the west coast, up to the city of Nashik in the state of Maharashtra. From Nashik, another rather unknown mountain ridge, known as Satamala or Indyadri mountains, spreads towards the east almost at right angles to the Western Ghat mountains, forming a formidable rampart for protection against invaders. For most of the ancient empires of the Deccan, this ridge marked the natural northern boundary of the state.

On the southern side of this ridge, in the deep and narrow ravines hidden behind dense, ever green foliage and flanked on both sides with steep mountain faces of straight cut rocks, two Buddhist monasteries; one in the east and one in the west: were established about twenty two hundred years ago or in 2nd century BCE by Buddhist monks. Both the rock cut monasteries were designed and excavated with impressive designs projecting more or less equal grandeur. In a short span of time, they became famous all over the Buddhist world. The Monastery in the east is famous and well known even today, as 'Ajintha' rock cut temples and people from all over the world come to visit and see the rock sculptures and rock paintings done here 1500 to 2000 years ago.

The monastery in the west is very little known today and is visited mostly by very few people, who are genuinely interested in the ancient history of the Deccan. This ancient monastery is known today by the name ' Pitalkhora', which means Brazen Glen in plain English. There are reasons for this comparative obscurity of this monastery. Firstly 'Pitalkhora' ravine is very deep, narrow and of much smaller length, which makes it very inaccessible. The ravine at Ajintha is shallower and shaped like a horse shoe, which makes it fairly long in total lenth. Because of this reason, newer and newer caves continued to be excavated at Ajintha even up to 6th century CE and in all there are 30 caves there as compared to 14 at 'Pitalkhora'. Secondly, even though both monasteries were excavated in black basault rock of Deccan trap, the rock at 'Pitalkhora' is somewhat of softer variety and crumbles with relative ease compared to Ajintha. Because of this reason, 'Pitalkhora' caves are in much worst state today and have crumbled and are damaged to a large extent. In the past however, things were rather different. When Buddhism was at its full glory in India, 'Pitalkhora' was extensively known in the Buddhist world. Ptolemy identifies 'Pitalkhora' as ' Petrigala' and a Buddhist chronicle ' Mahamayuri' calls it as 'Pitanglya'.

I am on my way now to visit this ancient Buddhist rock cut temple of 'Pitalkhora'. 'Pitalkhora' ravine is about 12 miles from the town of Chalisgaon, which itself is located on the Mumbai-Agra road; the major north-south artery of India. However, it is more convenient to travel to 'Pitalkhora' from the city of Aurangabad, which besides has many more tourist attractions like famous rock cut temples of Ajintha and Ellora and better places to stay. A metalled road in excellent condition, leads towards north from Aurangabad and is known as Aurangabad -Dhule road. In fact, there are so many tourist attractions on this road like Doulatabad fort, Rock cut temples of Ellora, famous Hindu temple of Lord Shiva at Ghrishneshwar and finally the burial site of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, that an average tourist may not even come to know about 'Pitalkhora' ravine at all.

After I pass the Doulatabad fort coming on my left, the road starts climbing up the Ellora ghat section. I can see plenty of green foliage around with a huge water reservoir at the bottom of a valley on my right. Dhule road bifurcates after I pass the town of Khuldabad, located right in the middle of a mountainous region on Ellora ghat top; one branch goes to Nashik city and the other to Dhule via Chalisgaon. Our car starts negotiating the sharp turns as we climb down the Ellora ghat. Like all major roads, even this road is a turnpike and one has to pay toll at a place. As the car reaches the bottom of a valley, I can see through the dense woods on my right, glimpses of Ellora rock cut temples, spread over a large distance, but we just pass on.

The landscape now changes to a typical rural Indian setting. I see green fields stretched to the limit of my vision,, Sugar crane crops stand tall in many fields. In other fields, maize and cotton seedlings have just sprouted out of the brownish black soil. There is also a fair amount of foliage spread around and in the north as well as in the west, I can see faint images of greenish, bluish mountain ridges towering above the horizon. The car passes through many small villages, where the highway, on which I am travelling, serves as the main street. Few shops selling provisions and invariably mobile phones and sim cards are seen along the road side. After travelling for about an hour, we pass through a larger town called Kannad. These is an old fort here with ramparts and the gates still in place. After Kannad, a small road branches off to the left for a place called Kalimath, which actually is an impressive looking red coloured temple founded by Swami Pranawanand maharaj, about 2 KM down this small road. We proceed further down this road.

  Goutala wild life sanctuary and the steps leading to Ravine

Travelling further for about 8 KM, we come across a gated entry with a board which claims that this is supposed to be “Goutala wild life sanctuary”. From the appearance, it appears that we would have to take some kind of entry passes to enter. However the gate is wide open and there are no traces of any human beings around. We just pass on. After travelling a distance of about a Kilometer, I realize that we have reached a heavily wooded area or a forest. But the trees appear to be all part of an afforestation drive with very few naturally grown tress around. However the entire area is very picturesque without any doubt. The car stops and the driver points out a foot way amongst the woods as the way to Pitalkhora.

  Breathtaking Pitalkhora ravine

After walking a very short distance on foot, I find that I have reached to an edge of a ravine. Ahead of me and going down to nowhere is a curving flight of steps paved with stones and a steel railing for support, built by Archeological Survey of India. From the point the ravine looks stunningly beautiful and completely filled with green and dense jungle. In this jungle, I can spot many tall Teak trees with their large sized leaves. A sense of adventure fills my mind as if I am travelling down an abyss to no where.

As I climb down the steps, the view of the caves, prevented by the dense jungle, still eludes me. After going down endless number of steps, the first view of Pitalkhora opens to me. Along a curve there is a line of 8 to 10 caves. Above the caves there is a vertical cliff and below them a torrential stream in a deep gully, which luckily at this point does not have much water. Steps lead me to the bed of a river carved out of basault rock. There very little water there, but it is obvious that Pitalkhora is no place to be, when heavens open up in their fury.

More steps down and then a steel bridge over the deep gorge to cross. When I am on the other side, I realize that I am standing opposite of cave number one, which has now been reduced to a big wide opening in the cliff face and does not look like a cave at all. 

In spite of that, it is clear that this must have been a 'Vihara' or a cave for residence of the Buddhist monks, as at the bottom of the opened out cave, broken remnants of the monk's cell's walls and their hard stone beds can still be seen 

As I mentioned earlier, Pitalkhora group of ancient caves, consists of in all 14 caves; a number much smaller than the contemporary period group of caves at Ajintha and were discovered slightly later than Ajintha caves, around 1853. I am standing opposite the cave on extreme right. This cave has been numbered as number one. There are 8 more caves on this cliff face spread further to far left. Four more caves numbered 10 to 14 were also found on the opposite rock face of the ravine. Caves 1 to 9 face northerly direction and remaining face southwards. Except for cave number 3, which was a Chaitya Griha, all other caves facing in northerly direction, were 'Viharas' or monk's residency. On the other side of the ravine, the group of caves were Chaitya Griha prayer halls. Sevaral 'Stupas' are found in cave 11.

Unfortunately, almost all caves at Pitalkhora are in crumbled or damaged condition. However, whatever little of original art work that has still stood the vagaries of weather and has survived to date, is enough to give an idea to the visitor about the original grandeur of Pitalkhora monastery. Caves numbered from 2 to 4 share the same forecourt and obviously were excavated during same time period. After crossing the steel bridge provided by ASI, on the gulley, I have reached directly on this rock cut forecourt, about 3 to 5 feet up from the ground below. Ahead of me is cave number 1, which is really an opening in the rock face with few cells for the monks. Next to this, is cave number 2, which again is a plain looking 'Vihara, with few cells for the monks at the rear. The Vihara floor is couple of feet above the forecourt and two steps lead me into the cave. An excavated wall perhaps a foot higher than the Vihara floor has been retained in the front and the steps have been cut into this. The front of the wall has been carved with a design of vertical pillars and horizontal railings in the rock. From the number of 'Viharas' here, it is possible to imagine that a large number of monks probably lived here.

The cave number 3, which also is the only Chaitya Griha on this side of the ravine, is one of the most important caves of the monastery. I decide to start with a visit to this Chaitya Griha. The Internal arrangement is a typical Hinayana sect period architecture of Buddhism and is very similar to Chaitya at Karle'n, but much smaller and without any ornamentation, which is found there. 

 Ajantha's cave number 9

There is a striking similarity between this Chaitya and cave number 9 of Ajintha, which also happens to be a chaitya from same period. James Burgess has described this Chaitya in his book published in 1880 and I quote from that.

“ The Chaitya, whole front of which has been destroyed by the decay of the rock, is 34 ½ feet wide, and must have been 50 feet or more in length, and 30 ½ feet high to the top of vaulted roof. The nave (the central portion)is 20 feet 8 inches wide, and separated from the side aisles by plain octagonal shafts 14 feet high, of which there are still left eleven shafts and fragments of fourteen others. The pillars have a slight slope inwards. Above them the the vault had wooden ribs, but only the mortices remain to show that they once existed. The side aisles have quadrantal stone ribs like cave 10 at Ajintha. It appears that in excavating the cave originally, the workmen, after having made some progress, had come to a layer of very soft rock, about 4 ½ feet thick. This seriously interfered with their work, but they tried to meet the difficulty by building up the lower portions of 20 or more pillars, including all those round the apse, with large blocks of stone. The walls of the aisles too, where the layer cut them, were built up with a facing of stone, 6 or 8 inches thick in large slabs. These blocks have mostly fallen out now, and the Dagobas, (The Stupa) probably also from the same cause, having been a structural one, has almost entirely disappeared, only portions of solid basement remaining. The whole has been painted with figures of Buddha in various attitudes, but almost constantly with the triple umbrella over his head. This [painting is, doubtless, of later age than the excavation of the cave itself, which must belong to the same age as cave number 10 at Ajintha-what ever that may be-as it resembles this cave in every respect.”

This report was written about 130 years before and I find further damages in the Chaitya Griha. Archeological survey of India has now built square pillars to support the vaulted roof in place of damaged original pillars but few original pillars still remain. The paintings are weathered even further but I can still see how beautifully they were drawn. Two of the pillars have inscriptions in Brahmi script (characters can be dated to second century BCE) which state that the pillars have been gifted by persons from Pratishthana, which was the capital of Satvahana kings ( today's Paithan town). Buddha is shown in coloured robes, wearing red, pink and blue robes. 

The walls behind the aisles are decorated with Buddha faces. Painting of a girl(or a young boy) looking at Buddha has somehow survived. This girl, wearing a strange kind of headgear is looking at Buddha with amazement. This small painting is perhaps the most beautiful one that has still survived.

Original Pitalkhora monastery was built sometime in the second century BCE and which means that it was built when Satvahan kings like Simuka, Krishna and Shree Satkarni were ruling this land. Pitalkhora monastery was however deserted for unknown reasons, few centuries letter and was reoccupied much later in 5thcentury CE in Vakataka rule. The paintings in Chaitya are from this period; around 500 AD, when Vakataka kings were ruling, the original sculptures and carvings are from early Satvahana empire period and should shed some light on the people and the land of that time. As I go round the Chaitya, I can see how accurately Burgess report has been written.

I come out on the forecourt, I meet an officer of Archeological Survey of India, who has come on a visit to cover up parts of sculptures and carvings with tarpaulin so that onset of Monsoon rains would not cause further damage. I see a flight of about of 6 or 7 steps for alighting from the forecourt to the ground. I walk down the steps and then ASI officer points out to me to the sides of the stairs, where some figures have been engraved. I have a look at those figures and realize that the figures there are the first of the many surprises that Pitalkhora has to offer. Originally there were two flights of stairs, but only one remains now and on both sides of these steps, in a triangular border, three figures have been engraved. One on the right is a laughing Yaksha or a divine dwarf with big ear lobes and a large sized naval. In the centre a smaller edition of a Yaksha is carved. Both the figures raise their hands to support the flight of stairs. 

The third figure in the corner and near the ground is a horse with wings. A perfect picture of Greek mythological figure of Pegasus. To find a Greek mythological figure caved twenty two hundred years back in this remote Buddhist temple is something unimaginable for me. It is obvious that Pitalkhora must have had a greek or 'Yavana' connection or influence in some form or other.

There is much larger sized Yaksha statue, also from this place, displayed at the National Museum in New Delhi. But to find additional and  originally carved Yaksha figures is something which is beyond my expectations. The Buddhist text Mahamayuri (referred earlier) mentions about a “Sankarin Yaksha from Pitangalya”; The Yaksha statue displayed at Delhi could be the one described there, as it is free standing and carved in round figure of much larger dimensions. But there is chance that that even these Yakshas, carved on the sides of the steps to Chaitya, might have been described in that book.

The Yaksha statue at New Delhi Museum is far more impressive though. The arms of this figure are raised up holding a shallow bowl (known as Patra). The left forearm is broken. He is depicted with a pot belly, the center of which is marked with a deep naval. His short stature is evident from heavy and short limbs. The big and round face is characterized by large bulging eyes and a nose with flaring nostrils and thick lips. The expression on the lips is full of wild joy as he is laughing. He is wearing number of ringlets around his head. The bare torso is adorned with necklaces with human heads. He is also wearing armlets, wristbands and earrings.

The most important feature of the Yaksha statue in New Delhi museum is an inscription written on the outer right palm. This inscription is written in perfect Brahmi script of Mouryan or Emperor Askoka's time, proving conclusively that Pitalkhora was excavated and functioned during second century BCE.
Incidentally, this inscription says

Patravahak Yaksha
Kanhadasena hiranakarena kata

Pot carrier Yaksha
sculpted by Krishnadasa goldsmith

Two things of interest here. A goldsmith had carved this statue and perhaps gifted it to the Monastery; secondly his name was Krishnadasa, definitely a Hindu name.

Taking leave of the Yakshas', I walk across to the next cave, numbered as 4.

Cave number 4 at Pitalkhora, is also a 'Vihara' or a cave for residence of monks. But from the look of the dilapidated remnants, that stand before me, it is obvious that this must have been a special 'Vihara' for the chief or very senior monks. The cells in this 'Vihara' are no way special and are just like those in any other 'Vihara,' but everything else here appears to be quite exquisite. This is the only Vihara at Pitalkhora, that is decorated with much ornamentation and carvings, starting from the facade itself. There are some exquisite bass reliefs and rounds here, not commonly found in India anywhere else.

I am now standing opposite this cave at the ground level. The forecourt is at a much higher level here; at least five to six feet. ASI has covered up this entire portion of the forecourt and the front face, with an yellow coloured tarpaulin and nothing can be seen at all. However an ASI official present there, offers to help me, and lifts up the tarpaulin, so that I can have a look. 

The front face of the pedestal is carved with bass reliefs from one end to other and I see an underground door with a staircase that starts from an underground level and leads to the forecourt or the front veranda, five or six feet higher up. Some of the carvings are missing and from their impressions left over the rock wall, they appear to have been carved almost full relief or round. Starting from the left, almost at right angles to the front face, there must have been a statue of a 'Naga King' there. 

The figure is missing but remnants of a 3 hooded cobra head carved above the head of this human figure, can be seen clearly. Next to this and on the right of the door frame, a figure of a gate man or a 'Dwarpal' is missing ( Shown in above photograph and presently displayed at Mumbai's Chatrapati Shivaji Museum). Above the head of this missing gate man there is a bass relief of an elephant with its left front foot lifted up, as if ready to walk. A matching elephant is carved on the left hand side of the door but with right front foot up in the air. The trunks and parts of head are missing for the elephant pair. 

The gate man on left side of the door is luckily still intact. As I thought, the figure has been carved round and is not a bass relief. This gate man is again a Yaksha with divine powers. He has a turban over his head cleverly tied with a crest knot in the center. The intricate design of the border of the fabric in front is seen clearly. He has large elephantine ears (Symbolic of supernatural powers) and wears spiral earrings in both ears. There is a necklace. A set of four thick bracelets adorn each of his forearms, and an armlet is worn on his left arm. He is wearing a dhoti or a loin cloth, which comes down to his ankles. (This kind of lower garment is worn even today by village-folk of Maharashtra.) The dhoti and his unstitched upper garment (Uttariya), are closely pleated at the sash, which holds the scabbard of his straight sword (Definitely a weapon not commonly used in ancient India. In India, curved swords were mostly used.) In his right hand, he is holding a heavy spear. I am describing this gate-man Yaksha, in such fine details, because the attire must have been the common attire of ordinary citizens in those days of Satvahana empire.

Coming back to the front face of the pedestal, the door frame is carved with intricate design of leaves and flowers. The entire area to the right of the door and the gate-man, is filled with six standing elephants, whose heads and front legs project out of the background wall. 

The heads are all gone and I see at least one of the heads lying on the ground in front of the Vihara. Elephants carry heavy rings in their feet and are adorned with as many as 8 necklaces made from beads and brocaded body cloths with tufted or tasseled knot ends. Little bells are also seen attached to the body cloth ends. The entire front face is carved with finest details and is a site worth seeing.

As the entire front veranda and the front face is covered with a tarpaulin, the underground staircase is blocked and there is no way to go up to the front veranda. ASI official informs me that the wall between cave no. 4 Vihara and number 5, which also is another Vihara, has now given way and I can go up to cave number 4 by first climbing up to cave number 5 by the steps provided and then walk across to the VIP Vihara of cave number 4.

James Burges describes this Vihara (No.4) in these words and I quote from his book published in 1880.

“ To the left, behind a great mass of debris is a portion of a very curious Vihara, the whole front of which has fallen. It is 50 ½ feet wide at the back, and appears to have been divided like the 'Das Avatara' and 'Tin Thal' caves at Ellora into corridors by rows of pillars parallel to the front wall, pillars being square above and below, with the corners chamfered off in the middle., about 6 feet from centre to centre, and supporting an architrave. Crossing the corridors are thin flat rafters supporting the ceiling.

In the back wall are seven cells, five which, at least, have stone lattice windows. Over each door and a window together is a chaitya window arch, with three more towards the left, over the other two doors, projecting forwards as in cave no. 12 of Ajintha ( Which also is from the contemporary period.); while between each pair of these canopies, except the second and the third, is the highly ornamented capital of an octagonal attached half column. The capitals are bell shaped, of small depth in perception to their width and several of them carved with very rich pattern”

As rightly reported by Burgess, the internal arrangement in this Vihara is very similar to the contemporary vihara, number 12 of Ajintha. 

Even the canopies over cell doors in Chaitya fashion are also similar. The major difference comes from the pillars and capitals engraved on the cell wall in bass relief fashion. I walk along the wall, looking at the pillars and the capitals. Starting from left, each and every bell shaped capital is engraved with different intricate designs. 

The real surprise however comes from the pair of animals shown seated above the bell shaped capitals just below the ceiling. 

The first pair on left itself is the biggest surprise. Here, a pair of winged sphinxes is shown seated on the capital just below the ceiling. One sphinx shown seated on the right is in a proper lion pose but the one in the left is shown seated in a very curious way; just like a small baby. The Sphinxes have human heads, again with elephantine shaped ears and wear pendant earrings. The curly hairstyle on the heads of the both sphinxes, is vintage Greek without any doubt.

The next six capitals are carved with seated pairs of wolves, goats, elephants, horses and lions all with wings. Burgess reports that such winged animals are extremely uncommon in the contemporary sculptures and are found only on the gate way arches of the stupa at Sanchi. Below each pair of winged animals and within the bell shaped capital, intricate designs consisting of flowers, leaves and animals is carved. 

Above the right most door an inscription in Brahmi script with Mouryan characters is seen . This inscription reads as follows in Prakrit.

Rajwejas Vchhiputas [ma]gilasa duhutu dattay danam”

Burgess translates this as

“ Gift of Data, daughter of the Royal Physician Magila, the son of Vachhi”

Here is a direct reference to the Satvahana kings ruling in Pratishthana or today's Paithan town. The Royal Physician's name was Magila and his daughter has donated to create this Vihar at Pitalkhore. 

After having surveyed the cells at the back, on the front side veranda, another wonder awaits me. This Vihara had its own water supply available. Long tunnel like openings were dug into the rock above the ceiling of the Vihara, to divert water that found its way into the cave through cracks and this water was allowed to flow fully into the cave underneath the floor in concealed drain channels and which lead the water outside near the cave entrance. When the front facade wall collapsed, this opened out a big hole in the ceiling of the Vihara, through which water keeps dropping on the Vihara floor. ASI has now fixed a huge plastic bucket along with drain pipes to drain off this water.
I come out of the Vihara again through cave number 5 and start looking at hundreds of boulders and rocks that are lying on the foreground from the collapse of the facade and also from the upper portions of the rock face. 

After coming out of the Cave number 4 Vihara, I get busy looking at the boulders that are lying in heaps on the fore ground. ASI official points out to me to a rock surface, way up on the straight cut rock face on the side of the ravine. The spot at which he is pointing, must be at least 90 to 100 feet above my position. I am astonished to see rows of semicircular chaitya arches excavated there. The arches are carved in a typical Chaitya shape and have four or five arcs engraved inside the depression formed. Between these arches and also below them, few more Chaitya arches, which are the only remnants of another row of Chaitya arches, but of smaller size, are seen. I have seen similar arches in many Hinayana Buddhist temples including one at Karle'n. What is special here in Pitalkhora, is that the arches have been engraved about 50 to 60 feet above the top of the caves on a vertical cliff face. I keep wondering how this was accomplished, 2200 years back in such a remote place. The Chaitya arches design was made to cover entire part of cliff above cave numbers 3 and 4 and must have been there up to top of the caves below. It seems that Pitalkhora temple keeps on bringing more and more surprises for me.
Chaitya arches engraved way up from the caves
From the boulders that lie on the ground, I am able to locate a head of an elephant from the front face of the pedestal of cave number 4. Many of the boulders still have engraved patterns on one face. I can recognize easily wooden lattice design and also typical Buddhist design railing ( Seen at Sanchi Stupa and also on Amaravati stupa boulders). I see a large panel with miniature Chaitya and wooden lattice patterns. I think that this panel must have been the facade or facia panel of the main Chaitya Griha. However, all bouldersd with bass reliefs have been moved by ASI from the site to avoid risk of pilferage and further destruction. Some of these, can be seen at the National museum in New Delhi. The sculptures, which are in New Delhi museum, are fairly important from point of view of learning about the life of the ordinary people and their attire in Satvahana empire days. I would discuss later about these museum pieces from Pitalkhora from this angle only.
 An Elephant's head
 Buddhist railing pattern similar to Sanchi or Amravati
 Wooden Lattice and cross members pattern
All other northerly facing caves at Pitalkhora are in completely damaged state. Some of them do contain traces of sculptures and paintings but unless ASI takes steps to restore them, it may not be possible to visit them. I try to visit the other group of southerly facing caves, but the small foot way, that leads to the caves is very narrow and along a steep rock with a deep ravine on the other side, which makes it rather unsafe. Reluctantly I give up my attempt and decide to start climbing back the 175 steps up to the spot where our car is parked.
 A couple in love
Coming back to the New Delhi Museum, where there are in all, four exhibits that were found at Pitalkhora. I shall try to describe these. The first bass relief shows an couple. The young couple in love is shown standing and holding hand. The girl is wearing a long skirt type lower garment below her naval, which reaches to her ankles. The skirt is pleated near the waist and has an embroidered waist band attached to it . She wears heavy jewelery in form of multi-stranded pearl or bead necklace with a jeweled pendent in the middle, long hanging pendent type earrings and at least 2 bracelets and at 6 bangles on forearms. Her long hair are braided in the front near the forehead and two long braids also are seen on front side of face extending up to her shoulders. The man is wearing a dhoti and a knotted sash on his waist below the naval. He is wearing at least four bracelets on his forearm and a flower garland around his neck. The hair, which are shoulder high, are also knotted in a ball like shape near his forehead. Some kind of curtain is seen near the man.
The Royal couple
The second bass relief is that of a royal couple and is of one of the Satvanana Kings. Here the queen has an elaborate hairdo with braids near the forehead going all the way up to shoulders and a large sized hair bun behind her head. She is wearing heavy jewelery in form of a necklace, long earrings, arm bands, bracelets and bangles on forearms and jeweled rings around ankles. Her Sari is wrapped around the legs tightly like that off Bharat Natyam dancers and reaches only up to her knees. She wears a jeweled sash around her waist. She is shown picking up something like flowers from a plate held by an attendant. The king is dressed plainly in a dhoti with a knotted sash. He wears 2 armbands, earrings and a necklace. He has shoulder long hair, again knotted above his forehead The couple is shown sitting on a tiger skin, spread on a daintily carved wooden throne or a bed. The Queen's paraphernalia of personal attendants, standing behind her, are also dressed in similar fashion.
 Two couples and a pair of horses
The third bass relief again shows two couples and two horses. The attire of the couples here is similar to the carvings described earlier but much simpler. The man is dressed in a way, very similar to the gate-man, we saw earlier. The pair of horses appears to be just a decoration.
 Great renunciation of Buddha
The last panel shows an important episode from the life of the Buddha, known as Great Renunciation. In this panel, as per Hinayana traditions, Buddha is not shown at all. An ornamented horse is shown with a torch bearer. Two attendants and a gateway with Toranas is also shown.
To summarize, even though Pitalkhora caves do not have any direct reference to any of the Satvahana kings, from the time period of the caves, as seen from script characters used in the inscriptions, these caves were excavated during life times of Satvahana kings, Simuka, Krisha and Shree Satkarni. It is obvious that the Royal policy towards all religions was of consideration and respect. Wealthy citizens from the state capital Pratishthana, including a Royal physician donated to this Monastery handsomely. The attire of the people and the king himself was simple and functional. Ladies fashions are current even on this date in India. The Pitalkhora monastery must have been a grand spectacle and I have a feeling that it was built under supervision of an architect, who was either Greek (Yawan)or was influenced by Greek architecture in general. There is one question that still puzzles me. I fail to understand as to why these caves were excavated at such a remote place? After checking up with Google earth, I realize that the rivulet that flows along the Pitalkhora caves actually comes out of the Pitalkhora gorge and then flows gently along a flatter terrain, where villages in ancient times existed. There must have been a way up along this rivulet from the villages to the caves proper. 
We now move on to the other great contemporary monastery of Satvahana empire. The monastery at Ajintha or Ajantha.

  Rock cut Buddhist temple of Ajantha

In the year 629 CE, Xuen Zang, a learned Buddhist monk from China commenced a trip on foot to India, in search of original Buddhist scriptures. Luckily for us, he kept a detailed account of his travels, which is now considered as one of the few authentic documents of those times about India. During return leg of his journey, Xuen Zang, starting his epic journey from city of Kanchipuram in present day Tamil Nadu, travelled through Maharashtrra, ruled by Chalukya king Pulakesi, to reach Bhadoch town in present day Gujarat. On his way, Xuen Zang stayed for few days in capital of Pulakesi's empire. Unfortunately, Xuen Zang does not mention the name of the capital in his book, but according to me, considering all circumstantial references mentioned by Xuen Zang, it has to be Nashik city from present day northern Maharashtra. Due to some unknown reasons, Xuen Zang was not able to visit an important Buddhist monastery to the east of the capital. However he has described this monastery in his book. He writes as follows (Beal Translation),

“ On the eastern frontier of the country is a great mountain with towering crags and a continuous stretch of piled-up rocks and scarped precipice. In this there is a sangharama constructed, in a dark valley. Its lofty halls and deep side-aisles stretch through the (or open into the) face of the rocks. Storey above storey they are backed by the crag and face the valley (watercourse). This convent was built by the Arhat Achara (0-che-lo). The great vihara of the convent is about 100 feet or so in height; in the middle is a stone figure of Buddha about 70 feet or so high. Above it is a stone canopy of seven stages, towering upwards apparently without support. The space between each canopy 48 is about three feet. According to the old report, this is held in its place by the force of the vow of the Arhat ( Head priest). They also say it is by the force of his miraculous powers ; others say by the virtue of some magical compound ; but no trustworthy account has yet explained the reason of the wonder. On the four sides of the vihara, on the stone walls, are painted 49 different scenes in the life of Tathagata's preparatory life as a Bodhisattva : the wondrous signs of good fortune which attended his acquirement of the holy fruit (of a Buddha), and the spiritual manifestations accompanying his Nirvana. These scenes have been cut out with the greatest accuracy and fineness. On the outside of the gate of the sangharama, on the north and south side, at the right hand and the left, there is a stone elephant. The common report says that sometimes these elephants utter a great cry and the earth shakes throughout. In old days Jina (or Channa) Bodhisattva often stopped in this sangharama.”

All the historians are of unanimous opinion that this monastery can be none other than the famous Rock cut Buddhist temple at Ajantha, as the description more or less matches with what we can see even today. ( One needs to overlook obvious exaggerations in his writings about religious matters.) There is also a direct proof in form of an inscription in cave 26 assigned to a period between 450 and 525 CE that refers to building of a rocky house (saila griha) for the teacher (Buddha) by Sthavira Achala.

I have quoted from Xuen Zang's account here, for one simple reason. To highlight the importance, this monastery had in the Buddhist world. The evidence suggests that the excavation of this monastery began during period of Satvahana rule over Maharashtra in 3rd Century BCE. ( Evidence mainly comes from the writing style of characters in the script used in the rock inscriptions and which are considered purely Mouryan or emperor Asokan style.) 
123telugulovers.blogspot.comExcavation work continued up to the middle of Sixth century CE. A fragmentary inscription in cave no 26 proves that the monastery was in use even up to 8th or 9th century CE or during Rashtrakuta dynasty regime. With Ajantha monastery construction or extension continuing for 700 years and it being used for as long as 1000 or 1100 years, the extreme importance of this monastery to the then Buddhist world and it's impact thereupon can well-nigh be imagined.

The rock cut Buddhist temple of Ajantha is located in a deep ravine on the south side of a mountain range known today as Satamala or Indyadhri. The caves can be easily reached from modern city of Aurangabad as the distance between these is just 100 KM on Aurangabad- Jalgaon road. I am now on my way to Ajantha. The State Highway no. 8, being an important gateway, is fairly busy. As we leave Aurangabad city, I see a major landmark known as Delhi Gate. It is one of the 52 gates, that were erected all over the city in historic times and is an impressive structure. We pass the Dr. Salim Ali lake and later Sawangi lake on our right. After the city limits, the road passes through rich and fertile farmland growing sugar cane, maize and cotton, till we come across the first hilly region known as 'Chouk Ghat.' It is not much of a hilly road, but driving through it is a definitely pleasant experience because of the rich green foliage around. There is also a small shrine at the top of the Ghat. After this hilly track, we are back to rich farmland, interspersed with villages till we reach the town of Sillod, which has a bye pass road, but the town has also grown around this road and so called bye pass road has actually become a road in the town itself. Its all farmland again, till we finally reach the Ajantha town. The Buddhist caves derive their name from the name of this town. Few KM north of Ajantha town, the road starts climbing up on the first hills of the Satamala mountain range known as Ajantha Ghat. The road is full of curves and turns as we reach the top and then start rolling down towards the bottom of the valley.

Once in the Valley, we branch off to a very nicely designed parking lot of international standards, where our vehicle can be safely kept. They charge a small entrance fee of Rs. 10/-and additional Parking charges. From here I walk to the shuttle stand. The way is through a very busy market place specially built for tourists and offers short eats, drinks and mementos. I decide to make a halt here while returning. The shuttle stand is a well organized affair. There are shuttle buses to the caves every 10 minutes or so. Buses are large and fairly comfortable and cost just Rs. 12 per person. Being a Sunday, the place is heavily crowded with nationals of many countries around the world, along with Indians. There are also large numbers of school children on excursion trips. I recollect my first trip to Ajantha caves as a school going lad, probably sixty years before. At the shuttle stand, I have to wait for about 15 to 20 minutes because of the crowd, but finally get a seat and leave for the caves. The entire 4 or 5 KM route to the caves is through hilly forest region and riding the bus is a pleasure. The bus stops at a spot about 100 or 150 feet below the caves.

Reception and ticket office to caves

The entry is gated and a ticket is required. There is a nice cafe with a small but nice garden and toilet facilities. I freshen up and be finally ready for the caves. 

 The Great bend of the Waghora rivulet at Ajantha caves


The steps to the caves are well paved and if you do not want to walk you can be carried up in a chair with handles. I start walking up. It is a short but steep climb and I need to stop a few times to catch my breath. I take the final turn and suddenly pause as entire Ajantha ravine has just opened up for me in front of my eyes. The ravine is shaped like a horse shoe. Along the outer edge of this horse shoe, are the caves. The inner edge is actually just a spur of a mountain and at the bottom of the ravine, a rivulet known as Waghora, takes a great, one hundred and eighty degree bend, like a miniature version of the great bend of Brahmaputra or Yarlung Tsangpo river in Tibet. 

 A steel bridge on the Waghora river in the ravine

The first cave on my right is numbered as One. The caves were however not excavated serial number wise. The caves in the middle and also those at a lower level were dug out first and the last caves to be dug are at two extremes. 

 First view of Ajantha caves

This means that the group of caves numbering 9 to 13 were the the earliest ones and caves 1, 2 and and 26, 27 were the last once. Since the end caves are latest, the paintings in these caves, for which Ajantha is famous, are best preserved in the end caves. Most of the caves of the earlier group, numbering from 9 to 13 and excavated during early Satavahana period ( 300 to 100 BCE) are offshoots of the same Buddhist movement that produced caves at several other places in the Deccan like Bhaja, Kondane, Pitalkhore and Nashik. Most of the tourists concentrate on the caves at the extremes. My interest lies in the middle caves numbering from 9 to 13.

'Earlier group' of caves in the Ajantha ravine, is a group of six caves, that were excavated during a period between 200 to 100 CBE or during reigns of early Satavahana kings, like Simuka, Krishna and Shree Satakarni. These caves have been numbered as 8, 9, 10, 12, 13 and 15A. Out of this group, caves numbering 13 and 15A are small Viharas or places of stay for the monks. For both these caves, the facade has perished. From the size of the cells in cave no. 13, which are 7 in numbers and very narrow, it appears that this cave was a dormitory for the interns. Some of the Cells here have stone beds with stone pillows as well. In cave no 15A, there are only 3 cells. The area above cell doors is carved with semicircular Chaitya arches with a running moulding above, relieved with row of inverted and stepped pyramids design. The front wall was originally designed with a railing pattern. Nothing really exits in cave number 8 now and is being used as a store by ASI. There is not much that can be learned from these 3 caves. I therefore decide to concentrate on remaining three caves of this group.
 Cave no. 12 in 1868, (photo British Library)
Cave number 12 is a large Vihara, which according to Burgess, measures as a 36 ¼ sided square.. There are four cells in each of three inner sides, each having two stone beds with stone pillows. The front has fallen away completely. There must have been a veranda here because the end wall on the right of veranda is carved with Chaitya arches and railing patters, same as on inside right wall. The walls of the this Vihara, above the cell doors, are however adorned with Chaitya arches. 

The inner wall on right has more decorations besides Chaitya arches in form of wood lattice patterns, floral patterns, berm-rail arches and a parapet with Assyrian pattern of a row of stepped triangles. The cells have holes in the sills and lintels for pivot hinges, which indicate that the cells must have been provided with single leaf wooden doors. Perhaps the extra decoration on the right wall indicated that the cells here are for senior or important monks or teachers. 
On the left side of the door of the right end cell, on the back wall of this Vihara, there is an inscription, which has been translated by Burgess as,

“ The meritorious gift of a dwelling with cells and hall by the merchant Ghanamadada”
Perhaps, more than the information obtained from this inscription, the characters of the Brahmi script, used here, tell us more because these have been confirmed as from Mouryan or Apreror Asokan' period of around second century BCE. The Vihara had paintings on the wall once, but nothing remains now.
 Cave no. 10 in 1868, Photo British Library 
I shall now come to last two caves of this group; numbered as 9 and 10. Both are Chaitya Grihas' or prayer halls. There has been some difference of opinion between archeologists about which of the two is built earlier? However, now it is believed that number 10 is the earliest cave in Ajantha.
Burgess describes this Chaitya with these words.
It measures 41 feet 1 inch wide, about 95 ½ feet deep, and 36 feet wide. The inner end of the cave, as well as the colonnade that surrounds the nave, is semi circular, the number of columns in the latter being 39 plain octagons- two more than in the great Chaitya at Karle'n- but many of them broken. They are 14 feet high and over them rises a plain entablature (the superstructure of moldings and bands which lie horizontally above columns ) 9 ½ feet deep, from which springs the arched roof, rising 12 ½ feet more, with a span of about 23 ½ feet. Like the oldest Chaitya caves at Bhaje, Kale'n, etc; it has been ribbed with wood. The aisles are about 6 feet wide, with half arched roofs, ribbed in the rock. The chaitya (stupa)is perfectly plain, with a base or a lower drum, 15/12 feet diameter; the dome is rather more than half a sphere, and supports the usual capital, considting of an imitation box, covered by a series of thin square slabs, each projecting a little over the one below it. There is an inscription on the front of the great arch at the right hand side”
Burgess translates this inscription as
The gift of a cave-facade by Vasithiputa Katahadi”
Like cave 12, the characters used in this inscription also are Mouryan or Emperor Asokan' period and confirm that this cave belongs to the Second century BC. The entire cave including the octagonal pillars was painted.
In the period 1875-85, Mr.John Griffith of of Bombay School of Arts, and his students, copied the frescoes of cave number 10 at Ajantha. During this work, Mr Griffith noticed that some parts of the paintings have a higher thickness. On close inspection, it was revealed that newer paintings were done on top of old and earlier paintings. He also noticed that the style of paintings of the top layer was of 4th or 5th century CE, and was distinctly different than the style and colours used in paintings on layers below. This discovery led to the conclusion that the lower paintings have been drawn in the BCE periods and the top ones after another six hundred years. In other words, the fragments of lower level paintings, give us directly a glimpse of the life in the Satavahan period. A lucky break indeed.
Unfortunately, after 1875, for many number of years, the visitors to Ajantha were allowed a free hand and they have damaged the paintings by writing their names and graffiti on them to such an extent that taking any photographs of the paintings today, is not of much use at all. This means that we would have to satisfy ourselves on whatever sketches or copies of the paintings that have been made into the past or some old photographs. To add to the woes, number of drawings made by Mr. Griffith, which were sent to 'India office' in London, got burnt in a major fire in London.
In cave number 10, as many as 5 original and major paintings, besides numerous paintings of Buddha have survived . Out of these, all paintings featuring Buddha are definitely from 4th or 5 century. Two large and beautiful paintings, telling stories from Sam Jataka and Chhaddanta Jataka, have also been identified as belonging to this period only. This means that only remaining 3 paintings can be considered to be truly from Satavahana period and I plan to study them in more details.
Meanshile let us see some interesting general comments made by Burgess about the paintings first. I quote them here.
“ The palaces or buildings are represented by a flat roof over the heads of the figures, supported by slender pillars, often with blue capitals, and commonly dividing the area within a central hall and two side aisles or verandahs.
The dresses are vary various but pretty clearly distinctive of the classes represented. The great ones, Devas', Rajas', Diwans' and nobles wear but little clothing, at least above their waist, but much jewllery, armlets, necklaces, fillets, and high crown or 'Mukutas'. Men of lower rank are often more covered, but have little or no jewellery. Bhikshus and monks usually are clothed by their robe, which leaves only the right shoulder bare. Queens (Ranis') and ladies of distinction, and perhaps also their more personal servants wear much jewellery on their persons but of different sorts according to their rank. The Ranis' are frequently, if not always, represented almost as if they were nude; very close examination, however shows that this is not intended, but that they are dressed in But they are dressed in- “ A wondrous work of thin transparent lawn.”- so thin that the painter has failed to depict it and has usually contended by slightly indicating it in a few very light touches of whitish colour Across the thighs, and by tracing its flowered border, and painting the chain by which it was held up round the waist. Dancing women are represented much as they would be now in an abundance of flowing coloured clothing, Dasis' and Kanchukinis' -household slaves or servants wear boddices and a Sari round their midriff, usually of stripped cloth.”
With these comments in mind, let us try to examine remaining three paintings in cave 10, that definitely belong to Satavahana period. 

The cave number 10 in Ajantha was completely painted from inside. The large paintings on the walls, depicted many scenes from Jataka stories as well as incidences of significance, from those times, from Buddhist point of view. The paintings on pillars and on vaulted roofs of the aisles, mostly depict Buddha faces and figures in various postures along with some floral patterns. As mentioned earlier, only three of the surviving paintings in this cave, are believed to be from BCE or early Satavahana empire era. We shall consider these three paintings, one by one in detail. These paintings have been described in great details in a book by Mr. G. Yazdani and I am quoting mostly from this book, since it is no longer possible to see these now obliterated works of art, at close distances. What I felt as the most important aspect of all three frescoes, is that they depict a King, paying his respects to Buddha, represented in some form of other. Some of the older books tend to describe this King as a Naga King or a king of the tribal people. However, after seeing all the three frescoes in details, I think that the king depicted here, is definitely one of the early Satavahana kings. Mr. G Yazdani suggests that this king must be none other than Shree Satakarni, whose statue and an inscription about his deeds was created in a cave in the mountain pass of Naneghat. After studying the sketches, I agree with him totally.

Arrival of Raja (King) with his retinue to worship the Bodhi tree
The first scene, which we shall consider, is painted on the back wall of the left aisle, behind pillar numbering 3 to 9 and is described as “Arrival of Raja (King) with his retinue to worship the Bodhi tree.” This is a long fresco and in the middle portion, the king is shown to be offering prayers to a Bodhi or a Piple tree, which has been bedecked with Buddhist banners. 


The King with the Ladies

The king is accompanied by 10 ladies and a child. The prayer could be concerning the child, who stands just below the tree. Five ladies on the left of the king watch intently his face, while those behind him watch the ceremony. A small girl stands on a pedestal to watch, what is going on. All the ladies are wearing various ornaments, such as ear-rings, armlets, necklaces and bangles, which are in use even today. The bangles appear to have been made from ivory and are worn in a large number covering portion of the hand from elbow to wrists. This is vary similar to what Lamani tribe women wear even today in India. The upper garments worn by ladies are made from finest lawn cloth, which makes them appear almost half naked, to the painter. Even then, their coiffure appears to be very elaborate. One of the ladies is wearing a head band with three peacock feathers. All other ladies have covered their heads with some kind of veils similar to what ladies from Rajsthan state of India wear today. The faces of all people are drawn roundish, short but pointed noses, narrow mouths with full lips and small yet bright eyes. In fact they very much look like people from Maharashtra region and not from the north or south of India. King is not wearing any crown but has a band of jewelery around a bob of his hair. Many of the ladies have hair parted on the left side of the head. Some of the ladies wear a 'Bindi' on their foreheads similar to what is shown in “Karle'n” caves

 Musicians and dancers perform before the  King
A large troupe of 15 lady musicians and dancers seems to be performing in front of the King. Two of the musicians seem to have long trumpet like instruments and rest are all clapping or dancing. The dresses worn by the ladies of the performing troupe are similar to those of ladies accompanying the king. Five of the ladies are sitting on wicker work stools. Two of the troupe are younger girls. A mango tree is seen behind the performers. 


Soldiers accompanying the King

Behind the King, many soldiers have been shown carrying axes, bows and arrows and spears. A lone soldier carries a mace and has an elaborate headgear with flaps on ears for protection. Around him there must have been many soldiers with spears, but now only spears are seen. Three soldiers with axes are seen and balance are all with bows and arrows or carry curved swords.
I feel that the artist has tried to present life of those times in all its aspects. If any one wants to have a look at the life during Satavahana empire period or pre- BCE era, this painting is a perfect medium for that. Another surprising thing that I observe is that the continuity of culture and life- style of people in Maharshtra region for thousands of years. If we replace the piple tree with a Shiva-lingam, this scene could as well be considered as one from sixteenth or seventeenth century.. 

The Royal Party worshipping a Stupa
The second scene is also painted on the left wall but behind pillars numbering 9 to 11. This scene is described as “ The Royal Party worshipping a Stupa.” In this painting, a king's retinue is shown worshipping a Buddhist Stupa. The stupa is crowned with a flag and an umbrella. To indicate that the stupa is a sacred place, the painter has shown two flying 'Apsaras' or celestial nymphs on either side. 

Apsaras around the Stupa and Votaries

 King worshipping Stupa
Apsaras however, are dressed in human clothes and also have bodies like humans. On the left, there are also 10 votaries worshipping the stupa with folded hands. From their headgear we can say that they are not monks. On the right side we can see another 4 votaries with folded hands. A mango tree is again showed behind the worshipers. 
The Royal Party passing through a gateway
The third painting from Pre-BCE era is known as that of the “The Royal Party passing through a gateway.” this is also painted on the left wall of cave 10 and appears to be a continuation of the previous painting. In the gap between previous painting and this painting only a face of a votary has survived. Rest of the figures representing the Royal party are all missing.

Buddhist Torana and King being saluted by an elephant

Arrival and departure of the King at Torana

The portion in which the drawing can be made out with certainty shows first an umbrella , and close to it a mango tree. Below this we can see four human heads in which one is of the guard with the special headgear. To right of these figures is the Buddhist Torana or gateway. Such four Toranas in all cardinal directions can be seen even today at the Stupa at Sanchi, which is contemporary to Ajantha caves. One of the Royal party is just passing through the Torana, while sevaral others are outside it. One of the elephant riders holds a double edged sword in his right and and most peculiarly shaped shield or a crown in his left hand. Another attendant, to the right of the one holding a sword has raised his hand and is making a loop with his thumb and forefinger. Further to the right an elephant is shown raising his trunk to salute the King. The figure riding the elephant hold a goad in his hand. To the right, there are at least three more elephants with Royal personages riding them; as can be seen from the Umbrellas. Two elephants seem to be coming towards the Torana and the last one going away. Mr. G.Yajdani interprets this as coming and going back of the King visiting the Stupa. According to him, this particular painting shows the visit of Satvahana king Shree Satakarni to Bodhi Gaya. To support this, he says that in the right end of the painting, the King is shown carrying a vase on elephant's head with a branch planted in it. This must be a branch of the revered Bodhi tree under which Buddha received divine awakening. Some of the figures of persona from Griffith' original facsimile were redrawn by Burgess. From these sketches, all the points mentioned above become very clear. 
Enlarged portraits of the people

 Enlarged portrait of the King and the ladies

These three Ajantha murals from cave 10 are equally or as relevant as the bass reliefs from Pitalkhora. Both of these shed much light on the life of the ordinary people of Satavahana times and their way of life.
Next on my list is cave number 9, which also has some more murals of the Satvahana era. 

Cave number 9 at Ajantha is also a Chaitya Griha, like cave number 10, which we saw earlier, but shaped as a rectangle of much smaller size, measuring 22 feet and 9 inches wide, 45 feet deep and 23 feet 2 inches high. 
Chaitya Griha cave number 9

Burgess and Ferguson first suggested that this cave must be older than the one at number 10. However, after finding more evidence, it is now believed to be at least 100 years older than number 10. Like other Chaitya Graiha's of contemporary times, here in this Chaitya Graiha, a colonnade all round, divides the nave from the isles and at the back the pillars form a semicircular apse, at the centre of which, stands the Stupa. It's base is a plain cylinder 5 feet high, supporting a dome, 4 feet high and 6 feet- 4 inches in diameter. On the top there is a square capital about 1 ¼ feet high with Buddhist railing pattern carved on the sides. This supported a wooden umbrella like at Karle'n. Besides the two pillars inside the entrance, the nave has 21 plain octagonal pillars supporting an entablature, from which the vaulted roof originally fitted with wooden ribs springs. The aisles are flat roofed. Over the front door there is a horse shoe shaped great window. 11 and ½ feet high. The facade is decorated with usual Hinayana motifs like chaitya windows, wooden lattice patterns, berm rails and Buddhist rail patterns. 

Upper portion of Facade

This cave, again like number 10, was completely painted with murals, originally ( in 100 BCE) and repainted sometime later in 4th or 5th century CE. The new murals were painted on top of earlier ones. The pillars are all decorated with Buddha figures, some of which are in a much better shape. After Griffith's research in 1875, three original paintings (done in 100 BCE) were found. According to G. Yazdani, the figures in these three murals definitely are from Satavahana empire period and give us much insight about the people of those times and their way of life. I plan to describe these three paintings in details.
King with attendants

The first painting is known as “ A Naga king with his attendants” and has been painted on the inner side of the front wall, above the left window. It was in this painting that Mr. John Griffith of Bombay School of Art, had first discovered that two monks with an inscription were added on top of paintings of two monks done in earlier times. The top painting, when removed by Mr. Griffith, the original painting was exposed. However, coming back to the main subject of the painting, on the left, two figures are shown sitting under a mango tree bearing fruit. Both are wearing dhotis' or loin cloth. A strip of cloth intertwined with the hair is used as a turban with a knob at the top; a typical Satavahana period hair arrangement. One of the figures is wearing a crown with 7 cobra heads and the other with one cobra head. It is obvious that the figure with 7 cobra head crown is the king and the other one his crown-prince. Both of them are shown wearing heavy jewelery consisting of wheel pattern ear-rings, broad necklaces, ornamental metal armlets and round heavy wristlets. The necklaces appear to be string of pearls joined together by gold clasps. The faces again are typically from this region; oval. roundish faces, short noses, full lips and bright eyes. Above the figures in picture, there is an Apsara flying towards the king. 
King with attendants

Adjoining panel to the right shows the second scene of the story. The king is shown with two attendants, one of whom holds an umbrella and the other a chouri or a fly-whisk. In front of the king there are five supplicants sitting on a ground in a circle.

Group of Votaries- on left side 

The next painting fro Satavahana period in cave 9, is painted on the left wall. This painting is called as “ A group of Votaries approaching a Stupa” actually consists of several themes relating to the subject. This painting was covered up with a portion depicting six figures of Buddhas on the upper part. In the first part of this painting shows sixteen votaries approaching the door of a Stupa. They are shown with different kinds of arrangements for their headgear, different designs for waist bands or sashes.

Stupa and the monastery

In the next part, the Stupa is enclosed by a wall, which has two gates; one with a barrel shaped roof and other a Torana like that at Sanchi. The Stupa is decorated with many umbrellas. Near the Torana , we can see two musicians playing instruments. A third person is walking through the Torana. Outside the Stupa, there is a tree. Beyond this tree there appears to be a monastery with two courts. Two figures stand outside the monastery.

In the third part, the votaries have now assembled in a grove after their visit to the Stupa. Inside the house on right, there are four ladies and the one sitting on a couch could be the queen. Tow ladies are sitting in the court on either side of a fire.

Group of Votaries, Apsara and the Queen

The third mural is painted on the frieze above the pillars of the nave on the left side and is called “ The animal Frieze”. It has been peeled away in many places but still shows an herdsman between bodies of wild animals. This painting is rather a decorative one.

The animal frieze

The herdsman

I complete my tour of Ajantha with a visit to remaining caves, which all are from later period of 4th or 5th century CE and are not much relevant from my study point of view. While returning, I make a brief halt at the mall and buy few stoneware mementos of Ajantha.

Ajantha does not tell us much about the history of Satavahana kings, but this perhaps is the only place, where contemporary painters, have painted pictures of their Satvahana kings in person, along with their courtiers and queens. I have been able to learn and find out much here. How Satvahana kings and their people dressed? What ornaments they wore? How they treated religious places like Buddhists monasteries with respect? and many more things.

The next place on my itinerary is perhaps the most important from the history of Satavahana kings. It is here, that we find direct records of their bravery and deeds. The place is known as Pandav Caves and is located on the outskirts of the north Maharashtra city of Nashik. 

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