The Sahyadari ranges are a boldly shaped landscape of a violent bygone age where now only his scars remain. From this shift of tectonic plates, have formed placid lakes, ocean, wide plains, rainforest. But here in Ajunta there is the contrasting textures of cliff face and scrubby bush.
In a crescent valley, a deep rock gorge, cut by the River Waghura meandered through dense forest. Thinking to have found a Tigers lair, the British saw the highest façade of what is now cave number 10.
Ajanta had been gradually forgotten and the jungle reclaimed valley. I remember seeing Ajanta for the first time and thinking the eternal struggle against nature is something very British. No wonder the Engrezi found the caves.
Within the thirty hand cut cave are found 5 chaitya, 5 basalt monatries are found masterpieces of tempura.
They impress us with the eternal beauty of nature: ceilings of flowers, plants, fruits, animal ,birds creatures of myth and beings semi divine.
But I will leave the masculine perfection of cave 2’s bodhisatva for another post, the spiritual countenance and triflex posture, as if dancing, show a purity of heart and character worthy of a post all its own.
Another post must reveal the development of art from the earliest Hinyana caves, where the Buddha not represented directly but symbolized by the stupa, Bhodi tree, a footprint or wheel of the law, to the Mahayana worship of his image.
Let us instead look beyond the classical forms for now.
Taken from nature, their palette is a simple choice of yellow, red, blue, white black and green. Red and yellow from ochre, Green glaucaniteot volcanic rock residue, White– kaolin and gypsum, lamp black and blue from imported lapis lazuli.
However, within the many beautiful classical forms the artists take art beyond the classical traditions of the age.
The Vishvantara Jataka, called The Courtier, shown above, from cave 17 early 5th century, is side lighted in the manner of Rembrandt or Caravaggio in specks of yellow light used to infuse luminosity and a three dimensional quality.
”This piece is a perfect illustration of the quotation in the Mahayana Sutralamkara, citre …. natonnaram nasty cam dryate atha ca “there is no actual relief in the painting, and yet we see it there” wrote Madanjeet Singh (Ajanta p. 11 Thames and Hudson, London, 1965).
Consider the Wailing Woman, sibi jataka, from cave 1 early of the 6th century. Here we see animnonnata , or a flattened perspective of restricted tonal range, that compares to the cloisannage of Gauguin by deeply demarcating plain surfaces by pure primary colour.
Does not the bodhisattva of cave 2 have curious Matisse like movement by virtue of its unfinished character?
The Biblical book of Ecclesiastes is very Buddhist like, the Buddhist teacher Ajahn Brahm once said. It has a realistic assessment of life.
“There is nothing new under the sun” says Ecclesiastes. When it comes to the Ajanta caves of Buddhist, Jain and Hindu art, perhaps he is right.
Gauguin , Rembrandt and Matisse found languages to expressions that are part of us all. They extended expressions already part of the human spirit already touched in the art of India.
In art, there is nothing new under the sun.