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India is ancient country of fabulous wealth which were always legendary. But even she can sometimes surprise! As the casket with a secret, she sometimes lifts the veil of mystery and share with the world their wonders. About the cave temples of Ajanta, even the Indians themselves had learned only in the XIX century. Meanwhile, a man-made complex was created long before the birth of Jesus, and its splendor surpassed the pyramid of Cheops.


On 28 April 1819, a British cavalry officer of the 28th Madras regiment with the banal name of John Smith decided to hunt the leopard. He gathered a small group of co-workers, and went into the jungle of Maharashtra, which is famous for abundance of predators.

Near the village Ajanta, the British tracked down a tiger, and in the heat of the chase Smith wandered in the ravine, luxuriantly covered with tropical plants. When the forest parted before him, in surprise he dropped his gun. Right at him impassively looked stone Buddha. The Englishman took a few steps forward and saw that right in a rock inscribed with passages leading deep into the mountains.

The officer called to his comrades, and after a short meeting they decided to explore the place. Smith and his companions climbed on the rock and entered the cave, lighting their way with torches made from bundles of dry grass. They found themselves in a Grand room with vaulted ceiling and columns.

Mouths Agape, the British went around the room and looked at the wall with a faded painting. Ancient artists clearly do not suffer from complexes, along with scenes from the life of princes and princesses who spend their time in luxury apartments, hunters and a host of guests, met scenes of carnal love. Prudish Englishmen at the time, not every day could contemplate such a clear picture of erotic content.

From the courage of the ancient artists, a riot of colors and diversity of whimsical statues at the British captured the spirit. Under the dome in the sanctuary was a prayer stone Buddha — the gigantic statue, which Smith decided to leave his autograph in a sign that the first Europeans came to this lost world.

Then John and his companions went through all 29 caves, which stretch for 500 meters along the rocky banks of the river Waghora (Tiger river), and returned home, told colleagues about the discovery.


The news spread quickly. Most of all it has appeared very opportunely interested in these parts architect and archaeologist James Ferguson. He made himself into a decent state India trade, and then went to travel around the country to study its artistic monuments.

At home Ferguson as an architect has not created anything outstanding, but became famous as a scholar of antiquity. In 1843 he was brought to the Royal Asiatic society scientific report describing the caves, of which 24 were monasteries and 5 temples.

All caves Ferguson were numbered, the numbering used today. “I numbered them like home on the street,” he wrote. An archaeologist has called on his compatriots to treat the discovery responsibly: amazing painting preserved only in a few caves, in other statues and frescoes were gradually destroyed under the influence of humid and hot tropical climate.

After the report of the scientist in the caves of Ajanta in 1844 he sent the officer of the 44th regiment of Madras infantry, painter, photographer and art dealer Robert Gill. He faced a difficult task — to explore and capture on canvas copies of wall paintings. Trip Robert Gill was the beginning of a long and painstaking work on the scientific description of the artistic treasures in the valley of the river Tiger. Jill spent in the jungle a few years.

He had to work in terrible conditions. The area was teeming with predators, and indigenous people — warlike bhili — disliked outsiders. However, Jill brought it started to end and in 1847 presented the results of their efforts in the Royal Asiatic society.

Scientists estimate that the ancient construction of the complex was carried out in several stages. First, in II-I centuries BC, there were created five halls for communal prayer. The second phase occurred in the V century BC, when Harisena, the last great ruler of the dynasty Vakataka, were carved and painted with frescoes the rest of the cave. These were built later, they are the monasteries, with cells for the monks.

Robert Gill was just copying the work of ancient Indian artists, from time to time returning to the caves of Ajanta. He wrote about 30 works. All canvases sent to London and presented in the Indian pavilion at the Crystal Palace exhibition center and the amusement Park in the area of Sidney hill in South London. But his work was destined to a sad fate: most of them were destroyed in a fire on 30 December 1866.

In 1885 another part of the work died in a fire at the exhibition hall of the Royal Palace in South Kensington (now the Victoria and albert Museum). The Hindus spoke of the curse caves of Ajanta: all who broke the peace of the complex, poorly finished. Calamities and tragedies are not able to avoid any of those who sought to penetrate to the caves of Ajanta. Is it really the gods took revenge on their oppressors?

In 1861 the Royal Commission on cave temples he founded the Archaeological office of India, which is valid in our time. The British sought to preserve the cultural heritage of Ajanta: more antique lovers and treasure hunters went to the river for Tiger to pull off that badly lay.

The vandals not just scrawling on the walls, frescoes and statues their names, and was scraped from the walls, painting, pulling from pieces of statues and pillaged, plundered, robbed…

In 1872 in the cave was sent to John Griffiths — Director of the school of arts in Bombay. He had the same mission, and that the Gill: to capture on canvas an ancient painting. Fortunately, his work is preserved. Lucky and his followers — Indian archaeologist and art historian from Islamabad Yazdani and the English patron of the arts Christine Harringer. Recent paintings have survived.


From time to time all the surviving copies were stored in the vaults of various museums of London, but in 2005 they were gathered together, restored and put on display. The audience were able to assess the scope of work of the ancient masters.

If pulling in the line alone stone lace thread, its length will reach the snows of Chomolungma. And the frescoes are considered to be the crown of Oriental art. In one of the underground halls painting occupies more than thousand square meters, and painted not only walls, but columns, and ceilings. So earlier looked all 29 caves! Indian masters like tried to move in the small world of dungeons all the richness and diversity of the outside world.

Archaeologists are still scratching their heads over how the painters of antiquity managed to create in the semi-darkness of caves. How they managed to paint the walls with subtle drawings with lots of colors?

How did they chisel out such a perfect statue of the dark? Maybe they used mirrors? Catching the sun’s rays and direct them on the wall? Questions, questions, questions… And only one of them has today a clear and intelligible answer.

So why the monks left this place? It’s very simple: in the XIII century, interest in Buddhism waned, and supporters of this religion became less and less. When he died last keepers of the faith, the monastery and temple were deserted. For centuries, the complex stood abandoned, the caves are overgrown with grass, and only bats indifferent look to the masterpieces of antiquity.

Today Ajanta caves is visited by thousands of tourists a year. They are offered to examine the copies in a specially built complex, but the most for obvious reasons prefer to visit ancient monasteries and temples. Of the 29 caves in only 13 there are fragments of paintings and statues, but this is enough to understand how the scale of thought ancient.

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