Ajanta Paintings

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A Presentation by Prof. Subramanian Swaminathan on the paintings of Ajanta Buddhist paintings on the walls and ceilings of the 29 caves in Ajanta are not only the ealiest in India but also the best the subcontinent produced. These are also the forerunniners of religious paintings of India and Indian Asia.


<ul><li> 1. Paintings of Ajanta Caves(2nd century BC to 6th century AD)<br>S. Swaminathan<br>(sswami99@gmail.com)<br></li></ul><p> 2. Introduction<br> 3. Ajanta is a great art treasure.<br>They contain some exquisite sculptures, <br>and more importantly, <br>paintings of unrivalled beauty. <br>Its caves are a fine example of <br>rock-cut architecture.<br> 4. from early phase of the pre-Christian era,<br>In these caves can be seen the development of Art<br>reaching classical perfection,<br>falling off into mannerism<br>and then to baroque ornamentation<br>and, finally, lapsing into artistic decline<br> 5. Ajanta is a storehouse of information <br>about the period:<br>costumes,<br>textile design,<br>Jewellery,<br>musical heritage,<br>social order,<br>court etiquette,<br>ideas of beauty and morality,<br>customs and <br>its sense of wit.<br> 6. The paintings tell us about <br>the technical aspects of their art: <br>preparation of the ground,<br>execution of the painting itself,<br>with sense of perspective, space division, <br>colour-overlay, <br>preparation of the pigments,<br>harnessing of the visual and tactile senses,<br>pacing of the narrative.<br> 7. The spirit of Ajanta influenced<br>the religious art <br>of the whole of Asia<br>The Ajanta paintings are the earliest surviving paintings of India, <br>religious or secular<br> 8. The Indian artist, while depicting Buddhist themes, did not feel the need to make <br>a translation from foreign to familiar terms<br>In fact, the Ajanta painting tradition is truly <br>an indigenous religious art tradition. <br>The Buddha and His disciples were Indians. <br> 9. Location of Ajanta<br> 10. The caves of Ajanta are situated<br>in the district of Aurangabad<br>in the state of Maharashtra. <br>Ajanta is about 100 km from Aurangabad and <br>about 60 km from Jalgaon.<br>An extended stay at Aurangabad <br>would be rewarding, <br>as the equally important <br>monuments of Ellora are <br>only about 30 km away.<br> 11. The possible explanation for<br>the monastic establishment at Ajanta <br>is its proximity to the ancient trade routes.<br> 12. Ajanta<br>Aurangabad<br>Mumbai<br>It is about 100 km from Aurangabad<br> 13. Mumbai<br> 14. Period of Excavation<br> 15. First Phase<br>Hinayana period (2nd - 1st centuries BC)<br>The earliest caves (Nos. 8, 9, 10, 13 &amp; 15A)<br>were excavated <br>during the rule of the Satavahana-s, <br>who had their capital at Pratishthana. <br>During their rule there was <br>brisk trade and commerce <br>within the land and <br>with the Mediterranean world, <br>which brought in enormous riches.<br> 16. Second Phase<br>Mahayana period (4th 6th centuries AD)<br>The second phase was of <br>greater artistic activity at Ajanta<br>and the remaining caves were excavated<br>during the rule of <br>the Vakataka and the Chalukya dynasties <br>from the 4th to the 6th centuries AD. <br> 17. Patronage<br> 18. The rulers, the Satavahana-s, <br>the Vakataka-s and the Chalukya-s, <br>were themselves Hindus, <br>but allowed Buddhism <br>to flourish in their territory.<br>But there was no direct royal help <br>during almost the entire period.<br>But the rich mercantile community, <br>organising itself into guilds, <br>had provided the requisite patronage.<br> 19. The entire Ajanta chapter is <br>a tribute to the religious tolerance <br>of the Hindu rulers.<br> 20. Re-discovery<br> 21. The precious caves remained <br>abandoned till 1817 <br>when they were discovered <br>by a company of British soldiers. <br>Soon pioneer archaeologists were <br>attracted to the caves that were lost <br>to civilization for more than 1200 years.<br> 22. James Burgess and William Gill <br>made copies of some of the paintings <br>and exhibited in London in 1866.<br>Unfortunately almost all of these perished <br>in a disastrous fire. <br>Later some copies were made <br>by Griffiths and Lady Herringham, <br>and published in 1896 and 1915. <br>Under the patronage of the Nizam, <br>the then ruler of Hyderabad, <br>Yazdani edited and published <br>two volumes on the paintings in 1933.<br> 23. Rahula and Yashodhara meet the Buddha, Cave 17<br>Reproduction by Herringham<br>Mural<br> 24. Layout of the Caves<br> 25. The caves, <br>lying deep inside the Sahyadri Hills, <br>are hollowed out on the deep face <br>of a horseshoe-shaped hillside <br>with the Waghora river <br>flowing through it. <br> 26. Layout<br>17<br>16<br>19<br>The caves are aligned <br> in a horseshoe form.<br>10<br>9<br>There are a total of 29 caves. <br>23<br>The general arrangement was not <br>pre-planned, as they sprang up <br>sporadically in different periods.<br>6<br>The caves are numbered <br>not on the basis <br>of period of excavation, <br>but on their physical location. <br>27<br>2<br>1<br> 27. Views of the Caves<br> 28. Here are some enchanting views of the caves<br> 29. 30. 31. Undoubtedly suited for uninterrupted <br>meditation and contemplation<br> 32. A narrow pathway connects the caves<br>to go on a pilgrimage <br>to the highest achievement of Indian Buddhist art <br> 33. 34. Rock-cut Architecture<br> 35. The caves of Ajanta offer an instructive field <br>for the study of the evolution of <br>rock-cut architecture. <br>It is unique in the sense<br>that it can be viewed <br>as an enterprise of a sculptor.<br>The cave architecture, <br>at Ajanta and elsewhere, <br>betrays the strong influence <br>of wooden construction. <br> 36. The team was probably drawn from <br>the profession of carpenters, <br>with goldsmiths and ivory-carvers<br>joining hands with the sculptors.<br> 37. The evolution of rock architecture<br>took place during two periods: <br>the Hinayana period <br>of the pre-Christian era and <br>the later Mahayana period. <br> 38. Hinayana period (2nd - 1st centuries BC)<br>During the first phase<br>the sculptural activity<br>was limited. <br> 39. Mahayana period (4th century onwards)<br>In the second phase <br>sculptural compositions filled <br>the facade, the shrines, etc.<br>Side by side with <br>the excavation of new caves <br>the existing Hinayana caves <br>were suitably modified. <br> 40. Mahayana period facade embellished<br> 41. 42. The caves of Ajanta are divided into<br>Chaitya-s Temples<br>Vihara-s- Monasteries<br> 43. Chaitya-Facade<br>The entrance has<br>a prominent<br>arched window<br>to light<br>the interior<br>Relief sculptures<br>added in<br>Mahayana period<br> 44. Arched roof<br>Chaitya - Interior<br>Interior consists of<br>a long vaulted nave<br>with a pillared aisle<br>on either side<br>Stupa<br>Far end is semicircular<br>with a stupaat itscentre<br>Pillared<br>aisle<br>Vaulted nave<br> 45. Vihara - Plan<br>Shrine<br>Cells<br>It has<br>a congregationhall<br>Hall<br>withcells<br>for the monks<br>on the inner sides<br>Later ashrine<br>was excavated<br>at the far end<br>Entrance<br> 46. Vihara - Interior<br>On the left to the entrance is <br>the famous painting of Padmapani<br>A colossal statue of the Buddha <br>is seen in the sanctum<br> 47. Vihara - Interior<br>Cave 2<br> 48. Sculpture<br> 49. During the first phase, the Buddha <br>was not shown in the human form, <br>but only through symbols, <br>such as,<br>the Wheel, the Bodhi Tree <br>and the Feet of the Buddha. <br>But during the Mahayana period <br>sculptures and paintings <br>of the Buddha <br>and the Bodhi-sattva-s, <br>were added.<br> 50. The sculpture of Ajanta <br>belongs <br>to the great art-tradition <br>of contemporary India.<br>Sculpture from the 4th century AD, <br>is remarkable for <br>its grace, elegance, <br>restraint and serenity. <br> 51. Maha-pari-nirvana, Cave 26<br> 52. Maha-pari-nirvana, Cave 26<br> 53. Naga King and <br>his consort <br>Cave 19<br> 54. However, the general character <br>of the sculpture of Ajanta <br>tends towards a certain heaviness of form, <br>and is considered inferior <br>to the Gupta images.<br> 55. Hariti Shrine, Cave 2<br> 56. Every one of the sculptures<br>was plastered and painted.<br>But most of the plaster<br>is now lost.<br>Sculpture at the Entrance<br>Cave 17<br> 57. Themes<br> 58. Jataka Stories<br>The subjects of the paintings are <br>mostly from<br>the jataka-s, <br>Buddhist mythological stories <br>of the previous lives <br>of the Master<br> 59. Jataka Stories<br>This is a scene from the story of King Shibi, <br>who offered his own flesh to save a pigeon.<br> 60. A Scene from Shibi Jataka, Cave 1<br> 61. Life of the Buddha<br>Episodes from the life of the Buddha form <br>the next important theme.<br> 62. Life of the Buddha<br>Gautama was meditating under the Bodhi tree <br>to attain enlightenment. <br>Mara, the Evil Spirit, made many attempts <br>to dislodge Gautama from His resolve. <br>Mara sent his three most beautiful daughters<br>to distract Him.<br>When this failed, <br>Mara summoned his demons <br>to dislodge Gautama. <br> But Gautama was calm and unmoved.<br> 63. Maras Episode, Cave 1<br> 64. Life of the Buddha<br>On the way to Her parents house<br>Mayadevi gave birth to Siddharta <br>in Lumbini grove of shaala trees.<br>Brahma, Indra and other gods descended<br>to pay their respects to the new-born. <br> 65. A Scene fromThe Birth of the Buddha, Cave 2 <br> 66. Solo Pictures<br>Religious<br>There are<br>a few compositions<br>of divinities,<br>but these are not<br>part of any story.<br>Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, Cave 1<br> 67. Solo Pictures<br>Secular<br>A few of the solo-pictures <br>do not seem to have <br>any religious import.<br> 68. Lady doing her make-up, Cave 17<br> 69. Decorative<br>The paintings in the last category are <br>decorative and secular.<br>They fill up all the available space <br>on the ceilings, pillars, etc.<br> 70. Mythical birds<br>Clown<br>Floral design<br>Geometrical design<br>Animals<br>Hilarious themes<br> 71. Composition<br> 72. Composition of the paintings over the period <br>is an interesting study.<br> 73. Earlier phase (2nd - 1st centuries BC)<br>Narration arranged is<br>in the form of long canvass,<br>at eye level,<br>progressing from episode to episode<br>The Raja with his Retinue, Cave 10<br> 74. Later phase (4th century AD onwards)<br>Later the paintings overspread <br>the entire surface of the wall. <br>In these paintings narratives proceed <br>from scene to scene and <br>from act to act<br>harmoniously. <br>The scenes are not separated <br>into frames that might disturb <br>the concentration <br>of the viewing devotees.<br> 75. Later phase (4th century AD onwards)<br>An interesting feature of thenarration, <br>from the earlier times,<br>is that a strict chronology of events<br>was not followed. <br>In many panels scenes are <br>grouped according <br>to the location of the scenes. <br>The composition of Matriposhaka Jataka, <br>is typical of this period.<br> 76. Matri-poshaka Jataka<br>Cave 17<br>Bodhisattva born as Matri-poshaka, <br>a white elephant, lives in a forest taking care of his blind parents.<br>Once the elephant rescues a man, and requests him <br>not to divulge his presence to any one.<br> 77. Scene 1<br>The ungrateful person, who was rescued by Matri-poshaka, <br>gives out his whereabouts to the king.<br>Matri-poshaka Jataka, Cave 17<br> 78. Scene 1<br>Scene 2<br>The captured elephant is being led to the city.<br> 79. Scene 1<br>Scene 3<br>Scene 2<br>The king supervises feeding the elephant, <br>but the elephant refuses to eat. <br>Before the brooding elephant some food in a large<br>vessel and sugarcane are lying about.<br> 80. Scene 1<br>Scene 3<br>Scene 4<br>Scene 2<br>The released animal is walking majestically towards the forest.<br> 81. Scene 1<br>Scene 3<br>Scene 4<br>Scene 5<br>Scene 2<br>The happy reunion.<br> 82. Later phase (4th century AD onwards)<br>Many panels suggest that <br>the Ajanta artists used <br>specific conventions <br>for separating scenes and acts <br>from each other <br>using suggestive punctuation marks.<br> 83. A gateway <br>may mark the end of an act<br>In a palace scene <br>pillars may separate the scenes<br>Maha-janaka Jataka, Cave 1<br> 84. Painting Technique<br> 85. Indian wall-paintings are done on dry wall,called <br>fresco secco<br>Indras Descent, Cave 17<br>In the West<br>painting is done<br>on a moist wall,<br>called fresco buono<br>Last Supper, da Vinci<br> 86. It might have taken centuries<br>for the Indian artist <br>to develop the technique of <br>preparing the wall for painting, and <br>also to select suitable pigments <br>with an appropriate binder. <br>The importance of these<br>may be seen from the fact that <br>the Ajanta paintings have withstood<br>the ravages of time <br>with remarkable resilience.<br> 87. Preparation of Wall<br>We have no clue to the technique <br>of preparing the wall. <br>But the treatises <br>which were written later <br>based on the Ajanta experience <br>give us an idea. <br>For example, <br>Vishnu-dharmottara (7th century) <br>explains the process of preparing <br>the base plaster and <br>the finish coat, called vajralepa.<br> 88. Preparation of Wall Base Plaster<br>It consisted of powdered brick, <br>burnt conches and sand, <br>mixed with a molasses <br>and decoction of Phaseolus munga.<br>To this were added<br>mashed ripe bananas or tree resins and the pulp of bilva fruit.<br>After drying it was ground down and <br>mixed with molasses and water <br>until became soft for coating.<br> 89. Preparation of Wall Finish Coat<br>Buffaloskin was boiled in water <br>until it became soft. <br>Sticks were then made of the paste and <br>dried in the sunshine. <br>When colour was mixed with this,<br>it made it fast, and<br>if white mud was mixed with it, <br>it served as a perfect medium<br>for coating walls.<br> 90. Pigments used<br>Most pigments were minerals <br>available locally:<br>red ochre, vivid red, yellow ochre, <br>indigo blue, chalk white, <br>terra verte and green <br>Only Lapis lazuli was imported<br>Lamp-black was the only non-mineral<br> 91. Painting Sequence<br>A preliminary sketch in iron ore <br>was drawn while the surface <br>was still slightly wet,<br>followed by an under-painting in<br>grey or white. <br>On this surface the outline was filled in <br>with various colours, <br>proceeding from underpainting<br>to the appropriate colours <br>of the subject.<br> 92. Painting Sequence<br>Finally, when dry, it was finished off <br>with a dark outline <br>for final definition and <br>a burnishing process <br>to give lustre to the surface.<br> 93. Painting Tradition<br> 94. The paintings of Ajanta are <br>the earliest representation <br>of Indian painting tradition <br>available to us. <br>Even the earlier paintings at Ajanta, <br>of the 2nd century BC, <br>demonstrate <br>a sophisticated technique,<br>achievable only after centuries of experimentation. <br>Unfortunately we have no trace of such<br>experimentation. <br> 95. To get to know this great tradition <br>one may turn to the treatises written <br>based on the Ajanta experiment.<br> 96. Treatises were codified based <br>on Ajanta experience<br>Brihat-samhita (6th century)<br>Kama-sutra (6th century)<br>Vishnu-dharmottara (7th century)<br>Samarangana-sutra-dhara (11th century)<br> 97. Six Limbs of Painting<br>according to<br>Kama-sutra,<br>a well-known treatise on erotics<br> rUpabhedapramANAni <br>bhAvalAvaNya yojanam<br>sAdRShyam vArNikabhangam <br>iti chitram shaDAngakam<br>rUpa-bheda differentiation <br>pramANam proportion<br>bhAva suggestion of mood <br>lAvaNya-yojanam infusion of grace <br>sAdRShyam resemblance<br>vArNika-bhangam application of colour<br> 98. Eight Limbs of Painting<br>according to<br>Samarangana-sutra-dhara,<br>a treatise on Architecture<br>bhUmi-bandhana preparation of surface<br>varnika crayon work<br>rekha-karma outline work<br>lakshaNa features of face<br>varna-karma colouring<br>vartana-karma relief by shading<br>lekha-karma correction<br>dvika-karma final outline<br> 99. Producing <br>Depth &amp; Relief<br> 100. From very early times, <br>Indian artists have been using <br>a variety of techniques <br>to produce an illusion <br>of the third dimension.<br> 101. Perspective<br>An example of<br>expert rendering<br>in normal<br>perspective<br>A Monastery,<br>Shibi Jataka,Cave 17<br> 102. Multiple Vision<br>A technique of painting scenes <br>from different angles and merging them, <br>similar to the modern technique <br>called Multiple Vision. <br> 103. Details <br>of the farthest pavilion<br>would be lost<br>in normal perspective <br>Three separate shots dissolved<br>to show action<br>in all the pavilions<br> 104. Multipl...</p>