A guide for Ajanta caves Part 3 - Caves 3 to 6

This is the third part of the guide for Ajanta caves series. In the part 1 of the Ajanta guide,  I presented a brief history of Ajanta caves and the details of the cave number 1. The second part of the guide for Ajanta caves, is a detailed tour of cave number 2. In this part, I would like to give a complete guide for caves 3 to 6.

As I mentioned in the earlier part, the information in this guide is based on the research by scholar and famous Ajanta historian Walter M Spink. 

Ajanta cave number 3 

Cave number 3 in Ajanta is an incomplete cave. The construction was abandoned due to some unknown reasons. There are not much to explore in this cave. However, if one is curious about the procedure of excavation followed in Ajanta caves, cave number 3 is a good example of the same.

A guide for Ajanta cave number 4


The colossal Buddha idol in the Ajanta cave 4 shrine
The colossal Buddha idol in the Ajanta cave 4 shrine
Photo by: travelwayoflife CC-BY-SA2.0 via Flickr

Ajanta cave number 4 was conceptualized as a huge Vihara( residential quarters for Buddhist monks) which could accommodate 44 monks. The time period of this cave is around 463 AD. According to inscriptions, the chief patron or Viharaswamin  of this cave is named Madhura. This cave was quite an ambitious project which was done in multiple stages. However, the construction of this cave was never  completed. In addition to the original sculptures, cave number 4 in Ajanta also contains many sculptures from the later periods by unknown (or intrusive according to Spinks) patrons.

The porch  of cave number 4 is lined with huge octagonal pillars which doesn't have much ornamentation. However, their size indicates the huge scale at which the cave was planned.

The massive octagonal columns in front of the porch - Ajanta cave 4
The massive octagonal columns in front of the porch - Ajanta cave 4
Photo: By 24prasannaballal  [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
On either side of the doorway of the porch, there are two important sculptures. On the right side is  Avalokitesvara, Bodhisattva depicted as a protector of travelers. Avalokitesvara depicted as protecting the travellers from eight great perils -ship wreck, imprisonment, armed men (probably robbers or crooks), fire. From the bottom right towards up we have black magic (doesn't it ring with drugs?), attack of elephant, attack of serpents and finally attack of lion. On the left side of the doorway Buddha and Bodhisattvas are depicted.

spacious interior of Ajanta cave 6
spacious interior of Ajanta cave 6
Photo: By ganuullu CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0 via Flickr

Interiors of cave number 4 are very spacious. There is a open space in the center lined by huge columns on all three sides. Beyond the columns, on the side wall there are the small cells, which is were supposed to be the modest apartments for monks.

The large bays behind massive pillars in cave 4 - the door of one cell is visible
Photo: By Samruddhi patel (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

There are no paintings in Ajanta cave number 4. In fact the construction of this cave was never even completed. Also, the due to bad rock quality the roof of this cave collapsed during its construction. The roof have been chipped out to remove this fault and still the ceiling of Ajanta cave 4 looks quite rugged and unfinished.

Two of the Buddhas of the past - from Ajanta cave 4 antechamber
Two of the Buddhas of the past - fromAjanta cave 4 antechamber
Photo by: by Ganullu CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0 via Flicker

The main attraction of Ajanta cave number 4 is the collosal Buddha image in the shrine and six collosal Buddha's of the past in the shrine's antechamber. They are depicted as attending to the colossal Buddha in the shrine - the seventh and last Buddha known as the Sakyamuni.

On the lintel on the door leading into the shrine, one can also spot eight Buddhas depicted including the future Buddha known as "Maitreya" Buddha.

Ajanta cave number 4 Shrine 
The colossal Buddha idol in the Ajanta cave 4 shrine
The colossal Buddha idol in the Ajanta cave 4 shrine

The main attraction in Ajanta cave number our is the colossal Buddha image in the Shrine flanked by two Bodhisattvas - Padmapani and Vajrapani- on either sides. On close observation one can spot the inscription at the foot of the Buddha idol mentions the name of Madhura as a patron and also his dedication of the cave to his parents and maternal grandmother. One can also spot the kneeling devotees by the foot of the Buddha image. 

Ajanta cave number 5

Cave number 5 in Ajanta is again an unfinished cave. Only the door of the porch is carved. It is estimated that the construction of this cave was started in 577. Going by the elaborate carvings on the door frame and windows of cave number 5 porch, it seems the patron had very ambitious plans for this cave. Unfortunately they were not fulfilled. The cave was not even penetrated completely.  If you are in a hurry, you can very well skip this cave.

Guide for Ajanta cave number 6

Ajanta cave number 6 is a two-storey cave. However they were not designed together. As they are not related to each other, they are separately designated as cave lower 6 and cave upper 6.

Ajanta cave lower 6 was designed around 467 AD. The cave construction did not progress much beyond the elaborate shrine and Buddha idol. The doorframe of the shrine is intricately carved clearly indicating that the patron of this cave had very ambitious goals.

Buddha in the lower cave 6 shrine - note the intricate door frame
Buddha in the lower cave 6 shrine - note the intricate door frame
Photo: By Ibits (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Ajanta cave upper 6 is specifically noteworthy due to the presence of numerous Buddha images carved. The staircase leading from lower 6 to the upper 6 is positioned in such an inconvenient way, that Spinks believe that the upper cave 6 was not at all in plan when the lower one was being made.

Guide for Ajanta cave - Upper 6
Eventhough there are numerous Buddha images in the upper cave 6, only the one in the Shrine is complete. All these Buddha sculptures are not carved in the same time period. The central shrine with Buddha and two Bodhisattvas might be the only contribution from the actual patron of this cave.

Buddha in the uppercave 6 shrine - note padmapani and vajrapani on sides
Buddha in the uppercave 6 shrine - note padmapani and vajrapani on sides
Photo by: By Christian Luczanits (Christian Luczanits) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

In addition to the main shrine, the upper cave 6 also has shrinelets on left and right side. Both contains Buddha images.
Some of the numerous Buddha images in Ajanta cave upper 6
Some of the numerous Buddha images in Ajanta cave upper 6


The later Buddha figures( which are incomplete and clearly of low quality work) might be done by intrusive donors. Ajanta always had many intrusive donors who took up the abandoned caves and carved the Buddha images for apparent spiritual merit.

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