A guide for Ajanta caves Part 5 - Cave 11 to Cave 15

We visited Ajanta caves 7 to 10 in the last  article in the series - A guide for Ajanta caves. You can also explore the other caves in this article series here. Part -1, Part-2 and Part -3. In these previous episodes we discussed about the history, art and architecture of Ajanta caves one to ten. In this article we will visit caves 11 to 15 which are not very elaborate or decorated as the caves we saw earlier.

A guide for Ajanta cave 11

In Ajanta, there are two types of caves. "Chaitya-gruhas" or the prayer halls and "Viharas" or living quarters for monks. The prayer halls houses a central shrine with a Buddha image in the newer caves. In the caves from the first(Hinayana) phase of construction, the prayer hall contains a Stupa. The viharas on the other hand contains small cells designed for the monks to live in. Each cell in the Vihara are very small. They have just enough space to accommodate a stone bed and sometimes a pole for hanging cloths. 

In the first phase of construction in Ajanta, there was a clear distinction between the prayer hall and monk quarters. The 1st century cave 9 was a prayer halls and cave 12 was a monk quarters. However, in the second phase of construction in Ajanta during the Vakataka period (AD 460-480) this distinction was becoming very thin.

Cave 11 in Ajanta was constructed in AD 469 - the earlier Vakataka period. It was initially designed as a Vihara or residence for the monks. However in the later years, it had become a norm to include the Stupas or Buddha images inside the monk quarters as well. Your guide for Ajanta caves will tell you an interesting history of Cave 11 in terms of evolution in the Ajanta construction styles and conventions. Ajanta cave 11 was started out as a monk quarters, later the patrons decided to incorporate a Stupa in the shrine.

Buddha Idol in the Ajanta cave 11 - there is one devotee at the foot
Buddha Idol in the Ajanta cave 11 - there is one devotee at the foot



Construction of Ajanta cave 11 was completed in AD 469.However, history of this cave did not end there. There were other ambitious caves coming up in Ajanta construction site with images of Buddha as idol in the shrine. Hence sometime in AD 478, the patron of Ajanta cave 11 decided to replace the Stupa with an Idol of Buddha. An experienced guide for Ajanta caves would be able to point out clearly, how the Stupa was concealed behind the Buddha idol. The aura of Buddha is actually the dome of the Stupa.  Buddha Idol is seated in the Padmasana posture, with a single devotee at his foot. This might be the patron of this cave.

There are four stout pillars in the middle of this cave. On each side of the wall, there are 3 cells for the monks. The pillars are not ornamented or painted indicating that the cave did not have any auspicious purpose. The central plaza created by these four stout columns in Ajanta cave number 11 might have been designed as a meeting place for the monks who resided in Cave 11. 

A guide for Ajanta cave number 12 

Cave 12 in Ajanta is one of the three ancient Hinayana caves. It is also special because it is the only existing Vihara from the Hinayana period 2000 years back. "Vihara" is the residential quarters for the Buddhist monks. Cave 12 also was a prototype that the later period Vakataka architects followed while creating residential quarters for monks. 

Interior of Ajanta cave 12 - each door leads to a cell
Interior of Ajanta cave 12 - each door leads to a cell 

The design of cave number 12 is quite simple. It does not have portico or pillars. It is just an open hall with 12 cells cut into three walls. Each cell in cave 12 is extremely modest with 2 stone beds and a pole for hanging cloths. They could accommodate two monks. Ajanta historian Walter M Spink has the opinion that the cave 12 was intended to used by monks who prayed in the great Chaitya-Gruha(Prayer Hall) in cave 10. It is quite logical considering cave 9,10 and 12 are from the earlier Hinayana Buddhist period (2nd BC to 1st AD).

Interior view of the cell 
There is an important ancient inscription at the door way of the right most cell in the back wall. It is written in Brahmi and credits the cave 12 as a donation of merchant "Ghanamadada". The translation of this ancient inscription goes like this.
Inscription in Ajanta cave 12
Inscription in Ajanta cave 12
“The meritorious gift of a dwelling with cells (apavaraka) and hall (upacraya) by the merchant Ghanamadada.”

Guide for Ajanta cave 13 - 15

Ajanta caves 13 to 15 are a series of minor caves built during the second phase of construction in Ajanta. Most of the Ajanta guides skip these caves as they are only partially built. Cave number 13 was  also intended as a residential quarters for the monks. Initially cave 13 had a simple porch which was fallen off long time back.

Construction of cave 14 was abandoned almost as soon as is began. Only the porch doorway is partially complete. This doorway however presents an interesting feature. Most of the carvings and paintings in the Ajanta were carried out by two or more artists. They worked on different parts of the same piece of work. Here, the porch door of cave 14 also was the work of two different artists. On closer observation one can  see minute differences reflecting the individual style of Ajanta artists. In Ajanta, artist were give certain degree of freedom while it was mandatory to confirm to certain norms.

Cave 15 is also similar to caves 13 and 15. The construction was started in 468 and was soon abandoned. This cave was refurbished in 477. 

To know more about the Mahayana and Hinayana cults of Buddhism, you can check this comprehensive article.

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