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Vakataka Paintings

A Peek Into The Cave Of Enlightenment

Wall paintings can be traced back as early as 10,000 years in Indian art history. In the form of petroglyphs and pictographs; which is evident enough to say that painting has been practised in India since prehistoric times. Over the years, a number of dynasties have advocated the legacy. Some using their specific skills and others carrying on the artistic tradition of their prior rulers. Murals at Ajanta Caves are an exemplary work of finely expressive paintings. They depict the Buddha’s earlier iterations inspired by tales of Aryasura’s Jatakamala. It was the Vakatakas who migrated from the Krishna Valley and established their empire in the Deccan. Further, under the rule of Emperor Harishena, Ajanta Caves grew to its artistic prosperity and the Vakataka paintings were birthed.

Depictions In The Cave Paintings

The Vakatakas were known to be the connoisseurs of art with poetic, literary and architectural skills. In every painting, there is a symmetrical balance of soft colours and lines with intricate attention to detail and aesthetics. Apart from visually ornate illustrations, the paintings of Ajanta were didactic and devotional. The construction of Ajanta Caves was divided into two phases. The first stage being in the 2nd century BC. Followed by the second phase beginning around the 5th and 6th century AD.

Walter M. Spink, an art historian, widely acknowledged for his immense contribution to the works of Ajanta Caves. According to him, Emperor Harishena put significance on using royal symbolism in a few particular Jataka tales to showcase Buddha’s pre-enlightened imperial life in paintings of Cave 1. The two most renowned large-figured wall frescoes are in this Cave. The first is of the Bodhisattva Padmapani and the second one of Vajrapani depicts Buddha’s compassion and His power, respectively. Geometrical & floral patterns decoarte the ceilings of the caves.


Most of the Vakataka paintings attempt to depict cultural and societal reflections. Such paintings in Cave 17 include “Darpana Sundari” – a lady noticing herself in the mirror. “Coming of Sinhala” – a story of celebrating the Sinhalese Prince Vijaya’s expedition, and “Vessantara Jataka” – the story of the generous king Vessantara.

These paintings, along with the cultural aspect and the regular surrounding events, also indicate a means of communication and harmonisation amongst the society.

Styles Of Vakataka Paintings

These stunning pictorial painted on a dry surface with layers of clay and cow dung. The colour are made up of vegetables and stones found in the surrounding premise. They are firstly crushed and mixed with glue. Yellow, red and brown ochre colours are majorly used for which lapis lazuli was imported from Persia. The second phase or the later Vakataka period mainly consists of constructing Viharas and Chaityagrihas.

As of 1983, Ajanta Caves is a renowned place holding the title of UNESCO World Heritage Site alongside Ellora Caves.

Ajanta & Vakataka Paintings

Paintings at Ajanta Caves are a contrast to the Buddhist ascetic life involving aspects such as luxury, sensuality and imperialism. On the other hand, the Viharas and Chaityagrihas at Ajanta were open for all pilgrims and not to just those practising Buddhism. Another factor to be taken into account is the Vakatakas’ vision and vast knowledge of art and expressionism. It has played the most vital role in the spread and advancement of Buddhist art.

Ochre hues and descriptive imagery has made the Vakataka style of painting an exclusively one of its kind. Moreover, the 2nd century BC, i.e. when the construction of the wall-painting began, was the Golden Age of Buddhism extensive efforts were taken to enhance and preach Buddhism which can be observed from the didactics of a number of murals.

From creating colour palettes by crushing stone pebbles and vegetables to importing lapis lazuli from Persia – we can observe not only the Vakatakas’ desire to generate a unique-most art style, but also to bring enhanced artistic vision.

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Citation : Bussagli M, Sivaramamurti C, 5000 Years of the Art of India. Published by Abramus, New York 1971. Source : Archeological Survey of India, New Delhi.

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