The caves aren't the classic variety of natural depressions you might find in a mountainous landscape, but instead, are the product of human labor and ingenuity. As you can see from this picture the caves are part of a horseshoe shaped gorge overlooking a heavily forested river valley. Twenty-two hundred years ago work began on an extensive series of Buddhist cave monuments and over a period of hundreds of years, thirty one of them were carved piece by piece from the rock face. Then, sometime around around the year 1000AD, they fell in to disuse, dense jungle grew around, hiding the caves away from human eyes.
For hundreds of years the Ajanta caves lay undisturbed until 1819, during the time of the British Raj, an officer out on a tiger hunt (yes, they really did) rediscovered one of the doorways. The first thing he did was to carve his name and the date in one of the walls, but the second thing was that he reported his discovery. Archeologists have determined the first of these ancient temple monuments were hewn from bare rock around 230BC. Then a second period of building took place around 460AD. It was this second period that saw the creation of twenty temples that were used as monasteries.
There are paintings everywhere – literally. Every surface apart from the floor is festooned with narrative paintings. Time has taken a serious toll on these marvelous works with many parts simply just fragments of what they were when first created. The stories are almost wholly devoted to Jātakas – tales of the Buddha’s previous lives. They were created using an ancient method. The surface was chiseled so it was rough and could hold plaster which was then spread across the surface. Then the master painter would, while the plaster was still wet, start his work. The colors soaked into the plaster and became a part of the surface. I'm guessing the artists never imagined their work lasting for over two thousand years. I wonder if my portraits of Crow will last so long? Come to think of it, they just might as he likes to stash them in his personal collection.
But no one knows when and why those caves were abandoned. There are a lot more pictures to be found on the web by googling but not much in the way of video. I did find this one on a World Heritage site if you'd like to have a better look:
It seems to me that human beings usually do their best work when it's done in service to a larger vision. It's guaranteed our new windows, or the building itself, won't last a twentieth as long. That's probably a good thing.