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Grammar of Ajanta Cave Paintings.

In my earlier writeup, I admitted a love story of Usha and Aniruddha where Usha (the daughter of Jaksha) identified her beloved in a portrait of Aniruddha (son of Lord Krishna) after rejecting more than ten portraits of several princes. She saw her beloved for the first time in her dream.


That is a little evidence that not only affirmed the Indian tradition of portrait painting is too old but also showed that the style of portrait painting was realistic. In the Buddhist era, the tradition of painting in such a style had dimmed away and increased the trend of spiritual subject-based painting. The new tradition produced a new philosophy of painting that we will find in Vinaya Pitaka, a Buddhist grammar of painting that pursued India's oldest grammar book of painting. In my last writeup, I discussed in detail such a grammatical perspective. The six aphorisms are so-called CHITRA SADANGA. It's in Sanskrit, bearing the meaning - six aphorisms of painting. I suggest you once again read each aphorism of the said ancient grammar, which will assist you in profoundly touching the soul of the Ajanta painting.  


Historians have determined that the oldest grammar book of painting got the highest recognition in the Buddhist era, and artists adopted this grammar as the gold standard. In the third century AD, a wise monk named Vatsyayana (the author of Kama Sutra) confessed that he got such a grammatical concept from the oldest book written by an anonymous author and just contributed it to his Kama Sutra. I guess probably the oldest book he mentioned was,- "Vishnudharmottara."  


To discuss the grammar of Ajanta Cave paintings, I want to start with their composition and also discuss their sense of perspective.


Painting in Ajanta Cave wall
Painting in Ajanta Cave wall

It is difficult to identify where the composition finished in the painting and where the perspective started; in the same manner, it is also confusing to determine the technical difference between composition and perspective in a painting. This is because the elements handled to make a composition are used similarly to make a sense of perspective. It would be wrong to judge only the grammatical portion of the Ajanta painting while attempting to discuss its aesthetic value and techniques because it depends on Indian tradition and ideology. Hence, the difficulties concerning the technical sides of a painting are inescapably related to the Indian traditional lifespan.


After the reformation of the Ajanta cave painting, it has now been distinguished that the Ajanta fresco of cave numbers 9 and 10 started from the era of Sanchi and ended in the Gupta era. Philip Stern, a notable French historian, established the time frame of Ajanta's cave painting based on the 29 caves. Intentionally, we do like to mean the second half of AD, the fifth century to the sixth century, when we speculate about the cave painting of Ajanta since it was the time of the highest magnitude of such masterpieces. Indeed, to understand the sculptures of several parts of India, the cave paintings of Ajanta help explicitly because all the techniques applied to the paintings of 9 and 10 caves were implemented later in the sculptures of Amaravati, Sanchi, and Bharhut.


Ajanta Cave 17 Descent from Heaven
Ajanta Cave 17 Descent from Heaven

It seems awestruck when we glance at Ajanta's frescoes because we will not find any borderline between the two compositions, and it will look compact and congested. We need to have a vast knowledge of "Jataka Manjari" to identify the end of a segment in the total composition. There is no gap anywhere in the entire wall of those caves, yet astonishingly, it does not have harshness in composition; instead, it is fastened with a harmonious balance, which is just outstanding! I just used the word "harmonious balance"; what is it? Indeed, you do not need to have the most comprehensive knowledge about the stories of Jataka while enjoying the artworks of Ajanta. Only you need to keep your patience and start from anywhere to observe the cave wall. After a moment, your eyes will discover the details, and all the figures will slack from the composition and interact with you. When you complete your observation, one of the figures or objects of that piece will take you to another segment. After finishing, it automatically retakes you, in your absence, to another part of the story. You will have a fantastic experience when you move to the end, and you will fall into the nostalgia of that ancient era.


In the next chapter, our objective will be to determine what discipline they followed to complete a composition, what competence they admired in the rule, and which law dominated the artistic value. Some of those compositions were easier based on the equal symmetry we found in the groups related to Buddha. Those are not such significant pieces; however, the aphorism of symmetrical painting had already settled before the timeframe of Ajanta, and the repercussions of such a method were found in several Buddhist monasteries and temples. Nevertheless, some paintings bear significance without having the impact of the traditional symmetrical composition. One of the paintings, "The Temptation of Mara," broke out of such tradition and vindicated the artist's talent. (MARA, a supernatural character well-known as the demon or the Lord of Death, challenged Lord Buddha and repeatedly baffled all the efforts of Buddha to fail to reach his spiritual destination.)


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