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A fascinating discovery was made in 1819 when an officer with the Madras Regiment of the British Army John Smith was in pursuit of a tiger across the jungle just outside of Mumbai. While tracking the tiger, he stumbled upon a mysterious cave with a hidden entrance in the brush.
What was believed to be just one cave, turned out to be 29 massive caves carved into the bedrock in the distant past, beautifully decorated by mysterious builders.
Without knowing, the tiger had led Smith towards a massive arch that seems like an ordinary cave. Intrigued wy what he had seen, he asked his fellow officers to follow, making an unprecedented discovery: The Ajanta Caves.
Smith entered the cave while branding a flaming grass torch and discovered a massive vaulted and colonnaded hall, covered in beautiful yet faded paintings. The more he explored, the more beautiful the caves got. Just beneath a dome, Smith, and his officers came across a timeless praying Buddha.
Upon entering further, Smith decided to carve his name on a statue of a Bodhisattva, a symbol or figure that represents one of the past lives of Buddha, prior to achieving Nirvana, aka, the union with the divine spirit.
Before Smith entered the cave system, it remained far from society and only animals, floodwaters and the local people known as Bhil, may have entered the cave. It was created in 500AD.
After Smith discovered the caves, in 1844, Major Robert Gill was commissioned by the Royal Asiatic Society to create reproductions on canvas of the wall paintings.
Further investigation revealed that what was believed to be just one cave was, in fact, a massive cave system composed of shrines and monuments carved directly into the rock. There is a total of 29 caves.
Some scientists argue that these massive caves were created as a retreat for Buddhist monks during monsoon season.
Interestingly, each of the caves is unique, having an intricate and beautiful design covering its interior and entrances.
Most of the statues illustrate the life of Buddha and his many incarnations.
Some experts argue that the caves were built as astronomical observatories and that they align with solstices and other cosmological events.
As it turns out, caves number 19 and 26, align perfectly with the winter and summers solstices respectively.
During the winter and summer solstices, the sunlight shines straight through an opening in their roof, which consequently illuminates their incredible designed interior.
Considering the precision and effort required to build these massive cave system, the builder of the caves created an ancient wonder, especially considering they achieved all of this with extremely ‘limited’ tools and technology.
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