04 April 2014
Paintings and carvings in ancient Indian temples challenge Western ideas of the relationship between spirituality and sexuality, says writer and historian William Dalrymple.
In the early summer of 1819, a British hunting party, lost in the arid mountains of the Western Ghats, made a remarkable chance discovery.
Following a tiger into a remote and narrow river valley, the hunters stumbled onto what was soon recognised as one of the great wonders of India – the painted caves of Ajanta.
On the walls of a line of 31 caves dug into an amphitheatre of solid rock, lie the most ancient and beautiful paintings in Buddhist art, the oldest of which date from the 2nd Century BC—an otherwise lost golden age of Indian painting. Along with the frescoes of Pompeii, Ajanta represents the greatest picture gallery to survive from the ancient world and the most comprehensive depiction of civilised classical life that we have.
The Ajanta murals tell the Jataka stories of the lives of the Buddha in images of supreme elegance and grace. The artists produced images that subtly explore a wide variety of human situations, from ascetic renunciation through portraits of compassionate Bodhisattvas of otherworldly beauty swaying on the threshold of Enlightenment, through to more earthy scenes of courtly dalliance in long lost ancient Indian pleasure gardens. Continue reading