The Ajanta Caves, in Maharashtra, are 31 rock-cut cave monuments which date from the 2nd century BC. The caves include paintings and sculptures considered to be masterpieces of both Buddhist religious art (which depict the Jataka Tales) as well as frescos which are reminiscent of the Sigiriya paintings in Sri Lanka. The caves were built in two phases starting around 200 BC, with the second group of caves built around 600 AD. Since 1983, the Ajanta Caves have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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The first sanctuaries were built during the Satavahana dynasty in the canyons of the Waghora River. Most of the work of the second period took place over short time period, from 460 to 480 AD, during the reign of Emperor Harishena of the Vakataka dynasty. Some 20 cave temples were simultaneously created, for the most part Viharas: monasteries with a sanctuary in the structure’s rear centre. The Ajanta Caves appear to have been abandoned shortly after the fall of Harishena circa 480 AD. Since then, these temples have been abandoned and gradually forgotten. During the intervening centuries, the jungle grew back and the caves were hidden, unvisited and undisturbed.
On 28 April 1819, a British officer for the Madras Presidency, John Smith, while hunting tiger, accidentally discovered the entrance to one of the cave temples deep within the tangled undergrowth.