This book is beautiful. Indeed, author Benoy Behl describes his work as a ‘labour of love’. With over 200 illustrations, 189 of which are in full-colour, this is the most comprehensive publication of the Buddhist art from the Ajanta caves in western India.

The exquisite paintings and sculptures from the World Heritage Site caves range in date from the 2nd century BC to the 6th century AD. They were first brought to western attention in 1819 when a group of British soldiers on a hunting expedition chanced upon them.

One wonders if this experience was life-changing for the band of soldiers. For the art from the Ajanta caves enshrines a supremely compassionate view of life. On the walls of Ajunta, there is no creature, no matter how humble or glorious, whether ant or prince, that does not receive the close and reverential touch of the Buddhist artists. In sublime detail we enter a world of ravishing princesses and fantastical beings, including the bewitching kinnara, a part-bird part-human creature.

As the author is swift to emphasise in his elegantly crafted text, the paintings of the Ajanta caves are among the world’s most important cultural treasures. Indeed, to visit the caves – to step from the bright sunlight into the intense dark interior and be faced by the enchanting art – is one of the great human experiences. But for those of us who are unable to make such a visit, this book is a must. For to simply gaze upon its pictures is an exercise in meditation.


This article is an extract from the full article published in World Archaeology Issue 11. Click here to subscribe

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