Though small, the Ânanta is one of the most interesting caves of this group.1 As will be seen from the annexed woodcut it is somewhat irregular in plan; its greatest length internally is 24 feet 6 inches with a depth of only 7 feet. Its verandah measures  27 feet on its inner side, but is only 5 feet in width. Its age, we may say, can be determined with precision from the fact of its architectural ornaments and the character of its sculpture, being nearly Identical those of the Bharhut Stûpa (B.C. 200 to 150). The frieze, for instance, consisting of a pyramid of steps, with a lotus between each, (Plate I., figs. 1 and 2) being common to both, and is found nowhere else in the same form that I am aware of, nor in any other age. It runs round the whole of the coping of the rail of the Stûpa, and is extended interruptedly across the front of this cave. The other sculptures in this cave show so marked a similarity in character to those at Bharhut as hardly to admit of doubt of their being executed about the same time. The jambs too of its doorways slope inwards, at what angle I have been unable to ascertain, but sufficiently so to show that the age of this cave cannot be far removed from that I have ascribed to it.

This cave was originally divided from its verandah by a wall pierced with four doors, but the pier between two of these having fallen away has carried with it two of the semicircular tympana which invariably surmount the doorways in these caves, and which in the earlier ones are the parts which are usually adorned with sculpture. In Mr. Locke's plan it is the left one that has fallen, but according to the photographs of the casts (Plate 1.) the two end ones are complete, and it is the centre pier that has been removed. This, however, is of very little consequence. Of the two that remain one contains a sacred tree within its rail, and a man and woman on either side worshipping it, and beyond a boy and a girl bring offerings to their parents. This tree, as is well known, is the most common object of worship, and occurs at least 76 times on the gateways at Sanchi2, we ought not, therefore, to be surprised to find it here. The other remaining tympanum contains an image of the goddess Śrî or Lakshmî, but whether as the Goddess of Wealth or the wife of Borne fabled previous avatâra of Visņu, is not clear. As I pointed out before, she occurs at least ten times at Sanchi in exactly the same attitude, sstanding on a lotus with two elephants, on lotuses also, pouring water over her.3 General Cunningham has since pointed out another in the centre of the gateway of another tope, at Bhilsa4, and she occurs on a medallion on the Bharhut Rail, precisely as she is represented here. She is, in fact, so far as I can ascertain, the only person who was worshipped by the Buddhists before the Christian era, but her worship by them was, to say the least of it, prevalent everywhere. As a Brahmanical object of worship she first occurs, so far as I know, in the caves of Mahavallipur, and in the nearly contemporary kailasa at Elurâ, in the eighth century,  but afterwards became a favourite object with them, and remains so to the present day.5

From our knowledge of the sculptures of the Bharhut Tope, we may safely predicate that, in addition to the Tree and the image of Śrî, the two remaining tympana were filled, one, with a representation of a wheel, the other, of a dâgoba, the last three being practically the three great objects of worship both there and at Sanchi. At the latter place, as just mentioned" the worship of the tree occurs 76 times, of dâgobas 38, wheels 10 times, and Śrî 10, which is as nearly as can be ascertained from its ruined state, the proportions in which they occur at Bharhut, and there is consequently every reason to suppose would be adopted in a contemporary monument in Orissa. Whether any remains of the dâgoba or wheel are still to be found in the ruined tympana, remains to be seen. I fancy they are, but they have not yet been looked for.

Scholars have not yet quite made up their minds what these three great emblems are intended to symbolise, but I think there is now a pretty general consensus that the Dâgoba represents Buddha in the Buddhist trinity. It is always simulated to contain a relic of him, or of Rome of his followers when not otherwise appropriated, or to commemorate some act of his, or memorial of him, and may consequently be easily substituted for his bodily presence, before images of him were introduced.6 The Wheel, almost all are agreed, represents Dharma, or the law, and if this is so, it seems almost impossible to escape the conviction that the tree is the real, as it would be the appropriate representation of the Sangha or congregation.

Above the tympanum containing the sacred tree is the triśula ornament, General Cunningham calls it the tri-ratna or three jewels, which may be, as correct as designation, though the former may be preferable as involving no theory. It is essentially a Buddhist emblem7, and I fancy symbolises the Buddhist trinity, Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, when used as it is here singly and by itself, but frequently it is found in combination with other emblems. Sometimes, for instance, with three wheels on the three points, but the most common combination seems to be with the shield ornament, as in the annexed illustration from the gateways at Sanchi. What the shield represents has not yet been explained. It occurs under the Swastika in the Hâthi Gumpha, and is the pendant to the triśula in this cave, being placed over the image of Śrî, and occurs in similar positions in the Ganeśa cave and elsewhere.

In the Ânanta cave (Plate I.) these two emblems are shown in connexion with two three-headed snakes, which form the upper member of the decoration of these doorways.8 In that one over the tree there is a frieze of twelve geese or Hansas, bearing lotus buds in their beaks, which may be of any age, but over the other, there is a fantastic representation of men struggling with lions and bulls which, so far as I know, may be unique, though something like both these subjects occurs in two lâts at Sanchi9, and in a much more modern form at the base of the outer rail at Amrâvati.10

The pilasters that adorn the sides of the doorways are of a curious but exceptional class, and more like some of those found in early caves in the west than any others found on this side of India. They are evidently copied from some form of wooden post stuck into stone vases or bases, as is usual at Karlê, Nasick, and other western caves. Here, however, in addition to the usual conventional forms, the surface is carved to an extent not found elsewhere, and betrays a wooden origin indicative of the early age to which I would assign the excavation of this cave.

Taking it altogether, the Ânanta is certainly  one of the most interesting caves of the group. Even in its ruined state it presents a nearly complete picture of Buddhist symbolism, of as early an age as is anywhere to be found ,excepting, perhaps, the great Stûpa at Bharhut, whith if not contemporary, it was probably even earlier, and of which its sculptures may be considered as an epitome. As such it is well worthty of more attention than has yet been bestowed upon it.

  • 1. When I was at Khandagiri, this cave was not known, nor does Kittoe seem to have been aware of its existence. Even now I have been unable to procure a photograph of it, nor any drawing of its details, many of which would be extremely useful in determining its peculiarities. We must wait till someone who knows something of Buddhism and Buddhist art visits these caves before we can feel sure of our facts. I wrote on April last to Mr. Locke, who made the casts of its sculptures, asking for some further particulars, but he has not yet acknowledged the receipt of my letter. I have, however, through the intervention of my friend Mr. W. W. Hunter. B.C.S., been able to obtain from the Commissioner at Katak nearly all the information I require. He instructed the joint magistrate, Mr. Phillips, to visit the caves, and answer my questions, which he has done in a most satisfactory manner, and a good deal of what follows depends on the information thus afforded me. —J.F.
  • 2. Tree and Serpent Worship, page 105.
  • 3. Loc.cit.
  • 4. Notwithstanding this, General Cunningham (Bharhut Stupa, p. 117) states “that the subject is not an uncommon one with Brahmanical sculptors, but l am unable to give any Buddhistical explanation of it.” Unfortunately the General considers it necessary to ignore all that has been done at Sanchi since the publication of his book on that Tope in 1854. He has not consequently seen Colonel Maisey' drawings, nor Capt. Cole’s exhaustive transcripts, nor was he aware of the Udayagiri image published in the second edition of my Tree and Serpent Worship, Plate C. It is not, therefore, surprising he should not be aware how essentially it is a Buddhist conceit adopted long afterwards by the Brahmans. It occurs frequently in the Buddhist caves at Junnar and Arungabad.
  • 5. One of the most curious representations of this goddess occur on a tablet, Mr. Court calls it "symbole", which was found by that gentleman at Manikyala, and was lithographed by Mr. Prinsep from a drawing by him and published as Plate XX. vol. V. of his Journal. The drawing probably is not quite correct but it is interesting, as it represents the goddess with her two attendants and two elephants standing on a band containing eight easily recognised Buddhist symbols, such as the vase, the swastika, the wheel, the two fishes, the shield, and the altar. If the drawing is to be depended upon, it may belong to the fourth or fifth century. It is not known what has become of this tablet.
  • 6. General Cunningham admits “that even in the later sculptures at Sanchi which date from the end of the first century A.D., there is no representation of Buddha, and the sole objects of reverence are Stûpas, wheels, and trees” (Stûpa at Bharhut; p. 107). It is true he overlooks the representation of him at Sanchi on Plate XXXIII., Tree and Serpent Worship, but this might be expected. There he appears only as man, before he attained Buddhahood, not in the usual conventional attitude in which he was afterwards worshipped. He may consequently have been overlooked; but barring this, the General's testimony as to the limitation of objects of worship is most important. Babu Rajendralâla Mitra also admits that no image of Buddha is to be found among these early sculptures. Buddha Gaya, p. 128
  • 7. General Cunningham, at p. 112 of his Stûpa at Bharhut claims the credit of having been the first, in his work on the Bhilsa Topes, published in 1854, to have pointed out the resemblance between this triple emblem as used at Sanchi (Tree and Serpent Worship, Plate XXX.) and the emblematic Jagannâth with his brother and sister as now worshipped at Puri. At p. 139 of my work just quoted, on the first occasion when I had an opportunity of so doing, I fully admitted, in 1873, the justice of this claim, and it was consequently hardly necessary for him in 1879 to refer indignantly to the “able though anonymous reviewer of my work,” to substantiate a claim no one ever disputed.  I have always mentioned that Vishnuism is practically only a bad and corrupt form or Buddhism, but the subject requires far more full and complete treatment than has yet been bestowed upon it by anyone.
  • 8. It would be curious to know what the two emblems are that adorned the two other tympana, and it is probable that enough remains to ascertain this, but our information regarding this cave is extremely limited and imperfect.
  • 9. Tree and Serpent Worship, Plate XXXIX.
  • 10. Loc. cit., Plates XLVIII. And LVII.