The kings of the Vakataka dynasty ruled over the Deccan region from approximately 250 A.D. to 490 A.D. The first ruler of this dynasty was Vindhyashakti I. The Vakatakas were the contempo- raries of the famous Gupta dynasty. Prabhavati, the daughter of Chandragupta II Vikramaditya was married to Rudrasena II, a Vakataka ruler. He had a very short reign and after his demise, Prabhavati was appointed the regent of her minor sons. This brought the Guptas and Vakatakas closer to each other. A branch of the Vakataka dynasty called the Vatsagulma is known through inscriptons.
Hinduism and Buddhism flourished during Vakataka Empire. Their major contribution to art and architecture is seen in the caves of Ajanta in Maharashtra. Here, more than twenty caves have been created by cutting into the sandstone rock above the River Waghora. These rock-cut caves were the places where the Buddhist monks lived and prayed. Viharas were the caves where the monks lived and chaityas were the caves where they prayed and meditated.
Some historians claim that the caves of Ajanta were created over a very long period of time. However, there are others who confirm that almost all the caves belong to the Vakataka Empire and were made within a short period of intense activity between the fifth and sixth centuries A.D. Cave 16 in Ajanta has an inscription that states that this cave was excavated in the 5th century A.D. It is a very ornate cave with a gigantic image of Buddha inside. This cave was in use even during the 8th-9th centuries A.D. Cave 17 was the gift of a prince who was a feudatory of the same Emperor. Cave 26 of Ajanta, a Vakataka cave again, also has a 5th century inscription and is famous for the huge sculpture of Buddha in a reclining posture when he attained Parinirvana. This sculpture is 7.07 metres in length.
The paintings of Ajanta are world famous. The walls, ceilings, pillars and the doorframes were beautifully painted. Although in most of the caves, these paintings are very badly damaged and only fragments remain, the immense talent of the artists can still be seen. The theme of the paintings is religious in nature. They portray incidents from the life of the Buddha, the Bodhisattvas and the different stories of the Jataka tales that deal with the previous lives of the Buddha. These paintings depict numerous birds, animals, flowers, plants, fruits, palaces, towns and villages. Figures of men and women clad in various types of garments made from different types of fabric are also seen. The common colours used in these paintings are red and yellow ochre (ochre is a natural earth pigment), lamp black, blue (colour obtained from lapis lazuri which is a semi-precious stone) and white.
Painting on these caves had been an elaborate and long process. The rock surface was first coated with a mixture of clay, rice husk and gum. A coat of lime was applied over this. It was then polished and smoothened. Finally, on this polished surface, paintings were drawn.