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Notes on the Geography of Peninsular India: Ajanta: Photo 15

world pictures Peninsular India: Ajanta

Step through the doorway between the elephants, and you bump into this life-sized image of Nagendra, the protective snake deity here functioning as a gatekeeper. The figure was carved by order of Varahadeva, who remained in power at least from 462 to 478, a period embracing what Spink considers the entire second phase of construction. The Archaeological Survey of India is more expansive in its dating.

The image was completely hidden by rubble and vegetation until unmasked by archaeological workers in the 19th century. What business Buddhists had with nagas is a nice question, but there's a lot of imagery on the site that is even more perplexing. And if you wonder how anyone can tell that this is a snake divinity, look around. Not only are there very contented snakes on either side, Nagendra is reclining against the coils of a particularly big 'un.

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