Cave 1 is an edifice of the late fifth century CE. It has an front court, an elaborately designed facade, a porch with monastic cells on either ends, a pillared hall with fourteen cells, and the inner shrine with an antechamber. The edifice displays advanced art, architectural, and sculptural programmes.
Although the cave has been numbered 1, it was not the first to be excavated. It was initiated after at least 15 Ajanta caves were well underway. Due to its late start, it was placed at the end of the scarp. The excavations really began from the centre and progressed towards the left and right.
Originally, there was a small portico projecting from the veranda, now perished. To the left and right of the cave’s courtyard are side-chapels with raised plinth and pillared porches. The entablature of the whole complex is continuous from the left side-chapel, through the frontal façade, unto the right side-chapel showing a ceaseless relay of relief carvings. These reliefs depict various themes like the events from the life of the Buddha, flora and fauna, and a variety of decorative and ornamental motifs.
The veranda of such a complete cave has cells instead of side chapels on its left and right ends indicate that the idea of having side-chapels in the veranda had not been introduced in the early stage of cave’s beginning. Later, as the site progressed, side-chapels were compensated outside, on the left and right of the courtyard.
The columns, six on the veranda and twenty in the hall, exhibit a matured stage of development having vertical and spiral flutings with horizontal bands of exquisite tracery. The doorway is also ornate.
The cave is known for its murals. The subject matter deals with the Buddha in previous existence as a Bodhisattva, episodes from the life of the Buddha, and devotional and doctrinal themes.
There are several Jatakas including Maitribala, Mahasudarshana, Shibi, Udrayan, Sudhana, Shankhpala, Janaka, Kalyanakarina, Sumagadha, Mahosadha, Maravijaya, Mahapratiharya, Champaka, Nagakumara, and Prabhasa. There is also a painting of Bodhisatva Padmapani. The entire eiling both of the main hall and the antarala has been painted.
The shrine houses a colossal Buddha image seated in padmasana, and his hands in dharmachakrapravartana mudra. The pedestal depicts the Wheel of Law in the centre, on either side.