Ajanta Caves: Restoring a 2000 year old marvel, pixel by pixel


he 2000-year-old Ajanta cave houses murals and painting made by unknown Buddhist monks. But this national heritage is undergoing degradation with the ravages of time and environment. But a maverick artist has taken up a personal mission of digitally restoring and conserving the UNESCO world heritage site. Nashik-based artist-photographer Prasad Pawar, has been researching, documenting, photographing and digitally restoring the Buddhist paintings and sculptures in Ajanta for 27 years, but without touching them.

A view of the 5th century AD prayer hall in the Ajanta caves depicting the Buddha is various poses. History buffs visiting the 2,000-year-old rock-cut caves, armed with guidebooks explaining narratives behind its fabulous murals and sculptures which depict the lives and times of Buddha and Bodhisattvas are met with the extreme low-light conditions inside and the mystery of how painters managed this task in near darkness.
Pawar says it’s difficult to comprehend the storylines in the murals, many of which use cinematic flashback style in their damaged state. This broken narrative of Ajanta murals troubled him even while at art college when his saw ‘Padmapani’ (pictured) – in cave number 1. The mural shows the Bodhisattva with curly hair, in a meditative state. In his right hand, he holds a lotus blossom representing spiritual awakening.
Pawar shoots 2 ft x 2ft at a time because only then he “can see the finer details and the brush strokes of the of the artwork better.” Photographing only that portion of a painting or statue which is illuminated by natural light, missing a portion means he will have to wait another 364 days when the light falls exactly on the same spot again.
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