How visitors’ breath is destroying Ajanta’s ancient wonders

Source: The post is based on the articleHow visitors’ breath is destroying Ajanta’s ancient wonderspublished in TOI on 10th September 2022.

What is the News?

The famous paintings of Ajanta caves, widely regarded as the finest surviving examples of ancient Indian art, are under serious threat not so much from age but the rush of visitors.

How do visitors impact the Ajanta Caves?

Visitors arrive at the caves breathing heavily after climbing the many steps from the base. 

As they immediately rush into the cool caves, they carry an increased amount of carbon dioxide and moisture with them inside. 

The constant influx of tourists raises the temperature inside the caves, and affects the paintings.

For instance, it has been noted that carbon dioxide content shoots up to 1,022 PPM (parts per million) on any peak tourist day as against 263 PPM on a normal day.

​​What are Ajanta Caves?

Ajanta is a series of rock-cut caves in the Sahyadri ranges (Western Ghats) on Waghora river near Aurangabad in Maharashtra.

The caves are 30 in number including the unfinished ones of which five are Chaitya or prayer halls and the rest are viharas (monastery). 

Built by: The caves were built in two phases, the first starting around the 2nd century BCE and the second occurring from 400 to 650 CE.

Reference to the Ajanta caves can be found in the travel accounts of Chinese Buddhist travellers Fa Hien (during the reign of Chandragupta II; 380- 415 CE) and Hieun Tsang (during the reign of emperor Harshavardhana; 606 – 647 CE). 

Discovered by: The caves were first discovered in 1819, when John Smith, a British official, accidentally stumbled upon the horse-shoe-shaped rock while hunting a tiger.

Paintings: ​​The fresco painting technique was employed to create the figures in these caves. The artworks’ outlines were painted in red colour. The scarcity of blue in the paintings is one of the most remarkable elements.

– Mostly, the paintings depict Buddhism, including Buddha’s life and Jataka stories.

UNESCO Site: The site is a protected monument in the care of the Archaeological Survey of India and since 1983, the Ajanta Caves have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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