Culture and Heritage

Preserving India’s world-famous Ajanta Cave art for posterity

Images of the rock sculptures and restored paintings of the Ajanta Caves . Image Courtesy - South Asia Monitor
Images of the rock sculptures and restored paintings of the Ajanta Caves . Image Courtesy - South Asia Monitor

A team of members from the data preservation facility, Arctic World Archive (AWA), has initiated the deposit of India’s ancient historical site, cultural heritage of India, which is said to have opened an entire gateway to India’s ancient cultures.

The ceremonial deposit for digitization commenced on October 21 last year. It included a special photograph of Ajanta Caves by world-famed photographer Benoy Behl, the man known for rediscovering Ajanta murals through his lens in the early 90s, showing a king renouncing all worldly pleasures; a paper called Revelation of Ajanta Caves; quotes from India Inc’s business leaders about Ajanta Caves and the restoration; some sample restored work, among others.

Rune Bjerkestrand, Founder and Managing Director of AWA, in a video said at the event last year, “Ajanta Caves is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 1930, Laurence Binyon, the director of the British Museum and leading authority of Asian Art, said that every study of all cultures in Asia leads to Ajanta Caves as a gateway of culture.

“Experts across the globe believe that the paintings of Ajanta have a powerful impact on human consciousness if seen through the right eyes in its original glory. This deposit marks the beginning of a series of deposits of digitised and restored paintings of Ajanta Caves,” he said.

For this purpose, AWA, a facility for data preservation, located in the Svalbard archipelago on the island of Spitsbergen, Norway has partnered with Mumbai-headquartered government advisory firm Sapio Analytics. AWA aims to secure world archive to help preserve the world’s digital memory and ensure that the world’s most irreplaceable digital memories of art, culture, and literature are secured and made available to future generations.

Sapio Analytics’ Heritage Restoration division recreates ancient heritage and culture in its original glory, using digitization and artificially intelligent technologies. It also partnered with legendary art historians like Behl to help in such restoration.

“We have access to the greatest photographs depicting Ajanta Caves. We are using a team of art historians, leading photographers, and other experts on Ajanta Caves along with deep technology researchers to try and restore Ajanta Caves’ paintings to what they would have been thousands of years ago,” Hardik Somani, COO of Sapio was quoted by the media.

“We know that this culture needs to be made immortal, and hence we are preserving these works for eternity in the Arctic World Archive. Copies will also be saved in India at our centers.”

“We are going to use AI and Deep Learning to restore the broken images in the said paintings. In order to restore these images, deep learning is applied along with knowledge from the leading art historians of the world, to create the right labels that are being fed into the deep learning models,” added Somani.

Added Behl, “These paintings cannot be captured using lights and hence this preservation is special. “The ancient caves are dark and strong lights were not allowed to be used inside, as these would damage the invaluable paintings. I had fortunately developed a technique of photographing in extremely low light.”

The paintings and sculptures of Ajanta, considered masterpieces of Buddhist religious art, have had a considerable artistic influence. The idea of the project is to bring unseen greatest artworks originating from India to the world. It will also open the doors to conversations on culture amongst global citizens and pride amongst citizens of Indian origin.

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