It was the summer of 1819. Captain John Smith, a young Cavalry Officer, along with a party of British hunters, was tracking down a tiger. In the thick forest of Aurangabad in Maharashtra, the animal’s footprints led them straight past a cavity in a rock face. They soon found themselves in front of a manmade façade, cut into the rock face. As the hunting party slowly made its way inside, a burning torch in hand, they were left spellbound. ’Coz what lay in front, was a long hall with octagonal pillars and a circular dome. All over the walls were murals and paintings –art beyond their belief. It was what we know today as the Ajanta Caves. It had been abandoned for centuries!!
Art beyond imagination
The Ajanta Caves, amidst the lush vegetation of Maharashtra, holds within it an experience unimaginable. These Buddhist rock-cut temples, with its Fresco paintings, speak volumes about India’s ancient culture and heritage. Ever since its discovery, considerable effort has been done in trying to restore and recapture these paintings.
A life dedicated to Ajanta
They say early childhood influences have a substantial impact on a person’s life, especially on his passions and career choices. Dinesh Baurkhandi’s early days were spent observing his father Shambhuprasad Baukhandi and his work on the paintings of Ajanta Caves. His father was a senior artist in Archeological Survey of India and also worked in The National Museum at New Delhi, when he was transferred to Ajanta Caves to reproduce the paintings. This reproduction is in display in The National Museum.
Dinesh Baurkhandi would visit the Ajanta Caves with his father every vacation. Observing his style of work, he would paint out lines and fill colors for his father. He learnt the technique and nuances of painting in water color, water paper and oil on canvas. It was after his father passed away, he picked up the brush and canvas to pursue the wonderful work. There has been no looking back since, and for 35 years, he has dedicated his life to Ajanta Caves paintings. Dinesh Baurkhandi’s paintings have been on display at the Ayatan Art Gallery in Pune.
Rock-cut monuments from a bygone era
The Ajanta Caves are about 30 rock-cut Buddhist cave monuments dating from approximately the 2nd century BCE to about 480 or 650 CE. The theme of paintings here is mainly Jataka stories. As the caves were dwelling places of Buddhist monks, these paintings are religious in nature mostly depicting scenes from the life of the Buddha. The walls paintings comprise of murals and frescoes.
There is an extensive use of tempera style, i.e., use of pigments. The uniqueness of the art lies in blending of wet colors, layer by layer, on water paper. The outlines of female figures, the face effect and mood are distinctly portrayed. That’s what gives out the “fresco effect” in the Ajanta paintings. Emotions are expressed through hand postures. Graceful figures and mythical beings have been freely used to fill space. These paintings are a blend of physical beauty and spiritual strength, which is the hallmark of Indian style of painting.
Finest surviving example
The Ajanta Caves is today a protected monument in the care of the Archaeological Survey of India. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Truly, they are the finest surviving example of Indian art.