With increasing anthropogenic and natural pressures on the iconic Ajanta Caves in Maharashtra, there's a growing fear that this piece of ancient Indian culture might soon be lost for eternity.
However, Nashik-based artist-photographer Prasad Pawar has spent the last 27 years meticulously researching, documenting, photographing, and digitally restoring paintings and sculptures in the caves for posterity.
Here's more about the incredible work he's done.
A brief history of the Ajanta Caves
The Ajanta Caves were declared to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983. The paintings and sculptures inside were done by unknown Buddhist monks between 2nd century BC and 6th century AD. The site has 29 caves including unfinished ones.
Pawar set his heart on Ajanta from his college days
Ever since his first year as an art student in the Maharashtra government-run Nashik Kala Niketan Chitrakala Mahavidyalaya, the broken narratives of the Ajanta murals have been bothering Pawar.
By the time he finished art school, Pawar had set his heart on restoring Ajanta and displaying its cultural achievements for a global audience through photographic documentation and digital restoration.
Pawar holds special ASI permit for his restoration work
In pursuance of his dreams, Pawar obtained a special permit from the Archaeological Survey of India which allows him to photograph the paintings from close-quarters without flash.
With his Canon and Hasselblad cameras, and custom-built technology, Pawar has been photographing paintings and sculptures segment by segment, followed by digital color correction and digital restoration of missing elements (characters, ornaments etc.) in accordance with originals.
Challenges faced by Pawar in his digital restoration work
Owing to the semi-darkness of the caves and restrictions on flash usage, Pawar painstakingly photographs only those segments of paintings and sculptures illuminated by natural light - missing a window means waiting a year for another opportunity.
To comprehend details, he only shoots 2ft x 2ft of a work at a time.
Additionally, his historical research has to be precise for accurate digital restoration.
Pawar has made a different in preserving Ajanta's heritage
Till date, Pawar has completed digital restoration of an incredible 14,400 sq. inches of Ajanta's artwork.
Seventy of Pawar's digitally restored Ajanta paintings were displayed at an exhibition held by the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA).
IGNCA is also exploring options to see if Pawar's method of digitally preserving ancient culture can be employed to preserve other ancient heritage site.