Another discovery of India: Exhibition reveals digitally restored ancient masterpieces : The Tribune India

Join Whatsapp Channel

Another discovery of India: Exhibition reveals digitally restored ancient masterpieces

Another discovery of India: Exhibition reveals digitally restored ancient masterpieces

A mural at Ajanta. 2nd century BCE



Malvika Kaul

T he treasure of ancient Indian paintings has been mostly inaccessible to art lovers. Age has damaged and even destroyed several creations discovered in temples and caves. Filmmaker, photographer and art historian Binoy K Behl’s exhibition, ‘Lost Ancient Art Revealed’ (January 6-19, India International Centre, New Delhi), is a remarkable attempt to bring one face-to-face with the earliest surviving masterpieces, mostly inspired by Buddhist, Jain and Hindu traditions.

The digitally restored mural

The exhibition showcases close to 80 photographs of some of the foremost murals from the caves in Ajanta (Maharashtra) and Badami (Karnataka) and the Brihadiswara temples in Tamil Nadu. There are also images of art found in Nako monastery and Polonnaruwa in Sri Lanka. Besides photographs of art dating from the 2nd century BC to 10th century, the exhibition includes at least 40 digitally restored images that give a glimpse of the original craft. Prof Behl has taken these photographs in low-light and while working on their digital restoration, he has focussed on highlighting the original grace and nuances of the paintings.

Worshipper. Brihadiswara temple

For many years, several of the images were locked in his studio and he sat down to review the almost 30-year collection only during the pandemic.

Persons who created the now famous images of Bodhisattvas Padmapani and Vajrapani, or the Dancing Girl of Ajanta were extraordinary not only in their skill, but also in their approach to life. For the hard-edged world today, the images convey a sense of grace and sublimity and Prof Behl wanted to share this experience with the outside world.

The earliest Buddhist paintings (2nd century BC) were discovered in the Ajanta caves in 1819. The sophisticated quality of art of the murals in the monastries and halls of the rock-cut caves were not clearly visible to viewers due to the dim light. Several were covered with graffiti scribbled by tourists. In 1990, Behl was informed by Union government’s Department of Culture that the paintings in Ajanta had never been photographed, either comprehensively or with accuracy of colour. Consequently, the tourists failed to witness the luminous quality of colours that the ancient artistes had used and the richness of details. For the Archaeological Survey of India, providing dim light in the caves was an attempt to preserve the murals. “The paintings were perceived to have a very orangish cast as compared to their real colours. The blues and greens, in particular, were largely lost in the viewing and the colour cast created took away much of the sense of depth in the painting,” says Prof Behl. Using his Nikon F3, he set out to document what would soon become a treasure for the world of art.

Restored mural

The IIC exhibition offers an opportunity to appreciate the paintings closer to the original vision. For the first time, the photographs enable a viewer to see the art with more detail. The show gains significance as there are very few surviving paintings depicting ancient Hindu traditions and themes. Like, the compositions in the Badami caves and Brihadiswara temple are mostly damaged. Prof Behl says that several of the murals in the Badami caves, referenced in some books in the 1950s, could not be located when he went to photograph them in 2001. In 2008, the National Geographic magazine attempted to do a story based on Prof Behl’s work in the Badami caves. But they could not spot even the paintings Prof Behl himself photographed seven years ago! His photography and restoration are thus critical, documenting and revealing the valuable tradition of Indian paintings either lost or rapidly deteriorating.

Prof Binoy K Behl highlights the original grace of the paintings.

Photographing the 10th century paintings found in the inner ambulatory corridor of the Brihadiswara temple at Thanjavur earned Prof Behl appreciation from several art scholars. Dr Milo C Beach, among others, was forced to relook at Indian art history.

In recent years, he has been invited by several museums and universities of the world to share his knowledge and perspective. For him, it is a labour of love and devotion. Several of the digitally restored images are now available in a new edition of his well-known book, ‘The Ajanta Caves’.


Top News

Punjab ex-DGP Bhawra claims pressure to engage in illegal acts, moves high court

Punjab ex-DGP Bhawra claims pressure to engage in illegal acts, moves high court

Bhawra also moves High Court challenging CAT order dismissin...

NIA begins probe on alleged AAP foreign funding by pro-Khalistani groups: Sources

NIA begins probe on alleged AAP foreign funding by pro-Khalistani groups: Sources

Delhi L-G had on May 5 written to MHA recommending NIA probe...

No traces of carcinogen found in tested MDH, Everest, other Indian spices: FSSAI

No traces of carcinogen found in tested MDH, Everest, other Indian spices: FSSAI

The regulator said no such traces were found in 300 samples ...

CCTV shows Pune teen speeding his Porsche moments before killing 2 IITians on bike

CCTV shows Pune teen speeding his Porsche moments before killing 2 IT professionals on bike

17-year-old gets quick bail with order to write an essay; co...


Cities

View All