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Tourist rush at Ajanta Caves harming ancient paintings

The rush of tourists to Ajanta Caves is causing harm to the ancient paintings (Pics. Courtesy Twitter/@BuddhaSansthan)

The internationally renowned UNESCO world heritage site of Ajanta is facing a severe threat because of the increasing number of tourists visiting it. The rush of visitors in the caves causes a spike in the level of carbon dioxide, humidity, noise and heat which is harming the ancient paintings.

In a study published in the journal Current Science, Rajdeo Singh, an archaeological chemist with the Archaeological Survey of India has mentioned that high relative humidity results in a chemical reaction between calcium carbonate of white pigments and carbon dioxide that loosen the grains from the paintings. This is more pronounced where China clay has been used.

Interestingly paintings on mud plaster are more affected as they absorb more humidity as compared to those done on lime plaster.

Noise levels ranging between 70 and 75 decibels and at times shooting up to 95 dB instead of the recommended 45 to 55 dB, cause the delicate pigments to detach and flake off.

Speaking to TOI, Singh said the life of the paintings can be extended if the relative humidity in the cave stays at 55-60% with the temperature hovering around 25 degrees Celsius.

Ajanta Caves Paintings2

Keeping this in mind the ASI has suggested the need to control tourist footfall to the caves. “The presence of a large number of tourists increases humidity inside the caves, causing a negative impact on the paintings there. Hence, to save the paintings for a longer period of time, the way out is to restrict the footfall and allow fewer people inside the caves,” said Dr. Milan Kumar Chauley, ASI Aurangabad’s Circle Superintendent.

Chauley added that the interpretation centre constructed by the State Government could help in controlling the number of visitors. “Earlier, we (ASI) had demanded to hand it over to us so that we can display the replicas of these paintings there and the footfall can be controlled. But the State Government has not taken any action so far,” he told PTI.

Located 100 kilometres from Aurangabad, Maharashtra, the 30 rock-cut caves house 550 paintings depicting the Jataka tales from the lives of the Lord Buddha and are visited by thousands every week. These were painted from 2nd BCE to 5th CE – a period of 700 years.