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HindustanTimes Wed,17 Sep 2014

Question of originality: Can ASI preserve Bagh caves?

HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times  Bhopal, July 29, 2013
First Published: 11:59 IST(29/7/2013) | Last Updated: 12:04 IST(29/7/2013)

Archaeological Survey of India has formed an experts’ committee for conservation of the 4th century AD rock cut caves situated in Bagh in neighbouring Dhar district.

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The ASI took the decision to form a panel after its head office in New Delhi was flooded with complaints that the state of Buddhist sculptures, stupas and paintings inside the nine caves deteriorated fast in last eight years due to negligence of local ASI officials.

According to ASI director (science) KS Rana, ASI additional director general BR Mani will head the committee, which also includes archaeologists, conservationists and scientists.

Rana, presently posted in Dehradun, is also in the committee along with Indore and Bhopal officials.

Though a notification for the formation of committee has been issued, the real challenge before the experts is whether they can prevent rain water from seeping inside the caves and preserve remaining sculptures and paintings in their original state.

“Can they save whatever is left?” French antiques shop owner Jean Claude Mahoudeau had told HT when he visited Bagh caves with his two friends in March last year.

His interest in Indian rock cut architecture had brought him to Bagh caves last year.

As HT reported in March 2012, very few of original images of Lord Buddha, stupas and paintings exist inside the caves.

A major portion has been damaged and collapsed.

A major cause of deterioration of Bagh caves are its soft rocks having mixed layers of red, yellow sand stone and lime which allow water to seep in.

This damaged caves, paintings, images.

In early 1990s, some paintings were removed with layers of rocks and preserved in the museum situated opposite caves.

Plaster of paris models of some sculptures have been made while originals continue to corrode in caves.

SIGNIFICANCE

According to historians, Bagh and Ajanta school of art exerted influence as far as South East Asia, China and countries where Buddhism spread.

Bagh gained importance during Ashoka’s reign (273-232 BC) and 7th century AD. It laid on important trade route connecting Ujjain and Bharuch (Gujarat). It was the time when Narmada valley had developed a rich civilisation.

Also, Bagh caves and paintings are a part of cultural order of Indian rock cut architecture found in Ajanta, Ellora and south India and therefore cannot be studied in isolation. But there have been no attempts to study them in totality.

Whatever available is fragmentary, experts say.

The common belief is that monks who lived in caves painted the cave walls, pillars and ceilings.

The glory of Bagh caves faded after monks abandoned them following Muslim invasion in 10th century AD.

They were rediscovered in 1818 by British officials.

In last 150 years, Bagh paintings, sculptures drew artistes, scholars from India and abroad to study and copy them.


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