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Off the walls

Vijay Kulkarni's reproductions of the Ajanta paintings are mounted at Shrishti Art Gallery.

Photos: K. Ramesh Babu

JATAKA TALE: The birth of the Buddha.

THE VERY mention of Ajanta brings to mind colourful frescoes in caves. The frescoes of this world heritage site have caught the attention of people from far and near. Located near Aurangabad in Maharashtra, Ajanta is clubbed with the Ellora caves as a major tourist attraction. While the Ajanta frescoes in the cave-temples excavated by Buddhists depict the life of the Buddha in various births - tales from the Jatakas, the Ellora caves have Buddhist, Brahmanical and Jain temples, the most famous being the Kailasa Temple - a huge monolith. Eminent historian Romila Thapar mentions in her book A History of India (Vol 1) "the traditions of murals in cave shrines had begun in the early centuries A.D. but the finest examples at Ajanta date to Vakataka and Chalukya patronage in the fifth and sixth centuries A.D." A bit of history of Ajanta art helps in understanding and appreciating it. Also there is a contextual relevance now - as the exhibition of Ajanta paintings by Vijay Kulkarni is being held at Shrishti Art Gallery.

The paintings are a mine of information about colour schemes, dress codes and hairstyles. Cave I is famous for its Avalokiteswara Padmapani (as the figure holds a lotus - padma in its hands). This has attracted attention of many. Prints of this are framed and hung in many places - official and personal.

Although the use of artificial light in the caves has had a deleterious effect on the Ajanta frescoes, some of the colours are still luminous. The harmful effects of vandalism have also taken its toll on the frescoes. Today a lot of precautions are taken before the entry of visitors at this site. Information on Ajanta in the form of monographs and photographs is not lacking. A few years ago Binoy Behl used an imaginative method to capture the paintings on camera for posterity without harming them. He shot the photographs in the caves without using flash. The photographic technique he employed captured the brilliant hues of the paintings as well.

There is a lot of documentation on Ajanta. But artist Vijay Kulkarni decided to make reproductions. Making copies (particularly of great masters) is a part of study of art. Here, Kulkarni has copied the frescoes. There are about 19 works mounted on the walls of the art gallery. Padmapani, The birth of Buddha, The Mahajanka Jataka, Vajrapani and others are in their resplendent glory on canvas. Of course there are slight modifications in terms of colour (Kulkarni uses synthetic colours mixed with his original, traditional preparations made of flowers and leaves as well) and the technique is entirely different. Effort is made to make them look as authentic to the original. This is not the first of such attempts. The museum of the State Department of Archaeology in Public Gardens in the city houses such replicas.


For Kulkarni, it is more of an enchantment with the murals - a fascination, which also stems from the fact that he hails from Aurangabad (his studio is at Ellora). This exercise of painting the frescoes has been going on for more than two decades and Kulkarni is far from tired. "There is so much to paint and I have barely covered about 20-25 per cent," he says full of enthusiasm. For him it is more a way of preserving the paintings for posterity. "The paintings may vanish a few years from now. This way they will stay on," he says. But aren't books and photographs sufficient? "What is hand-crafted is entirely different," he adds.

There may be a divergence of opinion on that. Agreed there may be a market for reproductions but a copy is after all a copy. In the process of a reproduction, the artist's creative thoughts are not reflected on the canvas although he/she may possess the dexterity to do with zeal.

Those interested can view the works at Shrishti Art Gallery (267, Road no. 15, Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad. Tel: 23540023) till July 15.


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