A modern version of a palki or palanquin to make the Ajanta caves barrier-free and accessible to elderly and handicapped, and an animation film that brings to life the Jataka tales and the unique art and architecture are part of the ‘revisiting Ajanta’ project being implemented by IIT Bombay’s Industrial Design Centre (IDC). The project, which is being supported by the HRD Ministry, will study layout, design and engineering aspects, and collaborate with experts and restoration architects to implement various projects for the world heritage site.
“I did an accessibility study and found that while thousands of people visit these sites, several tend to get left out due to inbuilt physical barriers. This includes rough terrain, steep stairs, no handrails, slopes, no resting places, narrow uneven lanes, rock fall and improper signage system. An average of 300 people per day visited the caves in 2013. Hence, there is a huge demand to improve the accessibility and encourage tourism in these places,” said Nikhil Das K V, final-year IDC student, who has designed the palanquin system.
Located in Maharashtra’s Aurangabad district, the caves are situated on the side of a cliff in a horseshoe shaped gorge formed by the Waghora river. “There are about 30 rock-cut caves dating from second century BCE to about 480 to 650 CE. The primary idea is to impart knowledge and education through design and implementation of live projects. The Ajanta caves are described by the Archaeological Survey of India as ‘the finest surviving examples of Indian art, particularly painting’. There is a need improve the experience of visitors. The project will involve disciplines like earth sciences, geo informatics and civil engineering, which can look into the geographical structure of the caves and its repercussions, chemical engineering and chemistry with regard to minimising deterioration of colours, digital technology for digital archival, preservation and digital restoration, and reconstruction of paintings, sculptures and architecture,” said Prof B K Chakravarthy, head of IDC.
As per the design brief, the new palanquin system will reduce porters’ effort, give more safety to palanquin users, is easier to transport through walkway and aesthetically pleasing. “We kept in mind the identity of India and Ajanta while designing it. It is a modern, sleek and minimalistic design approach, where the narrow design allows ease of commuting through congested lanes. It’s easy to fabricate. With the lower passenger seating position and lower centre of gravity, there is better stability and balance,” added Nikhil.
Yet another key aspect that has been developed is an animation film, which is likely to be showcased at short-film festivals and television. “We are planning to create iPad applications and interactive games for children so that by using digital media we can catch the fancy of the youths. The caves contain masterpieces of Buddhist art and cave architecture depicting the life of Buddha and visual depictions of stories from the Jataka tales. There are several artistes who dedicated their lives for it. We need to bring such stories and the art alive. I am at present working on creating a guidebook on one of the caves. According to the response I get, I will replicate it for the other caves,” said Amol Thakur, final year IDC student, who has created the film.