How the project was initiated

From the content side, this website is largely the work of a single individual. I attempted to rope in other academics and friends but without funding and collaboration the work did not go beyond seven days in 2018. During those seven days, the following friends volunteered: Deven Oza, Himanshu Desai, and Sandeep Joshi.

Deven is an animation artist. He runs an animation studio in Baroda. Website development is not his profession. Yet, he offered to take care of the domain name, hosting, backup, and server support. He has not wavered ever since even though the work was halted on the project for many years.

Himanshu Desai is a polymath. He is an unfit person in the times, because polymaths are no longer required it seems in the twenty-first century. Specialists of a single domain or field are the requirements of the times. The age of Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Leonardo, Tagore, and Gandhi are gone by. Anyway, he volunteered to design the website when it was first launched in 2018. Then, we wanted to work more in later months but everyone got busy with own priorities, and no one visited the portal ever since.

Sandeep Joshi is an artist, art historian, and a school teacher. He too devoted full time for all the seven days that we worked in 2018. We were trying to test the possibilities. He curated the Kanheri module.

Others were also willing to volunteer but the plans did not materialise due to some obstacle or the other.

Funding is needed if the project has to go ahead. However, so busy we have been in our lives chasing a balance between living and livelihood that none of us ever sent a funding application anywhere.

I have thousands of photos of many sites, courtesy of the kind permission of the Archaeological Survey of India and other state authorities. It is a pity that they are just sitting in my hard disks. I had already lost two hard disks when my bungalow was flooded in 2016. That time I realised that it is no use being possessive about this photo collection that has developed over time in the course of my prolonged research on the Buddhist rock-cut monuments. I think the photos must be of use to somebody for research. Many students, educators, and researchers around the globe would perhaps benefit from this repository if I made it available online. This might boost research in the future. The world is full of bright people; such people who love the Buddhist heritage of India. But, the biggest obstacle they face is non-availability of visual documentation at one place on the internet. They required systematic documentation alongwith brief catalguing data and description of what is seen in each photo: which site, which cave number, which part of the temple, is it a porch, interior wall, left wall, right wall, shrine, or exterior? And what is seen in the photo? Is it a pillar, ceiling, an image, whose image? Is it a Buddha, a Bodhisatva, a yaksi, a figure in a Buddhist narrative, an inscription? And, what does the inscription say? Which script and language? Which site? Does it give any dating, name, or any such information that is of high value? Has the inscription been critically edited or tarnslated? If so, which author, publication, year, and page number? Where can more inforamtion be found for furhter reading?

Overall, the task is not easy. Who will supply all this inormation? It is not just about uploading some thousands of photos which can be done easily with high speed broadband. It’s about organising them systematically so that the user can find and navigate through the vast collection. If the user wants to see some details in a photo, there should be also available large size and high resolution photos. But they consume lots of space and load slowly in slower connections. They should also be discoverable. It means that a robust tech support is needed for front end and backend website management. We academics can work for free but tech people do not work for free; at least I have not been able to find such a generous soul. I am sure they are there, somewhere, but I just do not know how to find them.

But tech people can do nothing on thier own just like the greatest academics can do nothing on their own if such a website has to be made. The point is that there is needed a team of subject specialists who know the art, architectural, and epigraphic details, and who can work with a team of IT professionals. At least this work cannot be done from remote locations, or at least a part of the work can only be done when the whole team is sittting together under the same roof for several months or years–if the project has to be completed in a fixed timeframe, and if all the Buddhist rock-cut monuments of India are going to be covered, and if the project has to succeed among the target benefeciaries, that is, internet users looking for systematic information on Buddhist rock-cut monuments of India. A part of this work is done by Wikipedia but it runes on user-generated content model where anyone can write anything, and despite excellent editorial management, outdated, incomplete, and often invalid contents are included there. That is why wikipedia is not generally cited in academics. However, the goal here is to have dependable content by a specialist or specialist team based on the current researches.

Staring at the situation that there is not such team, for there is no funding yet, I decided that I will learn WordPress and try to upload the photos as much as possible and write the details myself as far as possible. At least some of the collection can be shown here and then an application for seed funding can be made for hiring a team. In my back-of-the-envelop estimation, it will require about 20 crore Indian rupees for about 10 hand-picked people to complete the work in about 10 years.

From March to December 2023, I intend to keep working on this project all alone. And will keep sending application to likely Buddhist institutions in India or abroad for potential funding. I am also going to be looking for a host institution that would like to host this encyclopedic project; it will boost the research goals of the host institution, because it is a work of frontier research as defined by the European Research Commision. Presently, I have photos of the following sites, which I will try to upload gradually and then write the basic details: – Ajanta, Ellora, Elephanta, Aurangabad, Pitalkhora, Bhaje, Karle, Kanheri, Ghatotkacha, Kondivite, Banoti, Shana Vakiya, and Prabhas Patan. In future, I will be travelling to all the sites in India for photograhy and study.

Please note, the site is not complete. It is just beginning. Right now it has only about five percent of the material. It will develop in the course of many years. So, please keep returning and let me know how you can help!

Overview of Buddhist rock-cut architecture

Rock-cut monuements were begun initially for the Ajivikas patronized first by Asoka, the Mauryan Emperor. Those caves are in the Barabar and Narjuni Hills in Bihar. Since then the Buddhists adopted the medium of rock-cut architecture and continued with the tradition for more than one millenia. Later on the Jains and Hindus also joined the bandwagon and there took lace a great renaissance in the rock-cut architecture of India whose zenith is considered the Great Kalishanath Temple at Ellora. However, due to practicality and feasibilty concerns, I am focussing on the Buddhist corpus only. If the Buddhist corpus is successfully completed, then the Hindu and Jain caves can be considered too.

There is hardly a region in India where rock-cut monuments are not found. However, most of the them were excavated in basalt rock of the Western Ghats of the Deccan plateau in Maharashtra. There are nearly 2500 rock-cut edifices in India only a fragment of which has ever been documented in any medium. There is no such publication that records all the rock-cut monuments of India. Even an inventory does not exist.

These rock-cut monuments have survived the ravages of time; they are much more resilient than the monuments erected in wood, bricks, or stone, which have been perished mostly. The extant monuments have preserved a plethora of evidence for study of the past. They have preserved examples of ancient Indian paintings, sculptures, and a myriad of art and architectural features that give us lots of insight of the wonder that was India.

Ajanta is particularly famous for having preserved some of the oldest examples of painting in the historical period. There are Buddhist narrative paintings: the jatakas, avadanas, and scenes from the life of the Buddha. Many caves have inscriptions in Prakrit and Sanskrit, which attract lots of attention by historians, epigraphist, Indologist, Buddhist scholars, and archaeologists.


Leave a Reply