If the last 50,000 years of man’s existence were divided into lifetimes of approximately sixty-two years each, there have been about 800 such lifetimes. Of these 800, fully 650 were spent in caves.Alvin Toffler (Future Shock 1971)
The rock-cut monuments of India
Archaeologically speaking, before the world’s first cathedral, mosque, Hindu, or Jain temple was made (barring a few exceptions), some 1000 rock-cut edifices consisting of monasteries, temples, congregation & dining halls, and cisterns were excavated and adorned beautifully by the ancient Buddhists of India.
They date from the 3rd c. BCE to 3rd c. CE that makes it six centuries of uninterrupted tradition of architecture. It does not include the rock-cut monuments of the later centuries. It also does not include those in China, Central Asia, and Sri Lanka, and those rock-cut edifices in other traditions and lands.
Thereafter, the Hindus and Jains too embraced the rock-cut architecture.
And, the glorious tradition went on up to the 13th c. CE. (We are not counting here the so-called ‘structural’ architecture of the so-called ‘historic’ period, which we begin to find somewhat systematically from the fourth or fifth century onwards in India.)
However, even in the twenty-first century, most scholars — let alone the students and general public — are clueless about the exact number of the rock-cut monuments in India.
There is no comprehensive list to be found in the published research.
New sites of the rock-cut monuments have been spotted in the recent decades. The notices may be found in the scientific journals, local newspapers, or internal government files.
However, a collated list of the newly spotted sites is not to be found in the published bulk of research.
If conjecturing is our only hope, there are, perhaps, more than 1300 rock-cut monuments in India.
However, if the published research is anything to go by, the majority of them have never been systematically:
- surveyed, analysed, and interpreted.
- digitised and geo-mapped.
- rendered into ground plans.
- Put together in any such shape or format that includes the up-to-date information based on the current research.
Many of them are still not physically accessible.
Most of them suffer from neglect or poor state of preservation, especially those that are under the jurisdiction of the states. Whereas the centrally protected monuments are relatively in better upkeep.
Within ten to fifteen years, the mission is to create the world’s largest and most comprehensive database of the Indian rock-cut monuments. The objective is to partially bridge the gap, to create something unprecedented and extremely vital for general awareness as well as advanced research.
The collective corpus of the monuments is so colossal that the goal can not be achieved without strong determination and single-minded focus to document all the accessible monuments. The task is not impossible given the benefits of the digital technology and the art historical background that the members of our team possess.
The project has begun at the moment by a handful of volunteer scholars and subject specialists who have begun the work without any financial support from anywhere. However, the project does require the attention of philanthropists to achieve the goal. Each monument requires a detailed attention to ensure authenticity and reliability of the content to be presented.
It is hoped that more specialists and volunteers would come forward and join the movement, especially from the background of art history, archaeology, Buddhist studies, epigraphy, and Indology.
People from other disciplines are also required: fundraisers, non-profit managers, IT specialists, communication designers, illustrators, media producers, photographers, camera persons, photo and video editors, cataloguers, language experts (Pali, Sanskrit, Chinese, Tibetan, Mongolian, and Khotanese).
It will be our endeavour to follow the best documentation practices and uphold the standards of the best scientific practices.