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Insects and pests threatening Ajanta paintings

Date: 20 October 2019 Tags: Historical Places


The Ajanta cave paintings have started deteriorating in the past few decades and are losing the battle against insects and other climatic stressors.



Ajanta caves are classic masterpiece of Buddhist art and is a UNESCO world heritage site and a protected monument of the Archaeological Survey of India.



  • A research team from National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (CSIR-NEERI) has looked at all the available literature on the Ajanta caves and mapped out the different factors causing this damage.

  • They have also mentioned a few environmentally friendly solutions to the problem that can help preserve them from the threat.

  • The team writes that the most common insects were silverfish, beetles and common bugs.

  • Another main problem was the entry of rainwater and water from the Waghura River which lead to dampness in the cave atmosphere causing an increase in algae, fungi, insects, and microbes.

  • These factors together were changing the original colour of the paintings, where white is turning to yellow and blue is becoming green.

  • The researchers  found that a mixture of hemp, clay, and lime plaster was considered efficient for preserving paintings and carvings in nearby Ellora caves, but this method was not used in Ajanta caves. 

  • Studies have shown that basal layer of the murals was made of mud plaster and organic matter such as paddy husks, grass, vegetable fibres, thus making it a good breeding place for microbes and insects.

Protective measures

  • The study has suggested using certain lights and colour to tackle the problem of insects such as using ultraviolet light traps, as nocturnal insects are known to get attracted to ultraviolet radiation.

  • Yellow lamps can also be an excellent tool to effectively control moths, which are diurnal and attracted to yellow light.

  • Spraying of insecticides and herbicides, fixing the loose plaster on cave walls, regular cleaning and use of preservative coating on the painting.

Ajanta Caves

The Ajanta Caves are 30  rock-cut Buddhist cave monuments which date from the 2nd century BCE to about 480 CE in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra.

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