Hemp shielding Ellora caves from decay for 1,500 years: Study

Times of India
Syed Rizwanullah | TNN | Mar 10, 2016, 12.13 AM IST

AURANGABAD: Archaeology experts have claimed to have found the agent – a proper mix of hemp with clay and lime plaster – that has prevented the famous Ellora caves from degrading over the 1,500 years they have been in existence.

“The use of hemp helped the caves and most of the paintings remain intact at the 6th century Unesco World Heritage site,” stated a study conducted by Manager Rajdeo Singh, a former superintending archaeological chemist of the Archaeological Survey of India’s science branch (western region), and M M Sardesai, who teaches botany at Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University. The study is to be published in the March 10 issue of leading inter-disciplinary science journal Current Science.

“Cannabis sativa, popularly known as ganja or bhang, was found mixed in the clay and lime plaster at Ellora. This was confirmed by technologies such as scanning of the electron microscope, Fourier transform, infra-red spectroscopy and stereo-microscopic studies. Hemp samples were collected from areas in Jalna district near Aurangabad and also from the outskirts of Delhi. These specimens were matched with the samples found in cave number 12 of Ellora. There was no disparity. In the sample collected from the Ellora cave, we found 10% share of cannabis sativa in the mix of mud or clay plaster. This is the reason why no insect activity is found at Ellora,” Singh said in his study.

The study indicates that many valuable properties of hemp were known to Indians in the 6th century. “Hemp was extensively used in Ellora as well as by the Yadavas, who built the Deogiri (Daulatabad) fort in the 12th century. Hemp was not used in the Ajanta caves, which are about 30 rock-cut Buddhist structures dating back to the 2nd century BC. Rampant insect activity has damaged at least 25% of the paintings at Ajanta,” Singh told TOI.

The archaeologist, who has been engaged in the chemical treatment and conservation of ancient paintings at Ajanta for about 11 years, said the outcome of the study was “a discovery in itself”. “Studies conducted in Europe suggested that buildings constructed with the use of cannabis sativa could last for 600 to 800 years. Ellora has proved that only 10% of cannabis mixed with clay or lime in the plaster could last for over 1,500 years,” he said.

The claim made by the experts might put the law enforcement agencies in a fix if cannabis sativa is used on a large scale for construction, as suggested in the study. Aurangabad commissioner of police Amitesh Kumar told TOI, “Marijuana is banned under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act. It cannot be grown, transported, possessed or consumed. Anybody found with the substance will face action.”

Rajendra Mugdia, a special public prosecutor who had earlier in the capacity of additional public prosecutor tried over a dozen cases under the NDPS Act, 1985, said, “If hemp comes into use for construction work, it might lead to gross misuse. The government will have to make some amendments to the law introduced in 1985. A separate authority will have to be created for allotting permissions.”

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