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At the age of 35, Behl began photographing ancient Buddhist paintings in Ajanta Caves, India. That experience transformed me completely, and thereafter I made films only on art and philosophy,” said Behl.
These were 29 rock-cut Buddhist cave monuments dating from the 2nd century BCE to about 480 CE. As strong lights were not allowed in photographing them, Behl developed a special technique to shoot them – and in great detail, too. Leading experts on Ajanta, both in India and abroad, lauded his low-light photography technique.
“There were thousands of painted figures of men, women and animals along the walls of the caves. Invitations began to pour in for him to speak about Ajanta – they came from the University of London, the British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum in England, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and National Geographic.
Over the years, as a natural progression, Behl became an art historian.
When he was 24, he took up photography seriously and began documenting and studying art.
His late father Manhar Krishen Behl, a government servant, had wanted him to lead a creative life.
Behl is the only person in the world to document Buddhist heritage in 19 regions across 17 countries.
He has also made 140 documentaries on Indian art and cultural history.
He learnt that making documentaries entailed constant learning – and became deeply attracted to it, he said. After making two films, he enrolled for a course in filmmaking at the Film and Television Institute of India, in Pune.
In 1976, a few months before he turned 20, Behl graduated from St Stephen’s College in Delhi. Now 61, Behl has been a filmmaker, art historian and photographer for 41 years.