Protecting The National Heritage: Here’s How

Posted on March 23, 2011 in Culture-Vulture


By Sonali Jain:

“India is a vast country; it contains multitudes.”

India has an extraordinary, vast and diverse pool of cultural heritage and ancient monuments in the form of buildings and other archaeological sites and remains. The sheer number of these historic heritages is astounding. And the fact that these monuments are the reminiscence of the living witnesses of the golden historic era of over a thousand years and of the pre-independence battles, they carry a special and a well-deserved respect in the eyes of the Indians. They are the epitome of courage, stand testimony to the evolution and are a symbol of cultural expressions.

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) describes ancient monument as “Ancient Monument means any structure, erection or monument, or any tumulus or place of interment, or any cave, rock-sculpture, inscription or monolith which is of historical, archaeological or artistic interest and which has been in existence for not less than 100 years”. Some of these ancient heritages include The Taj Mahal, Agra; Qutub Minar, Delhi; Tomb at Sikandara, Qutb Minar, Sanchi and Mathura; Ajantaa and Ellora Caves, Nasik, Maharashtra; The Jantar Mantar, Delhi, Jaipur; The Red Fort, Delhi; The Charminar, Hyderabad and others. There are about a thousand more such places spread all over India. Also included are other palaces, forts, epigraphs, coins, drawings, architecture, wells and sculptures.

Most of the sculptures in historic temples and tourist places have been damaged by vandals and inscribed gold/silver/bronze idols have been taken out of the country, the epigraphs are vanishing during construction of additional facilities in old temples and mindless applying of fresh coat of paint during renovation. Some monuments have gone missing due to encroachment, granite quarrying and construction of dwelling units near the temples and collapse of fort walls.

For the maintenance of ancient monuments and archaeological sites and remains of national importance the ASI has divided the entire country into 24 Circles. The ASI has a large work force of trained archaeologists, conservators, epigraphist, architects and scientists for conducting archaeological research projects. Earlier a lot of laws and acts had been passed by the government to protect these monuments, but major of them were done on structures that were beneficial to the contemporary society. Also, the work that was carried out had a dearth of funds, enthusiasm and awareness. Later the ‘Ancient Monuments and Preservation Act, 1904’ was passed with the prime objective to ensure the proper upkeep and repair of ancient buildings in private ownership excepting such as those used for religious purposes. Under this program, the conservation work is carried out in three main broad categories:

  1. Chemical Preservation – The ASI’s Science Branch is responsible mainly for the chemical conservation treatment and preservation of some three thousand five hundred ninety-three protected monuments besides chemical preservation of museum and excavated objects countrywide. The main aim of the Science Branch includes – Material deterioration process, basic studies of intervention technologies, basic studies on materials and diagnostic technologies.
  2. Structural Conservation – The workers in the field are acquiring cumulative knowledge of several generations and gaining expertise on the ways to improve and stabilize the structures by maintaining their pristine looks. The structures are given additional strength and reinforced to undo the harms done by pollution, acid rains, and other chemicals over the years. The foundations are so improved so as to make these structures natural-disasters resistant.
  3. Contemporary Awareness Program– The citizens of India in general and students in specific are being roped in by the government to spread awareness and advertise about the preservation of the heritage. Many seminars are being organized every year where the students are lectured not only about the basic steps each can take individually on this issue but also are made familiarized with the amount of money, time, expertise and labour that goes into protecting these structures via chemical and other methods.

Some of the steps that we as students can follow to do our share in their protection are-

  1. Prevent ourselves and others from scribbling on the walls.
  2. Participating in the regular Cleanliness Drives.
  3. Being a part of the ‘Adopt a Heritage’ initiative
  4. Spreading awareness around about these monuments and their importance.

In today’s competitive world, we have to preserve the monuments and showcase them to the next generation as the contributions or achievements of our ancestors. A little effort on our side can create drastic changes that will make the past, the present and the future generations of the country and the world proud of India.