The shocking revelation of the Archaeological Survey of India that 35 of its protected monuments have just disappeared into thin air should be an eye opener for nation. We Indians have never really bothered about preserving historical structures. In fact it was the British who realised the importance of these and set up in 1880, the Department of Archaeology, for the conservation of India’s artistic heritage and ancient culture. Whatever little remains today is due to the initiatives taken by these British colonialists.
Modern India’s continued apathy towards its own history is evident in the way we treat our relics and historical structures. A small example is the state of the palaces of our erstwhile rajas and maharajas. Expect for Rajasthan and Gujarat, most of these palaces have fallen in disrepair or just crumpled away.
The ASI is the government agency which is responsible for preserving the country’s cultural heritage. It has failed miserably to do so. Some examples are its neglect of the Sun Temple of Konark.
According to information which came as an answer to a question in Parliament, the ASI has admitted to a disturbing fact that 35 of the monuments that are under its care are “untraceable”, or in plain speak they have disappeared. Even the ASI does not know where these monuments have gone.
Out of these 35 that are “untraceable”, 12 are from the national capital Delhi, 8 in Uttar Pradesh, . J&K and Uttrakhand have lost three each. Gujarat, Haryana and Rajasthan have lost two each and Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Karnataka are among states that record one such missing site.
When asked how a monument, a permanent structure, could vanish in thin air, S K Mitra, the ASI’s director of exploration & excavation. “We might have lost them because of modern construction, encroachment or perhaps destruction dating back to the British Raj.”
A supplementary question in Parliament elicited that there have been encroachments at 249 monuments and sites. Places like the ancient burial cave at Thrissur, pre-historic rock shelter at Raisen, megalithic site at Kanchipuram, rock-cut caves at Bongaigaon, Prithvi Raj Chauhan Fort at Hissar, and the Buddhist stupa at Champaran were all victims of encroachment. Even famous sites like Agra’s Jama Masjid, the Ellora caves and Golkonda Fort in Hyderabad have not been able to fend off the surge of modern-day settlers. As of December 2012, the ASI had succeeded in clearing only 24 such encroachments.
More than a million archaeological monuments have been identified in India, out of which this, the ASI is only looking after 6,000 odd ones. We have an extraordinarily rich, vast and diverse cultural heritage in the form of built heritage, archaeological sites and remains since prehistoric times. The sheer magnitude in number alone is overwhelming and these are the symbols of both cultural expression and evolution. There is no comprehensive record in the form of database where such archaeological resources in terms of built heritage, sites and antiquities can be referred. As a result this finite, non-renewable and irreversible resource of our country is fast disappearing without any record for the posterity.
Rapid urbanisation is spelling the doom of the urban monuments. The once in the remote areas are just forgotten. Undoubtly development is an important need; however, the planning involved in development needs to be better coordinated. People think of monuments as a hindrance to development.
This brings us to the imperative question of how much we care for our monuments and what significance we attach to our history. The government on its part needs to awake to the reality that these monuments are our national heritage and much needs to be done for conserving the same. More often it is seen that minimal amount is allocated for the upkeep of the same and adequate attention is not paid, even when it is found that their condition has deteriorated.
One must not forget that tourism is linked to these heritage structures and foreigners make a beeline for these monuments, whenever they are in India. Seeing these monuments in shambles make them feel disgraced too.
Ancient buildings and shrines are being regularly vandalised and used as public latrines. The walls of fortresses, palaces and havelis which have witnessed the romantic pageant of history now bear witness to a more modern romance in the form of graffiti. We as Indians can only make a pledge that we will not let more of our monuments disappear like this. It is time for everyone to wake up to the reality that these monuments are our heritage and we need to care for them.