The stories of the past have been preserved in the growing urban fabric in the present. The ancient temples, grand palaces, and enchanting tales painted on walls all sit silently in the bustling streets of the cities. The tangible heritage is conserved while the intangible is preserved with a notion to carry on the traditions and keep the culture alive.
Tangible heritage could be easily seen and be physically present like monuments and paintings whereas intangible heritage can be passed on from one generation to another and be recorded like folktales and folklores. With the changing lifestyle of the people there came the evolution of spaces and the structures that once served as gathering spaces for the public became heritage sites. With the help of government bodies and locals, the conservation and preservation of heritage have come a long way.
Today, several national and global organizations are involved in the maintenance and conservation of heritage. The main aim of these organizations is to identify and preserve the heritage. The identification of a heritage site is followed by the verification process where the claimed site has any heritage value.
In India, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is a government organization that is involved in the process of conservation of historical sites and artifacts. ICOMOS is a non-governmental organization that keeps a track of the conservation projects around the world and also reports the heritage sites at risk from urbanization or in need of conservation. INTACH is an Indian non-profit organization that is dedicated to the conservation of art and cultural heritage.
Architectural Conservation Firms
The awareness of the importance of conservation of heritage and carrying on the culture and traditions has been spread amongst the people. Many people come forward for remodeling of their ancestral homes trying to preserve the essence instead of completely revamp the existing structure, replacing it with a modern house.
Sometimes the structures are not in a good condition for renovation so the defining elements are taken from the existing structure and recreated in the design developed by architects in the new structure. Abhikram, ABM architects, and Dharatal are some of the Indian firms involved in the process of heritage conservation with architectural principles.
A 15th-century Shaivite temple on a river island conservation project was taken up by Abha Narain Lambah architects. The process involved archaeological excavations and structural repairs of the large stone embankments that had collapsed over centuries due to the flooding of the Tungabhadra river. The private firm was a part of the conservation of an ASI heritage site.
There are a total of 38 UNESCO world heritage sites in India and most of them are under the maintenance of ASI. A handful of cities in India are recognized as heritage sites with rich cultural and architectural backgrounds. So, a heritage city falls under the conventions of UNESCO world heritage and usually consists of various architectural and cultural values. Ahmedabad, Varanasi, Ujjain, and Hampi are a few examples of heritage cities of India.
All of them are associated and maintained by the ASI and undergo inspection and conservation. These cities are major tourist attractions with wildlife heritage, historical architecture, and cultural traditions. People from all around the world visit these cities for a walk back in time.
Ahmedabad is India’s first UNESCO world heritage city. It is divided into two parts by the Sabarmati River, the old and the new city. The old city or walled city on the east has major monuments and cultural heritage with palaces, forts, and gateways. The new city on the west comprises the institutions, business districts, multiplex, etc. The city has seen multiple reigns from the Mughals to the British and has kept the historical heritage as what seems like souvenirs. Apart from the historical heritage, Ahmedabad is also famous for contemporary architecture by architects like Louis Khan and B.V.Doshi.
With the advancement in technology and widened resources, the conservational practice of heritage has become simpler over the years. Understanding the historical background helps in the development of the future. The need to conserve heritage is more about holding onto the past for future use. Carefully planned interventions are preceded by documentation and analysis of the structure.
The structure under speculation is documented through plans, sections and elevations backed with photographs and videos. The use of advanced measuring and detecting gadgets for measuring parts of the structure that are out of reach is also designed to simplify the process and increase accuracy.
Major environmental threats are caused to heritage monuments due to pollution caused by vehicular movement and emissions from factories and industries. Salt deposition in old structures that occurs over years weakens the strength and this requires additional support and refurbishment. Reports on such structures with damages and in urgent need of conservation are made followed by an inspection.
Human interference also affects the wildlife heritage sites mainly by cruel poaching of animals for the skin, claws, and horns. Even the habitat under the wildlife reserve is altered due to water and air pollution. In such cases, the locals are highly protective of the forest and its animals. They take part in the conservation process.
Intangible heritage is found more in villages and small towns in a much-preserved manner than in cities. Intangible heritage includes rituals, traditions, practices, folklore, and storytelling. Every place has an intangible heritage passed on from one generation to another in the form of scripts, songs, and dance. Some practices are dying however, UNESCO has taken initiative to help protect this unique and subjective craftsmanship, dance forms, oral traditions, etc. India has a rich intangible heritage which includes the annual religious pilgrimage Kumbh Mela, the ancient yoga form, and the tradition of Veda Chanting.
The Vedas of India’s origin include a multitude of texts and shlokas that has Sanskrit poetry, philosophical dialogue, and ritual incantations developed and composed by Aryans over 3,500 years ago. The art of Veda chanting has been passed down from generation to generation. Although it is less popular in the present context colleges and institutions still encourage the learning of the Sanskrit language in which Vedas have been written. States like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, and Odisha have colleges that specialize in Vedic chanting.
Although the future might be filled with lucrative design and development the past is still present around us in various forms teaching different things. All one needs is a perspective to enjoy and analyze the heritage. A perspective that is subjective where different things can be inferred. Conservation is the key to keep the souvenirs of the past intact in the rapidly evolving urban context to revitalize our culture and tradition.
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Editor, I. (2020). National List of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) of India. [online] INSIGHTSIAS. Available at: https://www.insightsonindia.com/2020/04/20/national-list-of-intangible-cultural-heritage-ich-of-india/ [Accessed 15 Jul. 2021].