Heritage sites are a reflection of the history and conservation is nothing but palimpsest of history. Incredible facts that the heritage sites provide, contribute to the cultural and social environment of a place. The heritage sites are an evidence of various wars, hardships and barrages of nature that a particular era had faced and moved on. So many stories and experiences are buried in the walls of these heritage sites that need to be heard and preserved. These sites are architectural marvels representing various styles, symbolizing spiritual beliefs, social beliefs and economic standards of that time. Conservation and restoration of ancient buildings is an arduous task that requires utter sensitivity to understand the ideology of the original builders, the usage of the materials and the idea they wanted to put forth while building it.

Winner | RTF Essay Writing Competition May 2021

Category: Essay: Complex Pasts – Diverse Futures
Participant: Rhythm Dua
Profession: Architect
City: Dehradun

Taking an example of Indian architecture, there is no doubt that India is a treasure of such historical sites and buildings embracing confluence of religions, traditions and customs. It is so important to conserve these marvels and pass on to the future generations as they express the sentiments of our roots. Not just the monuments, the excavated ruins or the remains are conserved but also the settlements, landscapes, public spaces that provide identity or a special character to the history of that place are protected. Even in the absence of formal training of building design and structural systems these structures have been erected in ancient times keeping in mind the proportions, aesthetics and stability.

Sultan Firoz Shah Tughlaq quotes in Futuhat-e-Firoz Shahi: “By the guidance of God, I was led to repair and rebuild the edifices and structures of former kings and ancient nobles, which had fallen into decay from lapse of time; giving the restoration of these buildings the priority over my own building works.” Firoz Shah repaired the Qutub Minar, which had been struck by lightning and added two storeys to it. Even though he was the reigning Sultan, he did realize the importance of an iconic structure built by Qutub-ud-Din Aibak which had a sentimental and a historic value as Qutub Minar is a symbol of beginning of Mughal rule in India. Building materials have been a subject of great concern while conservation. Usage of materials like urad ki dal (white lentil), egg white, urkhi (crushed bricks), batasha (sweet sugar drops) malai (cream), tambakoo sheera (juice of tobacco) along with lime mortar have been used in ancient times as binders and are still used by restoration teams to retain original look of the building. There have been constant efforts made by conservators to protect the structures using innovative ideas. Once Taj Mahal was given a facial of Multani Mitti (Fullers Earth) to absorb the dust from the layer of the building and once it dried up it was washed with distilled water. This is a beautification technique done at salons which was done on the Taj Mahal.

Another side of this is the challenges that are faced in order to keep the history alive and intact for the future generations. Apart from the historic values and sentiments, preserving and conserving old historical sites and monuments are done on various other parameters. The cost analysis, environmental conditions, scope of expansion, condition of the structure, material incompatibility, technical difficulties, varied perceptions and interpretations of all the stakeholders and decision makers and many more factors have to be undertaken in order to make a decision to conserve. The increasing population and the need for urbanization have led to loss of identity and uniqueness. The spaces have started looking identical losing their original character and essence of their roots. In order to satisfy today’s needs the glorious past has been neglected. There is a serious need to find a middle sustainable way of conserving our valuable historic assets. The visionary efforts of our ancestors are extremely important for us to preserve, retain its authenticity and present the truthful historical appearance.

The stories of past have never been simple to understand. The complexity is that there are numerous interpretations and theories. But the lack of understanding of our past definitely affects our lives in the present and the actions that we take in our futures. Homosexuality has been a very debatable topic in the last few years until the Supreme Court of India on 6th September 2018 invalidated part of section 377 of Indian penal code. But way before that fluid sexuality was present in the society. There are depictions of homosexuality are in Khajuraho temples and Mughal chronicles. Erotic sculptures on homosexuality are also seen in 13th-century Sun temple in Konark in Orissa and Ajanta and Ellora caves in Maharashtra. The awareness of evidence from the past does leave an impression on the society and impacts the definition of culture with more inclusivity. Ram Mandir in Ayodhya is a perfect example for having a very complex past stretching over centuries. A final verdict was given by the Supreme Court of India on 9TH November 2019 on the matter. In this case, the hustle behind protecting history of respective sides created another history making the future open to diversity. The temple of Kedarnath is also a perfect example of how the history has an impact on present and future. A thoughtful construction of the temple in 11th century saved the structure from a massive flood. The orientation of the temple, the materials used and many other considerations helped the structure survive a severe calamity. Structures like these are worth preserving and conserving for our future generations to be aware of such great events and happenings.

For my architectural internship, I went to Mumbai in August 2016. My office was on Bank Street and my daily route included a walk of the city from Church Gate station to the Fort. While walking down the roads of South Mumbai, I walked by a number of famous buildings like Western Railway Heritage Gallery, High court of Bombay, Bombay house building, Asiatic library, TATA Global Beverages building and a lot many more. The architecture of the city is captivating. It’s a perfect blend of traditional and contemporary architecture in its beautiful skyline. Looking at the bold fascinating facades of the buildings from colonial eras with diverse histories and cultures, made me feel included and empowered. The effect of passing by those historical structures, for a new girl in the city, captivated a lot of energy and enthusiasm in me to face new challenges every day. The blend of Gothic, Victorian, Art Deco etc. style architecture makes the streets of Bombay an ultimate experience. People of Mumbai have been putting a lot of efforts conserving these buildings. But several times recommendations are given for demolition. The 150-year old Esplanade Mansion in Kala Ghoda was recommended to demolish. It was a luxurious hotel and marks its presence in the history very well. Such structures should at any cost be preserved and conserved. These structures actually define the fabric and character of the city. We do not afford to lose such masterpieces.

As kids learning from history seems boring and underrated. But as we grow up we realize the importance of experiences. Whenever we make mistakes, we feel if we knew about it already we might have dodged or avoided making the mistake. History and its complexes give us that heads- up before we take decisions in our present to make our future diverse and bright.


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