“A concerted effort to preserve our heritage is a vital link to our cultural, educational, aesthetic, inspirational, and economic legacies – all of the things that quite literally make us who we are.”
– Steve Berry
India has been blessed with a very rich heritage, which consists of both tangible entities in the form of built structures and its intangible counterparts such as the beautifully diverse artwork, culture, and strong values. The built or tangible wealth of India refers to the existing structures of historical value around us. These intricately detailed marvels have stood the test of time and are the living books that tell us the story of India’s interactions with multiple different cultures through time. Each such structure has a beautiful story waiting to be told, about the people, traditions, and what might have possibly gone through the minds who visualized it.
India’s tangible wealth lies in its diversity that despite being spread across a massive geographical scale, still seems to be so coherently held together by its people. The country’s earliest heritage preservation laws can be traced back to the “Ancient Monuments Preservation Act 1904” that enabled government authority over privately owned heritage structures. This act was later replaced by the “Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act 1958” that provided for the preservation of ancient and historical monuments and remains of national importance, for the regulation of archaeological excavations, and the protection of sculptures, carvings and other like objects. Since then several state-level heritage laws have been enforced to protect their respective tangible heritage along with the surrounding heritage precinct.
A major upgrade for the preservation scenario in the country was seen in 2010 when the proposal for a National Monuments Authority was initiated with the sole purpose of grading and classifying heritage sites and monuments. Despite scraping through problems with implementation of multiple preservation policies, India became a signatory to the UNESCO World Heritage Convention hence proving its commitment to protecting its national heritage. On a more central level, nationally protected monuments fall under the jurisdiction of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). It carries out excavation, maintenance, and preservation projects under strict guidelines set by experts. Other bodies like INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage) and The Aga Khan Trust organize events, workshops, and awareness creating initiatives to ensure public participation towards the country’s preservation efforts.
India has a large number of heritage structures that vary in scale and national importance; hence it is extremely necessary to properly document each structure and archive it systematically for future reference. Despite the presence of such specifically appointed bodies, the built heritage preservation scenario finds itself helplessly stuck due to insufficient recruitment and unnecessary political intervention at times. It is extremely important to ensure the presence of a decent number of well trained and experienced workers when it comes to preserving such timeless structures. In addition to that, financial limitations are an additional burden to preservation projects. Most of the funding takes place through government bodies or private parties who back out last minute hence leaving the structure wrapped behind the unpleasant looking incomplete preservation and scaffolding most of the time, more so if the project lies in desolate locations that don’t offer much tourism-based revenue to the party.
Being well researched is also important when it comes to recreating materials and finding the closest modern-day match to restore them to look as authentic as possible. For this to happen, the documentation of materials, techniques, artwork should be done region to region to ensure exclusivity and originality. Such finer approaches seem to lack a little when one looks at the current efforts that India is making to protect its tangible wealth. The easiest and most basic thing that can be done, is to create a sense of belongingness amongst the people. The moment we start looking at these beautiful structures as our home, several problems like vandalism and littering can be solved. These tiny steps towards creating awareness, right from a school level can form the foundation for a more conscious and responsible society.
After all, we are the ones who are responsible for what we leave for future generations to see, aren’t we? India has come a long way on the preservation front and is trying its best to protect its rich tangible heritage that spans over such a huge area. A more organized, responsible, and unified effort is all that is required to set extraordinary standards in the field of built heritage preservation.