India’s unique heritage needs to be preserved


Indian citizens must protect and preserve India`s rich heritage for posterity. While promoting heritage tourism, care should be taken not to undermine or risk the existence of our ancient heritage, writes Nikita Shastri.

India is a land of diversity and the country’s rich heritage is a mesmerising confluence of cultures, customs, traditions, religions, ethnicities, practices, art, architecture, landscapes, flora and fauna. The most recently concluded International Yoga Day, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, speaks volumes of India’s growing assertion in the global sphere and recognition of its age-old heritage and concurrent processes.

A country with more than a billion people, India’s heritage has manifold dimensions and layers that have still not been completely unearthed and understood. It is the responsibility of the nation and its citizens to ensure this ‘inherited’ treasure is preserved, conserved and protected and propagated to the next generation in its original form.

The Constitution of India has clearly laid down and demarcated the jurisdictions of the central and state governments to administer, manage and protect country’s heritage sites, properties, ruins, etc. Article 253 of the Constitution of India enables Parliament to legislate for the implementation of any treaty, agreement or convention with any other country or countries, or any decision, made at any international conference, association or other body. Article 51 A (f) of the Constitution states, “It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture.”

It’s important to protect our heritage

There are several implications at international, national and local levels when a country works progressively in the direction of heritage management and heritage preservation. India, since independence, has been proactive in ensuring the rich heritage of the country is protected, conserved and interpreted in the right light and showcased appropriately.

No nation exists in isolation and its global footprint is critical in deciding how the nation is perceived by other countries. As part of a Universal Shared Heritage, heritage management leads to building global relations, even economic ties, by establishing connections based on historical trade routes, cultural exchanges and stories and anecdotes from the past. Also, common links of similar traditions and practices also facilitate modern-day economic and social ties between nations.

At the national level, heritage protection and conservation and the pride associated with a unique heritage are important for ‘nation building and branding of the country’s cultural identity’. India is home to thousands of iconic sites and breath-taking monuments whose history and architecture have trickled down through various dynastic and cultural influences. The multi-layered cultural heritage diversity in India is simply a reflection of how complex, rich and old India’s history is. At a local level, heritage protection and conservation is not only a binding force within communities and groups but also a catalyst for economic development. Development of a heritage site leads to infrastructure development, opens up employment and enterprising opportunities and also provides exposure to local communities and furthers social development.

It’s important, however, to ensure ‘sustainable development’ of historical cities and monuments, heritage sites and ancient ruins. The ecosystem built around heritage to promote ‘heritage tourism’ should not undermine or risk their very existence.

Proactive government initiatives and schemes

There is a need to digitise and centralise information and data for use by the public and industry personnel. The government is fast working towards creating a National Archaeological Database and a National GIS Database for heritage monuments and sites that ‘will be authenticated and validated by ISRO’.

Resources are being directed towards reactivating the National Mission on Monuments and Antiquities (NMMA), launched in 2007, to complete its listing of built heritage and antiquities. Simultaneously, initiatives are being undertaken to ensure the Archives Data is accessible digitally and the archives are recorded and stored as per the conservation norms for uniformity.

The government is also charting out a strategy to restructure the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), establish connections with people, support the state government and religious trusts for heritage conservation and clearly ‘define byelaws for prohibited and regulated areas’ around heritage monuments. Special efforts are also being made towards developing heritage as a ‘tool for development and employment generation’. Also, establishing partnerships with national and international institutions for capacity building for heritage management is being prioritised in the time to come.

Heritage management as a career

The heritage management industry has come a long way since India got Independence. Today, there are several education institutes and universities offering degree and diploma programmes in heritage management, archaeology, heritage conservation, conservation architecture and several other related specialisations. Students across the country are now understanding and taking up post-graduate and diploma programmes to make a career in the heritage industry. These programmes are also attracting foreign students who wish to live and work in India’s heritage management sector.

“Ten years ago, I would not have let my daughter opt for a course in conservation architecture. It was simply unheard of. Today, when she tells me she wishes to pursue this programme, I am supporting her whole-heartedly,” says Chennai-based biotechnologist Lakshmi Iyengar. “Earlier, a career in heritage management was perceived to be working in the travel and tourism sector. Thankfully, people are beginning to understand there is more to India’s heritage than just taking tourists around for a heritage walk,” explains Delhi-based historian Kavita Upadhyay. “When I opted for a career in heritage studies twenty years ago, my parents were upset and didn’t talk to me for a week. It’s only now they have fully understood what I do when they read my works and papers,” maintains Kavita.

The government is also encouraging more individuals to get involved in the sector through scholarships and fellowships that provide monetary assistance to those engaged in promoting cultural activities in the country. Some of these are: Scholarships to Young Artistes in Different Cultural Fields; Fellowships to Outstanding Persons in the Field of Culture; Tagore National Fellowship for Cultural Research; Centre for Cultural Resources and Training (CCRT) Scholarships.

Embracing technology is a must

Similar to every other sector, heritage preservation and conservation in India is also preparing to embrace technological advancements. The government is putting together resources and personnel for use of technologies in the immediate future. This includes use of Photogrammetry and 3D Laser scanning for documentation, surveys, excavation and conservation works. Additionally, LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) and Drone Surveys will be undertaken for documentation of monuments and sites.

The government is also working to use advanced technology for marketing and promoting of heritage sites to reach out to all segments of visitors: children, families, travellers, researchers, tourists, etc. The latest in technology and techniques for exploration and excavations will be embraced by striking strategic collaborations with foreign universities already working in the area. And, most importantly, streamlining processes for e-governance and one-window for clearances and permissions is being prioritised.

India’s heritage unparalleled in the world

India has 38 Cultural (30), Natural (7) and Mixed (1) sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The first few sites listed were Agra Fort, Ajanta Caves, Ellora Caves and Taj Mahal in 1983 and the latest site to be inscribed in the list was ‘The Walled City of Jaipur’ in July 2019.

The current guidelines of UNESCO allow only one site to be nominated for inscription every year. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is the nodal agency on behalf of the Ministry of Culture, Government of India for World Heritage matters and is also the ‘custodian of 22 out of the 30 cultural world heritage sites.’

India’s centuries-old heritage is now being documented slowly and finally getting the recognition it rightly deserves.

Nikita Shastri

Nikita Shastri is a researcher with The History and Heritage Project – A DraftCraft International Initiative to document details, analyse facts and plug lacunae generated by oversight or to further national or foreign agenda in History and Heritage Across India and Beyond Borders)