Restoration of Monuments in India

Restoration of Monuments in India

Restoration of Monuments in India

India has a rich history that belongs to both the victor and the vanquished. The various monuments spread out across the length and breadth of the nation are architectural testimonies to its diverse cultural history – a heritage that speaks of our glorious past. Thus, there is no doubt that preservation, conservation and restoration of the heritage buildings in India is of utmost importance. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), founded by Sir Alexander Cunnigham in 1861, and presently overseen by the Ministry of Culture, is a premier organisation responsible for the maintenance of ancient monuments through restoration and protection.

What is Heritage?

Heritage in the form of rituals and beliefs is abstract. On the contrary, the monuments of India, represent the tangible heritage, and protection, preservation and restoration of those is the responsibility of the central as well as the state governments. In fact, this responsibility has also been included in the concurrent list of the Constitution of India.

The very first conservationist of India was Sultan Firoz Shah Tughlaq who helped in rebuilding the decaying edifices and structures made by former kings and ancient nobles. He gave priority to restoration over new building projects. In 1803, when a lightning struck the Qutub Minar, Sultan Firoz Shah Tughlaq helped in restoring this magnificent edifice and also added two more storeys to it.

The Conservation Manual

With numerous architectural marvels present in the country, it has become a herculean task to demarcate the heritage buildings, and eventually preserve, conserve and maintain monuments. It is impossible for the government to take all the monuments under its control for obvious reasons of lack of financial and manpower resources and the need for other developmental activities. However, the ASI (Archaeological Society of India) in its manifest has outlined the following ways to protect the built heritage of India:

  1. When, repairs are carried out, no effort should be spared to save, as many parts of the original as possible.
  2.  Broken or half-decayed original work is of infinitely more value than the smartest and most perfect new work.
  3. There are numerous structures of all types that require attention.
  4. Public should take interest and generate resources to preserve them for posterity.
  5. When a public initiative is launched, the principles should be simple:
  6. Maintain the original character of the heritage structures.
  7. Please respect the idea of the original builder.
  8. Please believe that the materials used in the ancient times and methods adopted were of superior quality.

Restoration Work

The act of conservation, restoration, repairing, reconstruction and preservation of ancient monuments is a very long and arduous task and needs to be done under expert guidance. Be it the Taj Mahal and the Ghats at Varanasi at dawn, or the murals at Khajuraho, Mandu, Ajanta and Ellora, or the the great Meenakshi Temple at Madurai or the Red Forts at Agra and Delhi, palaces of Jaipur and Jodhpur, Udaipur and Jaisalmer, or buildings of Old Goa and Konarak, research and study is required to replicate the work of the original builders.  Here are a few guidelines that the ASI follows while restoration, keeping well in mind the building forensics:

  • Special attention has to be paid to the plans, intention, materials and tools used by the original builders.
  • Traditional building materials were mud, earth and clay and lime.
  • Clay mortar is one of the oldest binding materials which confirmed the longevity of most of these monuments and thus is still primarily used for their repair.
  • Other indigenous materials such as surkhi (crushed bricks), batasha (sweet sugar drops), urad ki dal (white lentil), egg white, malai (cream), tambakoo sheera (juice of tobacco which was used from Akbar’s reign onwards as an adhesive), and bel giri (Aegle marmelos) were added to the lime.

Problems occurring during restoration

  • Chemical problems include swelling compounds, leaching and encrustation.
  • Physical problems include salt crystallization and frost action.
  • Mechanical problems include cracks from earthquake settlements.

The restoration of the ancient monuments seems to be facing another man-made problem of bureaucracy. As per the Comptroller and Auditor General, the official auditor of India’s public sector, the World Heritage sites in India are being neglected by the Archaeological Survey of India. Of the 3,678 historical structures in India, the auditor surveyed a sample of 1,655 monuments over the span of a year in 2013 and was reported saying: “The World Heritage Sites did not receive appropriate care and protection. There were numerous cases of encroachment and unauthorised construction in and around these sites. We found that a comprehensive assessment of preservation works that were required had never been carried out.”

Refuting the allegations, Mr. B.R. Mani, additional director general of the Archaeological Survey of India said: “The A.S.I. is doing its best and some of the claims of the C.A.G. report are wrong.” He went on to mention that as per the auditor’s report, insufficient staff was one of the major problems that plagued the government agency tasked with preservation of historical sites.

Monuments under Restoration & Forthcoming Projects

Till now major work has been conducted in Jantar Mantar, Mahabalipuram, Ajanta and Ellora, Bibi-ka-Maqbara and Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus among others by the ASI. Let’s take a look at some restoration drives that have taken place over the last five years.

  • Mansagar Lake, Jal Mahal: The 18th century pleasure palace located in the middle of Mansagar Lake is a 5-storey building with four floors submerged below water. Jain and Associates, a heritage restoration firm, was entrusted the task to restore the archaeological beauty of the building.
  •   Timeline: The work was completed in 2011.
  • Lord Jagannath Temple, Puri, Orissa: Constructed in the first quarter of the 12th century, this monument is standing on a high platform connected with the ground level by a flight of 22 steps which is believed to be a part of its foundation. Restoration of this building has been taken on by the ASI.
  •  Timeline: The ASI initially did not carry out the repair work expeditiously, but managed to complete the restoration work in time for the Nabakalebar festival in 2015.
  • Humayun’s Tomb: The tomb has been restored in 2003 with the aim of revitalizing the gardens, pathways, fountains and water channels. Further, restoration of the edifice was undertaken by the ASI.
  • Timeline: Six years of conservation work by master craftsmen and 200,000 work days saw the completion of the restoration work of the tomb’s Mughal finery in 2013.
  • Taj Mahal, Agra: National Culture Fund, ASI and the Taj Group of Hotels have signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the preservation and upgradation of Taj Mahal.
  • Timeline: The cleaning of the Taj will be carried out in five phases. Work will be completed on four minarets by June next year, while scientific treatment and cleaning of interiors of the main mausoleum up to human height will be completed by January. The mud pack therapy of facades — including arches — will begin in April next year and will be completed by March 2018.

VK Saxena, director of the ASI’s science branch at Dehradun said, “The scientific treatment of the dome may not be done, as rain water keeps falling on it, due to which accumulation of pollutants is lesser here than on other parts. Moreover, erection of scaffolding will be another challenge. We plan to take this work only after 2018. Meanwhile, we will evaluate the ongoing work and see its effectiveness.”