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Revisiting the Basics

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[Arts & Heritage Institutions #1] Archaeological Survey of India (ASI)


 

SOURCE

Background

  • Founded by Alexander Cunningham, who is also revered as the “Father of Indian Archaeology”
    • He was the protege of James Prinsep <who was he, post in comments>
    • It was Lord Canning who helped pass a statute for ASI’s establishment in 1861
  • Post Independence, it’s a Statutory body that now works under Ancient monuments and archaeological sites and remains act (AMASR Act), 1958
  • It works as an attached Office of the Ministry of Culture
  • ASI has 3678 protected monuments and Archaeology sites of National Importance + 20 cultural under the World Heritage List by UNESCO

Initiatives by ASI

1. Museums

ASI’s museums are customarily located right next to the sites that their inventories are associated with “so that they may be studied amid their natural surroundings and not lose focus by being transported”.

A dedicated Museums Branch maintains a total of 44 museums spread across the country.

2. Publications by ASI

  • Epigraphia Indica
  • Ancient India
  • Indian Archaeology: A Review (Annually)

3. Library

  • Central Archaeological Library in the National Archives building in Janpath, New Delhi

ASI Issues and Challenges

1. To Restore or Not

  • Guidelines by John Marshall, founding DG of ASI <why was he important?> followed modern conservation ideology- “Restoration ends where conjecture begins”
  • Issue is that technically speaking- ruins are seldom “restored” in original state. This is because in absence of documentation- archaeologists are left to conjecture what buildings may have looked like when they were originally built.
  • Hence, many a conservationists are raising questions on ASI’s process of restoration. 

2. Personnel Management Issues

  • Higher Authorities of ASI are traditionally from IAS Cadre
  • Solution: In-house specialist must be promoted for better coordination b/w technical and managerial aspects of restoration
  • Impacts: Would go a long way into incentivizing professionals
  • Other issues: Low level of partnership with public, or Civil Society Organizations such as NGOs. Recently INTACH- an NGO approached it for sharing work on restoration, but ASI denied.

3. Issues explored in CAG Report

  • 92 monuments are untraceable with no database on artifacts
  • Poor Documentation of Protected Monuments/Artifacts
  • Implemented in the 10 museums of Ministry of Culture/ASI in the first phase
  • Paucity of funds (Eg- Red fort gardens lie unkempt)


4. What can be done for better management of Artifacts?

  • Digitization of Museums and records (also to save them from calamities such as recent fire in Indira Gandhi Museum and Floods such as in Jammu and Kashmir)
  • Do not store them in bunkers in basement, follow scientific methods of preservation.
  • Partner with NGOs and private institutions such as INTACH <to be covered in next post of this series>
  • Finally, overhaul of Museum Management in India is the only long term solution

Annexure: National Monument Authority (NMA)

It has members hailing from the fields of archaeology, country and town planning, architecture, heritage, conservation architecture or law. It comes under ASI’s supervision.

Objectives:

  1. Responsible for the protection and preservation of monuments and sites
  2. Through management of the prohibited and regulated area around the centrally protected monuments
  3. Streamlining of approval procedure for construction related activities in regulated/restricted areas in the vicinity of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI’s) Protected Monuments in various cities

NMA in News:

  • NOC Online Application Portal and Processing System (NOAPS): An e-Gov Project wherein NMA partnered with ISRO  to calculate accurate measurements of Geo Co-ordinates of various monuments around Centrally Protected Monuments for speedy approvals.

Published with inputs from Amar

Questions, suggestions and comments


  1. Profile photo of Udit Agarwal Udit Agarwal

    John Marshall carried out excavations which led to the discovery of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro.

  2. Profile photo of Maheshwar Reddy Maheshwar Reddy

    James Prinsep deciphered a Brahmi(Ashokan) inscription in 1837 .It was 1st inscription to be deciphered.This inscription was referring to a king called Devanampiya Piyadasi(Beloved of Gods).From Srilankan chronicle Mahavamsa it was confirmed that Devanampiya Piyadasi was Ashoka Maurya.

    1. Profile photo of Amar Gupta Amar Gupta

      Mani, you’re correct. Prinsep did decipher Brahmi script. Notable point here is that he made that discovery while being a researcher at Asiatic Society in Calcutta.

      Importance of this is that it open the floodgates of Paleographic research in India (or Indological studies). Even Lord Curzon wasn’t aloof from it (he created post of DG @ ASI for the first time)

      And its in this context that Prinsep’s discovery that led to the establishment of many seminal cultural/archaeological institutions, including ASI- which was founded by his own protege.

  3. Profile photo of Naveen Shekhar Naveen Shekhar

    Great…
    Thanks a lot for initiating series on cultural institutions in the lines of environmental ones…

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