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Addressing Untraceable Monuments and Protecting Monuments in India


A parliamentary committee’s recent report suggests substantial revisions to the Archaeological Survey of India’s strategy, focusing on issues related to untraceable monuments and advocating changes in the handling of religious activities at protected sites.


GS I: History

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Current ASI Policy on Worship at Monuments
  2. Committee’s Recommendations on Worship at ASI Monuments
  3. Concerns Against the Committee’s Recommendations
  4. About Archaeological Survey of India (ASI)

Current ASI Policy on Worship at Monuments

Selective Worship Allowance:

  • ASI permits worship and rituals only at monuments where these traditions were active when the ASI assumed custody.

Living ASI Monuments:

  • Notable examples include the Taj Mahal, where namaz is conducted every Friday.
  • Other living monuments include three mosques in Kannauj, the Roman Catholic Church in Meerut, the Nila Mosque in Delhi’s Hauz Khas Village, and several Buddhist monasteries in Ladakh.

Preservation Objective:

  • The restriction aims to preserve the historical and cultural integrity of monuments.
  • No religious rituals are allowed at non-living monuments without a history of continuous worship.

Policy Limitations:

  • Revival of worship is prohibited in cases where it was not in practice at the time of protection or has been abandoned for an extended period.

Monument Distribution:

  • Out of 3,693 centrally protected monuments, around a fourth (820) include places of worship.
  • The remaining are considered non-living monuments where new religious rituals are not allowed.

Religious Diversity:

  • Sites include various religious structures such as temples, mosques, dargahs, and churches.

Case Example – Martand Sun Temple:

  • Once a thriving place of worship commissioned by King Lalitaditya Muktapida, it was destroyed in the 14th century.
  • ASI took control in the 20th century for conservation, and no Hindu rituals were practiced. Recent pujas in 2022 were considered a violation of ASI norms for non-living monuments.

Committee’s Recommendations on Worship at ASI Monuments

Exploring Worship Possibilities:

  • Suggests examining the feasibility of allowing prayers and worship at ASI-protected monuments with religious significance.

Policy Shift Implications:

  • Raises questions about the potential impact of this policy shift on various religious sites.

Transparency and Accountability:

  • Recommends that the Ministry of Culture and ASI conduct surveys to promptly identify monuments.
  • Emphasizes the importance of transparency and accountability in addressing critical issues related to monument protection.

Concerns Against the Committee’s Recommendations

Threats to Monument Integrity:

  • Allowing religious activities may jeopardize the integrity, authenticity, and historical value of monuments.
  • Concerns include possible alterations, additions, modifications, or damage by devotees or authorities.

Potential Conflicts and Disputes:

  • The possibility of conflicts and disputes among different religious groups.
  • Potential claims of ownership or rights over the monuments or objections to the activities of other groups.

About Archaeological Survey of India (ASI)

  • The Archaeological Survey of India is an Indian government agency attached to the Ministry of Culture.
  • ASI is responsible for archaeological research and the conservation and preservation of cultural monuments in the country.
  • Maintenance of ancient monuments and archaeological sites and remains of national importance is the prime concern of the ASI.
  • Besides it regulate all archaeological activities in the country as per the provisions of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958.
  • It also regulates Antiquities and Art Treasure Act, 1972.
  • For the maintenance of ancient monuments and archaeological sites and remains of national importance the entire country is divided into 24 Circles.
    • The organization has a large work force of trained archaeologists, conservators, epigraphist, architects and scientists for conducting archaeological research projects through its Circles, Museums, Excavation Branches, Prehistory Branch, Epigraphy Branches, Science Branch, Horticulture Branch, Building Survey Project, Temple Survey Projects and Underwater Archaeology Wing.
  • The most important of the society’s achievements was the decipherment of the Brahmi script by James Prinsep in 1837. This successful decipherment inaugurated the study of Indian palaeography.

-Source: Indian Express

February 2024