Heritage structures need protection

Heritage structures need protection

The recent news that a 400-year old wooden palace belonging to the family of Tulu Jain chieftains in Udupi district in Karnataka is being restored at a great expense by the government is sure to bring cheer to the heritage lovers of the region. This also brings to the fore the plight of similar innumerable structures that crave for attention across the country.

The governmental agencies like the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) at the national level and the Department of Archaeology at the state level  are meant to identify, preserve, conserve and maintain buildings and old structures and monuments of historical importance. But sadly, there are at present no such bodies to take care of the innumerable  lesser known but equally important edifices that dot all across the country and are facing neglect and decay.

In almost every other village, town or city, we see old havelis, devidis, mohallas and ancient private buildings. There are also centuries-old mosques, temples and churches, which bear their distinct architectural features and speak eloquently of architectural skills of the bygone era.

With their majestic façades, intricately carved wooden doors and windows, beautifully built arch-ways, glossy marble floorings, inlaid stone screens and room separators, such edifices leave the onlookers to marvel at the dexterous native artisans whose skills and workmanship have gone into the making of these wonderful structures. These “poems in brick” evoke admiration for their architectural elegance, aesthetic value and quality of their construction.

The palaces and buildings of historical importance are facing utter neglect in recent decades as never before. With the sudden spurt in value of the urban land for housing, many glorious edifices known for their artistic beauty and architectural importance are being pulled down.

The houses of the erstwhile nobles, jamindars and jagirdars have been falling prey to the gre-ed of real estate dealers resulting in the mindless destruction of such beautiful edifices. Several country-houses of the erstwhile royalties and nobility have alre-ady been razed making way to the new residential colonies thus adding to the existing  concrete jungles of dumb uniformity.

Urban development authorities in some cities have been conducting exhaustive surveys, identifying old structures of historical importance and suggesting that they be preserved at the expense of the government as they reflect our culture.

There were also several non-governmental agencies which suggested that steps should be initiated to protect edifices of historical importance for poste-rity. But the successive state governments have done precious little and it never occurred to the authorities to take any steps in the direction of saving these beauties in brick and mortar.

Protection and preservation of huge old structures by private individuals no doubt involves heavy expenditure, and in the absence of any governmental support or sympathetic urban house-tax polices, their upkeep becomes difficult for many
such families. This has been a main factor in the ultimate destruction of many such heritage buildings however much the family wants to preserve them.

Provision of tax concessions for the upkeep of such buildings, subsidies for the purchase of the materials for keeping them in good repair and such other incentives will go a long way in the conservation of such architecturally rich heritage buildings, like in western countries.

Financial crunch
In Great Britain, for example, the huge medieval castles and mansions owned by the nobles who now face the financial crun-ch to maintain them, are encou-raged to throw open such buildings to the curious public and visiting tourists for a small fee that is used for the maintenance of the very buildings. We can as well emulate the British to save our heritage structures from being pulled down for the simple reason that the cost of maintaining them are prohibitive. 

The agencies like the Department of Archaeology and Arch-ives and the Department of Tourism also can do their bit in trying to sensitise the public towards these mute mansions as they  serve as  sources to our understanding of history.

Noted voluntary organisations like the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural
Heritage (Intach) which are engaged in spreading the awareness on conservation of historical buildings, should take steps to pressurise the governments – both at the Centre and the states – to enact the needed legislation to protect such historical and heritage buildings.

In view of the great architectural importance of historical buildings that also speak of the marvellous skills of our workmen and engineers of the those days, there is an immediate need for the establishment of a national commission exclusively for the conservation of historical buildings all over the country. 

Such a commission with enough powers and resources, can take steps to identify the structures of historical importance with the help of local committees and  organisations to be set up for the purpose, and help preserve these wonderful gifts of the past societies. Such a national policy is sure to save the heritage buildings wherever such edifices  are found.

(The writer is retired professor of History, University of Hyderabad)

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