Spring cleaning

Spring cleaning

Old, as new Maintenance work on at Humayun’s Tomb, Delhi.When Sir John Marshall, the erstwhile director general of Archaeological Survey of India wrote his manual on conservation way back in 1930, he probably would not have envisaged the importance it would hold even after eight decades. But this is what Jt. DG, ASI, Dr B R Mani would have us believe when he says that Marshall’s manual remains a trusted guidebook for conservationists, referring especially to the efforts being made to restore some of the most historical Delhi monuments like Jama Masjid, Humayun’s Tomb and Nizamuddin monuments.

Located in the heart of New Delhi, the Nizamuddin heritage precinct is made up of Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti, Sunder Nursery and Humayun’s Tomb. Named after the revered saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, who lived here in the early 14th century, the area has witnessed centuries of tomb building as it has been, and still is, considered auspicious to be buried near a saint’s grave.

Following the successful restoration of the Humayun’s Tomb gardens in 2004, the Urban Renewal project commenced with the signature of a Public-Private Partnership memorandum of understanding on July 11, 2007.

Conservation pie

The non-profit partnership includes the Archaeological Survey of India, the Central Public Works Department, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, the Aga Khan Foundation and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. The project will unify the three zones into an urban conservation area of considerable breadth and cultural significance while improving the quality of life for resident population.

Marshall’s treatise is only a starting point though. According to Ratish Nanda, architect and project director, Aga Khan Trust For Culture, Delhi, “Conservation requires meticulous planning and years of preparation in terms of archival research and measured drawings. It is a crafts-based activity which means it needs a much longer time compared to infrastructural projects.”

While Nanda dismisses the deadline of impending Commonweath Games as mere conjecture, government officials at ASI are far more optimistic. “We certainly want to complete the work on those monuments which are of great tourist importance and will have a high visitor footfall during the Games,” says Dr BR Mani. “Around 46 of these monuments have been shortlisted which will be lit up.”

To begin with, in view of the upcoming Commonwealth Games, the roof of the famous Meena Bazaar at the entrance of the Red Fort is being re-laid. Next in line for conservation is the historic Lahori Gate and the Delhi Gate inside the Fort complex.

“The biggest problem here is of seepage,” says KK Muhammed, superintending
archaeologist, Delhi Circle, ASI, “leading to damp walls, leaking roofs and a weakening foundation. All the drains have to be opened up so that the rainwater flows into the moat surrounding the fort.”

Mani adds that over hundred incongruous structures inside the Fort premises will be demolished, while fondly reminiscing how his co-brother used to go to a makeshift school inside Red Fort, and the building still known as school building, now serves as ASI’s branch office inside the fort.

Fortunately, in favour of the government’s current overdrive mode is the fact there is no dearth of funds! Says Mani: “The budget allocation for heritage conservation is growing by crores every year. Moreover, several corporate houses have come forward and as many as 15 projects in the country are being managed through public-private partnership.”

While money may not be the overriding concern, with the Urban Renewal project itself having received co-funding from the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, Ford Foundation, World Monuments Fund, Sir Ratan Tata Trust, United States Embassy, JM Kaplan Fund, amongst others, Mani feels that the bigger challenge is to find more technical staff and ways to pursue stringent measures against offenders and encroachers in protected monuments.

The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) is a much bigger organisation which has also seen some success in the preservation of Delhi’s monuments like the restoration of ‘Bhuli Bhatiyari Ka Mahal’ to name one instance. INTACH’s latest venture has been the restoration of the unnamed Lodhi period tomb at Lado Sarai, besides 24 other monuments in the Qutb complex.

Nanda points out that heritage has also to be understood as an economic asset for the local community which benefits out of associated programmes linked to health, sanitation and infrastructure development in the area.

Heritage expert Sohail Hashmi, however, warns about the dangers as well. “As far as local communities are concerned, there are several that have taken over heritage monuments. For instance, in Defence Colony, a PWD or MCD office operates out of a Sultant period structure, in GK-I, two temples are operating out of medieval monuments, in Mohhammad Pur, a Sultant period Dome has been converted into a “Pracheen Shiv Mandir” after 1981 and a boutique operates from a Sultanate period dome in Adhchini.
One needs to be careful while involving local communities unless the initiative comes from those who have a proven track record in looking after monuments and conserving them in their own areas.”

Activists like Hashmi also concur that the current conservation view is lopsided, with the focus being on popular monuments like Qutub Minar, Humayun’s Tomb, Red Fort and a handful of others.

He says: “Tughlaqabad, the Khirki Masjid, Begumpur Masjid, Sultan-e-Ghari are till today being used as public toilets, the Rajon Ki Baoli that no one seems to be responsible for, the tomb of Adham Khan, inaccessible Sher Mandal, this is an endless list. There is no staff posted at most of these places, the ASI does not have enough resources to post guards at each of these monuments and that is why most of them have either been taken over by local ruffians or large parts of these monuments have been locked up permanently.”  

When Hashmi says that he would like to see conservation of more monuments than those on the tourist circuit, he may not be too off the mark!   

Southern comfort

India’s four southern states boast of a rich and varied cultural and architectural heritage, some of it more than two thousand years. In the last few years, several innovative schemes have been launched to preserve this precious legacy, often involving multiple institutions partnering for success.

Karnataka’s first public-private partnership in restoration is at the 15th century Chandramoulesvara temple in Anegundi, part of the Hampi World Heritage site. The project began in 2006 after an MOU was signed between the Karnataka government and the Hampi Foundation (which in turn is partnering with the Global Heritage Fund), which is funding the work. The restoration of the ancient structure is supervised by Abha Narain Lambah Associates, conservation architects for the Hampi Foundation, in collaboration with archaeologists from the State’s Directorate of Archaeology and Museums.

The Chandramoulesvara temple is located at a vantage point, at the confluence of two rivers and overlooking Hampi. When completed, the restored temple will be one of the first at Hampi to have an on-site museum with exhibits on the temple’s unique history and its conservation.

A slightly different kind of heritage preservation work is taking place near Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu.

Several south Indian temples are famed for the stunning murals on their walls and ceilings. Tiruvarur’s Thyagarajaswami Temple is one of them. The magnificent paintings on the ceiling of the temple’s Devasiriya Mandapam date from the Nayaka period 300 years ago. Using vibrant mineral-based natural dyes, these murals tell the story of Muchukunda Chola, the legendary king who is said to have received the idol of Thyagaraja installed here from Indra himself.

Time and neglect had exacted their toll on the murals when Ranvir Shah of Chennai’s Prakriti Foundation first noticed them. Shah approached the INTACH Chitrakala Parishath Art Conservation Centre (ICKPAC), the premier centre in south India for conservation of murals, and asked them to work on the Tiruvarur paintings.

Since March 2008, 10 people from ICKPAC have been hard at work cleaning the murals to reveal the lustrous colours below layers of neglect. “Every site is new for us and requires new skills,” says Madhu Rani, centre coordinator. So the team learned and mastered the specific techniques required to remove soot and microbial growth, strengthening and stabilising the paintings so that they last longer. In accordance with international standards, ICKPAC avoided recreating the paintings. Says Rani, “The original character of the paintings would be lost if we were to repaint or recreate them. It is important to preserve what is there and not add anything.”

One of south India’s most successful restoration projects is on at Tranquebar, or Tarangambadi as the place is called in Tamil, the ‘land of the singing waves’. A fishing and trading outpost in the 1300s, a Danish colony from the 1600s and under British rule from the 1800s, Tranquebar is a small fishing village with architectural remnants from all its past rulers. INTACH in Pondicherry has been involved here since 2005 when they restored the crumbling British Collector’s residence with funding from the Bestseller Foundation in Denmark: The Bungalow on the Beach is now a heritage hotel managed by the Neemrana Group.

Particularly exciting is the work on restoration of traditional homes. It began when Bestseller bought some small and dilapidated houses in the Tamil vernacular style on Goldsmith’s Street and had them restored to accommodate their office, a guest house, an exhibition space and a craft centre. All structural reconstruction work was done using mud mortar and lime plaster and the project was guided by the policy of least intervention.

“The restoration revitalised the area and one outcome has been that more tourists are coming in today,” says Panda. But most heartening is that more owners have expressed an interest in having their houses restored. Recognising that lack of funds and market pressures are the most common reasons for demolishing old houses, INTACH now offers matching grants: Fifty percent of the restoration work on some houses is funded by Bestseller Foundation, the remaining being borne by the owner.

INTACH also began a project on solid waste management since as Panda says, “We have learned that restoration can never be in isolation but should be integrated into town planning.”

MEERA IYER

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