Volume 68 Number 4, June 2017

Monuments Matter: India's Archaeological Heritage since Independence

By: Nayanjot Lahiri
Binding: Hardcover
Specifications: 132 pages, 143 illustrations
ISBN: 978-93-83243-17-4
Dimensions: 305 x 241 mm

This volume aims to provide a mix of perspectives on Indian archaeology since Independence. 1947 saw a redrawing of the political map, as a consequence of which a united India came to be partitioned into the two nation-states of India and Pakistan. The book begins by looking at the impact this had on monuments, on museum collections, and on the nature of archaeological research itself.

Moving on to examine the whole field of archaeology in India over the next seven decades or so, the book provides an overview and an analysis of archaeological investigations as also of methods and ideas used in collecting and processing data. Simultaneously, India’s conservation of its archaeological heritage is examined. Along with work done by government institutions like the Archaeological Survey of India and the various state departments of archaeology, Lahiri draws attention to individual and community practices that have helped preserve objects of antiquarian interest.

The survival and uses of the past, and the problems surrounding them, go beyond the specific questions concerning research and conservation. As this book shows, they concern questions of legislation, of protecting monuments and sites from developments arising from the impact of accelerated industrialization and mega projects, of tackling the antiquity trade protected by mafias of various kinds, and of following up the reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) on various government-funded cultural institutions. They also concern India’s courts which have adjudicated on disputes relating both to monuments that are the “dead” past and to those sites and structures which are seen as integral elements of the living present.

Archaeology has added new dimensions to our understanding of India’s past. It is hoped that Lahiri’s perceptive scrutiny of Indian archaeology’s accomplishments and failures will help spread awareness and prompt action for more effective study and protection of the country’s irreplaceable material heritage.  

Nayanjot Lahiri is Professor of History at Ashoka University, Sonepat, Haryana. She established her reputation as an accessible historian of Indian antiquity with Finding Forgotten Cities: How the Indus Civilization was Discovered (2005). Her other books include Marshalling the Past: Ancient India and its Modern Histories (2012) and The Archaeology of Indian Trade Routes (1993). She was awarded the Infosys Prize in Humanities—Archaeology for 2013, and her most recent book Ashoka in Ancient India won the John F. Richards prize of the American Historical Association for the best book in South Asian History for 2015.


Prelude and Acknowledgements

  1. 1. Independence and Partition
  2. 2. Institution Building and Archaeological Research
  3. 3. Prehistoric India and Its Changing Frontiers
  4. 4. Redefining the World of Proto-Historic India
  5. 5. Historical India and Beyond
  6. 6. Protection of and Pressures on Monuments and Sites
  7. 7. Auditing Archaeology and Museums
  8. 8. Our Heritage and the Law
  9. 9. Antiquarianism and Preservation

Epilogue: Making Heritage Matter


Independence and Partition
Lahiri, Nayanjot
Vol. 68 No. 4, June 2017; ISBN: 978-93-83243-17-4, pp. 8-21

The impact of the end of colonial rule and the creation of the two nation-states of India and Pakistan on Indian archaeology and monuments frame the opening chapter. The fate of monuments and museum collections in the aftermath of 1947 is described. The pressures on Islamic monuments in India, the partitioning of museum collections and the division of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) are discussed.

Institution Building and Archaeological Research
Lahiri, Nayanjot
Vol. 68 No. 4, June 2017; ISBN: 978-93-83243-17-4, pp. 22-37

In this chapter, a broad “stock-taking” of institution building and archaeological investigations as they unfolded post-1947 are provided. The institutional framework relating to India’s post-independence archaeological heritage was not strikingly different from what had been put in place by the first half of the 20th century, as the existing structure was consolidated and expanded rather than replaced. The priorities and scope of archaeological investigations undertaken in the years following independence, on the other hand, emerged out of independence and the partitioning of the country. This chapter also highlights how important new research paths were opened up that appear to be unrelated to these political developments.

Prehistoric India and Its Changing Frontiers
Lahiri, Nayanjot
Vol. 68 No. 4, June 2017; ISBN: 978-93-83243-17-4, pp. 38-49

This chapter, and the two that follow, look at archaeological discoveries and research in India from the 1960s till the present. These are examined in relation to a very large chunk of time, stretching from prehistory, across protohistorical cultures till the historical period. A compressed broad-brush picture is presented which provides a sense of the expansion of the archaeological database, some of the important achievements in various domains and regions, and the new methods and areas of research. Simultaneously, the many challenges and problems that hamper an in-depth understanding of the archaeological history of India as a whole are also considered.

Redefining the World of Protohistoric India
Lahiri, Nayanjot
Vol. 68 No. 4, June 2017; ISBN: 978-93-83243-17-4, pp. 50-61

This chapter focuses on the range and depth of protohistoric societies. “Protohistory” has been used in India for describing a large chunk of time that begins with the advent of food production and ends with the beginning of early historic India. There is a range of societies that flourished in this phase, across 7000 years or so—this chronological and geographical depth has emerged out of the field research done in different parts of the Indian subcontinent since 1947. Consequently, the term “protohistoric India” which earlier tended to conjure up images of India’s first urban culture, the Indus or Harappan civilization, has now become an umbrella term that describes a wide range of societies that cover practically all of South Asia.

Historical India and Beyond
Lahiri, Nayanjot
Vol. 68 No. 4, June 2017; ISBN: 978-93-83243-17-4, pp. 62-77

This chapter provides an overview of the significant elements in post-independence research on a variety of issues from the beginning of writing to the nature of historic cities.

Protection of and Pressures on Monuments and Sites
Lahiri, Nayanjot
Vol. 68 No. 4, June 2017; ISBN: 978-93-83243-17-4, pp. 78-93
While the previous chapters explore the material past of India, what happens to such remains after their discovery and documentation is the focus here. How do sites get protected and conserved? What are the pressures on them and who bears responsibility for destruction when it takes place? These are some of the concerns discussed here.
Auditing Archaeology and Museums
Lahiri, Nayanjot
Vol. 68 No. 4, June 2017; ISBN: 978-93-83243-17-4, pp. 94-107

This chapter looks at what auditors—special committees set up by the government and by constitutional bodies like the Indian Parliament and the Comptroller and Auditor General of India—tell us about the state of Indian archaeology, monuments and museums. Their scrutiny of India’s heritage, as will be evident, has generally been excellent, even while their recommendations have often remained unimplemented.

Our Heritage and the Law
Lahiri, Nayanjot
Vol. 68 No. 4, June 2017; ISBN: 978-93-83243-17-4, pp. 108–117

This chapter engages with the law and our heritage and analyses some of the issues that courts have been called upon to decide in relation to monuments and archaeology. It examines the legal dispute around the Babri Masjid and its destruction at Ayodhya, an unprecedented event in the history of Indian archaeology, where for the first time, the court directed excavations in a case that, legally speaking, was at its core a property dispute. Also discussed in detail is the issue of legal intervention aimed at mitigating the damage being caused to the Taj Mahal by industries in its vicinity.

Antiquarianism and Preservation
Lahiri, Nayanjot
Vol. 68 No. 4, June 2017; ISBN: 978-93-83243-17-4, pp. 118–127

The final chapter looks at institutions and individuals who through practices rooted in traditions and customs protect ancient sites, sculptures and structures. The term used to describe such practices is antiquarianism. These people and practices have implications for the survival of unprotected heritage, and this chapter highlights this crucial role which has been entirely unacknowledged in writings on archaeological preservation and protection.

Epilogue: Making Heritage Matter
Lahiri, Nayanjot
Vol. 68 No. 4, June 2017; ISBN: 978-93-83243-17-4, pp. 128–130

India’s archaeological heritage is an irreplaceable archive of past human activity. Equally, like its natural heritage, it is endangered. This is true for many parts of the world and it is certainly true for India. To better ensure the conservation of the archaeological past there is a need for improvements in the quality and direction of commitment and communication, both among people in the profession of researching the past and protecting monuments, and from them to other audiences. In this concluding section, Lahiri offers her own observations on how India’s heritage can be made to matter more than it does at present.