Set in Stone

Archaeological Survey of India is celebrating its 150th year by showcasing its accomplishments outside India

Written by Zaira Arslan | Published: July 21, 2012 3:32 am

Archaeological Survey of India is celebrating its 150th year by showcasing its accomplishments outside India

In its 150 years of existence,the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has worked on some of the most historic sites in India and around the world. The organisation has restored monuments of great importance: Taj Mahal in Agra,Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi and Elephanta Caves near Mumbai. Some of these,including the Red Fort in Delhi and a few churches in Goa,were so decrepit that the entire structure resembled one big mass of concrete with debris all over. The ASI has also carried out excavations in various parts of the world and established a number of museums around the country to house artefacts collected over the years. Yet what remains comparatively lesser-known is the work the ASI has done outside of India — in countries such as Egypt,Cambodia,Vietnam,Bhutan,Myanmar,Afghanistan and Bahrain — and the extent to which it has been involved in these projects.

In celebration of its 150th year,the organisation has scheduled a number of activities and events,one of which is an exhibition showcasing the work they have done outside India since 1947. At present,the exhibition,titled “Archaeological Survey of India Outside India”,is on display at the National Gallery of Modern Art,Mumbai,following which it will travel to Trivandrum,Kolkata,Shillong,Lucknow,Chandigarh and finally,Delhi. “We need to make people more aware of India’s expertise in this field (archaeology) and of the culture in and outside the country,” says AK Sinha,Director (CEP,NCF,Publication),ASI. He adds that even fewer people know of the work conducted outside the country by the ASI,which is why this exhibition focusses solely on these locations.

At the gallery,groups of large,vertical boards stand in all corners,each dedicated to a different site. Besides a number of ‘before’ and ‘after’ photographs,the boards provide details about the site,the particular parts of the sites that were worked on,when the ASI began work and when it finished.

Among the sites represented in this exhibition are the famous Angkor Wat Temple in Siem Reap,Cambodia,Vat Phou Temple in Lao PDR,Laos,and Ananda Temple in Bagan,Myanmar. In 1960,an ASI team travelled to Egypt to begin excavations in the areas around Afyeh and Tumus after the Government of Egypt proposed a dam around the area. The area explored included a cemetery,which when excavated,revealed that a number of graves had been plundered and the team studied the method of disposal.

It is,however,interesting to note that the ASI doesn’t choose these locations to work at itself. The governments of the two countries discuss the matter among themselves,following which the ASI is brought in.

“The Ministry of External Affairs comes out with a proposal for the site and if it is viable,we depute people to go and begin work there,” explains Sinha,who has been with the ASI for more than 30 years. Following that,however,all work on the site is conducted solely by the ASI without any assistance from local organisations.

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