The word 'conservation' is used in several contexts: In its broadest terms, it can be associated either with the ecology movement, the energy crisis or with the fabric of historic cities. It is also open to a wide range of interpretations, from outright preservation, when we refer to the destruction of the fragile rain-forests in the Silent Valley or the threat of pollution to the Taj Mahal, to broader concepts like 'sustainable development', which involve the use of non-renewable resources in the natural environment, and the management of historical cities to accommodate new economic activity. Similarly, conservation does not necessarily mean 'conservative'; on the contrary, one point of view categorizes conservationists as 'radicals'

While the early Romans recognized the need to preserve Greek ruins as a cultural necessity,1 and Fibonacci (of the Fibonacci series fame) established rules for conservation in Italy as early as the eighth century AD, the practice was not effectively institutionalised by law in European countries until the middle of the nineteenth century, and it is only very recently that the issue has become one of truly international concern.2 In India, even though we have a very old, and remarkably continuous civilization, the practice of conservation per se was introduced with the consolidation of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) by Lord Curzon in 1902. As an issue of wider public and professional concern, however, it is still nascent. Notwithstanding Nehru’s caveat to find a development model suitable to the Indian circumstance, 3 both our values and practices have derived largely from western attitudes and experiences, and in conservation, as in other fields, we are rushing to ‘catch up’ with concepts prevalent in the West. There is, however, a growing body of knowledge to be gleaned from both indigenous experience and international networking on the guidelines for conservation of our architectural and urban heritage. The work of the ASI, the more recent activities of the National Research Laboratory for Conservation of Cultural Property (NRLCCP) at Lucknow, the diverse and widely spread initiatives of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) established in 1984, the contribution of several academic institutions which have started addressing themselves to the problems of conservation, as also the concern of the numerous non-governmental organizations with particular interest in the preservations our built cultural heritage, evidence a healthy professionalism taking root in our country. What is emerging in the process is, on the one hand, a clearer definition of the Indian context in the field of conservation planning and management, and on the other, an option to reassess our development ideology and model itself, a scenario in which the tail wags the dog. It is becoming clearer that conservation in India, instead of being a marginal technical activity at odds with the real world as in the West, could, in fact, be central to the development of our material reality and the key to the definition of our identity.

The Indian experience is not alone in identifying the development potential of conservation. Several international documents point to the necessity of integrating historic areas with contemporary life. The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) Charter for the conservation of historic towns as a coherent policy of economic and social development and of urban and regional planning. But even this broad vision envisages conservation as a subordinate activity within the wider development process modernizing the country along a western blueprint. Integration, as defined by the ICOMOS Charter, is basically concerned with mitigating the effects of the changes caused by the modernizing process, which undermine the authenticity of the historic town or area, a passive entity assumed to have minimal influence beyond the boundaries of the conservation area. Even where the historic character is recognized as ‘living’ and hence of inherent economic and social value, it’s real value to the conservationist appears to lie in its anachronism with respect to the contemporary world. The concern expressed in UNESCO’s document is for the loss of authenticity, and the aim of urban conservation, accordingly, is to ‘control the rate of change’. Significantly, the historic town and the values it represents are not considered the agents of change. At this point, before we consider the possibility of such ideological transformation further, it becomes essential to evaluate the underpinnings of the conservation movement in the West.

Conservation in the West

The conservation movements of the West evolved from the works of enlightened individuals and altruistic groups. The concern for authenticity was rooted in eighteenth century romantic and historicist philosophies, which eventually evolved into legalized protection of cultural heritage in the nineteenth century. What was considered worthy of protection was, according to William Morris, father of the conservation movement in England, anything “which can be looked on as artistic, picturesque, historical, antique or substantial, any work, in short, over which educated artistic people would think it worthwhile to argue at all!” From the many interesting concepts implicit in that statement, one can single out the pervasive ideal of the picturesque in English culture. John Ruskin, another guru, wrote about the decaying stonework and the visual appearance of age and history as the ‘golden stain of time’. In his view, a building or painting after restoration loses its authenticity, it becomes a copy or counterfeit. In a famous passage in The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849) he wrote: “Another spirit may be given by another time, and it is then an new building; but the spirit of the dead workmen cannot be summoned up and commanded to direct other hands and other thoughts. And as for direct and simple copying, it is palpably impossible. What copying can there be of surfaces that have been worn half an inch down? The whole finish of the work was in the half inch that is gone; if you attempt to restore that finish, you do it conjecturally; if you copy what is left, granting fidelity to be possible... how is the new work better than the old? There was yet in the old some life, some mysterious suggestion of what it had been, and of what it had lost... There can be none in the brute hardness of the new carving... Do not let us talk then of restoration. The thing is a lie from beginning to end.” It was in thus reacting to t he then popular trend to ‘restore’ old buildings that William Morris 4 founded the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) in England in 1877. In 1882 the British Parliament passed the Historic Monuments Protection Act institutionalising the English bias in favour of preservation exemplified by Ruskin’s advice that “when care will preserve it no longer, let it perish inch by inch rather than retouch it.” Introduced in India by Lord Curzon in 1902, it was absorbed as the philosophy of the ASI.

In practice, even in Britain, a balance was sought between the rationale for restoration and extreme notions of non-intervention; the two movements often referred to as ‘scrape’ and ‘anti-scrape’. Elsewhere in Europe there emerged other attitudes. Viollet-le-Duc in France, for example, considered surviving details sufficient indication of the intent of the original builder to guide contemporary restoration, an alternative preferable to the total obliteration of the form and design of the original. Otherwise, what is picturesque today may well be only a memory tomorrow. It was further argued that what could be skilfully substituted today, would in turn weather and become picturesque to later generations.5

The English attitude, however, expressed a preoccupation with authenticity, and there may, of course, be several interpretations of the preservation of authenticity. For example authenticity is not necessarily associated with retaining old material alone; it could also include old practices, customs and ideas to perpetuate the original intention. Thus, revealing the original intention of the builder of a historic monument was the primary purpose of some nineteenth century restorers like George Gilbert Scott and Viollet-le-Duc who advocate stylistic restoration instead of scientific restoration. In England, and consequently in India, the bias is, however, towards scientific restoration, succinctly contained in the advice that “it is better to consolidate than repair, better to repair than restore, better to restore than to rebuild, better to rebuild than to embellish; in no case must anything be added, and above all, nothing should be removed.”6

Over the years a variation in scale shifted concern from the preservation of individual buildings to whole areas in cities, and from buildings to the lesser elements of the environment like street furniture. The Athens Charter of 1931 and the Venice Charter of 1964 recognized this diversity, both of which established the conventions of the practice of conservation, which are still valid. More recently, the emphasis in international practice has shifted from negative preservation to a holistic approach encompassing the changing circumstances within which the historic area existed. This is covered in the Amsterdam Declaration of 1975, which moves forward into the concept of integrated urban conservation. The key idea that emerges from this wide spectrum of conservation philosophy as it evolved in the West is the aspect of ‘character’, which is sought to be protected. This is the aim of such recent legislations like the 1967 Civic Amenities Act of Britain.

Across the Atlantic the ideology of conservation changes. The North Americans, for many years in debt to Europe in field of conservation, are now evolving their own approach with their advocacy of ‘curatorial’ management of the built environment, and are emerging as exponents of a more holistic approach, one which looks at building conservation less as an end in itself than as the inevitable accompaniment of paying more attention to the management of change in their surroundings. Typical of the difference in approach are their ‘Main Street’ programmes which use promotional and marketing tools to produce attitudinal change in tandem with architectural conservation in the specialist sense.”

Interestingly, conservation philosophies in the communist countries of Europe are quite different. There they restore with fanatic fidelity and massive State support and control.7

In spite of these varying approaches, the difference between the attitudes in the West and what is emerging in India, is that while in the West, conservationists devote more attention to surviving structures and the remaining evidence of the past, we in India are beginning to emphasize continuity of traditions that created the historic monuments and ensembles in the first place. In the West their conviction is entirely defensive, while in India there is an emerging perception of the conservation ideology providing an alternate strategy for development itself. It is apparent in the Indian condition that one is more concerned with improving the quality of life than preserving authenticity.

The Indian Context

Several writers have pointed out the inherent dangers of trying to telescope the historical process that in Europe spanned centuries, within a few decades, and that too with a deranged order of the happenings. This is true of the conservation movement in India as well, which is trying to create, virtually overnight, attitudes, institutions and practices that took several generations to evolve in Europe. Yet, one recognizes that the alternative, if we did not act immediately, would be the dramatic loss of our historic build environment and the associated cultural heritage.

In this context Gunnar Myrdal identified the problem as the lack of any national tradition of modernization.8 In the West, this process was indigenous to their culture, but to Indians, with a ‘stagnant’ culture, as Mydral puts it, it involves a break with tradition raising questions about the appropriateness of change. Consequently, Indians tend to idolize a mythical Golden Age in order to reveal insights into the modern predicament by rationalizing history and reinterpreting ancient scriptures. We have for long subscribed to such criticism by Myrdal and other India watchers who viewed our culture from the outside through the filter of western experience. The conservation movement in India, if it is able to escape the shackles of conformity, offers the opportunity to deconstruct our identity from the inside and thereby creatively resolve, or at least come to terms with, the cultural conundrum.

India is still largely a traditional society, and t he conservation of tradition or its elimination is an important issue in defining the nature of development. On the one hand, the dance, music and daily rituals that define our pattern of living and thinking are steeped in the kind of conservatism that is the despair of those who want change, and on the other, our ‘leaps into the twenty-first century’ are bringing about such rapid change in our material life and values that they are, equally, the despair of those who seek to align our identity with our past. In this view it has been observed that in spite of four decades of pursuing the modernizing ideal, India is perhaps, as a whole, a more divided society rather than a more developed, or less conservative one. Both ‘Bharat’ and ‘India’ are realities in the contemporary scene. It is the experience of these dichotomies that fuels the debate on the larger objectives of conservation. The consequent ambiguities are reflected in the character of our built environment where the old and the new coexist with equal felicity. This exploding sector of our environment is apparently emerging as a result of forces seemingly our of the control of urban planners and policy-makers, as the recently published report of the National Urbanization Commission brings out so clearly.9

The parameters of our built environment are circumscribed by the fact that our cities consist of three distinct entities: the historic town, the newly planned and unplanned developments, and the ‘spontaneous’, informal growth of the urban poor, both within and at the periphery of the cities. These entities are organically related, but the urban planner is mainly concerned with master planning new development and straitjacketing the remainder in conformity with a ‘vision’ of an orderly city. The evolving profession of urban conservation, from this point of view, is equally exclusive, for it primarily concerns itself with the imperatives of the historic town or the ‘heritage zone’. It is the interdependence of these entities that must be viewed in the context of two overriding realities: (a) that the current trends in the rate and pattern of urbanization are not likely to change significantly in the foreseeable future, and (b) that the urban economy, in the short run at least, would continue to have a dualistic character, formal and informal, which will consequently distort the urban land market and the planning process. In addition, one must realize that the rate of economic development, especially industrialization, is not going to be high enough to eliminate the household production sector and the fractionated economy of the poor and traditional craftsmen.10

The historic town, in the Indian context, is not a temporal oddity in the contemporary urban scene, but a significant part of the prevailing urbanized sector of the Indian environment. Though it is not necessarily a part of the dominating formal, western oriented sector, it is dynamically evolving influencing, and being influenced by the formal sector. One can arguably visualize the situation to be, as physicists would put it, at the point of criticality - tuning point - when the object, in this case the role of the historic city in the total urban environment, could turn either way, either as a dynamic force in India’s urban future, or merely remain a curatorial issue of interest to urban conservationists, in consonance with international concepts and practices. Recognition of the difference can be central to the evolution of the conservation movement in India.

Our culture has an uninterrupted continuity from prehistoric times to the present. The past, even the distant one, is a living presence in India, and assumes and iconic character. It is, therefore, not easily possible to achieve the scientific detachment characteristic of western professional practice.

Our culture has also lacked a cognitive historical perspective for a substantial part of our history, thus making it difficult to argue about or explicate our past as art historic certainties.11 This blunts a significant objective of conservation as practiced in the West where the identification of authenticity and how to preserve it has acquired an eclectic level accessible only to the initiated. Thus, in the absence of great traditions in art history, low priority is assigned to eclectic authenticity, and the field is open to a broader spectrum of individuals and professionals who feel equally competent to deal with historic monuments or heritage zones.

The Indian Response

The Constitution of India, under Fundamental Duties, states: “It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture.” While formal conservation was started in India over a century ago, 12 conservation as a broad-based movement in the spirit of the Fundamental Duties emerged only a few years ago with the establishment of INTACH in 1984. There is, in addition, the Indian Heritage Society and, among others, several voluntary action groups like the Conservation Society of Delhi, the Golconda Society and the Save Bombay Group, which are mainly concerned with local issues.

The ASI has under its charge an exemplary legacy of monuments and archaeological sites of national importance, which now number about 5,000. Another 4,000 are being protected by the State Department of Archaeology. But these numbers pale in comparison with those in Britain, which has over 500,000, listed buildings, of which approximately 30,000 are considered Grade I. The State of Uttar Pradesh, which has roughly the same area as the UK, has only 863 ASI protected monuments (including individual buildings in large complexes such as Fatehpur Sikri) and 91 State protected monuments.

It was in response to this situation that INTACH identified the listing of historical monuments as among its primary objectives. In the first five years of its activity, INTACH has completed the listing of historical monuments and designation of heritage zones in 53 cities and those in 45 others are underway. The listing of individual buildings is among the commendable achievements of INTACH that will establish a benchmark for future conservation activity. The boldest initiative made by INTACH in the field of conservation of the built environment, and one that represents a marked departure from the activities of the ASI, was the attempt to identify and establish heritage zones. It is true that the ASI is now looking at ensembles and monuments in their setting, but the concept of the heritage zone being articulated by INTACH goes beyond the monuments or groups of monuments in their setting, and purposefully shifts the emphasis from the fabric to the people. To this end, the tasks identified by INTACH involved: (a) formulating the special imperatives of the heritage zone, (b) having the proposed heritage zone notified officially, and (c) overseeing the implementation of the recommendations and the guidelines laid down in the proposals. INTACH has identified about 50 heritage zones, though the work has not gone beyond the study stage in most instances.

An interesting outcome of studies has been the necessity to cut across the horizontal and vertical divisions of government departments and advocate, by making visible, the needs of the people who live in these areas. This has been accomplished by the establishment of, State or District level Task Forces headed by the respective heads of the government, in which al the concerned departments and the representatives of INTACH participate. These Task Forces assist the interdisciplinary studies being undertaken by INTACH and will oversee their implementation where they are taken up. Naturally, the problems encountered in such an exercise are formidable, the most obvious being perceived encroachment by INTACH into the jurisdictional domain, previously the exclusive preserve of government bureaucrats. Even when these construed or misconstrued apprehensions are allayed to a state equilibrium, there is always the possibility of transfer of personnel - including Ministers - who may have been persuaded to accommodate the role of INTACH in what was previously their exclusive concern.

At present it would be a fair assessment to conclude that INTACH’s thinking has remained trapped in praetorian logic 13 and that there is a danger in the pessimistic conclusions drawn them becoming self-fulfilling prophesies. Thus, one of the solutions to the disorder it perceives in its interface with the government is often some form of brute coercion, for example, the top-down approach to get its decisions implemented.

In fairness, one must also mention that the problems and the solutions that are adopted by INTACH are often not of its own making. INTACH is making a concerted effort to ‘professionalise’ its activities. It has commissioned a report on the guidelines for its activities and practices 14 and has established a project office to institutionalise its efforts. These are healthy trends, and perhaps reflect Mao’s dictum on ideological intransigence and tactical flexibility. Given a measure of independence and freedom from government control (not an unlikely prospect) INTACH as a non-government voluntary agency, can develop into a useful and effective institution working in tandem with the ASI and other government institutions to act where necessary, and as a check and balancing force on other occasions.

What one cannot be as sanguine about is the response of the architectural and planning professions to meet the challenges of conservation and the development of heritage zones. Thrown up by the initiatives of inhibiting professional response.

First, the scope of the work envisaged in conserving the heritage zones is too complex and large. One is not talking of the technical protection of single buildings only, but an attitude and expertise in dealing with a fragile web connecting people; activities and monuments which are under serve external and internal pressures to change in the expectation of a better life. No wonder then that conservation in India is seen in stark opposition to development and the promised good life. Not many professionals with the requisite interdisciplinary framework for operation are available to undertake such a task. The mere quorum of specialists only reflects the simple confrontation of pious hopes.15 Interdisciplinary activity begins effectively only when the solidarity of the old disciplines breaks down and the imperatives of the heritage zone dictate the response of each of the disciplines. Given the shortage of professionals interested in such a difficult (and traumatic) exercise, and the paucity of data endemic to the Indian situation, such an interdisciplinary gestalt seldom occurs, and the heritage zone project of INTACH remain, at best slightly better informed than the government’s master plans and simply reflect another point of view. If one were to be very rigorous in one’s evaluation, then INTACH consultants appear somewhat akin to pirates on the sea, raiding the heavily laden galleons of Indian Heritage.

Second, there is the problem that there is few professionals willing to go through the sequential process envisaged in the conservation of the heritage zone, and most of their interest and commitment tapers off after the completion of the project report. This is, of course, in conformity with their understanding of professionalism, which is unable to accommodate the element of activism necessary for seeing the heritage zone projects through implementation. In the current bureaucratic jargon, there is a good case for professionals to be mission-centred and shed their Victorian concepts of professionalism, which protect them from getting their hands ‘dirty’. (This can be seen as both a metaphorical and literal imperative.) It is they who will have to make happen the conservation of our heritage, otherwise, unlike the Ancient Mariner, we may not even be able to stop one in three, and pass on the rhyme of our heritage to future generations.

It is doubtful if anyone would wilfully destroy his heritage, yet it is disappearing at an alarming rate. Besides the role (or the abdication of the role) by government institutions, voluntary agencies and professionals, there are perhaps three issues of a conceptual nature on which we require greater clarity to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the Indian response. These issues pertain to the rationale for conservation and are concerned with our concept of (a) the collage of time, (b) the collage of cultures, and (c) the Indian identity. By following the practice of the West these issues are seldom overtly articulated and are often presumed to be self-evident for promoting public good in the conservation exercise.

But we pay the price by alienating the objectives of conservation from the genius of the country. The movement has perhaps compounded the confusion by avoiding addressing itself to these issues.

The collage of time:

The concept of time in our conservation effort is clearly the ethnocentric invention of the ‘other’. In real terms, our townscapes seldom contain the rich variety of old buildings assumed to exist in an ‘ancient’ continually existing culture. Even in towns like Varanasi, the durable domestic architecture is seldom more than 200 years old, and often far more recent. Hence, the implied relationship between time and aesthetics we are trying to emulate in the European manner in report after report is, perhaps, misleading. In Old Bhubaneshwar, the collage of time was observed due to the felicitous concentration of temples built between the periods AD 500-1500, but none such existed subsequent to that period or among the non-religious buildings.

Indian towns of even greater antiquity seldom display the dialectic rhythm of time observable in certain European towns. The collage of time observable in Indian towns consists of the different entities that constitute the town, the historic, the colonial, the post-colonial and the spontaneous settlements of the urban poor, and only to a lesser degree (depending upon the availability of historic evidence), within the historic town itself. The reasons for this relative lack of variety with respect to time may be due to the easily degradable buildings materials we use for non-religious buildings, the debilitating effect of the climate on these materials leading to a repetitive cycle of development, which Europeans consider a ‘stagnating’ culture. Only a little reflection will reveal that this is not true, for the buildings are being constantly renewed, and the vitality in crafts and skills is, in fact, evident even today. The present emphasis on antiquity of objects marginalizes the remarkable survival of the craftspeople, rituals and customs, which are equally important in informing us of the nature of our past. Neglect of these valuable cultural resources will reduce the potential diversity of material artefacts, besides making us poorer in knowledge, and worse, poorer in the confidence with which they could continue to create knowledge. In India, we have one of the few instances in the world, where genuine authenticity could still be created in a viable dialogue between the imperatives of tradition and modernity.

To take this argument a bit further, we can perhaps conjecture that authenticity in the built environment need to be preserved in the manner that obsesses the West, and thus we could reprioritise the guidelines for conservation. Certainly, it must be admitted, that such ‘liberties’ should not be practiced on the exemplary monuments of our civilization, for they remain the authentic texts of a bygone era. But equally, it would be impossible to sustain the museum approach for the thousands upon thousands of lesser monuments and historic buildings, which still exist in our contemporary landscape. It is through the conjectural restoration of such buildings, with a view to return them to productive use that this concept gains meaning in our context. A modest attempt on these lines is being attempted at Chanderi. One of the elements of the project involves the retaining of traditional masons through the conjectural restoration of the Raj Mahal, which will be converted into a City Museum. These masons will then be used to restore other dilapidated buildings and also to build new housing required for the growth of the town. It is hoped that by continuing these skills and technologies into the twenty-first century, a new meaning will be invested in the concept of the collage of time in conservation of our heritage zones.

The collage of cultures:

Unity in diversity is a modern concept. The traditional cultures we seek to conserve, existed and developed in relative isolation. Thus, the concept of the collage of cultures in the contemporary context raises profound questions. These cultures are assigned values and characteristics that they never had in earlier circumstances and become subject to contemporary forces, thus mutating their authenticity. Alternately, if they are kept in isolation, within a cordon sanitaire, following international practice, they become privileged enclaves, artificially supported, and competing for scarce resources.

Culture can be conceived of as a type, as a specimen of a species and as a historical process or, it can be seen as a system, as an aggregate of separable parts. Either way, the danger that the conservationist faces in India is the need to stage authenticity in opposition to external, often dominating alternatives. This staging appears inevitable to an outsider, but what to him may appear to be organically unified or traditionally continuous, to an insider may be a negotiated, present process. Under these circumstances one needs to eschew appeals to any authentic and traditional realities and concern oneself with what is becoming. It is, of course, easier to register loss of traditions than to perceive the emergence of new ones. Thus, one needs to examine the transformation more carefully and centrally for there is a real danger of cultural homogeneity setting in.

What is being posited here is that in the Indian context, the collage of cultures should not -and need not -in the western sense, refer to the conservation of historical images. It should, and could refer to evolving images. This approach lead to a concept of development which is conservation oriented 16 and recalls the seminal debate between Gandhi and Nehru on the type of development appropriate for India.17 Consequently, one needs to examine the practice of urban planning in India as a part of the conservation exercise, for it is through this larger perspective that one can conserve the rich textural quality of the urban environment implicit in the collage of cultures.

The Indian planner does not profess any explicit ideology in planning, but often it is no less present for being officially ignored. Having separated from political theory, the field of town planning now promotes paternalistic values of the bourgeoisie to conserve the social balance.18 Witness, for example, how the bold objectives for the second Master Plan for Delhi have been completely vitiated in what is now considered the Second Master Plan.19

It is only by confronting our past (and not containing it within enclaves of conservation areas) and establishing a positive and dynamic dialogue with our historic cities that the Indian planner can redeem the promise of his profession to improve the quality of life of his fellow citizens.

The Indian identity: Implicit in any conservation project is the reference to the India identity. The conservation movement in India has not directly addressed itself to this important issue. Consequently, we are missing the wood for the trees.

Three model typologies for cultural organization have been identified.20 the first is cultural pluralism. In this type there are institutional diverse populations in the State, but these populations are not organized as corporate groups. The second is social pluralism. In this type the populations are organized as corporate groups, which enjoy equivalent standing in the polity as a whole, as for example, in Switzerland and Old Lebanon. The third is structural pluralism. Here, the corporate groups with different cultures are incorporated in the polity on unequal terms, as for example, in South Africa. Most conservationists would be horrified if their proposals were interpreted as reflecting structural pluralism, but unfortunately a number of them are unconsciously advocating such unequal treatment either in terms of resources or future opportunities to improve their quality of life.

The conservationist must recognize that he has a crucial role to play in an interconnected world, caught between cultures and implicated to varying degrees in others. They are varying degrees to authenticity and identity is often conjectural, not essential. It is in this concept of the public realm that the conservationist can make a signal contribution to the reconstruction of the Indian identity.

Can the conservation movement deal with the ardour of cultural self-transformation in the modernizing process in our society? How are peaceful complementarities between culturally diverse peoples to be achieved? Do we stress in our proposals a polity of integration or pluralism?

It is true that similar question arise in other cultures as well. But the point is that conservation in India, in trying to conform to the western model, is abdicating a significant responsibility to the future by avoiding the opportunity to confront or come to terms with the specific issues of our times.


Conservation is an attitude that has been negated by modern city planning, but is perhaps the only hope of making the individual at home in the urban environment. In India, there is an opportunity, indeed a necessity, for making planning conservation oriented. It is interesting to recall that almost a century ago, as the profession of city planning was taking root, Camillo Sitte enunciated principles of town planning based on his study and analysis of old towns. He was able to explain the apparent casualness of design in the middle Ages as being essentially rational, that is, carried out with foresight. He sought ‘artistic’ principles to recreate what had grown anonymously over centuries. We in India could profitably emulate Sitte 21 and find more appropriate solutions through a similar study of our environment. We could identify the universal principles of planning and the timeless language of our urban patterns, which could be applied to contemporary and future situations. This is the promise that the pursuit of conservation holds out for the future of the urban environment.22

Conservation in India, therefore, needs to shifts its priority to what is becoming of our historic cities rather than on what they were. This shift in values is predicated on an understanding of the current Indian reality and future prospects. There is also a need to understand that the true heritage of our country is in the traditional skills of our artisans and craftsmen 23 and less in the objects they created which they knew would deteriorate in time. Thus, the specificity of the Indian situation is in the fact that authenticity can be created.

These directions will determine the nature of Indian identity. Indian conservationists appear oblivious to the larger consequences of their professional work. Inadvertently, they often reinforce prejudices and resurrect differences where none existed. In a culturally diverse country like India and against the pervasive understanding of modernity arising out of cultural homogeneity, conservationists walk a tightrope between the positive and negative aspects of cultural pluralism in the modern world. In this respect they need to initiate dialogue with cultural anthropologists along with the other social disciplines with which they are already working.

Conservation in India is at the crossroads. It can provide the impetus and ideology for a conservation-oriented development policy, or be content with arguing about authenticity and matters “educated and artistic people would think (it) worthwhile...” In the words of one of the characters in Salman Rushdie’s proscribed novel, The Satanic Verses, “Battle lines are being drawn up in India today. Secular versus religious, the light versus the dark. Better you choose which side you are on.” Indeed, if we do not want to lose by default, better we choose now.

  • 1. Roger Kain, “Introduction: definitions, attitudes and debates” in Roger Kain, Ed, Planning for Conservation, Mansell, London, 1981.
  • 2. Jane Fawcett, Ed, The Future of the Past, Attitudes to Conservation 1147-1974, Thames and Hudson, London, 1976.
  • 3. There are several references to this in Nehru’s writings. Refer Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India, Meridian Books ltd., London, 1956, p522, or his address to the United States Congress, October 13, 1949. Also see Dear Sir, R Gadgil, Economic Policy and Development (A Collection of Writings), Sangam Press Ltd., Poona, 1955, where he states: “The real problem of these societies is that of finding the terms on which they can exist honourably with the technology and civilization of the West. There is no question of rejecting the latter; at the same time, however, it is not possible for these societies to accept the West completely, to forget their own past.”
  • 4. William Morris, Manifesto for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, 1877. Reprinted in the current pamphlet, The Activities and Services of the Society, Society for Protection of Ancient Buildings, London.
  • 5. For the general philosophy of conservation in France refer: Urbanism, 147/8, 1975.
  • 6. For further reference to the issues as seen in the United States refer: Preservation: Towards our Ethic in the 1980s. The Preservation Press, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Washington, 1980.
  • 7. Seminar on “Trends in Architecture and Problems of restoration” held at the Industrial Design Centre, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, 2-4 August 1988, held under the auspices of the Festival of USSR in India. Proceedings published by GREHA, New Delhi, October 1988.
  • 8. Gunnar Myrdal, Asian Drama, An Enquiry into the Poverty of Nations, Pantheon, New York, 1986. See especially Chapter 3 and Appendix 9.
  • 9. Report of the National Commission on Urbanization, India, 1989.
  • 10. Cf. L C Jain, “A Heritage to Keep, The Handicrafts Industry 1955-85” in Economic and Political Weekly, Volume XXI, No 20, 17 May 1986, on the role of handicrafts in the Indian economy, and Milton Santos, A Shared Space, on the fractionate economy.
  • 11. Romila Thapar, A History of India Vol. 1, Penguin Books, In the new millennium I want to give a different type of suggestions of my dearer and nearer, to find out invisible manner of such cases Britain, 1866; “One of the problems in ascertaining the chronology of events in ancient India is the uncertainty of accurately dating the various eras which were in use. Most of the important dynasties of the early period used their own system of reckoning, which resulted in a number of unconnected eras.... Knowledge of these eras are based on epigraphical and literary evidence... The accounts of foreign travellers are sometimes of assistance in calculating eras, as they provide a means of cross-evidence in dating.... The confusion of the eras becomes worse after the tenth century AD... However, the Turks and their successors from the thirteenth century onwards uniformly used the Islamic system of the Hijri Era of AD 622.”(P337)
  • 12. In 1861 Alexander Cunningham was appointed to undertake a systematic survey of monuments, and in 1873 the Central Government entrusted the work of preservation of historic monuments to the local governments but established the ASI in 1902 to centralize the work under John Marshall.
  • 13. S Huntingdon, Political Order in a Changing Society, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1968. Huntingdon defines ‘praetorian-ism’ in changing societies as a situation of disorderly political mobilization that overflows institutional channels and constitutes a broad syndrome of direct action by different components of society, which often paralyse the bypass representative institution of the polity.
  • 14. GREHA, Guidelines for Conservation, 1989. Currently mimeographed but a forthcoming INTACH publication, and B Feilden, Guidelines for Conservation-A Technical Manual, INTACH, New Delhi, 1986.
  • 15. R Barthes, The Rustle of Language, Blackwell, Oxford, 1986.
  • 16. GREHA, Innovative Approach to Urban Development, mimeographed paper product for HUDCO, New Delhi, 1987.
  • 17. B R Nanda, Gandhi and Nehru, Oxford University Press, 1979.
  • 18. Leonardo, Benevolo, The Origins of Modern Town Planning, The MIT Press, Cambridge, 1971. Benevolo makes an interesting reference to William Morris, Father of the construction Movement in England, and says that it was his activism as a Socialist in the English Workers’ Movement that contributed to his subsequent evolution as a conservationist.
  • 19. Perspective Planning Wing, Delhi Development Authority, Monographs, mimeographed papers prepared between 1979-82. See also background papers for Seminar on “Policies for Delhi 2001-Shelters” held on 27 February 1982.
  • 20. S F Moore, “The Production of Cultural Pluralism as a Process” paper read at the International Seminar in Visual Anthropology, Jodhpur, December 1987.
  • 21. For a recent evaluation of Sitte, cf. G R Collins and C C Collins, “Camillo Sitte Reappraised” in Planning for Conservation, op. cit.
  • 22. Cf. C Alexander, H Neis, A Anninou, I King, A New Theory of Urban Design, Oxford University Press, New York, 1987.
  • 23. Cf. A G K Menon “Design, Designers and Revival of Crafts: Three Paradigms,” in Architecture+Design Vol. III No 2, 1987.