150th Anniversary of the Archaeological Survey of India

INDIA, December 16, 2011 (Press Release): The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) was founded in the December 1861 as a result of a series of antiquarian, artistic and architectural investigations since 1784, when the Asiatic Society was established under Sir William Jones.  The necessity of an institution to survey and document, interpret and publish the data pertaining to India’s ancient past was thus felt as early as the 19thcentury.  Sir Alexander Cunningham was the first Archaeological Surveyor of ASI, who carried out a monumental survey in the entire northern India tracing the route of the celebrated Chinese pilgrim,Xuan Zang, and discovered most of the prominent cities and other establishments and brought them firmly on the archaeological map of India.  The ASI gradually grew as a pan-Indiaorganisation under Sir John Marshall, whose endeavours culminated in the promulgation of a separate act to protect and preserve our ancient past.  His period also saw the discovery of Indus Valley Civilization, which pushed back our history to third millennium BC.  The excavations at Harappa, Mohenjodaro, Taxila, Sarnath, Sanchi, etc., by Sir John Marshall are hallmarks of discovery and presentation of India’s past before the people.

Subsequently, the organisation grew enormously, particularly under Sir Mortimer Wheeler, who infused a scientific basis on the investigation of our ancient past.  He also introduced full-fledged conservation, chemical preservation and horticulture wings in ASI which have contributed enormously in various ways.  Further, the exhaustive field training imparted by Wheeler to Indian students paved a way for them to take over the organisation, once the British left.  Some of the students attained the position of Director General of ASI speaks of the methodical and prolific nature of the training imparted by Wheller.

The ASI expanded enormously post-independence in several ways.  A novel approach of surveying the entire country was devised under the “Village-to-Village Survey of Antiquarian Remains” which enabled in extensive survey of remote corners of India.  This enabled in the discovery of large number of sites of different periods, starting from the prehistoric to medieval times.  A monumental task of salvaging the archaeological remains in the Nagarjunakonda Valley was carried out successfully under the patronage of our first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.  The salvaged remains are still on display in an island museum.  The surveys along the dry bed of River Ghaggar and Gujarat led to the discovery of a large number of early, mature and lateHarappan sites, the hallmark among them are the sites of Dholavira, Lothal, Banawali andRakhigarhi.

The ASI also expanded its activities in the protection, conservation, preservation and environmental upgradation of nationally protected monuments numbering 3677 in a major way. The reputation of this organisation enabled its participation in conserving monuments in other countries like Afghanistan, Cambodia, Laos, etc.  The Epigraphy branch of ASI contributed tirelessly in surveying site after site to document and takes an impression of the inscriptions which led to the discovery and copying of nearly 80,000 inscriptions in various languages and scripts.

The contribution of ASI and heritage preservation in the modern era is more relevant as site after site is destroyed due to indiscriminate and rapid urbanisation, lack of knowledge on the necessity to preserve our past.  The ASI is aiming at spreading the message of protecting and preserving our past which can contribute in a major way towards local tourism, employment opportunities of the locals and also infuse a sense of pride among the mass of their rich heritage. After becoming an active member of World Heritage Convention of UNESCO, India has so far 28 World Heritage Properties inscribed with UNESCO out of which 19 are under ASI.

The major activities of the Archaeological Survey of India are:

(i) Survey of archaeological remains and excavations;

(ii) Maintenance and conservations of centrally protected monuments, sites and remains

(iii) Chemical preservation of monuments and antiquarian remains;

(iv) Architectural survey of monuments;

(v) Development of epigraphical research and numismatic studies;

(vi) Setting up and re-organization of site museums;

(vii) Expeditions abroad;

(viii) Training in Archaeology;

(ix) Publication of technical study reports and research works

There are 24 circles through which the Archaeological Survey of India administers the work of preservation and conservation of monuments under its protection. Recently, one Mini Circle was set up with headquarter at Leh, for administrative convenience. Besides, there are six excavation branches, two temple survey projects, one building survey project, one prehistory branch, one science branch, two Epigraphy branches (one for Arabic and Persian and the other for Sanskrit and Dravidian) and one horticulture branch in the ASI through which various research and other works in different fields are undertaken.

The ASI celebrated its centennial year of its founding in 1961 through a series of events like seminars / conferences, exhibitions, film shows, commemorative stamps, etc.  Special publications were also brought out.

Keeping in view of the sesquicentennial year of the founding of ASI in 2011, the ASI has planned a large number of activities in order to highlight the necessity of heritage education and management in a modern scenario, and would also urge the younger generation in the active participation.  The ASI has planned the following activities.

(i)             Inaugural function in the month of December, 2011 to initiate a yearlong events and functions

(ii)          Special Lecture of Lord Colin Renfrew, renowned archaeologist in December, 2011

(iii)        Four international conferences, viz.,

  1. Archaeology of Buddhism in South Asia
  2. Early Agro-Pastoral Cultures of South Asia
  3. Harappan Archaeology, and
  4. Medieval Architecture

(iv)        Release of commemorative postal stamps, medals, philatelic exhibition on monuments, etc.

(v)          Special publications, monographs, brochures and booklets

(vi)        Publication of ASI Journal, Ancient India – A New Series

(vii)     Upgradation of 10 Archaeological Museums of ASI

(viii)   Relocation of Central Archaeological Collection (CAC) from its present location inPurana Qila to Red Fort

(ix)        Organising a series of exhibitions, both at the national and regional levels

(x)          Documentaries on ASI monuments and heritage

          These celebrations will have a deeper impact on the masses and the public in large to take notice of the relevance of preserving our past.  They can be urged to help ASI and foster a relation with the monuments and sites in their location for their better preservation and maintenance.

 Source: Press Information Bureau