India’s restoration of heritage sites strengthen global ties

The world’s largest democracy, India, has played an important role in shaping the history, culture and traditions of its neighbouring nations since time immemorial

July 30, 2019

With a civilisation dating back at least 8,000 years, India has partnered with nations globally in different capacities

India has extended services under cultural diplomacy to nations that are geographically as well as culturally close

ASI restored historical sites in Laos, Vietnam, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Nepal, Bahrain, Angola, Afghanistan, etc

Funds for these works are released through the Ministry of External Affairs as part of India’s diplomatic outreach

Cultural diplomacy is in India’s DNA.  

The world’s largest democracy, India, has played an important role in shaping the history, culture and traditions of its neighbouring nations since time immemorial. A civilization that researchers from the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur and from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) have found to be dating back at least 8,000 years, India has partnered with nations globally in different capacities since millennia. Be it through trade, security and defence, technology or culture, India has steadily built and fostered relations with other nations.

Riding on the back of its own rich and diverse cultural riches, India has continued to influence cultures and restore traditions into the modern age. Restoring heritage sites and monuments is an initiative in this direction.

As part of its neighbourhood first policy, India has extended varied services under cultural diplomacy to nations that are geographically as well as culturally close. The ASI’s restoration work on the 12th century Ananda Temple in Bagan, Myanmar is a case in point. The Indian state-run agency carried out structural conservation and chemical preservation work on the temple. The Buddhist temple, which is in the Mon architectural tradition, shows traces of North Indian influences as well. In 2010, India and Myanmar had signed a restoration agreement, and India allocated US$2.7 million for the project. ASI had also restored several murals and pagodas that were damaged in an earthquake recently. Such partnerships have strengthened bilateral ties, opening up new opportunities. 

ASI: India’s cultural diplomacy arm

Set up to preserve and conserve monuments and historical sites of national importance, ASI has gone past national boundaries to act as India’s cultural ambassador in nations such as Vietnam, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Laos, Cambodia, Nepal, Bahrain, Angola, Afghanistan, Maldives, Bhutan and Egypt. The efforts have helped foster favourable public opinion towards India and Indians and opened doors to a myriad of opportunities. As a result of India’s close cultural ties with southeast Asian nations, ASI periodically carries out restoration work at temples and monuments overseas. Funds for these works are released through the Ministry of External Affairs as part of India’s diplomatic outreach. The move has opened up new avenues of international diplomatic and economic cooperation.

Here’s a list of leading restoration projects overseas: 

  • Ta Prohm Temple – Angkor, Cambodia; Project cost: US$4.6 million
    ASI is working at nine important sites in the temple complex including work on the Hall of Dancers. IIT-Madras is providing back-end support for this project
  • Cham Monuments – Vietnam; Approx project cost: US$1.8 million
    An agreement for the project was signed in October 2014, and execution began with three groups of temples. Shaivite Hinduism remained dominant in this region till the advent of Buddhism in the 4th century CE. 
  • Ketheeswaram Temple – Mannar, Sri Lanka; Approx project cost: US$1.7 million  
    The restoration project was commissioned under an India-Sri Lanka bilateral agreement. The stones for the maha mandapa were carved by sculptors from Mamallapuram.
  • Vat Phou Temple Complex – Laos; Approx project cost: US$2.4 million
    Work on restoring the complex has been on since 2009 with the first phase executed last year and the second phase currently in progress. 
  • Pashupatinath Temple – Kathmandu, Nepal; Approx project cost: US$3.2 million
    MEA has announced a plan to restore and conserve the Pashupatinath temple. A draft MoU between ASI and the Pashupatinath Temple Trust has been drawn. ASI also excavated sites at Siddharthanagar, Kapilavastu, Tilaurakot and Lumbini as early as the 1960s.
  • India and Maldives have signed an MoU for conservation and restoration of ancient mosques and joint research and exploratory surveys in Maldives. In Maldives, ASI has also excavated sites at Kuramathi, Todd and Nilandhe Atoll which revealed Buddhist artefacts
  • Dilmun Burial Mounds – Hamad, Bahrain
    ASI archaeologists excavated burial mounds in Hamad town in Bahrain in 1983. The team excavated 70 graves, six Indus seals and a round steatite seal with Indus script.
  • Buddhas of Bamyan – Afghanistan
    ASI conserved and restored the sixth century Buddhas of Bamyan and a 15th century mosque at Balkh of Sufi leader Khwaja Abu Nasr Parsa.
  • Museum of the Armed Forces – Angola
    ASI restored and reorganised the Museum of the Armed Forces inside the 17th century fortress of Sao Miguel in Luanda. The team rearranged exhibits in Prehistory, Portuguese, Comrade Agostinho Neto and Struggle for Independence Galleries
  • Bhutan
    ASI worked on preserving murals of Do de Drak, Nekhang-Lhakhange and Mithrape-lhakhang of Tongza D Zong. 

As the nation grows from strength to strength, and emerges as a global economic powerhouse, India will continue to bring back to life, the historical and civilizational links that the nation cherishes with its neighbours, as well as those beyond her immediate horizons.