History & Culture

World Heritage Day: Shut monuments decay faster says senior archaeologist KK Muhammed

The Bateshwar temple complex at Morena, Madhya Pradesh

The Bateshwar temple complex at Morena, Madhya Pradesh   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

On World Heritage Day, renowned archaeologist KK Muhammed speaks on living and non living monuments and recalls some of his notable works

Renowned archaeologist KK Muhammed is using the quiet isolation of the lockdown to complete his book, Archaeological Discoveries at Fatehpur Sikhri. Based on his experiences of discovering and restoring the lost monuments like the Ibadat Khana and the Christian Chapel in Agra, the book will be ready next year.

KK Muhammed

KK Muhammed   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The former Regional Director (North) of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) was awarded the Padma Shri in 2019 for his outstanding work in the field of heritage conservation. His discoveries include several important excavations like Kesariya, the Buddhist stupa built by Emperor Ashoka and the stupas at Rajgir and Vaishali. Muhammed’s most important contribution has been daring work (2004-2008) in the dangerous Dantewada district in Madhya Pradesh — a hotbed of dacoits and Naxals — to restore over 200 temples dating back to the period between the ninth and 12th centuries.

Over a telephone call, he speaks from his hometown, in Kozhikode, about excavations, restoration and reopening of closed monuments. April 18 is World Heritage Day and he says, that “shut monuments decay faster”, a reference to the lockdown and is hopeful that, post the COVID-19 pandemic, these monuments will once again brim with life.

ASI categorises monuments as living and non-living or dead. What does this mean?

The cut off day for such categorisation is important. If some activity, like any kind of worship, has been going on for years in the structure, then it is taken over as a living monument. But where no activity has taken place, say an abandoned building, then it is declared a dead monument. The latter is difficult to restore because it is generally covered by a lot of overgrowth. When roots penetrate into the structure, there are lots of problems in restoration.

Can you give an example?

Some of the monuments of Delhi like The Qutub Minar, Mandi Masjid, Raja Ki Bawali Masjid, and Jamali Kamali Masjid are non living monuments. Though the community wanted to start offering prayers there, we opposed and stopped it as it was against the law. In a living monument, the occupants use it to suit their needs. ASI generally does not permit painting the monument and things like that as it affects the authenticity and integrity. But the Brihadeshwara temple in Tamil Nadu is a living monument and poojas are performed daily.

Kesariya, the Buddhist stupa in Vaishali, Bihar

Kesariya, the Buddhist stupa in Vaishali, Bihar   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

What about excavation sites?

There is no debate of living or non-living in these. What is required here is to have an interpretation centre that shows the historical and archaeological importance of the site. A digital reconstruction of the place will show how life went on during that period. This will generate an interest in the whole monument. So when one visits the place the stones will speak to you. Some of the classical excavation sites are Rakhigarh, Dholavira, Lothal, Kalibangan and Hastinapur.

Tell us about the two most important discoveries you made: the Ibadat Khana and the Christian Chapel in Fatehpur Sikri.

The Ibadat Khana was the place where Emperor Akbar founded the new religion: Din-e-Ilahi. Some scholars said that the mound I had excavated could be the possible site. I identified it through a Mughal painting in the Akbaranama, which shows two European priests Fr Rudolf and Fr Monserrate in the foreground of three terraces, an arch and a dome. I could identify all the three structures. It took me two years to do so but it was a thrilling experience.

Finally tell us about your most exciting and latest work: the discovery, restoration and opening of the Bateshwar Complex in Morena. Was it a challenging project?

Restoring the 80 temples in Bateshwar was problematic due to many reasons. One, it was located in the Chambal valley, where dacoits were still using one of the temples for worship. I had to negotiate with Nirbhaya Singh Gujjar, a dacoit to allow us to restore it. He was later shot dead in 2005. As long as the dacoits were there, it was saved from the mining lobby. We had to then tackle that as mining started as soon as the dacoits surrendered. It took us four years, from 2008- 2012 to get the complex up and running. It is now a tourist hot spot.

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Printable version | May 29, 2020 12:54:07 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/on-world-heritage-day-renowned-archaeologist-kk-muhammed-speaks-on-living-and-non-living-monuments-and-recalls-some-of-his-notable-works/article31364644.ece

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