Fort conservation workshop

I am a history, heritage lover. India’s heritage and tradition is so rich and we have done not so good job in preserving it, and most of is lost and very little has stayed for current generation. The heritage passes to next generation in two forms-materialistic and intellectual heritage. Many a times, materialistic heritage conservation is focused on for obvious reasons. The intellectual heritage is also getting some boost but lot needs to be achieved as notes Prof V N Jha and other stalwarts. Intellectual heritage consists of huge body of knowledge including many classical languages such as Sanskrit, Pali, many texts which have managed to sustain this day, philosophical, knowledge tradition, and in fact, tradition in every stream of human knowledge.

Since British era, materialistic heritage conservation started taking place to large extent by way of archaeology department, more systematically. And, of course, conserving old monuments, buildings, temples otherwise, is also happening, with government participation and also organizations such as INTACH. I also remember Pune Municipal Corporation’s first serious conservation effort of Pune’s famous Vishrambaug Wada(200+ years old building) under the leadership of Shyam Dhavale 3-4 years back.

Materialistic heritage conservation especially fort conservation has caught fancy of many enthusiastic people for various reasons in recent years. My long time trekking buddy Sachin Joshi is champion for this cause, who is archaeologist himself, and recognized expert on forts. He has been already very active in the conversation activity with public in general and is also aware of pitfalls and dangers of such effort without proper knowledge.

Maharashtra is gold mine of forts right from medieval era. There are more than 400 forts dotted all over in Maharashtra-sea forts, land forts, forest forts, all sorts of them. Many of them are in ruined state, due to wear and tear, lack of preservation, and also largely due to damages done to them by British canons during independence wars. And only about 90 of them are under archaeology department’s purview. Govt of Maharashtra has taken active steps in the preservation and conversation. They also recently formed fort conservation committee. Sachin was appointed on the committee. As one of the steps towards increasing awareness for scientific ways of conservation, they organized one day workshop in Pune, with support from state archaeology department. All the fort lovers, and also various independent organizations working in the areas of fort conservation were invited to attend this workshop. This is a perfect example of government and public participation. There is huge energy and enthusiasm in the state towards conservation off late. This needs to be channelized, streamlined to achieve maximum effect in most scientific ways.

I have been trekking for last 10-15 years and have been to more than 150 forts in Maharashtra and Karnataka. Due to my interest in this problem, I decided to attend this workshop. It was a whole day workshop at Mahatma Phule Auditorium in Pune city in the premises of MSCERT office which itself is now heritage bldg.

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This first 2 hours was for inauguration session. This was a typical government function with political leaders present there. How I wish if we can get rid mandatory felicitation without wasting time. This inauguration session saw four dignitaries speak.

Amita Talekar, who is a Directorate of Cultural Affairs for Maharashtra State, spoke about the purpose of the workshop. Anil Shirole, who is member of Parliament, spoke about governments active support. Pandurang Balkawade, who is chairman of the Fort Conservation Committee, spoke at length about aspects of conservation. Degalurkar, who is former director of Deccan College Deemed University in Pune, spoke about the need and urgency of this initiative by underlining the significance of history in his usual lucid and witty style.

At 11.30 actual sessions from the workshop agenda started. The program was well thought and well laid out. Sachin Joshi, who is actively involved in form and content of the workshop, had left his mark on the agenda. Pre-lunch sessions were delivered by representatives from stakeholders such as state forest department and MTDC, besides a talk by Dr M Singh, Superintendent of Archaeological Chemistry, in Aurangabad, on chemical analysis and application of chemistry for fort conservation by sighting examples of work he has done on Singhudurg fort’s sea facing wall, canons, idols. Dr Sunil Limaye, forest officer, talked of role of forest department in fort conservation. The cooperation from forest department is very critical as most of the forts are situated in confines of forests which come under forest department. Vaishali Chavan, from MTDC, spoke about importance from tourism perspective and how MTDC is helping tourists awareness on heritage and conservation.(BTW, she also announced cycling event called Fort Cyclothon organized by MTDC, where participants will be cycling to three forts in Pune district-Sinhagad, Rajgad, Torna). From tourism perspective, lot needs to be done. We have Rajasthan model in front of us where many forts are preserved and made open for tourism. One fort(rather fortress, a castle) in Pune called Jadhavgad, now has recently followed that and has been well-covered and converted into good tourist destination, with castle converted into a place to stay and experience the past.

Post-lunch sessions focused on applying scientific methods for conservation activities. These sessions were lead by various experts from field of archaeology. The first one was from Sachin himself, about need of mapping forts in the task of conservation-activity he himself is involved into and techniques he pioneered using GPS. He also showed how act of conservation begins at mapping the existing artifacts, monuments on fort, the fort itself, and surrounding periphery. He also took survey of various techniques of mapping. The next one was from Sachin’s colleague at Deccan College Deemed University, Dr Abhijit Dandekar. He took survey of field of archaeology related to forts, how they look at forts, what conservation is and is not. He stressed on the importance of conserving the object as is rather than trying to rebuild imagining on our own.  He also explained the difference between excavations carried out archaeologists and other departments. Despite this, excavation, being destructive activity, archaeologists use it as last resort.

Unfortunately, I had skip the last two sessions due to time constraints on my personal fornt. They were from Dr Tejas Garge, and Vilas Wahane, both again from Archaeology department. Their topics were on, respectively, overview of conservation rules/regulations, and archaeological department’s stand toward fort conservation.

In my opinion, the workshop was huge success and must have been eye opener for lay conservation activist who is spread all over Maharashtra. Their interest and enthusiasm must have seen some direction now. Such efforts must not stop. There is also need to have a short term certificate course for lay conservators. I believe, we can make use of information technology(web, mobile) to create network of lay conservationists, the fort conservation committee, and other stake holders in involved in conservation, for better co-ordination, identifying priorities, communication, seeking guidance or help.

Two updates on Oct 25, 2015:

  1. Dr Sachin Joshi’s article on fort conservation is in Maharashtra Times date Oct 25, 2015 is here.
  2. Article on Thrissur temple conservation in Indian Express dated Oct 25, 2015 quotes Walter Kaufmann saying following on conservation process towards the end: “The only good reason for conservation is not aesthetics, but a concern for posterity. This involves seeing oneself as mediator between the past and present, and a link in the momentous tradition. In that, one feels responsibility towards both to one’s ancestors and to one’s descendants and want to make sure that the work that shaped us and our parents will still be there to shape our children’s children”
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