Picking up the pieces of our past

The Archeological Survey of India, the country’s primary body responsible for conserving monuments and excavating ruins, faces huge challenges as it turns 150 in December.

art and culture Updated: Jan 24, 2012 18:18 IST
Nivedita Khandekar
Nivedita Khandekar
Hindustan Times

In south Delhi’s Kotla Mubarakpur, an area that has evolved from a medieval village and is located a few hundred metres away from the upscale Defence Colony, lies a dense hodge-podge of buildings.

At the end of a narrow, winding lane cutting through this modest settlement stands the tomb of the Sayyid dynasty’s Muis ud-din Mubarak Shah, who ruled over a small region on the banks of the Yamuna in the 15th century and from whom the area gets its name.

Said to be the second octagonal tomb to have been built in Delhi (the first was the 14th century tomb of Khan-e-Jahan Tilangani in Nizamuddin), the roughly three-storey-high structure is hemmed in on all sides by apartment blocks. An iron fence erected a decade ago by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the organisation responsible for looking after this monument, is the structure’s only protection.https://www.hindustantimes.com/images/HTPopups/061111/06-11-11-metro14c.jpg

This lack of security is one of many problems that experts say beset the ASI, whose two main tasks are to conserve monuments and to excavate ruins. (See ‘What’s hampering the ASI’). Before the Commonwealth Games last year, the ASI spruced up several monuments in south Delhi, but this Sayyid dynasty structure was not among them.

It is consequently a picture of neglect. Plants, including at least half a dozen peepul trees, are growing on and around the dome and in other niches. Inside, a lone electric bulb illuminates the central chamber containing several tombstones, including Mubarak Shah’s. Dust covers the floor of a two-feet-high verandah going around the tomb.

Paper, rotting food, nails and metal scrap line the strip between the veranda’s outer wall and the iron fence. “An ASI attendant comes here once in a while,” said Ganga, a local resident. “I do most of the cleaning and also help the crowds who come here on Thursdays.”

He is referring to locals who consider the tomb a dargah, a holy shrine, and come to light candles and lamps. They call it Ghumat.

“Young men from this area come here to pray before they get married,” said Chaudhary Khajan Singh, 97, who has lived here all his life.

Given the significance locals attach to the tomb, the ASI might have involved them in its upkeep. This is not an

exception: The ASI has not done enough to engage with local communities in general, say experts.

“What can we villagers do?” asked Ravinder Chaudhary, the locality’s

councillor, referring to the upkeep of the monument. “I will write to the ASI.”

When asked about the tomb, ASI’s KK Muhammed, in charge of Delhi’s monuments, replied, “We have a huge staff shortage. Also, we generally clear the plants only after the monsoon.”

Another fairly typical problem is the absence of information. The winding road has no signs directing you to the tomb. At the site itself, except for the ASI’s trademark blue board that says the tomb is a protected monument, no details are available, including basic facts, such as what the structure is.

Khazan Singh remembers a time when Kotla Mubarakpur had just around 50 houses surrounded by fields. Now, as it continues to expand, the ASI’s job will only become harder.

First Published: Nov 05, 2011 22:01 IST