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ANTHROPOLOGY AND MONUMENTS

Prof. P. C. Joshi

Former Vice Chancellor I/C

And

Senior Professor

Department of Anthropology

University of Delhi, Delhi – 110 007





Prof. Kishore Kumar Basa

(Born- 2nd March 1958)

On 5th November 2022, Prof. Kishore Kumar Basa, eminent archaeologist, and anthropologist is appointed Chairman of the National Monument Authority (NMA) of India. He did his Ph.D. from the Institute of Archaeology (UCL) University of London in 1991 on the theme of Early Westerly Trade of Southeast Asian with special reference to Glass beads. This was followed by a Post-doctoral Fellowship at the University of Cambridge (1999-2000) on the theme of Social Theory and Indian Archaeology. In 1997, he was awarded Indo-French Cultural Exchange Programme, Paris to work on the theme of Indian Writings on Early History and Archaeology of Southeast Asia. His remarkable work on Tribal Mortuary Practises of Orissa: An Ethnoarchaeological study as UGC visiting associate from 1994-96. His academic contributions transcend any academic disciplinary boundaries that may have marked disciplines of history, archaeology, and anthropology. This distinguished academic taught at Utkal University from January 1980 to June 2004. From June 2004 to 2008 he served as the Director of Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya, Bhopal -the biggest Anthropological Museum in India and one of the largest in Asia. From 2008-to 2010, he served as Director of Indian Museum, Kolkata and held additional charge of Director, Anthropological Survey of India from 2009-2010. In 2019, he was appointed Vice-Chancellor of Maharaja Sriram Chandra Bhanj Deo University, Baripada. He is currently Chairman of the Indian National Confederation and Academy of Anthropologist (INCAA). He is a distinguished member of the United Indian Anthropology Foundation. This blog is written in his honour by Prof. P.C. Joshi (former acting Vice-Chancellor of Delhi University) Vice-President UIAF.


Study of monuments is part of history and archaeology and if the past in anthropology is termed as prehistoric archaeology, then monuments can no more be included in this domain. However, if we logically term the past in anthropology as archaeological anthropology, it will be a different matter. I have reason to believe that study of monuments as history or archaeology will be quite different than this subject matter as part of archaeological anthropology because from anthropological point of view, besides historical objects, the monuments are also material culture to be subjected to the material cultural theoretical framework and methodology. This perspective asserts that monuments exist in social spaces. A social space is a place of activity and interaction. It is in these spaces that relations are negotiated. In history or archaeology for that matter, monuments are what the garrulous tourist guide describes and depicts in characteristic narrations, best presented by Dev Anand in Hindi film Guide. As material culture, the monuments are not mere objects deep-freeze in past but are subject of societal discourse and what Malinowski would like to call, “the imponderabilia of everyday life’ – social facts to be observed, documented as lived remnants of the past. But from a historical perspective:

Historic monuments are fixed assets that are identifiable because of particular historic, national, regional, local, religious, or symbolic significance; they are usually accessible to the general public, and visitors are often charged for admission to the monuments or their vicinity.

Such definitions fail to take cognizance of the fact that historical objects being interpreted/reinterpreted and used often to justify the present and to contest memories of the past. One must iterate that both monuments and memories are centres of power assertion. For decades, monuments were seen as objects by archaeologist to be studied objectively ignoring its inherent subjectivity and social and political complexities that defined their construction and later historicity. Eminent archaeologist Helene Martinsson-Wallin writes in Studies in Global Archaeology (vo. 20).


Monuments have generally been interpreted to be tied to ideology and power and often have an extended biography with use and re-use phases. They could be considered both as part of, and active in, shaping and re-shaping the natural and ideological landscape of groups of people (Helene. Martinsson -wallin@arkeologi.uu.se).


Several monuments have been destroyed and may reconstructed to retrieve their historical antecedents. One such historic monument was Timbuktu’s religious sites in Mali destroyed by Malian Jihadist Ahmad al-Mahdi. It was for the first time that a case of destruction of a cultural monument was taken to International Court of Justice and was tried as a war crime. Fourteen of these mausoleums have been reconstructed by UNESCO in accordance with traditional methods of construction.

TIMBUKTU’S RELIGIOUS SITES

In Afghanistan, during Taliban rule, in the beginning of the present century (March, 2001), two huge statues of Bamiyan Buddha were raised to the ground using dynamite to correct the “so-called’ wrong done to its Islamic heritage. These monumental statues were carved into the side of a Cliff in the Bamiyan valley, located at 140 kilometres from Kabul. These were 53 and 35 meters tall respectively and were regarded as important landmark on the historic silk road in the 6th Century. These classic monuments were testimony to Gandharan school of Buddhist art. Attempts are being made to reconstruct these but in the absence of consensus on material used for their construction, they remain lost to visual personification.

STATUES OF BAMIYAN BUDDHA

Many other monuments in different parts of the World have and in some instances continue to be subjected to these contestations. India is not immune to these controversies. Historically, country has witnessed several contestations over monuments and sites of institutional religious worship.


RUINS OF SOMNATH TEMPLE
RUINS OF SOMNATH TEMPLE


RECONSTRUCTED SOMNATH TEMPLE
RECONSTRUCTED SOMNATH TEMPLE

Earlier it was temple of Somnath and recently Ajodhya judgement that endorsed construction of temple at the contested site of Babri Masjid. Archaeological evidence was given by late Prof. B. B. Lal and his team to arrive on this decision.


Archaeological anthropology discusses symbolic nature of monuments and how in memory these remain “‘unchangeable’ and conservative, as commemorative forms where identities of people who ‘belong’ to this monument are embedded, and where rituals are performed” (Helene.Martinsson). Contestations over Somnath and Ram Janam Bhumi temple are rooted in these narratives.


There are also other sites over which assertion of identity is repeatedly articulated and memories recalled. Recently, contestations over celebrated marble epitome of Love -the iconic Taj mahal is brought back to public memory. Questions are being raised over its ritual identity, date of construction and ownership of land. Public interest litigations suggesting that it is a Shiva temple and not a Tomb have recently been dismissed by various courts of Law and ASI has categorically asserted its identity as a Tomb.


ICONIC TAJMAHAL
ICONIC TAJMAHAL

Nonetheless, there are few sites like the mosque of Abu’l Hagag at Luxor temple that has remained a functional site for different religions for more than 3400 years. Present mosque stands on the ancient column of the temple. In 394AD, Romans built a church over it.


THE MOSQUE OF ABU’L HAGGAG AT LUXOR TEMPLE
THE MOSQUE OF ABU’L HAGGAG AT LUXOR TEMPLE

And in 640, present Islamic regime built a mosque over it. It is the only archaeological site that remains functional for prayers and open to the tourist at the same time. It symbolises how memories are sustained without destruction and reconstruction. This unique monument is embedded within the ancient walls of the court of Ramesses II. The mosque was built on the ruins of Christian basilicas. Several festivities organised in the memory of the Muslim Saint Abu-el-Hagag are reminiscent of ancient processions of the barks of Amun at the Festival of Opet.


CHANGING TOPONYMS

Names of places are historically linked as markers of events, associations, and historic personalities. These are integral to ethnoarchaeological narratives of monuments. These are described by Basso (1996) as mnemonic devices and are called by Nora (1989) as lieux de memoire. It is in these symbols that collective memory is rooted.


One such site in Delhi is what is now called as Arun Jaitley Cricket Stadium of Delhi. It was earlier named as Feroj Shah Kotla Cricket Stadium. The stadium is in the vicinity of the ruins of Feroj Shah Fort. Located just outside the walled city of Delhi near the ‘Khooni Darwaja’ The site is known for its infamy. Its history and is associated with violence and murder and inhuman hanging of scores of political prisoners. It was here that East India company headed by Hudson brutally killed three sons of the last Mughal ruler Bahadur Shah Zafar’s on 22nd September 1857 and displayed them at this gate for three days to instil fear in the public memory.

KHOONI DARWAZA
KHOONI DARWAZA

In public memory, it is recollected as a site where genies/djinnis harbour. Over the years, place acquired ritual significance and people would often come here to get rid of the djinns. The place acquires eminence on every Thursday night (Jumma Rat) as it becomes a site for worship, where people offer prayers to djinnis to appease them (for details refer to www.indianculture.gov.in). Change of toponym has not altered public memory and the site continues to retain its spiritual and ritual character.


Mnemonic devices need not always be tangible. Sometime, these are exclusively oral and phonic. For example, the Eastern part of Delhi, there exists a court-complex called ‘Karkarduma’ and nearly three kilometres away from it is another locality called ‘Patparganj’ (many DU teachers have built their houses there). Why are these localities named as karkar and patpar – are these some meaningful words? My answer is NO! Strictly, as per dictionary, the above two words mean nothing in particular except for the fact that these denote sounds of gunfire and artillery-fire. These names are associated with the public memory of India’s First War of Independence in 1857, when these localities were battlefield for a fierce assault. There exists no evidence of the battle but the sounds, which are fading memories of an ugly past, lie frozen in the nomenclature.


GRAFFITI ON MONUMENTS

Monument graffiti are written words, symbols, figures, and other drawings made on the surface with the help of writing material (solid or liquid) or scratching with a hard and pointed object by making temporary or permanent impression. Why people write on the monuments, what do they write on the monuments, are important dimensions of human behaviour. These provide insights into human subconscious. Comprehension of this mind set shall help us protect these monuments better. Alternative sites could be made available for people to express their pent-up emotions. This will help to protect and save these monuments from defacement and vandalism.


GRAFFITI MARK OF FEMINIST PROTEST ANGEL DE LA INDEPENDENCIA (Mexico)
GRAFFITI MARK OF FEMINIST PROTEST ANGEL DE LA INDEPENDENCIA (Mexico)

Archaeological anthropology discourse debates at length complex relationship that exists between monuments and people. Most monuments today have some remnant of interaction with human agency. These convey variety of messages. There are phases in human history in which monuments become symbols to express angst over discrimination and these are defacedas part of a protest movements as is the case in the above picture. Generally, visitors deface these leaving marks of personal desire for posterity. It is thus pertinent to study monuments as a good source of ‘indirect observation’.


I would like to mention my own experiments with the study of monuments through indirect observation. Indirect observations are such observations where the behaviour traces are meticulously observed to investigate the past and, in that sense, indirect observations have some historical angle to it. Through indirect observation, I had asked students to indulge in ‘Graffiti Audit’ of the monuments.


To ask anthropology students do the monument’s graffiti audit served twin purpose of research and to sensitize student community to the importance of monuments as material culture heritage of the past. One such graffiti audit is available on the website of the Department of Anthropology, University of Delhi under URL:


POST-SCRIPT:

The idea of writing this blog was a spontaneous response after one of the distinguished members of the UIAF, Prof. Kishore K. Basa was appointed as Chairman of the National Monuments Authority, India. His appointment reasserts relevance of anthropology of monuments to establish historicity of ancient memorabilia. Over the years, many monuments are alienated from its roots. These are also being reconstructed in a globalized world within metaphors of power and dominant narratives. It is time to deconstruct these narratives and locate them in their historic context.

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5 Comments


UIAF Office
UIAF Office
Dec 01, 2022

Respected Madam Shalinaji,

Thanks for sharing the blog.

It's a well written and we explained blog on Historic Monuments from the perspectives of anthropology.

Some of my observations on the blog are noted below.

Historic Monuments have great anthropological significance. The Power of monuments have immense.

Those are not simply the tangible material objects , rather cultural heritages and cultural resources .To me and presuming for anthropology too History is a methodology.It is both past and present .There are both changes as well as continuities, a continuum. But the most important is to know what directions the Historical Pasts are transforming in present contexts.

Anthropologically speaking we need to see what monument's speaks, what people's ( local,

and global…


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UIAF Office
UIAF Office
Nov 27, 2022

Saw Prof. Joshi’s blog today and thought of sharing my Thailand experience.

During the days of my Thailand archaeology assignments, I had an opportunity to visit the village of Ko Kha, Lampang province from where a 500,000-year-old hominid fossil (Lampang Man) has been discovered. The village is very small with a population of around 800 folks. They have accepted him as their forefather. Not only the discovery site is well maintained by them (not by the Govt), but they respect and worship the fossil and built a ‘temple’. Everyday the ‘deity’ is offered food, fruits, beer and coke bottle, water, and dress is changed. It must be noted that the place and concept is no where close to the commonly…


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UIAF Office
UIAF Office
Nov 27, 2022
Replying to

Dear Prof. Walimbe,

I see it as distinct Indian influence on the Thais, as they accepted him as their ancestor. Thus, no English write up to attract tourists.

I would like to share my Indian experience. While I was heading the Anthropology department in Garhwal, the Vice Chancellor asked us to take part in a local exhibitional fair held at a place called Gauchar. This fare was started by Pandit J. L. Nehru for the Bhotias who lost trade activities duevto Indo-China war. We did not have much to show but I was determined to participate. I therefore worked on the hominid models that were kept in the department. I placed a small electric bulb inside them and connected them…


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UIAF Office
UIAF Office
Nov 27, 2022

While lecturing on crafts and material culture I and many other scholars have focussed on the craftsmanship of making of monuments.

Many a times the textiles designs were taken directly from monument to the fabric or it could be vice versa.

The geometric patterns on the Golconda fort in Hyderabad are found on the IKAT / Pochampally fabrics.

Similarly the marble inlay floral designs have been occuring on the carpets curtains etc.

Anthropologists in the contemporary world have underestimating the power of material culture to understand the societies .So more focussed research of the monuments with respect to the various cultural webs may open several new chapters.


-- Prof. Charu Smita

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