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Conservation-Restoration: a fundamental with regard to India’s wealth of built heritage

In our series on tourism, we talk of the fundamentals for reviving and sustaining tourism in India. We talked of sustainable tourism in the last article. In this one we talk of conservation-restoration of cultural and built heritage in Indian cities. The Indian subcontinent has an unfathomable wealth of built heritage and architectural diversity. The restorative conversation is one of the prime ways of preserving built heritage and retaining the cultural identity of our cities.

Some Indian cities are more than 300-350 years old. some towns have faded into oblivion. Recently unsettling reports of several marked monuments of the Archaeological Survey of India having simply vanished over the years showed how little we value our material heritage. Several Indian metropolises are like treasure troves of hidden localities and communities testifying to the immense cultural and historical diversity. from colonial-era buildings to an eclectic mix of subcontinental styles with European moulds to modern era art deco styles, the metropolitan cities of India have it all. Some Indian metropolises happen to be the seat of medieval power and glory, hence singular cities embrace time warps within them. The unfortunate part remains that humongous havelis or mansions have for long fallen prey to land-sharks or ruthless and unaesthetic promoting or simply fallen into ruins as a result of neglect and ignorance.

In a developing country like India, it is truly difficult to maintain such structures on private funding given post-Independence several families who happened to be affluent under a feudal structure have plunged into financial collapse. Hence it is important for the government to step in to incentivize the process of commercializing heritage structures.

Restorative conservation aims at using erstwhile residential property into structures that shall find modern usage so as to maintain the distinct cultural identity of cities and the nation as a whole. For instance, certain southern neighbourhoods of the city of Calcutta have started using residential space of lavish post art deco mansions to be turned into house cafes or commercial cafes. Several buildings have channelled such space into boutiques or small scale art exhibition galleries, even cities like Goa and Pondicherry are quite proactive on that front. In western states like Rajasthan, large havelis and mansions have been turned into heritage hotels to maintain the distinct cultural fervour and identity of the community.

It is important that we turn towards conservation-restoration in terms of our immense wealth of built heritage to preserve and retain our cultural identity and progress as a nation which respects its cultural roots in a wholesome anthropological way.

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