Saving history hidden in monuments

Ms Rai worked as an architect for four years. ‘I did not find the work satisfying. Whenever I used to travel, I would see historical buildings, bridges etc in a dilapidated state. So I thought I should do something. As I belong to Gurdaspur, I decided to list all historical monuments, havelis, bridges and minarets of Punjab. I started this work in 1995 and travelled not only on the GT Road, but also on the Badshahi Sarak, the highway made by the Mughals. I have listed 1,500 monuments that need to be saved whereas the Punjab State Department of Archaeology has listed only 27 ‘endangered monuments’. Out of the 27, only three Sikh monuments have been marked for preservation. Not a single bridge or church built by the British has been considered important enough to be preserved.’ says she. 

According to Ms Rai, ‘When one undertakes conservation, one should not destroy the historical elements. These days in the name of conservation, the original structure is changed. Instead of the original mud, marble is being used. Hence the beauty of the structure is ruined’.   Ms Rai has started a movement, Cultural Resource Conservation Initiative. The manifesto’s theme is: ‘preserve the planet’. The organisation is getting help from UNESCO. Ms Rai says she has not been able to rope in the urban middle class but is getting cooperation from the rural people.  

She wants more and more people to become aware of their heritage and conserve it. ‘We can bring in change only if there is a strong political will. The state government is apathetic towards its heritage. Without government support, individuals cannot take up the gigantic task of conservation of monuments’.  In her interaction with the students, she also showed a film on monuments, ques, minarets and havelis which are lying in a state of disrepair. She exhorted the students to form pressure groups to bring in the required change and asked the teachers to conduct workshops on ‘traditional ways of construction’.'Punjab does not have grand palaces and mansions like Rajasthan, but that does not mean that smaller Punjabi historical monuments should be neglected’, she said, adding that ‘restoration of monuments is an act of faith.

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