Archaeological Survey of India

Archaeological Survey of India Survey, collection and documentation of ancient material remains and artifacts of historical importance such as manuscripts, inscriptions, monuments etc. gathered momentum with the establishment of the Asiatick Society at Calcutta in 1784 by Sir william jones. Under its initiative or through efforts of individuals this type of pursuits regarding antiquities of India continued for about a century.

The first positive step in this regard on the part of the government came in 1800 when Francis Buchanan was appointed by Marquis of Wellesley to survey Mysore, and in 1807 he was engaged to survey monuments and antiquities in parts of present day Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The repairs to the monuments were not thought of during this period and very sparsely certain monuments like Taj Mahal, Fatehpur Sikri and Sikandara were repaired. The Bengal Regulation XIX of 1810 was the first enactment through which the government was made to intervene in case of risks to historical monuments.

alexander cunningham, a Second Lieutenant of the Bengal Engineers, who initially assisted james prinsep in his investigations on the Indo-Greek and Indo-Scythic dynasties and also explored stupas in Bhilsa, formulated a plan in 1848 for an Indian Archaeological Survey and placed it before the British government, but without success. During the same period many important decisions were taken by the government on the recommendations of the Royal Asiatic Society of the United Kingdom. Upon these recommendations, the Indian government sanctioned a small fund for repairs to the monuments. lord hardinge initiated a system of approving proposals submitted by individuals based on their research and knowledge of Indian antiquities. The following years saw the uprising of 1857, which virtually put a stop to archaeological pursuits.

A fresh proposal put by Alexander Cunningham was given due attention by lord canning, who sanctioned a scheme of survey in northern India. It was defined as: 'an accurate description-illustrated by plans, measurements, drawings or photographs and by copies of inscriptions of such remains as deserve notice, with the history of them so far as it may be traceable, and a record of the traditions that are retained regarding them'. Cunningham was appointed as the first Archaeological Surveyor from December 1861.

He surveyed areas stretching from Gaya in the east to the Indus in the northwest, and from Kalsi in the north to the Narmada in the south, between 1861 and 1865. For this, he largely followed the footsteps of the Chinese pilgrim hieun tsang. However, the endeavours came to a sudden halt due to the abolition of the Archaeological Survey in 1866 by lord lawrence. In the meanwhile, however, an act (XX) was passed in 1863, which vested powers with the government 'to prevent injury to and preserve buildings remarkable for their antiquity or for their historical or architectural value'.

Lord Lawrence based on the suggestions by the then Secretary of State, Sir Stafford Northcote, entrusted the local governments to list historical buildings and obtain photographs of them. Duke of Argyll, the Secretary of State, advised the Government of India to establish a central department to tackle the archaeological problems of the country. He also stressed on the need for conservation of monuments stating that it was the bounden duty of the Government 'to prevent its own servants from wantonly accelerating the decay' of monuments. The Archaeological Survey was revived as a department of the government and Cunningham was appointed as Director General who assumed his charge in February 1871. The department was entrusted with the task of doing - 'a complete search over the whole country, and a systematic record and description of all architectural and other remains that are either remarkable for their antiquity, or their beauty or their historical interest'.

Cunningham was also entrusted - 'to direct his attention to the preparation of a brief summary of the labours of former enquirers and of the results which had already been obtained and to the formulation of a general scheme of systematic enquiry for the guidance of a staff of assistance in present and future researches'.'

Cunningham resumed surveys in Delhi and Agra in 1871; in 1872 he surveyed Rajputana, Bundelkhand, Mathura, Bodh Gaya and Gaur; in 1873, Panjab; between 1873 and 1877, Central Province, Bundelkhand and Malwa. To initiate the survey in a systematic way Alexander Cunningham chose to record the Buddhist finds and monuments by plotting them on a map.

The founding of the journal Indian Antiquary in 1872 by James Burgess enabled publication of important inscriptions and their decipherment by scholars like Buhler and Fleet, Eggeling and Rice, Bhandarkar and Indraji. Cunningham also brought a new volume known as Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum in order to publish epigraphical materials in a compact and handy volume. On Cunningham's suggestion the Government resolved to set up an Epigraphical Survey and J.F. Fleet was appointed as Government Epigraphist in January 1883 for a period of three years.

The enactment of the Treasure Trove Act, 1878 was a landmark in ensuring the confiscation and safety of treasures and antiquities found during trial digging. Lytton in 1878 observed that conservation of ancient monuments could not be exclusively left to the charge of the Provincial Governments as directed by the Central Government in 1873 and this had to be brought under the purview of the Government of India. Major HH Cole was appointed as Curator of ancient monuments during the period of Ripon in 1881 to assist the Provincial and Central government in all matters related to conservation of monuments. He produced many preliminary reports on the monuments of Bombay, Madras, Rajputana, Hyderabad, Panjab and the Northwestern Provinces. Again the conservation work was assigned to the local governments when the tenure of Cole ended in 1883.

Cunningham retired in 1885. He recommended to the government to abolish the post of Director General and reorganise north India into three independent circles: Panjab, Sind and Rajputana; Northwestern Provinces (Uttar Pradesh) and Central Provinces; and Bengal including Bihar, Orissa, Assam and Chhota Nagpur, each managed by a Surveyor with a staff of two assistants and two draftsmen. The regions of Madras, Bombay and Hyderabad were recommended to be placed under Burgess and epigraphy under Fleet. Thus Bengal came under Beglar, Northwestern Provinces under Major JB Keith with Dr A Fuhrer as his assistant, Panjab came under CJ Rodgers.

Between 1871 and 1885 Burgess carried out extensive surveys in western India and also with his assistants Alexander Rea in south India from 1882. Dr E Hultzsch was appointed as Epigraphist in 1886 for a period of five years for deciphering and interpreting Sanskrit, Pali and Dravidian languages. Burgess was also called to take the additional responsibility along with the archaeological surveyor of south India to scrutinise the reports submitted by the three new Circles.

Burgess became the Director General in March 1886, On his recommendations the government unified the three separate circles under one head along with the three different fields of operation namely exploration, conservation and epigraphy. Among the major works carried out by Burgess the important ones are surveys made by Fuherer and Smith between 1886 and 1887 of the Sharqi architecture of Jaunpur and monuments of Zafarabad, Saheth and Maheth and Ayodhya. Smith also carried out surveys in Budaon, Lalitpur, Orcha, Bundelkhand. Henry Cousens carried out surveys in north Gujarat and Bijapur while Rea undertook survey of Mahabalipuram, Krishna, Nelloreand, Godavari. Burgess was also instrumental in bringing out two important directives, which debarred public officers from disposing antiquities without official approval and prohibiting digging of ancient remains without the consent of the Archaeological Survey. He also started a new publication known as Epigraphica Indica in 1888.

He also published twenty volumes of which seven formed part of the Archaeological Survey of India, New Imperial Series. Perhaps in retrospection on the voluminous work done Burgess also, like Cunningham, thought that a large survey organisation is not required to do the remaining work. He therefore recommended to the government to abolish the post of Director General and divide the entire country into two circles one under Cousens and other under Rea. Thus chaos and confusion returned and Archaeological Survey as a central body ceased to exist. There were only two Surveyors now known as Superintendents working in the west and south, while Fleet was assigned the duties of epigraphical research. Hultzch was retained as Government Epigraphist at Madras for a period of three years.

The following years saw utter chaos and disorganisation while the publication of survey reports virtually ended. In 1895 the Government of India understood the reality and proposals were called from the local governments, scholars from Royal Asiatic Society and Tawney, Buhler and Fleet. The proposal submitted to the Secretary of State put forth the following recommendations:

Creation of five circles with an Archaeological Surveyor as head at: Bombay with Sind and Berar; Madras and Coorg; Panjab, Baluchistan and Ajmer; Northwestern Provinces and Central Provinces; Bengal and Assam.

Conservation as the main aim of the Circle heads, excavation as secondary objective.

Whatever funds available were to be utilized for the preservation of monuments rather than exploration of unknown.

Epigraphy received a major support and Hultzsch was retained for south Indian inscriptions while honorary epigraphists were considered for other regions.

The arrival of Lord Curzon helped the revival of Archaeological Survey of India. He, observing the lack of coordinated efforts and the total disorganization of Circles, proposed the revival of the post of Director General. He should be a trained explorer with archaeological knowledge and engineering skill 'He was required to exercise a general supervision over all the archaeological work of the country, whether it was that of excavation, of preservation or of repair, of epigraphy, or of the registration and description of monuments and ancient remains. He would co-ordinate and bring up-to-date the local surveys and reports and should in addition present to Government an annual report of his work'.

In 1901 the recommendations were accepted and John Marshall was appointed as the new Director General. Lord Curzon totally centralized the Survey and vested the powers with the Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India. John Marshall assumed charges in 1902 and a new era started in Indian archaeology.

His principles on archaeological conservation are still valid and followed even by modern conservation experts. The main observations of Marshall were:

Hypothetical restorations were unwarranted, unless they were essential to the stability of a building;

Every original member of a building should be preserved in tact, and demolition and reconstruction should be undertaken only if the structure could not be otherwise maintained;

Restoration of carved stone, carved wood or plaster-moulding should be undertaken only if artisans were able to attain the excellence of the old; and

In no case should mythological or other scenes be re-carved.

He started the new series of publications namely Annual Reports of the Director General which contained the works and research activities carried out by the Survey. A separate branch for Arabic and Persian Epigraphy was also created and Dr Ross was appointed for this purpose.

The most remarkable event in relation to protection of monuments is the enactment of Ancient Monuments Preservation Act 1904. In addition to the five Circles created in 1899 certain changes were made by appointing an architect for Muhammadan buildings in north India in 1902. On a strong pleading by Marshall in 1904 on the verge of expiry of his five years tenure for the retention of the Survey, the government accepted the proposal temporarily. Further, on 28th April 1906, the government announced that the Survey was placed on a permanent and improved footing.

The sanctioned strength on that date was the Director General of Archaeology and Government Epigraphist for the whole of India; Superintendents of Western Circle covering Bombay, Sind, Hyderabad, Central India and Rajputana; Superintendent of the Southern Circle, covering Madras and Coorg, and an attached Assistant Superintendent for Epigraphy; Superintendent and Archaeological Surveyor of the Northern Circle, covering the United Provinces, Panjab, Ajmer, Kashmir and Nepal; Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent of the Eastern Circle, covering Bengal, Assam, Central Provinces and Berar; Superintendent of the Frontier Circle, covering the Northwest Frontier Province and Baluchistan; and Superintendent of the Burma Circle.

An Archaeological Chemist and Deputy Director General were added to the strength in 1917 and 1918 respectively. The Montague-Chelmsford Reforms of 1919 made important changes in the administration of the Survey while the Devolution Rules of 1921 laid down archaeology as a Central subject. The Eastern Circle was renamed as Central Circle and a new Eastern Circle, with Calcutta as headquarters, was created.

The years 1921-22 saw the discovery of the Indus Civilization and subsequently a separate Exploration Branch with a Deputy Director General and three Assistant Superintendents was created. Explorations and excavations were given due attention. The Provincial Governments were left with only the statutory power of declaring a monument protected.

Sir John Marshall relinquished the post of Director General in 1928 and retired on 19th March 1931.

Rai Bahadur Daya Ram Sahni succeeded him in July 1931. His period did not mark any special progress. The Annual Reports soon had a huge backlog. J.F. Blakiston succeeded as Director General in 1935 during which period through the Government of India Act of 1935 the Central Government assumed all powers vested with the Provincial Government. Under certain amendments in the Ancient Monuments Preservation Act foreign institutions were allowed to undertake fieldwork in India, through which Chanhudaro in Sind was explored and excavated.

Rao Bahadur KN dikshit succeeded in 1937 and the exploration in Sind was revived. However, it met with a tragic end with the death of the team leader Shri NG Majumdar at the hand of dacoits. During this period Sir Leonard Woolley was appointed as a foreign expert to report on the matters relating to future excavations. His report highly condemned the nature and policies of the government relating to excavation, the techniques adopted and involved. However he praised the conservation activities carried out by the survey and he did not comment anything on epigraphical activities. He also recommended large-scale excavation of certain sites; the prominent among them was Ahichchhatra in Bareilly district, Uttar Pradesh under the supervision of a competent archaeologist. Hence Ahichchhatra was excavated under the direction of KN Dikshit between 1940-1944.

Rem Wheeler succeeded KN Dikshit as Director General in 1944 on a contract of four years. He revived the Excavation Branch under an Assistant Superintendent, which was later elevated to Superintendent. He laid special emphasis on exploration, excavation techniques and to solve the problems related to chronology. In 1945 conservation was centralised and brought under the purview of Survey for which additional staff were sanctioned. A post in the rank of Assistant Superintendent was created for a prehistorian. To meet the additional work at the headquarters, a post of Joint Director General was created in 1935. A Superintendent of Publications was also created to cater to the needs of high quality publications.

Wheeler excavated three important sites namely Arikamedu in Pondicherry, Brahmagiri in Karnataka and Taxila (now in Pakistan) to ascertain and fix clear chronological timeframe for Indian history which was eluding the archaeologists so long. These excavations were also utilised for training the Indian students in excavation technique, conservation and other related aspects. Wheeler introduced the stratification technique of excavation which was in vogue during that time and improved the system of reporting and publishing. He brought out a new series of publication namely the Ancient India which itself contained detailed excavation reports of many sites apart from research articles and reports on field surveys.

Since 1947, after the creation of India and Pakistan, the two countries had their own organizations for archaeological work, and since then many remarkable excavation works have been done by both. [AM Chowdhury]