Seminar on ‘The State of Archeology in India (in 2022)’
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On 29 November, 2022, VIF organised a Seminar on ‘The State of Archeology in India (in 2022)’ led by Dr. Dilip Chakrabarty, Professor Emeritus, Department of Archeology, Cambridge University and Distinguished Fellow, VIF. The event was conducted in hybrid mode and was attended by various professors of history from different colleges in Delhi. The event hosted by Dr. Arvind Gupta, Director VIF was also attended by Director General of Archeological Survey of India (ASI), Smt. Vidyavathi and Dr. Alok Tripathi, ADG, Archeology, ASI. The seminar was followed by a discussion between the speaker and the above mentioned personalities. The seminar concluded after a Q & A session.

Prof. Dilip Chakrabarty spoke about the crisis of archeology in India from various angles. He began with the problem that only a few universities in India offer courses on archeology. The speaker frankly opined that, in his experience, even the number of historians who are seriously interested in the field of archeology are very few. In his observation, in India, the study about ancient India misses the attention of the brightest minds in the field. There is a dominance of modern history groups in the field. This problem in India perhaps has a foreign origin as the speaker says that foreign universities are least interested even in 20th century India; the focus is on contemporary India, rather than Indian history. Whatever may be the reason, this adversely affects the field of archeology as ancient and mediaeval India hardly matters in the scheme of historical education. Instead of giving courses in classifications as ancient, mediaeval and so on, the universities should offer courses on historical studies with flexibility for students to study history in a larger framework. Prof. Chakrabarti also highlighted that there is a need to familiarise students to handle the primary sources. Otherwise it will lead to mishandling of archeological materials and sites, such as ancient paintings.

The speaker gave a few examples where the Archaeological Survey has damaged the archeological materials, which are delicate, and one requires enough training to handle them without damaging the artifact. For instance, the Ajanta paintings, which were famous for their brightness, have lost their quality overtime because of the application of a certain kind of chemical that was used during the survey.

For archeology, there is no central scientific body or laboratory to look up to. The stream of archeology, at present, falls under the Ministry of Culture, but according to Prof. Chakrabarty should fall under the Ministry of Education to bring more attention to the concerns that he has raised. This, along with several other reasons that he has mentioned have reduced or narrowed the scope of archeology in the country. The speaker also briefed about the problems in the way funds are being released in the field of archeology.

India cannot afford to view its past as a dead past, as there is a tradition living today back from times immemorial. Hence, the idea of nation, ancient and such concepts should naturally be distinct in the theory and practice of archeology when it comes to India. In his talk, Prof. Chakrabarty raised his views related to this point. He explained the need of maintaining the integrity and sovereignty of India, while permitting interventions from other countries in India’s excavations. He said that compared to other countries, India has a ‘soft’ approach in this matter. He raised awareness about the fact that archeology has always been political. In this light, one has to look at the crisis or problems in archeology, and various ongoing debates and controversies in the field, like the subject of Indus Valley civilization and its association with Vedic tradition. The approaches that perpetually try to separate the Indus valley civilisation and Vedic traditions cannot be delinked from the association of archeological excavations with politics. Hence, there is a need for the Government of India to be more cautious about the excavations that they permit to institutions, which are especially from abroad.

Event Date 
November 14, 2022

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