A new book, Forts and Palaces of India (Om Books International, 256 pages) by conservationist Amita Baig, calls attention to the increasing deterioration of India’s architectural heritage and raises the issue of preservation for the country’s fragile forts and palaces. Released just last week, the book is quite a compendium of cultural heritage imagery, a pictorial anthology with 300 color photographs depicting nearly 70 percent of the forts on the subcontinent. This photographic tour de force, painstakingly documented by architect-photographer Joginder Singh, represents the culmination of three years of extensive travel and research into 5,000 years of Indian history as recorded in thousands of legendary architectural masterworks. Baig, former director-general of the architectural heritage division at the Indian National Trust For Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) and currently a consultant to the India program at World Monuments Fund, draws from her 25 years experience to make a case advocating greater proactive legislative efforts by “policy gurus” to conserve India’s monuments. She argues:
Over the centuries, as kingdoms rose and fell or expanded into mighty empires, the need for protection against invaders resulted in the building of magnificent forts and fortified citadels across the country. Many of these fortresses sheltered entire cities as well as royal palaces and pleasure gardens that were known for their splendor and luxury. Today, a majority of our forts, as I have mentioned in the book, have been orphaned by circumstances of history. The fate of our forts, which exemplify centuries of our history, are facing threat from all directions and if care is not taken at the earliest, they will soon disappear from the map. To conserve these forts is an immense challenge and I feel, after years of working in this field, we must accept collective responsibility for the fate of our heritage.
Two interrelated factors severely affecting the quality of the architectural landmarks are ignorance and a lack of knowledge. Baig condemns the waste piling up at some sites and the graffiti on walls at others, yet ultimately the blame falls on the government for not setting aside the necessary funding and educational resources for heritage protection. A large number of sites, she says, have been under the custodianship of the government since the 1950s. Over several decades, unsustainable tourism, insufficient governance policy, and development pressures have so greatly degraded scores of ancient, medieval, and colonial forts that much is irreparable. As Baig laments, “These forts may not be there tomorrow.”
Baig appeals to a sense of collective stewardship for the preservation of her country’s endangered cultural heritage. Forts and Palaces of India conveys this shared responsibility with well researched, authoritative text, and the magnificent photographs allow her readers to visualize the “very real risks” threatening sites of powerful national significance. And while the impulse to change the present course and halt this destruction should arise in the citizen, the government must always shoulder the responsibility for protecting the shared heritage of its people.