Do we really care about our
Heritage ?



Time and again, I see news paper reports, articles, conversations of Indians demanding "Westerners" to return some cultural heritage or another.  Usually its jewels, paintings or even spectacles of some famous Indian or another.


But the question that comes to my mind is, how much do we really care for our "Heritage" ?
Do we really merit "return" of the Heritage items we have wilfully lost, sold or given away ?


* Indians don't care much for the heritage they still possess in India, so what good will it do to get things back from abroad ?  At least in foreign museums, they are displayed with respect and people visit them with interest.  If we cared, we would visit and support our own museums back in India.  Most are so badly run and displays are so  unappealing, it is a wonder that anyone even cares !  We have to improve what we have in place in India before we even think of asking others to return our heritage to us. 


When Indian cultural items go on tours around the world, those exhibitions are badly attended by "Indians".  Most do not even care to pay a courtesy visit to support their "Heritage".  I speak of this from personal experience.  A fantastic exhibition of Ramayan in all its various forms was organised by the British Library in 2008.  There were illuminated manuscripts, sculptures, drama costumes, videos, shadow puppets, Ramayan as presented in countries across the SE Asia.  There were lectures, discussion groups, free tours of the exhibition, live dance, children's activities etc.  I visited on three occasions and each time saw only a sprinkling of Indians amongst a sea of Westerners.


In spring 2009, an amazing exhibition on Pichois from Pushti Marg temple at the Asia House was equally badly attended.  Even members of the Pushti Marg ignored a unique opportunity to get up and close with a fascinating aspect of seva, art and history.  Yet, the same people complain when these pichois are sold for large amounts of money in the art market.  If we don't value it, lets not quibble when someone else does !



* We generally complain when "expensive" items are seen in Western collections.  Do we ever ask how these items came to be in such collections ? 
Usually they are either part of some war booty, tribute or purchase.


        To the victor belong the spoils.  Lets not forget, Indians of all hues were part of the muslim and christian armies that ruled us for a thousand years !!  For the sake of a wage and promise of a pension, our own people worked for the enemy.  Indian soldiers helped the British take the Kohinoor from the heirs of king Ranjit.  Lets not forget, Indian soldiers helped defeat our own kings.


        Indians love to lavish praise and presents on all and sundry.  Kings believed in paying complements to their overlords by giving them very expensive presents, usually comprising of jewels.  For example, the Maharana of Udaipur sent a sword and scabbard studded with 730 magnificent diamonds to the King Emperor on his coronation !  Our heritage was literally gifted away !!

        Indians, like all people, sell what they can to stave off financial ruination.  After independence, Indians were particularly badly hit by the corrupt pseudo socialist government which was hell bent on destroying the "old rich".  Anyone who had ancestral wealth was fair game of the corrupt tax and government officials of India.  The old rich had no choice but to sell what they could to survive - and they did !


What can anyone do when we ourselves gave it away ?



* In India, no one care for the heritage that is all around them.  Buildings crumble, statues are vandalized, books are left to rot.  Even buildings lucky enough to have "heritage" status given to them by ASI, have little protection from squatters and those who casually use them as outdoor urinals.  Most Indians do not care to visit them and when they do, they rush through as if a herd of elephants was behind them.


ASI and government is India is keen not to "cause an controversy" and hence nothing is ever excavated or analysed least it upsets any "religious community".  For example, from about 1000 AD to 1400AD, countless Hindu temples were dismantled and their pieces used to create mosques all across North India.  After independence, the socialist secular congress government of India effectively banned ASI from doing any more excavations or pronouncing any verdict on any finds (old or new) so as not to "offend" their muslim vote bank.  Ancient sites are kept in perpetual state of ruination just so that the muslims wont feel offended by knowing what their ancestors did to destroy Indian culture. 


A few years ago in Vidisha, a mosque wall collapsed revealing masses of Hindu gods and goddesses used as rubble.  Instead of rescuing the ancient sculpture, the government ordered the ASI to replace everything so as not to upset the muslims.  The issue of temple vs mosque at Ayodhya is similar.  Evidence from excavation of temple structure and records of muslim kings who gloated about removing temples to create their mosque(s) is ignored by the government to please the muslim minority.


Do Indians care about this ?  Yet, if anyone dares to expose this crime against cultural, they are derided for being Nationalist / Right Wing / Hindutva supporter or Saffron.  India must be the only country where being a nationalist is considered to be a political crime.  No one in India cares about the criminal neglect of its history or heritage.



* Sadly, Indians care very little about the heritage they still have, and hence they loose it.  We don't care when our old temples carelessly renovate themselves, covering up centuries old frescoes and sculptures with marble tiles.  We see that as progress.  Original temple layouts are lost in ill-conceived modernisation plans that are not in sympathy with our culture or heritage.  Yet, most Indians sit silently by, letting such sacrileges to our heritage happen with our full consent.



* Houses, buildings, towns in India are redesigned with little or no care to maintain the original features.  Infact, most people consider “modern” and western to be better than “ancient” and Indian.  They are happy to loose original features of their properties.  Loss of heritage is not even considered an issue !!  Countless times have I seen this and countless times the same people decry “loss of heritage” when they see any Indian object in any Western museum.



* When old family records are sold as "pasti", we think it is recycling, and than complain if someone sells their pasti in a foreign country and makes a lot of money as selling national heritage.  Is it the fact that its sold for a lot of money that makes people rile or is it that non-Indians have found our things valuable ?


* We don't care about the centuries of historical records our "pandas" (priests who help the pilgrims) hold in temple towns across India, and yet we talk about the latest software westerns use to trace their family records with awe !  Intellectual / educated / urban Indians shun the pandas as if they were lepers.  Yet these pandas are the store-house of our heritage !  They often have historical records, finger prints and signatures of our families going back several centuries.  But do we care ?



* We spend a fortune to teach our children to speak, sing, dance like westerners, but spend no time, effort or money to teach them our mother tongue.  Whatever they learn at home and from Bollywood is considered sufficient.  In India, children who study in the "English medium" never learn to read, write or speak their mother tongue in the correct grammatical manner.  We spend no time, effort or energy to teach our children Indian culture.  A singular dance or music class is considered the height of "heritage education" and no attempt is made to give a comprehensive, holistic education of heritage.  Yet, does anyone complain ?




We seem to only care for heritage with a high price tag.

We are loosing our heritage because WE DON'T CARE !!

Lets start to CARE first and than we can have a nation that is proud of its heritage.



© Bhagwat Shah    [email protected]


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