Category Archives: Preservin Heritage

Official Tailoring – Darning the Linguistic Fabric By Navina Jafa The state of Gujarat boasts a unique style of weaving popularly known as the double Ikat Patola. It is an ancient and very intricate technique of tie or knot dyeing on the warp and weft separately before weaving. Traditional patterns emerge in jewel colors, most of them from the memory of the weavers, in a spectacular mosaic that is reflected on both sides of the woven fabric. This serves as a perfect metaphor for the wide canvas of languages and their dialects that reflect India’s cultural and linguistic diversity. The rich Indian linguistic heritage is similar to streams that flow separately, but often mingle and in that interaction one regional culture deepens and enriches the other. Languages are specific to the cultural environment and these manifestations of communication by human beings are dynamic. The creation of the states of India on the basis of language erected artificial political boundaries between regions. These served to curb the flowing dynamic cultures across areas that shared affinities other than language or dialect. From the cultural perspective it is clear that the history of this ancient civilization is characterized by an incredible cultural continuity. The civilizational essence has always been to take the past in the present and move towards the future. In each community the evolution of different languages reflects the imaginative response to unique geographical resources and spaces. Crossing time and space, communities bonded with each other encompassing the past for their present and future. There is an inherent societal behavioral idea of continuity, of constant adaptation and assimilation. When the soul that characterizes the country remains unchanged, why disturb the equilibrium? When cultural identities whose free spirit is structured there is always tension within the social fabric, and the price communities pay for this politicization is socio-cultural chaos. For any meaningful cultural policy directive in the context of India, ‘it is essential to constantly keep in view the complex, intricate and multilayered, multidimensional cultural fabric of the country, both in time and space.” Since last week much has been written and debated over a directive prescribing Hindi in government’s social media communication, and encouraging the use of Hindi for governmental official communication. Such directives like many others ignore India’s intrinsic linguistic diversity and inherent plurality and appear to be a politicization of cultural heritage. Although they claim that it is the only way to promote a sense of national pride and nationalism, they defy the very essence of what this civilization is about. Our sense of Nationalism in the 19th C actually emerged when the British introduced several tools that created networks across the physical landscape such as the postal and transport systems, and various documentation institutions e.g. Anthropological and Archaeological Surveys of India. English was major ingredient for the creation of the sense of a Nation. Culture remains the most important issue that underlies all engagement since the manifestation of the culture of a civilization is primarily language. The need of the hour is to look at preserving this heritage in a sustained and systematic manner. As my guru Dr Kapila Vastyayan says there are 50,000 unread estampages of inscriptions from our monuments and coins lying in the Epigraphical sections of the Archaeological Survey of India in Mysore and Nagpur. Inscriptions in innumerable monuments remain undeciphered even today. This is because within the fold of our major languages many of them have more than one script, for example, Marathi has four, and similarly there are different scripts for Pali, Prakrit, Kharoshti, Arabic, Persian and the Dravidian languages. However, today, we have no more than 35 inscription readers, all of them above 70 years of age, left. There is an urgent need to invest in a mentorship program in order to have a larger pool of skilled people to conserve languages. Otherwise what our monuments can speak will remain unheard. While it is imperative for the government to prepare policy / vision statements, the principle of less government in the field of culture needs to be followed immediately. Today there are ten ministries dealing with matters relating to different aspects of culture. This results in a fragmented approach and a piecemeal attention to problems and issues. The first step could be to bring all these matters under one umbrella /comprehensive ministry/ department alongside the setting up of an advisory body of balanced and progressive cultural professionals’ e.g. Indologists, anthropologists, historians, sociologists, linguists and art specialists. Only then can we move forward towards preventing the politicization of culture.


Facelift of a Historical City – From Kyoto to Kashi

Negotiating Heritage, Preserving the Soul – From Kyoto to Kashi
Navina Jafa
At the turn of the century a series of World Conferences saw the debates addressing renewal of historical cities. Noted historian Arnold Toyenbee had expressed that cities can survive and prosper only as they meet challenges of the current age and they need to be renewed every 100 years. It is extremely convenient to develop templates as part of development projects, however, the challenge is the tailoring of such projects that are aligned with the inherent character defining each city. The Kyoto to Kashi agreement initiated by Prime Minister Modi is indeed a bold step, but the genetic complexity of Varanasi/ Kashi/ Anandvan/Banaras needs to be kept in mind. Having worked on the urban cultural geography of the city along that of 6 others, as part of my PHD thesis, I wonder how this will happen. Will the new players realize that no one wants to move out of the demarcated spiritual psychological urban geography perceived as Moksha Sthan? This is the area believed to be where your soul is released from the cycle of life and does not have to take a rebirth. It includes the river front along with onion like layers in the aligned back- lane areas. Along these areas is constructed the space where roads and sewage systems were created by the colonial rulers. Both the riverfront dense neighborhoods and roads remains clogged, dirty, congested and comprises the main area of the city from Assi, Lanka to Gaudauliya . This stretch covers the main part of the historical city and stretches for several kilometers. It does not include the other side of the river bordering RamNagar. The area represents the living heritage of an ancient heritagescape which refuses to be compromised in face of contemporary needs. It is that unchangeable, non-negotiable, inherent character which has retained its magnetism over centuries and has always made people around the world to visit this ancient city.
It is not the intention of the Prime Minister Modi that I am doubting, it is negotiating with sustenance of the spirit ‘wonder that is India’ in Basham’s words by the application of the proposed renewal technique; since, many a time, creating world class cities is normally about efficient management of cities in a contained canvas. For the renewal Kashi project we could not have had a better partner than the Japanese who are steeped in tradition, and are known for meticulous delivery. Yet, will the will of Modi, and the systematic approach of the Japanese be able to negotiate spaces for preserving the plural categories human societies and traditions that have existed, and adapted since centuries? Varanasi, like the rest of India is an ever dynamic process of multiplicity and not monolithic structures. Each of several cultural and regional social groups in Kashi want and have always vied for representation in the area around the Moksha Sthan that defines the internal network of the main city. Is super- imposing the idea of the concept of monolithic renewal of this evergreen urban space a challenge to the city’s inherent Indian Spirit of plural cultural spaces? The methodology of the idea of World class Urbanization is usually about doing away with plurality adopting a reductionist approach for efficient administration leading to creating soul-less cities. India as a civilization has always defied being put in a canvas, and Varanasi with the flowing Ganga river is constant reminder of plural dynamism. The honeycomb coexistence of contradictory community cultures is the mark of Kashi: the wild co-existence of Aghors and Vishwanath with that of shasthi peeth Valabacharya seat of Vaishnavism, echo of Buddha’s First Sermon with that of the silence of Jain saint Parashavnath, rhythm of looms of thousands of Muslim weavers with the bold beats of Kathak playing the Banaras gharana of tabla, lilting sensuous sound of tappa and thumri singing with coexisting with chants of the women of Panini Vidyalaya defying patriarchy, the colorful religious ethos of Tulsi’s Ramayana with fervor captured in edifices built by Rani Ahilya Bai and Marathas represented in temples and ghats, where the Maulvi of a mosque offers flowers to the priest of the Vishwanath temple. The stern, modern nationalist spirit of Banaras Hindu University, and temple of India is balanced with the wildness of aroma of cannabis smoked populace and stained beetle leaf lips opening with carefree laughter. I hope that this complex contradictory terrain of the intangible heritage is addressed in the renewal program.
In my opinion the renewal program needs to fill the vacuum that exists between two metaphorical spaces namely between the Cosmic, and individual nirvana, and that space is the civic public space. The most important part of the program therefore needs to create an educational awareness where the citizen’s wisdom of life, forces them to come together along with efficient infrastructure to address in a sustainable manner clean public spaces (both on land and river), functional, clean toilets for women, large number of dustbins, and mechanism for disposing garbage. Sometimes I think Kashi or the city of light is a metaphor to find our soul in the chaos and dirt, but that is perspective that needs to be changed so that there is a tangible truth of finding Vishwanath in every nook and corner renewing the famous saying that goes for Kashi is jitney kankar utne Shanker. (There is Shiva in all pebbles of Kashi).