Preserving Cultural Heritage in India and Bhutan


The Cultural Preservation Programme of the Federal Foreign Office was launched in 1981 in order to conserve the world's cultural heritage. India is one of the major partners for the Programme.

The Cultural Preservation Programme of the Federal Foreign Office was launched in 1981 in order to conserve the world's cultural heritage. India is one of the major partners for the programme.

Between 1981 and 2017, Germany implemented more than 2.800 restoration projects in 144 countries, an important number of them in India. The projects are usually realized in cooperation with non-profit organizations in India on a one year basis.

Historical Background

Preserving cultural heritage has a long and strong tradition in Germany. “Denkmalpflege”, as it is called in German, refers to the nurturing of old buildings, monuments, historical sites or any other place of cultural, historical, social or even national importance. The memory of a site, event or person is inherent in a “Denkmal”, literally meaning: 'a place or site for thought or memory'. In this context it is quite interesting to note that in German the words for 'to think' ( = denken), and 'to remember' ( = ge-denken), stem from the same root. Already in 1840, Prussia established the first official position of a 'Conservator' for monuments.

In the beginning of the 20th century the first legislations were instituted in the form of a “Central Commission for the Research on and Conservation of Monuments”, which later on was transformed into a National Authority. The word “monument” derives from Latin (monumentum), which literally means “something that reminds” or “edifice to commemorate a notable person, action, or event”. Cultural heritage is considered to be the collective memory of the community and society. It represents the political, social or economic development of the past and has a reference to the present situation and environment. Thus, it creates the cultural identity of a society or a nation. This might be one important reason why we preserve cultural heritage, not only of our own country but of the world as a whole. Many monuments are trans-national treasures of universal importance and therefore are to be preserved and protected by joint efforts and with a collective sense of responsibility.

A variety of cultural preservation projects that were implemented with funds from the Federal Foreign Office are:

Chausath Khambha Tomb (Delhi)

The conservation effort at Chausath Khambha, a Mughal mausoleum from the 16th century in the Nizamuddin Basti, was part of the larger Aga Khan Development Network project called “Humayun's tomb, Sunder Nursery, Nizamuddin Basti – Urban renewal project”. The restoration of the white marble mausoleum, which started in 2011, was funded by the Foreign Office through its Cultural Preservation Programme with 150.000 Euros.

Chausath Khambha, the tomb of Mirza Aziz Kokaltash, son of Atgah Khan and Jiji Anga, Emperor Akbar's foster brother, was built in 1623-24 AD. It gets its name from the 64 columns and the arches, which support the 25 marble domes of the hall.

The documentation process revealed that the original marble pieces of the 25 ceilings, arches and the facades had deteriorated with several stones having burst due to expansion of the iron clamps, which were used to bind the marble stones with one another. This deterioration was further accelerated due to excessive water seepage from the terrace. The main conservation work on this tomb included the replacement of the damaged marble stones with new marble pieces that have the same ornamental patterns as well as replacing the rusted iron clamps with stainless steel ones. After all the conservation work on the domes had been completed, the entire roof concrete was removed and replaced by lime concrete with adequate slope and water proofing to prevent water ingress and further deterioration. This unique project had been very challenging for the conservators, who used traditional methods. The Restoration was finally completed in 2014 after four years of construction.

The Black Pavillon (Vernag, Srinagar, Kashmir)

The restoration and conservation of the ceiling paintings of the “Black Pavillon” was widely acknowledged in the region. The Diwan-i-Am, also known as Black Pavilion, is one of the two building sites in the Kashmiri Moghul garden Shalimar Bagh. It was used as a Zenana (women’s quarter) in the summer residence, which was built 15 km outside of Srinagar. The gardens were once constructed under the ruling of Emperor Jahangir (r.1569 – 1627) and his more famous son Shah Jahan, the constructer of the Taj Mahal (r. 1627 – 1658). Combining the rich tradition of Kashmiri gardening and Persian spirit and patterns, this paradise garden was created around 1620 A.D. The terrain was developed based on the traditional Chahar Bagh concept which means that the garden is divided into various terraces, waterfalls, pools and marble buildings in order to create a unique ensemble.

The Pavilion, as a central site of the garden, incorporates different features of traditional Kashmiri art. The most outstanding feature is without a doubt the ceiling made out of colored papier Mache. These paper panels, which were placed in rectangular grids, must have been added to the pavilion in the late 19th century. Due to the fact that the decoration was neglected for almost 140 years, it suffered severe damages from heavy dust and cracks.

Thus the decision was made to restore and conserve these art pieces starting in 2015, with a contribution of the Cultural Preservation Programme of 41.000 Euros. The conservation team focused on using traditional methods to repair the damaged panels. In effect, they were able to conserve a big piece of Kashmiri culture.

Revival of the Heritage Path (Wanla, Ladakh)

The Restoration of the Heritage Path by the Achi Association, which is a non-profit organisation, is part of a longterm conservation project in the city of Wanla in Ladakh. Situated in the Himalayan region of the state Jammu & Kashmir Wanla comprises a cultural treasure: The 700-year old Avalokiteshvara temple. According to the founding inscription in the temple records, the temple has been built by the Dringung Kagyu Order, which is one of the three main buddhist orders in that region and still owns the temple.

The efforts of the Achi Association to conserve the Buddhist temple and its surroundings by involving the local villagers and monks were encouraged by the funds of the Cultural Preservation Programme of the Federal Foreign Office since 1992. The historic Heritage Path allows visitors and pilgrims a thoughtful and spiritual approach of the monumental and sacred area of the Avalokiteshvara Temple and fortress remains. Passing the ancient religious structures and farmhouses and slowly following the gurgling stream, always in sight of the village fields and the impressive ridge with its monuments, makes the visit a spectacular experience.

But in recent years, the path has been less and less used, partially because portions of it were buried under a landslide caused by the construction of a new road. For this reason the Achi Association decided to restore the historical path which was finally realised in September 2013 with funds from the Foreign Office. Since then the Foreign Office has funded several projects conducted by the Achi Association, which aimed at the restoration of the historic buildings alongside the Heritage Path.

Arab Ki Serai Gateway (Delhi)

The Restoration of the Arab Ki Serai Gateway on the World Heritage Site of Humayun’s Tomb is, as the Chausath Khamba Conservation project, part of the larger Aga Khan Development Network project called “Humayun's tomb, Sunder Nursery, Nizamuddin Basti – Urban renewal project”. The Gate used to be the eastern entrance to the Arab Ki Serai and was built in the 16th century to demonstrate political power and status of the Mughal Empire. The sand-stone Gateway had suffered from severe material and structural deterioration due to neglect and inappropriate interventions in recent years. Co-financed by the Cultural Preservation Programme of the Federal Foreign Office, the experts from Aga-Khan Foundation started in January 2013 to revive the lost architectural integrity of the monument through appropriate conservation works. Nevertheless, difficult climate conditions made the conservation of the Gateway a challenging project, before it could be completed in December 2014.

Tsuklakhang Mural Conservation (Gangtok, Sikkim)

Between 2011 and 2012 the nearly 100-year old murals of the Buddhist Tsuklakhang temple in Gangtok in Sikkim were restored by the Tibet Heritage Fund with the aid of the Cultural Preservation Programme of the Federal Foreign Office. Sikkim is the youngest member of the Indian Union. It existed as an independent kingdom from 1642 to 1975, ruled by kings with the title of Chogyal (Tibetan Religious Ruler) that descended from Tibet. It merged with the Indian Union in 1975. Sikkim’s capital was moved to its present site at Gangtok, at an altitude of 1500m above sea level, as late as 1894.

Around 1920, the then Chogyal, Tashi Namgyal (r.1914 - 1963) had the Buddhist temple built close to the royal palace, which was designed by Taring Rinpoche and built in classical Tibetan style, with the murals in the temple painted by the best contemporary painters who came from Tsang-region in Shigatse, Tibet. Historically Sikkim’s population consisted of the indigenous Lepchas, and the Bhutias who descended from 15th century Tibetan settlers, as well as ethnic Nepalese (who today form 75% of the population). The Sikkimese court enjoyed a close relationship with the then independent Tibet, and many cultural and economic exchanges were actively made over the centuries between the two countries. At that time the borders between Tibet and Sikkim had not yet been closed. After merging with India, the ownership of the temple and palace were given to the newly created charitable Tsuklakhang Trust. The aim of the Tsuklakhang mural conservation project was to conserve the murals as an important part of the cultural heritage of Sikkim.

The Queen's Palace (Jodhpur)

One of the success stories of the Cultural Preservation Programme is the renovation of the 'Palaces of the Queens' of Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur. The first surveys for this project already started in 1997-98 and first conservation measures were taken at that time. The major bulk of restoration work happened between 2006 and 2008 with a contribution of 116.000 Euros from the Cultural Preservation Programme.

Mehrangarh Fort stands majestically high above the Indian city of Jodhpur. Its scale, the filigree details and its unique situation make the fort a cultural gem on the subcontinent and a valuable heritage for future generations.

The fort's sandstone facades in particular are at risk from material fatigue owing to the severe climatic conditions. Decades of inadequate maintenance work have led to serious damage to the facades and interiors of the Zenana (Queen’s Palace). The project of preserving the Zenana began in 1997 with initial preparatory measures including an architectural survey, the listing of recommended conservation measures for each room and urgent repairs to make the ceilings and roofs safe. Conservation and restoration work was carried out between 2006 and 2008. All work was carried out by an Indo-German team following the principle of minimal intervention. The goal was, however, to preserve the historic structures, materials and surfaces in an authentic manner, in order to retain for future generations the splendor of the fort in its original state.


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