Later this year, Vietnam will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the declaration of ‘My Son’ as the World Heritage site.
A country’s heritage is very close to its sense of identity. Little surprise, helping other countries restore their means so much to India.
For India has had deep cultural ties with South-East Asian nations, which precede the beginning of the Christian Era and have left an indelible impression on many aspects of life in a number of countries of the region.
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Interestingly this is one area which is then, an example in the history of mankind where one sees such cross-fertilization between different cultures and people for over two millenniums, all of this, without any involvement of political or military force. Many monuments in this region reflect this syncretic culture and some of these have been declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
India has been partnering with some of the countries of the region for restoration and conservation of these heritage monuments. India was the first country to respond to an appeal made by Cambodia to the world community in 1980 to come forward to help save the Angkor Vat, the center of the Khmer Kingdom for several centuries.
The Angkor Vat temple, built by Suryavarman II (AD 1112-1152), the powerful ruler of the Kambuja dynasty of Cambodia, is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The walls of the temple are covered inside and out with the most extraordinary bas-reliefs and carvings depicting stories and characters from the Mahabharata, Ramayana and include hundreds of fine carvings of Apsaras. Constructed as a Hindu temple, the Angkor Vat has served as a Buddhist temple since Buddhism became Cambodia’s dominant religion in the 14th Century.
India worked closely with the International Coordination Committee (ICC) of Angkor and the Cambodian Authority for Protection and management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap (APSARA) – first while working on the Angkor and later for restoration and conservation work at the Ta Prohm temple. ASI team worked for a good seven years for restoration and conservation at Angkor.
During this period, the northern embankment of a moat, gateway, semi vaults of fourth enclosure esplanade, Samudra Manthana Gallery, third enclosure Gallery, northern corner of second enclosure, northern Library and the central tower of the Angkor Vat temple were restored/conserved.
Not the one to rest on its laurels, ASI is currently working on restoration and conservation of the Ta Prohm temple. Also called the Tree Temple, this one a significant 12th-century monastic Buddhist temple complex located in the Angkor World Heritage Site. The Ta Prohm Temple was built by Jayavarman VII in 1186 AD as a Rajavihara and is today the second most popular tourist site in Cambodia after the Angkor Vat Temple, especially after it featured in the movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. More than 14 countries, besides India, which include France, Germany America, and China are currently working for the conservation of monuments in Angkor park area of Siem Reap, Cambodia under the guidance of ICC Angkor (UNESCO).
The Ta Prohm conservation project presented a big challenge simply because many trees have grown over the temple structure with roots penetrating into the foundation and the superstructure. As acknowledged during meetings of the technical committee of the ICC- Angkor ‘even the experts admitted that they were not sure on what to do. It was a very complex situation dealing with archaeological ruins and a romantic approach’.
Both structure and the trees had to be conserved. ASI adopted a multidisciplinary and integrated approach in collaboration with experts in the fields of archaeology, history, structural engineering, hydrology, geology, geo-technology, arboriculture, and architecture to understand the complexities of the site and to evolve the most appropriate conservation strategy for harmonious conservation of both the temple structure and the trees.
The hi-tech restoration work implemented by ASI at Ta Prohm has been highly appreciated by the experts in the ICC and the Cambodian Government. The approach of ASI team led by DS Sood has been lauded by the ICC and the Cambodian Government which has conferred upon Sood a medal and an honor (the rank of the knight; the medal of the SAHAMETRE) in recognition of the contribution made for conserving this heritage.
Ask Sood how it feels and his warm tone conveys his emotion, for he “feels very proud, whenever ICC experts appreciate our work in meetings in presence of other experts, representative of other countries and senior ministers of Cambodia. This is a wonderful experience for me and an honor for the country”.
Then there is the Vat Phou temple, dating back to 5th Century AD onwards is located in the Champasak Province of Lao PDR, another world heritage site. The temple is situated on the slopes of Phou Kao Mountain named as Lingaparvatha in Sanskrit. The ancient site is culturally, architecturally and religiously very close to the Indian concept as the landscape was seen in terms of Hindu cosmology with Phou Kao mountain as the home of Lord Shiva with its natural stone Linga at top and the Mekong River representing the River Ganges and the surrounding universal ocean. The ASI has been involved in conservation and restoration of this monument since 2009 and the work is to continue until 2028. The work done by the ASI team is highly appreciated by the Laotian government.
Several “Yoga Mudras” are depicted in Vat Phou temple structure and the ASI team has adopted a practice of performing Surya Namaskar daily on the banks of the Mekong river. This has been attracting locals and tourists, who are curious to know these mudras. The local Laotians are very keen to learn about Indian culture. So whenever, important work is started by ASI at Vat Phou as per Indian customs, local authorities are also invited. The Indian Embassy in Laos also hosts the International Yoga day in June, every year at the site of Vat Phou temple.
The Cham Monument of ‘My Son’ in Quang Nam Province of Vietnam is another World Heritage site of outstanding universal value. The architecture is influenced by Southern Indian temple architecture. Experts from the ASI are currently working on conservation and restoration of A, H and K group of temples at My Son temple complex. The Management Board of ‘My Son’, Vietnam is very happy with ASI’s work and wants it to undertake the restoration of “F” group of temples also. Later this year, Vietnam will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the declaration of ‘My Son’ as the World Heritage site.