As the daredevil Indiana Jones rides away into the sunset with his precious bounty, the million-dollar question — how far will the fictional character go to retrieve magical relics and ancient stones to save the world from the clutches of treacherous villains? — lingers in your mind.
While such adventurous escapades stir your imagination, have you ever spared a thought for the real-life heroes who persevere to restore rare emblems?
Archaeologists who breathe life into dilapidated structures that hoard centuries-old inscriptions take an unlikely route to do so. Dr T Satyamurthy, former director (Chennai circle) of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), and founder of Rural Education and Conservation of Heritage (REACH), tells us how his passion for preserving our heritage drives him to create awareness.
Following his stint at the ASI, Satyamurthy set up REACH in 2007 along with a group of heritage lovers. “Our aim was to create awareness on conserving heritage. We decided that educating people about the history of temples and monuments and inscriptions on structures will help them realise the value of heritage,” he explains.
Educating rural youth
As part of REACH’s initiative to engage rural youth to take up responsibility for their local heritage, the youngsters are educated about how to preserve the structural integrity of the ancient monuments. In essence, they are groomed to be custodians of their history.
“Lack of knowledge about ancient sites is the problem. Villagers do not understand how monuments that withstood the test of natural calamities, are now being endangered by wrong conservation methods. We try to bridge the gap,” he says.
Creating awareness about using natural materials to renovate structural heritage can go a long way towards preserving valuable pieces of history. In order to facilitate a change in mindset among people in villages, the core team of REACH helps them discover ways to preserve their past.
The writing on the wall
Down south, the inscriptions on ancient monuments, palm leaves and scriptures largely hold records of our cultural past in Tamil, but the majority fail to realise the cultural significance of the writings on the wall.
The educational wing of REACH came up with a blueprint to remove the hurdle, a course, ‘Introduction to Inscriptions’, to help history buffs decode engravings.
The course that was kick-started in 2009, has so far successfully trained 120 enthusiasts who enrolled for the course to unravel the evolution of Tamil scripts.
Future road map
REACH is now involved in documenting ruined temples and monuments in remote villages to create a database. Promotion of rural youth as tourist guides for heritage tours is another key project in the pipeline.
Dr Satyamurthy has 36 years of experience in field- archaeology, art and architecture, numismatics and conservation of many ancient monuments. The historian has published more than 50 research papers in various journals.
Satyamurthy has also executed several major conservation projects, including restoration of tsunami-affected monuments in Mahabalipuram and the cellular jails of Andaman islands, as well as the British period architecture of Fort St George in Chennai.