Thought Leadership

Rediscovering India’s Architectural Heritage: A Journey of Preservation and Pride

India, a land steeped in history and culture, is home to a diverse array of architectural marvels that span centuries. From the ancient temples of Khajuraho to the grand palaces of Rajasthan, these structures stand as testaments to the ingenuity and craftsmanship of generations past. However, for many years, India’s architectural heritage has faced numerous challenges and threats of decay, damage, and destruction due to various factors such as environmental degradation, urbanization, neglect, and vandalism.

For example, the Taj Mahal, one of the most iconic monuments in India and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has been suffering from the effects of air pollution, acid rain, and groundwater depletion, which have discolored and weakened its marble façade.

Yet, in recent times, there has been a noticeable resurgence of interest in preserving and celebrating this rich legacy, marking a significant shift in the nation’s approach to its architectural treasures.

To address issues facing the Taj Mahal, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the national body responsible for the protection and management of heritage structures, has implemented various measures such as banning vehicles near the monument, installing air purifiers, and applying mud packs to clean the surface. Moreover, the ASI has also collaborated with international agencies such as the World Monuments Fund and the Getty Foundation to conduct scientific studies and conservation projects to preserve the monument.

One of the key drivers behind this rediscovery is a growing recognition of the intrinsic value of India’s architectural heritage. Beyond mere structures of brick and stone, these monuments embody the spirit and identity of the Indian people. They serve as tangible links to the past, connecting modern-day India with its illustrious history and cultural heritage. As such, there has been a concerted effort to raise awareness about the importance of preserving these treasures for future generations.

Government-led initiatives have played a crucial role in this revival. Across the country, various heritage conservation projects have been launched to safeguard and restore iconic landmarks. For instance, the restoration of the Qutub Minar in Delhi and the conservation of the Hampi UNESCO World Heritage Site are testament to the commitment of the authorities to protect India’s architectural legacy. 

The rock-cut caves of Ajanta and Ellora, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, have been subjected to graffiti and defacement by visitors, which have marred the exquisite paintings and sculptures that depict the Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain traditions. To address this issue, the ASI has implemented various measures such as installing CCTV cameras, metal detectors, and signboards, enforcing rules and regulations, and providing guides and information to visitors. Additionally, the ASI has also collaborated with national and international institutions such as the National Museum of India and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to conduct research and conservation projects to preserve the rock-cut caves. These efforts not only ensure the physical integrity of these structures but also contribute to the revitalization of surrounding communities and economies.

In additional to such national bodies, non-governmental organizations and grassroots movements have emerged as powerful advocates for heritage preservation. From organizing heritage walks to conducting awareness campaigns, these groups are actively engaging citizens in the process of rediscovering and reclaiming their architectural heritage. Through community-driven initiatives, local stakeholders are empowered to take ownership of their cultural landmarks, fostering a sense of pride and responsibility towards their preservation.

Purnima McCutcheon, 2020 President AIA Honolulu, an architect of Indian origin and principal at Create | Architectural Studio LLC in Honolulu, has worked on several award-winning historic preservation projects. She says, “It is crucial to preserve our historic buildings. They are vital links to our history, reminding us of the glory and infamy of our past, thus providing invaluable lessons for us today. Architecture from the bygone eras are tactile, evocative, even visceral, edifices often displaying exquisite craftsmanship whilst showcasing the technology of the time.”

According to McCutcheon, her personal favorite restoration work of an architectural marvel is the 11th century Rani Ki Vav (the Queen’s stepwell)– an elaborately detailed, beautifully proportioned, outstanding example of multi-storied subterranean architecture on the banks of River Sarasvati in Gujarat.
“The restoration stands as a remarkable testament to the dedication and expertise of conservationists in preserving India’s architectural heritage. Built by Queen Udayamati in memory of her husband, King Bhimdev I, this intricately designed stepwell served as both a functional water resource and a grand memorial. Over the centuries, Rani Ki Vav fell into disrepair, succumbing to the ravages of time, neglect, and environmental factors. However, a comprehensive restoration effort launched in recent years has breathed new life into this architectural masterpiece. Led by skilled artisans and supported by government agencies and heritage conservation organizations, the restoration project meticulously repaired and reinforced the structure, reviving its stunning sculptural details, intricate carvings, and elaborate stairways. Today, the restored Rani Ki Vav stands as a shining example of India’s commitment to preserving its cultural heritage for future generations to cherish and appreciate.”

Architect Sanyogeeta Sule, visiting Professor at Sir JJ College of Architecture, Mumbai, fondly remembers her college days when she and her classmates would visit the cinema theatre Eros  to watch a film. The theatre Eros which, is located at South Mumbai one of the grand Art décor Buildings of Mumbai , was recently conserved as a profitable multiplex seating capacity reduced and retail shops introduced.

Sule says, “I remember taking a bus from the famous Siddhi Vinayak Temple, from where my college was located, catching a glimpse of movie stars who visited the temple, moving towards Chowpatti and Marine Drive. This route has now undergone many changes. Several of these heritage sites in Mumbai and the country have undergone changes with time and their uses redefined. This journey of preservation in ‘New India’ is catering to rapid growth , increased population in past decades, pluralistic views and interest in travelling and visiting places.” 

“The Victoria Terminus Building now called Chattrapati Shivaji Terminal, was designed by Frederick William Stevens and completed in 1887, the structure is a stunning example of Victorian Gothic Revival architecture, serving as a bustling railway hub and an iconic landmark of Mumbai. Over the years, the building faced challenges from wear and tear, as well as the effects of Mumbai’s humid climate and pollution. A comprehensive restoration effort was undertaken to restore the building to its former glory. The project involved meticulous cleaning, repair, and reinforcement of the intricate stone carvings, ornamental details, and stained-glass windows to maintain its rich Gothic architecture along with some features inspired by Indian architecture. It has new technology embedded with metal detectors and public address systems to accommodate and address the extra load of transportation.” 

Perhaps most importantly, there has been a shift in mindset among Indians towards embracing their architectural heritage as a source of inspiration and pride. Increasingly, people are recognizing the beauty and significance of these structures, not just as relics of the past, but as living monuments that continue to shape the cultural landscape of India. Whether through art, literature, or tourism, there is a renewed sense of appreciation for the intricate craftsmanship and timeless beauty of India’s architectural heritage.

India’s journey of rediscovering its architectural heritage is a testament to the resilience and vitality of its cultural legacy. Through a combination of government initiatives, community engagement, and technological innovation, the nation is reclaiming its past and ensuring that its architectural treasures continue to inspire and enchant future generations. As India moves forward, it does so with a newfound sense of pride in its rich architectural heritage, celebrating the beauty of its past while embracing the promise of the future.


About the Author:

A Professor of Real Estate at Azteca University in Mexico and Professor of Practice at Woxsen University in India, he has been recognized as the ‘Father of Community Management in the Middle East. Prof. Jeevan is also the first International President of the Community Associations Institute (CAI).