Monuments reflect a certain identity, culture, and history of a place, and we preserve and maintain them for the cultural heritage they represent. South Asia is rich with these mementos, reminding us that the region was a thriving, global one well before the dawn of the current age. Human society is built upon this heritage. Having a past to look back upon, learn from and relate to, defines us deeply. When we lose these monuments, we erase something essential to ourselves.
This is also perhaps why there is so much conflict stemming from what people believe about monuments, as we see happening with the Gyanvapi mosque in Benares, India, or what happened to Afghanistan’s Bamyan Buddhas back in 2001.
The Buddhas of Bamyan have stood in the Bamyan valley of Afghanistan since the 5th century AD. In 2001, they were wrecked beyond recognition by the Taliban. We lost an important monument that wasn’t just a religious symbol but a critical reminder of the silk route.
This way, we have lost many historical sites to natural calamities, religious conflicts, wars, and even terrorist attacks.
There are a few more monuments in South Asia that we could do more to protect. Here are just three:
Taj Mahal, Agra, India
The Taj Mahal, holding within its marble domes the tombs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan, was once an ethereally beautiful testament to the power of love. Today t stands as a cause of strife. Recently a petition was filed and rejected before the Allahabad high court seeking to open 22 closed rooms of the Taj Mahal. The petitioner claimed that the Taj Mahal was a Shiva temple previously called Tejo Mahalaya and that there were hidden Hindu gods and scriptures in these rooms. Therefore, he proposed a fact-finding committee to discover the “real history” behind it.
The Taj Mahal is also falling prey to climate change, especially the polluted Yamuna river. Some people worry that the Taj Mahal will soon hit the point of no return with its deterioration.
Mohenjo Daro in Sindh
Mohenjo Daro was one of the major settlements of the Indus Valley Civilization, which 40,000 to 50,000 individuals once called home, many, many eras ago. It was discovered in the 1920s in the Sindh region of (today’s) Pakistan. Its sophisticated civil engineering advancements like wastewater management and sewerage and drainage systems rival those in today’s Indian and Pakistani cities. The site has not been explored thoroughly, and there are still various aspects that scientists, historians, and archaeologists are unable to decipher, like its script.
Dr. Michael Jansen, a German researcher who works in Pakistan’s southern province, says, “Everybody knows Egypt, nobody knows Mohenjo Daro; this has to be changed.”
However, a portion of it, unfortunately, collapsed in 2012.
Archaeologists warn that if not maintained and restored correctly, one of the most important historical sites in the world will fade into “dust and obscurity” in no small part due to neglect and Pakistan’s losing struggle with the militancy.
Kandy, Sri Lanka
Kandy is known as the cultural capital of Sri Lanka because it houses major cultural heritage sites, such as the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (a UNESCO world heritage site from the age of the Sinhala monarchy) and the Queen’s Hotel (which is a testament to the the country’s colonial past). While the temple signifies a central spiritual place for Buddhists, the architecture of the Queen’s Hotel serves as a stark example of the confluence of colonial and South Asian cultures.
However, the historical and cultural sites in the country have witnessed various terrorist attacks in the past, which remain threats today. The Temple of the Tooth Relic was bombed in 1988 by Tamil terrorists, demanding a heavy restoration of this heritage site that holds religious importance to the Buddhists. Churches in the country have also faced similar threats during Easter celebrations recently in 2019. These not only erase the beauty of the country, they also cement communal tensions within the social fabric, causing irreperable damage.
There are other world heritage sites we’ve missed in this article but they are not less important: we have the Sundarbans, shared by India and Bangladesh, Keoladeo National Park in India, which is a destinations for birds migrating from all over the world, the Sinharaja Forest Reserve in Sri Lanka and so many more. The common factor among them all is that they tell the continuing story of the earth’s beginning, present and future. Let us not forget that we are living in a dangerous chapter in the epic novel that is climate change. Let’s tell a better story.