India has 37 world heritage monuments recognized by UNESCO. Around 3,650 sites are protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). However, the number of unprotected monuments is staggering. Delhi alone has over 1,000 unprotected monuments, and between 35,000 and 7,00,000 historic sites lie unprotected through other parts of the country. The list of “missing” monuments under the ASI tallies 24. Monuments are labeled as “missing,” when they have been lost forever due to rapid urbanization, building of water reservoirs and dams, and other modern day developmental projects. These glaring statistics are the sad reality of India’s heritage.
Triggered by this widespread apathy, the India Lost and Found Foundation (ILF) is working to create a heritage map of India and seed it on Google Maps. It all began when the ILF team attempted to use Google Maps to discover heritage in India. With approximately 200,000 unlisted historic sites in the country, the result was disappointing, and they decided to do something about it. Months of planning later, they launched a challenge to help build a map through participation by youth.
The #IndiaFound Challenge helps one navigate through history and aims to create a resource to feed the heritage map of India with great image using 360-degree panoramic shots and precise data. By seeding the information on Google Maps, it aims to place India’s heritage within the reach of every traveler, historian, student, architect and heritage enthusiast. The idea is to involve the younger generation and help them connect with their land, their past and take ownership and responsibility as guardians of their heritage.
Beginning March 18th, in offline fashion, the ILF reached out to colleges and heritage enthusiasts. It has the National Association of Students of Architecture, SPICMACAY, 10 colleges participating directly, and other national, regional and social media partners. On 18th April (World Heritage Day), the campaign hit social media with a tweet and post by none other than Amitabh Bachchan. “We as Indians take great pride in our country’s heritage—a heritage that has adorned our land for thousands of years. Yet, many of us are unaware of its existence. This is the most exciting project that I have heard about in a long time. Make history again and dot the heritage map with us,” said Bachchan about the initiative.
The brainchild behind the initiative is celebrated panoramic photographer Amit Pasricha. “It’s a long-term project. We plan to accumulate and curate the data over a period of time, improve the quality of the pictures, categorize them properly and get all the correct Google coordinates to them. The project also aims to create awareness about various monuments and in a sense, become an aggregator of culture-specific knowledge,” explains Pasricha.
ILF started a social media campaign with a view to create more awareness around India’s lesser-known built heritage. The campaign is a creative common platform that attempts to build a virtual museum of thought and also rebrand lesser known sites as cultural symbols. The initiative is doing this by using the knowledge of an increasing umbrella network of experts, such as William Dalrymple, Laila Tyabji, Swapna Liddle and their thoughts. In short, it’s a living, breathing storytelling project—a photographic journey through India, documenting lesser known monuments throughout the country, bringing the youth on board as creators of knowledge.
Currently, the ILF has 250 experts on board and the circle is ever widening. Dr Vibhuti Sachdev, Professor and Dean at the Sushant School of Art and Architecture, Ansal University, one of the programme’s patrons, talks about its relevance, “We cannot afford to lose more of our past and these structures are a powerful reminder of the million stories that this land holds, many which are still untold. Mapping our heritage is a crucial step towards a stock taking exercise of what we have and what we must protect.”
Adds Idris Ahamed Shariff, National President of the National Association of Students of Architecture, another partner in the program, “We routinely have competitions and award trophies to our students for the documentation of heritage and the analysis of various buildings—from architecture, tourism, housing and other perspectives. The ILF’s vision aligns well with what we are doing, and our rich resource of about 60,000 students from more than 280 colleges across the country should hopefully be useful for this initiative.”
While submitting pictures, participants may include a rich description of the site’s folklore, mythological stories, thoughts on its architecture, design, history, geography, conservation, art, crafts, cuisine, culture, textiles and fashions of the time. Further, all participants receive an India Lost and Found Google e-certificate. While the last date for submitting data is 30th June, the website remains open for further submissions until 2020.
Log onto https://www.indialostandfound.com/challenge/ to participate. As Dr. Vibhuti Sachdev rightly points out, “This is how strong traditions are built, when the past is allowed to walk hand in hand with the present in the journey towards the future.”
Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world. You can read all her published work on www.nehakirpal.wordpress.com