Indian Archaeologist shares his eventful journey
  • K.K. Muhammed, who retires from Archaeological Survey of India this
    June, shares his eventful journey.

    At times, he has stepped out of his role to do something more
    extraordinary, like setting up temporary schools for the children of
    restoration workers and labourers engaged at various sites in Delhi,
    like the Tughlakabad Fort, Adilabad Fort and Humayun's Tomb. Ask him
    if the practice will continue, and he responds, “I don't know. At that
    time, I was Superintending Archaeologist and the post is such that you
    can get things done but only if you want to. You can choose not to do
    anything. The fire has to come from within. Sarve Bhavantu Sukhina…
    has been my philosophy. I have always been inspired by the
    Upanishads,” explains the conservationist, who is fluent in Sanskrit
    and knows important texts like “Manasara Shilpa Shastra” and “Mayamata
    Vastu Shastra” by heart. “I must have been a Namboodiri in my previous
    birth,” quips Muhammad adding that he just deployed an ASI staffer to
    teach the basics to the kids and the parents were happy. When the
    visiting American President Mr. Obama and his wife Michelle Obama
    heard of it, they wanted to meet them, which they did at Humayun's
    Tomb,” Muhammed adds.

    Born and brought up in Kerala, he graduated in History from Aligarh
    Muslim University and later joined it as Assistant Archaeologist. He
    had led an eight-member excavation team to discover Akbar's Ibadat
    Khana (hall of inter-religious discussions), a Christian chapel and a
    Mughal Bazaar at Fatehpur Sikri and still considers the discovery as
    one of his most exemplary achievements. Merely 26 years old then, he
    says he had seen the painting of Ibadat Khana several times and that's
    how could relate to it.

    Though he has successfully carried out work in the Delhi Circle, which
    he headed from 2008 July to March 2012, Muhammed feels he has enjoyed
    working in places other than the Capital, where everything gets
    noticed fast. Restoration of the 1,300-year-old Bateshwar Temple in
    Madhya Pradesh is one of the brightest spots of his career. It was in
    2004 when he first visited the temple and found the magnificent
    structure in ruins. “Out of hundreds of temples there, only 10 to 12
    temples had remained and others had all broken down. They had
    shattered during an earthquake. We managed to restore 80 temples and
    120 more are still left. It will take another five years to finish the
    work,” says Muhammed, who had to first negotiate with the dreaded
    dacoits of the Chambal Valley and then the mining mafia to begin the

    “Before embarking on a loot, the dacoits would come to pray before
    Hanuman, the deity at the temple, and even after returning with a huge
    cache they would thank the god for his blessings. So, when one day I
    walked into the temple, I found somebody smoking a bidi. He was dacoit
    Nirbhay Singh Gujjar. I told him, ‘How can you smoke a bidi inside a
    temple?' And as I said that a person accompanying me came forward,
    held my hand and said, ‘You can't talk to him like that.' At that
    point I understood that they are those dacoits. Nirbhay must have been
    thinking, ‘This man, all of 5'2'', is telling me to stop, that too in
    my area.' Anyhow, I recovered immediately and engaged Nirbhay Gujjar
    in a discussion. I told him that these precious idols would have also
    vanished like so many if he had not been around. And then I told him
    of his lineage, which he had no idea about — that he belonged to the
    Pratihara dynasty that had once ruled that region.”

    After he won over the dacoits, the mining mafia came in the way. The
    incessant mafia activity going on in the surrounding areas was causing
    great harm to the temples and he shot off letters to the concerned
    agencies but nothing moved. “I wrote to the SP and the DM but nothing
    happened. Then I wrote to Sudershan ji, who was RSS Chief then, and
    things moved. I received life threats, which happens everywhere we go,
    but once people come to know our intentions and motives they relent.”

    Speaking of technology, Muhammed says he believes in the traditional
    methodologies of restoration. “I feel that the site, when you know how
    the original structure looked like, should be restored to its original
    shape. Unfortunately, the Nalanda Stupa looks like some steeple of
    Europe,” he expresses.

    Having spent 24 years in the agency, Muhammed is aware of the problems
    that plague it and has been quite vocal about it as well. “Do you know
    what's the budget of the Delhi circle, which has such important
    monuments to take care of? It's just 5 crore and 75 lakh. There is an
    accurate shortage of funds, and governments — be it the BJP or
    Congress — I have realised, only talk big. It doesn't translate into
    action. We need to overhaul the system. We need to market our
    heritage. The entry ticket to a world heritage monument is merely
    Rs.10 and other monuments is just Rs.5. At the Eiffel Tower, you have
    to pay a different amount for visiting a different level and here we
    let a filmmaker shoot at our heritage site for a whole day for just
    Rs.5000. The agency needs to generate money for itself,” he says.

    His list of achievements is long and goes on to include his official
    complaint against the Taj Corridor project that he had registered with
    the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee. He was also responsible for
    making Sanchi Stupa disabled-friendly.

    The Replica Museum at Siri Fort, housing copies of important
    sculptures and structures around the country, is also his brainchild.

    His work at Mundeshwari temple in Patna and Shiva temple in Bhojpur is
    also very significant. Under his supervision, Naubat Khana at Red Fort
    was also turned into white from Red as the ASI's research revealed
    white to be the original colour of the structure.

    He has received five National Awards for the conservation of Sanchi
    Stupa, Qutub Minar, Humayun's Tomb and Red Fort and has also got SAARC
    environment award for Bateshwar temple complex in 2010.

    He has been a tour guide to several visiting dignitaries like American
    President Barrack Obama and his wife Michelle Obama and also to the
    former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

    He wanted to trace the Buddha's route — right from his departure from
    Kapilvastu, his home to Rajgir and Bodhgaya. “I know so much has been
    found but there is still so much. There are many small hidden remains
    still there. I wish money is not wasted on meetings in five-star
    hotels and instead spent on such tasks. There is so much to do in
    Bihar and Madhya Pradesh.”

    On Friday, Muhammed made a presentation on his work at Bateshwar
    Temple and on June 5, he will give a lecture on ‘Identification and
    Discovery of Akbar's Ibadat Khana at Fatehpur Sikri. History lives on.

    [courtesy: Sri Venkat]

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