What is the relationship between History and Heritage?



In a layman's language, history is an account of events that have happened in the past, whereas heritage stands for things such as works of art, cultural achievements and folklore that have passed on from earlier generations to the present generation.

All that constitutes heritage enjoys the backing of history, but all history does not pass for the treasure-trove of heritage.

In fact, history is the compilation and interpretation of events through the perceptions and sometimes the prejudices of the historian. It shouldn't surprise the students of history that quite often historians contradict each other and create more confusion and controversy than clarity and conciliation.

On the other side of the fence stands heritage, like a colossus whose halo spreads like whiffs of fresh air among those who cherish and value the robust role that heritage plays in cementing human bonds.

V.S. Naipaul once wrote: "History keeps changing and is often written by conquerors. History should be written by independent people." History, at times, lends itself to several versions. The riddles it throws up invariably remain insoluble and this is the tragedy of history. Historians want to redeem history from legends, but Indians find legends more comforting than history.

Not with-standing the fact that invaders and colonial powers had indulged in vicious vandalism of India's cultural heritage and natural resources, some of them, more informed and enlightened, got created as well master pieces of heritage like Qutab Minar, the Taj Mahal, Victoria Memorial, India Gate, to name a few only.

The sorry fact of the matter is that while the study of history starts from school and continues up to university level, there is hardly any conscious and conceited effort to make people aware of the precious worth of heritage artifacts, sites, monuments, pieces of art and literature, national parks and the like.

As a result of this neglect and ignorance, rare objects of heritage do not receive as much attention as they deserve.

The ease with which burglary of Rabindranath Tagore's Nobel medallion and other personal memorabilia from the Rabindra Bhavan complex of the Viswa Bharati University took place speaks volumes on the lackadaisical attitude that we have for our heritage.

History may be full of thugs and predators that had played havoc with places of worship and learning in the past, but there is no scarcity of such fanatics as pulled down Buddha's statues at Bamiyan (Afghanistan) even in our own time.

Swindlers and smugglers seem to have-a free run of their nefarious designs when they steal idols and other masterpieces of art and sell them to prospective buyers without any qualms of conscience. There are no two opinions that heritage is meant to be preserved and not plundered. If at times history divides us into petty parochial factions, heritage unites us as members of a common inheritance. If conservation and protection of environment is essential for our physical health, care and concern for heritage is a must for our spiritual and creative growth.

"History is the most dangerous product ever concocted by the chemistry of intellect. It inebriates nations, saddles them with false memories, keeps their old sores running, torments them when they are not at rest, and induces in them megalomania and the mania of persecution."—Paul Valery.

On the contrary, heritage, the product of excellent hands, heads and hearts, soothes ruffled reflexes and provides a common ground to partake a sense of pride and pleasure.

Which site should enjoy the status of 'World Heritage' is left to the wisdom and judgment of UNESCO. Nearer home, it is the INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Culture Heritage) that looks after the upkeep, repair/restoration of Heritage Sites, irrespective of the location where the object of common inheritance is located.

Besides holding Heritage Festivals at different places of importance, INTACH is also committed to create awareness among masses about our invaluable Heritage. While the Material Heritage Division of INTACH helps conserve India's wealth of artifacts, paintings, sculpture, textiles, manuscripts and tools that are vulnerable to damage from vandalism, fire, insects, humidity and fungus, the Architectural Heritage Division provides expertise in structural conservation of built heritage, conservation of historic cities and development of museums.

In short, if history becomes a liability for one reason or the other, heritage is an asset for all the right reasons.