Prasanta J Baruah, ([email protected])

“Shiela Bora retired as a Professor from the Department of History and the Coordinator, Centre for Tourism Management, in Dibrugarh University. She is currentlyan adjunct Professor in the Department of Archaeology, Cotton University and the Convenor of the Assam State Chapter of The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH). She has travelled extensively in the United States as a two-time recipient of the Fulbright scholarship and was affiliated to the Divinity School at Harvard University as a Visiting Lecturer where she taught Women's History for a period of two years.”

What are the objectives and functions of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH)?

To create an awareness among the public for the preservation of the cultural and natural heritage of India. To undertake the documentation of cultural and natural heritage. To promote traditional arts and crafts.

What initiatives have been taken by INTACH Assam Chapter for conservation of art and culture?

The Assam Chapter of Intach is taking steps to conserve, document, list and digitise the rare and precious sanchipat manuscripts lying in a precarious condition,throughout the state. We have completed the work of digitising 690 manuscripts in Dakhinpat Satra and three hundred manuscripts in Mayong. They are now scientifically stored in acid free boxes inside steel cupboards provided by us. Currently we propose to take up similar work in the Auniati Satra, North Guwahati campus, Bardowa Satra and Bali Satra. We have documented and listed seventeen hundred artefacts in Dakhinpat Satra, including vauable gold and silver items. We have also documented and created a photo gallery of the magicians or bejalis at Mayong and documented several aretefacts associated with their magic. In addition to this, important potsherd, stone and metal objects found in this area, together with objects belonging to the Rajas of Mayong Banshavali have been documented. The Assam Chapter is also tryring to restore and conceserve old heritage buildings.

What steps have you taken for conservation of precious artefacts of Dakshinpat Satra in Majuli?

We have documented nearly seventeen hundred artefacts with scientific numbering. The artefacts have been cleaned, listed and scientifically stored. We have prepared a documented catalogue of all the artefacts which is being published in a book form. We have been successful in pleading with the Chief Minister of Assam for the establishment of a museum for the protection and conservation of these artefacts. We have been successful in doing this and a grant has been sanctioned for the museum.

What progress has been made for conservation of Dr Berry White  Medical School , the first medical education institution. in Assam in Dibrugarh?

The restoration and renovation of the Dr John Berry White Medical School building in Dibrugarh, undertaken by INTACH, is on course-the structural work has been completed-painting, polishing and electrical fittings remain. The landscaping work will be taken up soon and when complete it will be a significant work of heritage restoration and conservation in Upper Assam.

Preservation of old heritage buildings of Guwahati is also in your agenda. How are you going about it? Is not hike in land  prices a hurdle for you?

We have undertaken a project to list not only the heritage buildings, but also the heritage monuments, water bodies and trees covering the geographical area of Guwahati Metro. New Delhi has assisted us in providing training on a proper and scientific method of listing to a few students from the Departments of Anthropology and Archaeology of Cotton University in Guwahati. After completion of the training programme, the students have been divided into groups and allotted specific areas in which to complete the listing. Each group has been provided with introductory letters, along with cameras and GPS to conduct their work fruitfully. These groups are some times accompanied by local experts during their visits to the sites.Every week, once they submit their findings in a particular format, these are sent to the experts in New Delhi for checking. The work is currently going on and we hope to have a complete list within six months. After completion of the work and a publication of the entire list, it is planned to send this to the concerned authorities for their necessary action. It is also proposed to label the trees as “heritage trees” to prevent them from being cut down or destroyed.

You are  doing some conservation work of the old buildings of Cotton College.

Intach is involved in this work only in an advisory capacity

INTACH is also involved in documentation of Nilachal  hill temples and historical monuments in Guwahati. What progress has been made?

Yes, Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authourity had given us a letter of Award vide their memo  No. GMDA/ GEN/18/2018/79 dated 13.03.2018 requesting us to document the temples, historical inscriptions, buildings with old architectural features and water bodies of Nilachal Hills. Since then we have sent severl reminders to them to issue the work order, but this has not been done. Hence we have not been able to start the work till date.

You are also taking steps for  preservation of the old manuscripts , artefacts of the mysterious black magic of Mayong?

Yes, we are trying to preserve the old manuscripts and artefacts related to the mysterious black magic of Mayong, in collaboration with a German organisation called Gerda Henkel Stiftung. The project entitled, “Restoration, Conservation and Documentation of the manuscripts, artefacts and photographs in the Museum and Research Centre in Mayong and its vicinity,” will be completed by February 2021. We have completed the documentation work for approximately 124 manuscripts related to magic, in bundles containing 3381 folios. All possible physical and textual parameters like name of the manuscript, subject, name of the author, size, number of folios etc. have been documented and catalogued for each manuscript. The digitization process for over 118 manuscripts in bundles containing 7209 folios has also been completed, following which each manuscript has been wrapped with acid free paper and starch free cotton cloth and put in an acid free box with a basic informative object  label on it for proper storage. Terracotta objects like intact pottery and potsherds, terracotta sculptures, decorated bricks stored at the museum has been documented with the standard procedure and methodology developed for the project. Additionally, a good number of potsherds have been collected from various archaeological sites of Mayong like Kajali Chowki, Chanaka, and Gorubandha. Nearly 100 stone objects have been documented which include objects like Neolithic tools, cannon balls, mortar and pestles. The metal objects stored in the museum include swords, jewellery boxes and ritualistic items belonging to ancient and late medieval period. A photo gallery has been set up with nearly 300 rare photographs of magicians.

What initiatives are you taking to create awareness on the importance of conservation in the State?

The Assam Chapter of Intach is regularly organising quiz, painting and essay writing competions on Heritage issues amongst school children. These competitions are related to heritage issues like water, environment, architecture etc. The winners of these competions are provided the necessary facilities to proceed to Delhi for participating at the National level competitions organised by Intach, New Delhi.

We also hold regular workshops on heritage related issues amongst school and college students.