Tonight we are saying goodbye to 2014 and welcoming a new year as 2015. We look back on the year gone past, and look forward to the coming year. We can only look in one direction at a time. It is the two-faced god Janus Bifrons, who could look in both directions, and the coming month was named Ianuarius, from which we got January.
On the eve of the new year, we should think of going back into history to identify the real Janus. He was a mortal who is believed to have come from Thessaly and became the ruler of Latium. He brought a Golden Age to the country by ensuring peace and through agriculture and trade. He was the father of Tiberinus and Fontus. Janus was deified after his death, and his statues depicted two faces, one clean shaven and one bearded. Bergen Evans' Dictionary of Mythology says, "It was a peculiarity of this god that the doors of his temple were kept open in time of war and closed in time of universal peace. They were rarely closed."
In Rome his temple was 'Ianus Germinus' (Twin Janus), on Argiletum, the street that ran from the residential area to the Roman Forum. The double door building, one door faced the rising sun and the other, the setting sun. It was built by Numa Pompilus (715 - 673 BCE), the second king of Rome after Romulus. He tried to make his countrymen more religious and lead them away from conflicts and violence. When Rome was at war the temple doors were open. The doors of the temple were closed once by Titus Manilus Torquatus in 235 BCE and by Galus Octavius after the battle of Actium against Cleopatra and Mark Antony (31 BCE). As Augustus Caesar he closed it twice more. With his two faces, looking at the past and the future Janus became associated with doorways and people had the Janus face on their front doors and on gates of cities. Romans called him 'Divom deus' the god of gods, and was one of the earliest of Roman gods.
Janus was also associated with beginnings and transitions. Janus Face has come to be considered as having two sharply contrasting characters or aspects, which has been applied to many aspects of life.
Simon Mackezie and Tess Davis published a report in the British Journal of Criminology, on the trafficking of cultural treasures. They said the middlemen work with a Janus face, the dark side handling the illegal looters, and shows the clean face to the international market. This applies to all middlemen, the traders, and businessmen.
The misunderstood Janus face applies to almost all human beings, because we do not show the same face to everybody. The face we show our parents, to our spouses, to our children, may not be the same, and the face we show our employers or our employees, or our clients, our readers or our fans, could be another, totally different one.
Arthur Koestler wrote 'Janus: A Summing Up' about his philosophy of 'Holarchy' as a way of organizing knowledge and nature. He claimed that everything is formed of, what he called 'Holons', where one holon is always a part of a larger holon, which itself was a part of a still larger holon. Each holon had a Janus face, one face looking down or outward and the other face looking up or inward. This theory was further developed by Ludwig von Bertalanffy and Herbert Simon.
We find Janus in fiction, like 'Victory on Janus' by Andre Norton, 'Math Fiction:The Janus Equation' by Steven G. Spruill, 'The Janus Room' by Martha Bryman and many more. Even though Janus was not named, the two-faced god and man has always been a common and popular theme among poets and novelists. Prof. Carlos Baker (Princeton), wrote the essay 'The Poet as Janus: Originality and Imitation in Modern Poetry'. He quotes Edward Wagenknecht, "there is no such thing as complete originality in a writer and all literary work are Janus-faced." And Shelley, "we look before and after, and pine for what is not". The poet looks before, to his ancestors and looks after to the still-to-be-finished lyric.
Cholesterol has been called a Janus-faced molecule, a double-edged sword in the human body. It is an essential building block, with 23% of body cholesterol residing in the brain. It can also be lethal when it forms plaques on the surface of arteries and subsequently causes coronary heart disease. Nitric Oxide has also been called a Janus molecule. It is produced in the body by an essential amino acid L-arginine and functions as a messenger molecule. It can be protective or toxic, due to various factors.
Dr. D. B. Zorov et al. has proposed that mitochondria as Janus Bifrons. Mitochondria which are considered as the 'power plants of the cells' in living organisms are able to predetermine the development of the cells and its death. This is nature's way of development and control. Yet man has tried to take over this process, to determine birth, development and death, which is the root of all evil. The Janus-faced man is trying to decide who should live and who should die.
Let us close the doors of the Janus temple. "The terrible iron-constricted Gates of War shall shut; and safe within them shall stay the godless and ghastly Lust of Blood, propped on his pitiless piled armory, and still roaring from gory mouth, but held fast by a hundred chains of bronze knotted behind his back" (Virgil, Aeneid, 1.293-296)
Let us close the doors of the Janus temple forever, seal it permanently, so that no one would ever be able to open it again and declare war on his brother.
lighght. Seven letters which made poetic history. Seven letters typed out on a sheet of paper by Aram Saroyan. “The difference between “lighght” and another type of poem with more words is that it doesn’t have a reading process,” says Saroyan, who lives in Los Angeles and teaches writing at the University of Southern California. 'Lighght' first appeared in The Chicago Review and later was featured in 'The American Literary Anthology', where it ran for seven pages, with one letter on each page. When the poem received $ 750 from the National Endowment for the Arts, there had been a huge uproar about wasting government funds, and there had been a letter from a taxpayer "We can't afford to lower taxes but we can pay some beatnik weirdo $ 500 to write one word..and not even spell it right." (Saroyan received $ 500 out of the 750 from the publisher).
It is a poem to be seen, not read or listened to, like Saroyan's other poem the four-legged 'm', cited in the Guiness as the world's shortest poem, variously interpreted as 'a close up of an alphabet being born' (m and n just before separation) and 'I am' implying the formation of consciousness itself. (Peopleofar.wordpress.com).
Such poems could be called visual poetry. Today most poems are meant to be read silently, for one's solitary enjoyment. Poetry reading hardly happens today, yet we have poets who write their poems for us to read aloud, to listen and enjoy among a group. But such oral poetry also limits our freedom, because we have to use words to create aural images for the listener, and often we have to try to make the poems rhyme. Then sometimes we have to use meaningless words too.
Visual poetry gives us the freedom, enjoyed by an artist, where he can use a single brush stroke or place a dot to convey an idea. An empty canvas would be a wordless poem, like the 'Blood Red Mirror' by Gerhard Richter which had been sold for US$ 1.1 million, though it was just red paint over a mirror. 'Green White' by Ellsworth Kelly had fetched $ 1.6 million, which was a large green dot on a white canvas, and could be called a one-word painting, and valued so high because it was considered a painting, while Aram Saroyan received only $ 500 for his one-word poem. Had Saroyan painted 'lighght' on a canvas, it too could have fetched a million dollars! We place different values for different forms of art.
There are also other labels like Minimalist poetry and within the Minimalist Poetry also subforms. LeRoy Gorman writes Mathematical Minimalist Poetry like his poem 'Tragedy' (! + ?)2, because "a tragedy equals a blur of exclamations and questions multiplying against each other." All such poems could be considered visual poetry, because we cannot read them aloud. If Albert Einstein had written "e = mc2" in a book of poetry, we would have tried to understand it as a poem, and if he had painted it on a canvas, it would have ended up in an art gallery.
Edwin Morgan, recognized as the most influential poet of his gifted generation, had written nine one-word poems, but the titles had several words. eg. 'A Far Cool Beautiful Thing' - 'blue'. David R. Slavitt had written a poem 'Motherless.' in 1935'. Only the word, as the poem and the title, with a period at the end. He could also have written with an exclamation mark, or a question mark. Cor van den Heuvel is reported to have written a one-word Haiku. 'tundra'. Whether it could be called a Haiku is a different issue.
There are one word songs, like 'No' by Vivian Girls. Not Squares had a two word song, 'Yeah OK'.
Senerath Paranavithana deciphered and published poems written on the Mirror-like wall at Sihigiriya. More recently Benille Priyanka published more graffiti from Sihigiriya, in which some visitors had written only one word, which Priyanka assumes to be the name of the person. One such word is 'Sihila' (No 683). Perhaps it is a one-word poem, 'Cool'. Even today a young visitor from the West could call Sihigiriya as "Cool". Another word is 'Sagama', (No. 564) preceded by the often used greeting, 'Svasti'. Priyanka takes it as an incomplete poem. The poet may have considered his one word as a poem by itself. The same could be said of 'Svasti. Sunila' (No. 380). The graffiti too could be considered visual poetry, in the same manner as the frescos.
'One Word' is an anthology edited by Molly McQuade. One article is by Joel Brouwer. He talks of one word, 'A'. He says "A hypothesizes and speculates, enjoys abstractions, prefers conjectures to conclusions. A offers up its noun for our consideration, evaluation, and possible adoption or acquisition." Brouwer brings up Neil Armstrong's famous words, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind", and says Armstrong really said "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind", and that word "a" made all the difference.
Brenda Hillman's essay is on the word 'as', "which does a lot of work without being noticed." Eric Ormsby devotes his essay to 'or', which he calls a "worker word, a syntactic functionary...it is a word which can stand alone."
There have been speculation that a poet or publisher could not claim copyright for a one word poem, because no one could claim ownership for an individual word, which belongs to all of us. Yet when we consider that a 'literary composition' means "imaginative or creative writing", a one-word composition is also a creative work.
I wish I could have written this essay with just one word.
Internet Addiction Disorder - IAD, was the diagnosis when a man had to be treated for the addiction to Google Glass, wearing it 18 hours a day. He would remove it only to sleep and wash. Google Glass could be the nearest thing to using our mind to see the world beyond our normal vision. This person, and may be others, may not be able to distinguish between his own dreams, and what he saw on the glass. This first ever case of addiction to Google Glass had been reported in September 2013, at the US Navy Substance Abuse and Recovery Programme. But the term Internet Addiction Disorder had been coined in 1995 by Dr. Ivan Goldberg as a hoax, by applying criteria from gambling addiction on to the internet. A study in 2011 with university students in several countries had shown that "most students were unable to voluntarily avoid their tech gadgets for one full day".
Already major hospitals in India, China, South Korea and Singapore have opened up technology de-addiction clinics. Doctors at the National Institute of Mental Health And Neuroscience had reported that it is mostly children that are brought to their clinic. In Singapore 87% of the population, which include young children, are using smartphones.
It may be new with this glass, but wearable technology has been with us for a long time, beginning with our wristwatch. People could be obsessed with time and schedules, watching every minute, every second. Some would get completely disoriented if they were unable to wear a watch, while others would wear a watch, sometimes the most expensive watch available in the market, but still fail to be punctual or keep to a pre-arranged schedule. That too could be considered a disorder by some, claiming that such people tried to defy time and strict schedules, due to other mental or personality conditions.
Some people are not really addicted to hi-tech, but try to appear to be, appear to be busy, as sometimes 'busy' has become a status symbol. There are people who receive and respond to as many as 500 emails a day, and when they are from all around the globe, there are no off-hours, or shut off times. People who are obsessed with the fear of being disconnected get into the F-State - Frantic, Frazzled, Frenzied. But they love it.
Recent studies have shown that the brain patterns of a technology addict are no different from those of a drug addict. Once we get addicted to life in cyberspace we get shut off from the real world we live in, from our immediate family and friends, so we could be with our friends and business associate all over the globe. We do not have to say good-by to anyone anywhere, but we also fail to say hello to those who are right near us, at home, at office or at a dinner table.
It is this addiction which probably caused more people to take photos and videos of a recent train accident in our country, before trying to help the accident victims. Such people may have believed that their priority was to post the information on-line, rather than help the people. This also makes us empathize and sympathize with the victims we see online, rather than with the beggar on the road, or a crying child, or an elderly, vision impaired person trying to cross the road.
We are said to be in information overload, but Ray Bradbury had said, "whether we're starved for information of suffocated by information, the end result is about the same''.
We are also said to be in technology overload today. But we have been in overload of one thing or other from the time we began using our forelegs to develop tools and equipment. When we talk about addiction, it immediately reminds us about drugs and alcohol. But man becomes addicted to many other things and habits, which are equally, or sometimes more, harmful than substances listed as addictive. Probably one of the earliest substances to which man became addicted to was meat. We do not know when the vegetarian human first tasted the rotting flesh of a dead animal. It could have been during a famine, or when he had no access to any fruits, leaves of roots. But some men would have found the carrion as very tasty and thus wanted to consume more of it. We are also addicted to many other harmful substances, which are not banned by governments, like sugar, and wheat flower. One addictive substance which could be easily banned is tobacco and cigarettes, because governments could ban tobacco cultivation and manufacture and sale of cigarettes, which are all done legally and openly now.
Internet led to social networks leading to Social Network Addiction, which really means Approval Addiction. A Mexican study found that Facebook addicts (a category defined by reportedly spending over four hours everyday on Facebook) had a higher incidence of depression and lower physical and general self-esteem levels than less frequent Facebook users. Among some Facebook addicts we also find 'Cyber Exhibitionism' changing their profile photos often, which is also a part of their 'Approval addiction'.
In New York, three years ago, a Twitter addict gave up his job and separated from his wife because he refused to give up his twitter account at which he spent most of his time. He would be called a Tweetoholic.
We are all addicted to one thing or another, always, when we give up one addiction, we are driven to another. Reading too is an addiction, which has even been called a solitary vice. Reading the newspaper first thing in the morning is an addiction. It just shows not all addictions are harmful, either to the addict or the society.
"The hydrologic cycle describes the pilgrimage of water as water molecules make their way from the Earth's surface to the atmosphere, and back again." NASA has called it a 'pilgrimage'. I had the good fortune to make a pilgrimage myself, to attend a pilgrimage by the people on the bank of river Godavari, at Rajahmundry, in Andhra Pradesh. 'Godavari Harathi Utsav' (homage to Godavari) was a puja utsav attended by pilgrims from all over Andhra and Telanagana, to honour the pilgrimage made by the goddess Godavari.
Water has always been sacred, to all life on earth. It used to be most sacred, holy, when it fell from the sky, as God's blessing on all life. But man, who has always been the violator, began to commit sacrilege by polluting the air around him, thus defiling the sacred water falling down from the sky. As the water began its pilgrimage back to the sky, to the abode of the Gods, man continued to defile and abuse the goddess of water.
Godavari, like all other river goddesses, has been defiled ever since. The irony is that man has also continued to worship the river as a goddess, offering puja and seeking her blessings. All things sacred are also pure, and it is the duty of man who holds them sacred to keep the purity of the sacred objects. But man, who always fights for his rights, never thinks about his duties and obligations.
Godavari is the second longest river in India, after Ganga, with over 60 million people living alongside and depending on her water. Godavari has also been called the 'River for Writers of Andhra Pradesh'. Nannayya, the first Telugu writer and the first Telugu poems 'Guadyudi Bhruhatkatha' and Haala Satavahana's 'Gaadha Saptashathi' had been written by the banks of the Godavari. It is heartening to see the Telugu writers today are taking up their responsibilities to create awareness among people, that it is their sacred obligation to keep the river goddess clean and pure.
In India they took up the cleaning of their most sacred river Ganga, recently, which may be rather too late. The Yamuna is long past the time it could have been cleaned and her polluted water is threatening the foundation of the Taj Mahal. Godavari is comparatively clean, and there is hope her contamination and pollution could be controlled, prevented and someday it could be as clean as she would have been a few thousand years ago.
Godavari Devi is violated more with agrochemical poisons, because her pilgrimage is mostly through agricultural land, and instead of offering flowers and incense most people offer poison. This is an easily preventable destruction, because if we can go back to our traditional methods of farming, we need not use poison on our cultivations. Industrial effluents and waste are offered as puja by the industrialists, in return for her water used by them. None of these desecrators would have poisoned their own wells, from which they draw their drinking water. Poisoning the water on another man's well would have been considered as murder, yet today no one is concerned about poisoning the water source for billions of people living on river basins around the world.
Godavari Utsav also recognized the services and contributions by great sons and daughters of the Godavari basin, with annual awards. 'Sri Sripada Subramanya Sastri Memorial Literary Award' was made to Ravulapati Seetaramrao. Sri A. Ravi Shankar Prasad Award for contributions in journalism, was made to the Dalit writer Mallepally Laxmaiah.
On 6th November, on Kartik Poornima, Buddhavarappu Charity Trust celebrated the Godavari Harathi Utsav, for the 50th time, in the best possible way to pay homage to goddess Godavari. They had initiated the cleaning of the river on every full moon day for the past four years. This charitable trust is the brainchild of Dr. Buddhavarappu Venkat Rao, who has been practicing free medicine in his native village, Polamuru, after his retirement. His son S. N. Kumar Buddhavarapu is the moving force today, who is helping the people, through the Trust. The environmental concerns are always on their minds. In the temple they have built for the god Dattatreya (the Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva), for the Nava Graha Puja they have set aside a separate garden to obtain the kinds of flowers needed for the puja.
This is a lesson for all of us, all around the world. What the people in Rajahmundry have been doing for the past four years, and what the government has initiated recently are admirable efforts, but what we are really doing is, drink poison first and then trying to purge it from the system. It is time we stopped drinking poison, time we stopped adding poison to our sacred rivers. This is where we scribes and artists could play a very important role, to draw attention to this criminal activity by man, and educate the young children to respect Mother Earth, and Gods and Goddesses who bring us all natural resources and benefits.
In USA, they began a program for children, 'Reading for the Earth'. For children to read for the Earth, we have to write for the Earth, write stories, poems, songs, paint pictures, produce plays for the Earth. We should produce them not just for the children, but for the adults too.
"Let us pledge for the mammoth task of keeping our Goddess Godavari River Clean and Serene." They pledged at the Godavari Harathi. Let us all pledge to keep all the waters on earth clean and serene, because it is most sacred to all life. Let us all go back to Nature Worship, to hold all Nature as Sacred, so that we would not desecrate, abuse or violate resources offered by her.
People have been creating monuments for several millennia. Reasons may have been many. Today when new statues are made the reasons may be entirely different. When the Japanese erected a memorial to former president Jayawardene it was out of respect and gratitude, for his famous speech during the conference on the San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1951.
Monuments are also erected in competition with rivals, or in imitation, because others are erecting them, sometimes before someone else erects some other statue in a prominent place. People also want to outdo each other. They want to erect taller larger monuments.
The Samadhi statue at Monaragala in Ridigama is an idea that had come to the mind of a Buddhist monk, Ven. Egodamulle Amaramoli thero. The creation of the sculpture from the 70 foot rock was undertaken by the Tamil Nadu artiste M. M. Sthapathi, who with his team had commenced work twelve years ago. Sthapathi, who too had been deeply saddened by the destruction of the Bamian statues in 2011, had been happy to undertake the task of creating the tallest Samadhi statue in Sri Lanka.
The reasons for the destruction of the Bamian statues are not very clear, even though the most commonly accepted explanation is religious rivalry, because a few people wanted to wipe out a part of their country's history and heritage. It could have been just the evil nature in man. We find it even in some children who just take pleasure in destruction, in destroying his toys, in torturing and killing innocent insects and small creatures, and some children never grow up.
The task undertaken by the monk was itself Herculean, if I may borrow a word from an alien culture. He had the imagination, and the vision to see the Samadhi Buddha seated on the face of the massive rock. But he had to find the stone carvers from India, probably because they had more experience in handling such large sculptures. In India the tradition of carving large statues in stone has continued uninterrupted, mainly in Andhra and Tamil Nadu.
The destruction of statues too had been occurring from the time man began to erect them, and due to many reasons. Today in our country such destruction is still happening because misguided misinformed people believe there are treasures hidden inside these ancient monuments.
Whether the image is like Gautama Buddha who had lived 2600 years ago, or if the statue was an exact replica of the Samadhi statue in Anuradhapura would not matter to the devotees who have begun to visit this new sacred space. For them it is an image of the Buddha, and the image would help them contemplate on the teachings of the Buddha.
Apart from the religious value of the image, for our historians and anthropologists this would have given a wonderful opportunity to study the process of the carving and placement of a religious sculpture in ancient times. The rituals and practices from the beginning which could have been performed at initiation and continue to be performed at various stages throughout the process. It would also be interesting to have studied the thoughts and feelings of the person who initiated the process, his fears and worries about the skill of his stone carvers, about raising funds, about acceptance of his work. It could have helped us to understand the minds of the ancient kings and the artistes who created such great works of art.
The social anthropologist could have studied the gradual change in the villages and nearby towns as the work progressed and people from all over the country began to visit the site. Once it became a local tourist attraction there would have developed gradual changes in the surroundings, the trade stalls coming up near the temple, the little cottage industries for artefacts and food items and how these changes will continue to occur as the statue is completed and opened officially for tourists both local and foreign.
The temple is collecting donations from the visitors because they need funds to complete the task they have begun. Perhaps no one would have expected it to have taken thirteen years already and would take many more months for completion. However the priest at the Monaragala temple did not insist on a "donation". The lady at the counter did not even suggest that we make a donation, even though they needed funds.
Yet the question arose in my mind for the justification of the collection of Rs. 750 from a foreign visitor to see and photograph a statue which had been carved 1600 years ago. In reality we should be proud to let people around the world see this miraculous creation made by our ancestors, and which had stood the test of time for so long. Such an act, which would have arisen due to 'Tanha' or craving, demeans and insults the ancient craftsmen and the king who had initiated the project, never expecting anyone to earn money out of it.
In the case of the ancient statue, the premises and the statue were protected and conserved by the Department of Archaeology, and the money which the monk was collecting was apparently for the maintenance of a temple at the entrance to the ancient heritage site. The funds which were insisted upon would not only leave a bad feeling in the minds of the visitors, but such funds would only ruin the landscape and destroy the heritage value of the ancient sculpture. This is the sad situation we find at many heritage sites in the country.
This is also one more reason to develop digital images of such heritage sites, so that visitors need not face such unpleasant situations.
"All human beings are curators, caring for and conserving our culture and our cultural heritage" explained Dr. Sanjay Garg, Deputy Director SAARC Cultural Center, during the SAARC International Conference on Development of Museums in South Asia, with the theme, 'Curating Culture for Present and Future', held from October 23rd to 25th at the National Museum, Colombo. Dr. Garg made this comment when the issue was raised that the curators and museum management should think outside the box and consider that the whole world is a museum of invaluable cultural heritage. He went on further to add that it is the responsibility of all mankind to protect and conserve all objects of cultural and heritage value on earth.
We owe our gratitude to Mr G. L. W. Samarasinghe, Director, SAARC Cultural center, and his team, for giving us this opportunity to listen to and learn from eminent scholars of the region.
The museums are like icebergs. What we can see on display could be only about one tenth of their collections. The rest are in storage, in varying degrees of storage conditions, and sometimes without any regular auditing of the valuable items kept. A solution is the digitization of all objects in the museum collections, and the Colombo National Museum is planning to do just that according to the Director, Ms. Sanuja Kasthuriarachchi. That is indeed good news, as there is an urgency for such a project and if it could commence immediately, not only in Colombo, but in all museums in the SAARC region, it could be of immense benefit for the scholars, and the general public. We are also happy to learn that this process of digitization and sharing all information and images online, has already begun. India has launched the national portal museumsofindia.gov.in.
Samarendra Kumar presented the progress in education and learning through the science museums established in India, taking both science and heritage to the children, all over India. The most interesting aspect he mentioned was of the awareness created in the children about their immediate environment, the threats and dangers to the eco-system and how the children could learn to protect and conserve. Since the national Council of Science Museums in India is willing to assist and support such ventures in the SAARC region, it is an offer which every country should accept at the earliest.
Dr. Bhagyalipi Malla, talked about the Palm Leaf Manuscript Heritage in Odisha (Orissa), a topic so familiar to us as the processing, writing and conserving the manuscripts have been with us for over two millennia. Odisha is far advanced in the conservation, repair and maintaining records of all the ancient manuscripts available in the museums, and they have digitized and placed online over 40,000 palm leaf manuscripts.
Space does not permit me to comment on all the academic presentation, but all the papers presented and the webcasts are available at the site saarcculture.org.
On 9th may, 2012 I wrote in this column about having the 'Museum in My Pocket'. At this conference we heard from Abhishek Gureja, how we could visit a museum and take it home with us, using digital technology to receive all the images and data on our mobile phones. If we could achieve this, then we need not worry about not been allowed to take photographs inside museums, and not having to write down details. This offer is for those who will still want to visit a museum physically, even after we get an opportunity to visit all museums online on our computers or phones.
I also wrote in this column on 13th August, 2014, about reversing Elginism. Elginism is the plundering of objects of heritage value by invaders and thieves. It continues today and will continue tomorrow, till as long as there are collectors and museum managers who are ready to pay any exorbitant price for such items, legally acquired or not. Such items are also purchased by those who want to launder all their black money.
The theme of this conference was the "development of museums...with the aim of discussing some of the challenges that the museums of South Asia are facing." One of the major challenges is getting back what belongs to us. But then, we have to decide about what really belongs to us, and who we mean, when we use the term us. When Dr. Garg said we are all curators, it also means all the heritage treasures on earth belong to all of us, all humanity, and not any state, institution, commercial enterprise or individual. Then we need access to all theses treasures, anytime anywhere, which could only be possible by sharing them online through digital technology. Then the commercial value of the objects too will diminish and plunder and smuggling will diminish as collectors would not want to have items of no monetary value. Another way is to create replicas, and share with everyone. There are no laws, and no conventions which prohibit the possession of replicas. If the replicas could not be distinguished from the original, at first glance, so much the better, for the safety of the original.
The British have realized the importance of their own past, their own heritage and they are trying to prevent their theft. They have formed STOP, "Stop Taking Our Past". They should also now realize that what they plundered and stole from our countries is our past.
The future museum could be totally digital, which we discussed at the conference, with every museum online. This could also solve the problem of all the treasures which are not displayed in the museums, which would never be seen by anyone, except for the curators and storekeepers. Then we may not even need to reverse Elginism, because we could view, observe, study and object in our own space on our own time.
Till then, let's appeal to everyone to STOP, Stop Taking Our Past.
Paul Lucian published his first unnovel (sometimes written un-novel) in 2003, titled, 'NineteenEightyFive'. It is the story of O'Bryan working as the Chief Inspector of the Thought Police under the Ministry of Truth. He had developed it based on George Orwell's 'Nineteen Eighty Four'. He was planning to write two more unnovels, NineteenEightySix and NineteenEightySeven, but I have not been able to find the books or confirm if they had been published.
Even Nicholas Mosely's Whitebread award winning 'Inventing God' was called an un-novel by Shiva Rahbaran. Goodreads has listed 48 books under Un-fiction, which include Haruki Murakami's 'What I Talk About When I Talk About Running'. Unfiction has been called "cerebral dualism that uses fringe language to transcend irony" according to the creator of autoantta.com. Unbooks are considered to be digital books which get revised regularly, instead of keeping to the first print edition.
When Peter N. Poon wrote about 'Evolution of the Clonal Man: Inventing Science Unfiction', he "meant to convey the process by which scientific developments both shape and are shaped by the imaginative projections of the non-scientific community. The transformation of science fiction (conjecture) to nonfiction (actuality) is accomplished through this process that I refer to as 'Unfiction'."
'Project Checkerboard', is the un-novel written by Elliot R. Georges. It is described as a "public confession of Elliot R. Georges (Georges with a silent s) for a crime to be committed by the time you turn the last page. It is not a novel. It is not a memoir. It is a letter of sorts. Or a conversation. That’s better. It is a conversation between you and Elliot. So don’t come expecting a novel. But do come with your questions and your answers and your favorite bits of poetry."
The book starts with the statement "I did it. That is what you want to know. Did he or didn't he? He? See, you are already making assumptions. That's the problem with people. They always want to know. Can't stand uncertainty. They'd much rather believe something untrue than accept something unknowable. So which is it. He or She? Did She? Didn't He?" And till the end of the book, we do not know the answers. Perhaps that is why he/she has called it an unnovel.
David Markson's 'Vanishing Point' which has also been called an unnovel, is just a collection of disjointed index cards of an author collecting material to write a novel. Bruce Hutchison called his book, 'Love's Labors Lost: The Man Who was Shakespeare' as a novel. Yet critic B J Robbins calls it an 'unnovel novel' because it is about real people and facts, but with a lot of fiction thrown in.
New York Times called Kaavya Viswanathan's book 'How Opal Mehtha Got kissed....' as an unnovel because the author had later confessed copying passages from another writer. If we are to use the term un-novel for such plagiarized novels, then there could be many such un-novels coming out today. There could also be so many un-poems and un-short-stories.
The Oxford dictionary defines 'Novel' also as "A fictitious prose narrative of book length, typically representing character and action with some degree of realism." But this is a very vague definition, or an attempt to impose very rigid conditions on creative fiction, once again by attaching labels and trying to compartmentalize all creative arts. The 'book length' is not specified, which means we have to accept the UNESCO definition for a printed book, of not less than 49 pages. But why should a writer write more than 49 pages, if he could write his story in 4 pages or nine pages? Do we have to represent character in a novel, why can't we write about a tree or a rock? According to the Oxford definition many literary works could not be considered as novels, and the dictionary then should accept the term unnovel too.
The term unnovel is also used to mean that it is not novel, (from latin novus for new) in patent rights and sometimes even in copyright. In that sense, almost all modern writings could be unnovel, because there is nothing new anyone, anywhere could write today, which has not been written by someone, sometime in the past. We find several poems on the Sihigiri mirror-like wall, which are almost identical and could have been copied or using a sterner term, plagiarized. Then these poems could be considered as un-poems. We also find the term"his gi" which Prof. Paranavithana translated as 'empty poetry'. (# 492), but could be also un-poetry.
Some of our best Sinhala writings have also been considered un-novel by several critics and academics, probably because they could not understand and thus appreciate the writing, or because they were criticizing the books without even reading them. Mahagama Sekara's 'Rajathilaka, Lionel saha Priyantha' is a poem, but it is also a novel, which could be called a poetic novel, if we still want a label. Parakrama Kodituwakku is a poet turned novelist, through his 'Oba Samaga' and some judges for a novel award had refused to accept it as a novel. Sometimes the poet comes out strongly when they write a novel, like we find in 'Senkottan' by Mahinda Prasad Masimbula.
It is the writer's right to create a literary piece, without imprisoning himself within traditional standards and norms, and without even labeling his work as a novel, novella, short fiction, flash fiction, poem or short story. A writer should have the right to even call his writing as a painting. A reader has the right to appreciate and enjoy such literary work, without looking for a standard formula in the story, without considering it a novel or an unnovel.
Reversing Elginism -
the paper I presented today at the SAARC Conference in Colombo on Oct. 23rd, 2014. Curating Culture Present and Future.
Some calm spectator, as he takes his view,
In silent indignation mix'd with grief,
Admires the plunder, but abhors the thief.
Oh, loath'd in life, nor pardon'd in the dust,
May hate pursue his sacrilegious lust!
Link'd with the fool that fired the Ephesian dome,
Shall vengeance follow far beyond the tomb,
And Eratostratus and Elgin shine
In many a branding page and burning line;
Alike reserved for aye to stand accursed,
Perchance the second blacker than the first.1
This is from the poem, 'The Curse of Minerva' written by George Gordon Byron, on March 17th, 1811, when he visited Athens, and saw the criminal act committed by a man named Thomas Bruce, who called himself Lord Elgin. But Byron considered him a darker character than Eratostratus, who had set fire to the temple of Diana at Ephesus, expecting to perpetuate his name by this act. But Elgin sold his plunder for a pot of filthy lucre.
"An act of cultural vandalism. A term coined by the destructive actions of Lord Elgin who illegally transported the Parthenon Marbles from Greece to London between 1801 and 1805. Now also applies to other cultural objects. Usually refers to artefacts taken from poorer nations to richer ones" is how Elginism is described at elginism.com.
I selected the Parthenon Marbles and Elgin's crime, because it is the most talked about issue on the theft or plunder of objects of cultural heritage and also because of the controversy of returning such objects from where they are held now to their countries of origin. It can also be considered as a typical example of this controversy and the sad tale of this story could be considered the story of almost all cultural objects held in the museums of the west.
The use of the word Elginism has been traced back to 1850, though the term Elginism is less than two centuries old, the theft of items of high cultural and heritage value has gone on for the past several thousand years, continues today and will continue tomorrow.
Elginism, has been called the despicable act said to have begun 200 years ago. Nayanjot Lahiri quotes from a letter written by George Curzon's private secretary to John Marshall on 17th March 1904 "....so gross was the manner and scale of this removal that 'Elginism' has since become a general metaphor for the plunder of cultural treasures."
The struggle to reverse Elginism has continued for many years. The Greeks are not giving up their claim, and the British museum is not ready to give up their valuable collection. The most recent action was by Dr. Luca Lo Sicco. He started on his bike in front of the British Museum on July 1st, 2014 and arrived in front of the steps of the Acropolis Museum in Athens, on August 7th. It was supported by the British Committee for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles.
“I believe that the return of the Parthenon Marbles is a moral and historical obligation for all of us. We can shake things up in Europe” Lo Sicco said. If they achieve their aim, it will shake up not only Europe, but most other so-called developed countries.
In 1799 Thomas Bruce was appointed ambassador to Constantinople and thus began the destruction of a 2 millennia old heritage.
In the words of the Greek Cultural Ministry, "..serious damage was caused in the early nineteenth century by Lord Elgin, who looted much of the temple's sculptural decoration and sold it to the British Museum." According to the British Museum, the frieze was acquired "in 1816 following a Parliamentary Select Committee enquiry which fully investigated and approved the legality of Lord Elgin’s actions."
Hugh Hammersley, had taken part in the debate in the British Parliament that had to decide whether the Elgin Marbles should be purchased and displayed in the British Museum. He proposed an amendment to the House of Commons resolution that stated: "Great Britain holds these Marbles only in trust till they are demanded by the present, or any future possessors of the city of Athens; and upon such demand, engages without question or negotiation, to restore them, as far as can be effected, to the places from where they were taken, and that they shall be in the mean time carefully preserved in the British Museum.”2 The British Parliament was prepared to pay £ 35,000 to Elgin for the marbles, probably stolen property, because there is no documentary evidence that Elgin had permission to remove them from Greece. The amendment was defeated, but Hammersley went on to say, "It was to be regretted that the government had not restrained this act of spoliation; but, as it had been committed, we should exert ourselves to wipe off the stain, and not place in our museum a monument of our disgrace, but at once return the bribe which our ambassador had received, to his own dishonour."3 This statement applies to all treasures plundered by invading forces all over the world, some of them perhaps more valuable and irreplaceable than even these marbles.
Since the British museum boasts that over two million objects from their collection are available for study online, they could easily return the marbles now. They do not have any moral or legal right to hold the frieze or other treasures similarly plundered against the wishes of the real claimants. Elgin sold the marbles to the museum because he needed the money, and we have to accept the marbles have been preserved and on display because of this action by the British parliament. If they had not purchased these artefacts, the Parthenon marbles could have ended up in a private collection or destroyed due to neglect.
The theme of this conference today is the "development of museums...with the aim of discussing some of the challenges that the museums of South Asia are facing." One of the major challenges, I believe, is getting back what belongs to us. But then, we have to decide about what really belongs to us, and who we mean, when we use the term us.
The UNESCO Convention 1970 on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, opens the door for Greece, if the British would agree. Article 13, b says, "to ensure that their competent services co-operate in facilitating the earliest possible restitution of illicitly exported cultural property to its rightful owner;"
The irony with the British is that in the 70s a movement called STOP, Stop Taking Our Past, had been formed, which has been revived in 2012 as nSTOP, new Stop Taking Our Past. They are targeting the 'nighthawks' those who dig up cultural treasures in the night using metal detectors. And some of these treasures are smuggled out of the country. If these people are so concerned and value their own past so much, then they should also respect such concerns of people in other countries, who were unable to stop the British from taking away their past.
Sad to say that probably there had been a British Elgin in Sri Lanka too. A moonstone of the Anuradhapura period was auctioned off last year for £ 553,250 in London4. The moonstone was from "Braknell" an early 20th century Tudor revival property in Sussex, which had been owned by William Murdoch Thyne, a civil engineer who had worked in Sri Lanka from 1915 - 1937. Bonhams website does not say if the moonstone had been taken by William Murdoch Thyne or his son, William Lindsay Thyne who was married to the daughter of a Sri Lankan planter.
Who owns heritage?
Who could really claim ownership for objects used or created by pre-historic man? Taking the Parthenon Marbles as an example, could the present government in Greece or the present day people living in Greece claim exclusive rights to sculptures created by Phidias and his team for the people who lived in Greece 2600 years ago? Shouldn't these objects belong to all mankind?
Then they could be kept in one specific safe location, but available for all mankind. Where such a space is located should not matter. But it does matter today, because we are all divided, we are all trying to shut ourselves behind manmade barriers, behind manmade identities filled with selfish, egoistic concepts.
One major problem we face in reversing Elginism is from people in power. Even if there is no documentary evidence Elgin had claimed he got permission from the Ottoman authorities who ruled over Athens at the time.
James Cuno, in his book 'Who Owns Antiquity?: Museums and the Battle over Our Ancient Heritage' says, "The original legal instrument has disappeared and is said to exist only in an Italian translation....gives Elgin the right to draw, measure, and make plaster casts of the sculptures, and dig for others that might have been buried. It also allows for "some pieces of stone with old inscriptions and figures" to be taken away."5
Instead, he pulled down 247 feet length of marble from the Parthenon at Athens to be shipped to England. Other pieces are in six other museums. It was a sculptural frieze created in the 4th century B. C. showing the ancient festival Panathenaic procession in honour of goddess Athena, running for over 500 feet and a height of over 3 feet. Because the marble slabs were so heavy "Elgins agents sawed off the backs of the thickest slabs before loading them on to the ships" And it is this criminal that the British still call Lord Elgin!
It was easy for the Sultan to grant permission to take away whatever did not belong to him or his people. Even today, should a government or a political party in power have the authority to grant permission for the removal of any cultural objects?
The situation is made worse by the UNESCO convention in 1970,
"Article 4. ....for the purpose of the Convention property which belongs to the following categories forms part of the cultural heritage of each State:
(c) cultural property acquired by archaeological, ethnological or natural science missions, with the consent of the competent authorities of the country of origin of such property;
(d) cultural property which has been the subject of a freely agreed exchange;
(e) cultural property received as a gift or purchased legally with the consent of the competent authorities of the country of origin of such property. "6
Who is the state? Those who run the country, with or without the consent of the people, or is it the people? Who decides the competent authority, and who could agree on free exchange or gift or sell such property? I believe that this should be amended. No one should have the authority to grant permission to remove from the place of origin, for any reason, any object of cultural value to anyone.
The police arrest and persecute mothers when they sell their babies, but who is to persecute a government when they sell the heritage of the country they rule?
The convention also uses the term Cultural Patrimony of archaeological or ethnological material. (Article 9). Who decides the Patrimony, and wouldn't it have been more appropriate to call it Cultural matrimony, because it all belongs to Mother Earth. It is also easier to determine than patrimony!
James Cuno is in praise of 'Encyclopedic Museums'7 as different from National Museums, "it is precisely not an instrument of the state......it has never known political boundaries but has always been dynamic and hybrid, formed through contact and exchange with diverse people."8 It sounds so correct and what a museum should be, but do we have any such encyclopedic museums which are not bound within political or economic boundaries? And where and how did the Chicago Arts Institute get all the exhibits? Is it any different from the way the British Museum acquired all the exhibits?
We do not have a right to claim ownership, mutilate or destroy any space or objects of our ancient cultures. No one should have a right to gift, sell, purchase, or resell any items of heritage value. No one should have the right to 'Deaccession' or sell off items in museums, for any reason. Robin Progrebin in The New York Times wrote, "...deaccessioning has become a dirty word", but David Franklin, director of the Cleveland Museum said "We should be constantly refining and upgrading. I’ve given the message to all the curators that I regard deaccessioning as a normal act, and I encourage them to reassess the collections constantly." 9 Today there is a need for a data base of all exhibits in the museums around the world, which would also discourage museums from purchasing stolen artefacts or selling them off.
Elginism, which has really affected Asia, Africa and the Middle East more than any other country, has to be reversed, at least to some extent and what is more important would be to prevent any further occurrence of such crimes.
The Asian Civilization Museum in Singapore had reportedly purchased artefacts worth over $ 1 million from Subash Kapoor, which included, a bronze figure of Uma Parameshvari for $ 100,000, a Virgin Mary and Christ Child for $ 135,000. Last year Subash Kapoor was arrested by Homeland Security in the United States, for stealing objects of cultural value from India, Pakistan and Cambodia worth over $ 100,000. He was stealing them because there were buyers, even from reputed museums around the world.
Only a month ago, it was a victory for those fighting to reverse Elginism, when on September 5th, 2014, the Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot, handed over a Cola era bronze Nataraja and a stone carving of Ardhanariswara to the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a symbolic gesture. The Nataraja had been purchased by the National Gallery of Australia for $ 5.1 million, and the Ardhanariswara by the Art Gallery of New South Wales for $ 280,979 from the dealer Subash Kapoor.
Canada is acting in a totally different manner. When India claimed the 12th century life size sculpture of a woman, in the possession of the Department of Canadian Heritage, they have asked India to prove that it was stolen from India and illegally exported. If anyone had really stolen it from Khajuraho, the thief would not have declared it for export, and there would never be any record with the Archaeological Survey of India.10 We faced the same situation last year when a moonstone said to be from Sri Lanka was auctioned in London for This is a totally different controversy than the Elgin marbles, though it is obvious that this statue would never have been a part of the Canadian cultural heritage.
According to media reports India too is acting in a different manner, when it comes to dealing with stolen artefacts found with Kapoor. News media reports claim that India has not shown any interest in claiming what belongs to India. A sculpture of Mahakoka Goddess, said to have been discovered by Cunningham, and later reported to have been stolen from the 'rightful owners', has ended up with Kapoor and now kept with the US Immigration and Customs. It raises several questions about how it could have been owned by an individual. The Norton Simon Museum also has a Mahakoka pillar.11
How they acquired is not known and if it the pillar discovered by Cunningham. Then the pillar found wit Kapoor could be another such pillar, and Prof. Himanshu Prabha Ray explains, "it does seem to be an original, which either escaped Cunningham's notice in 1873 and was not moved from the site; or alternatively, Cunningham was not allowed to move the pillar by the local inhabitants who were worshipping it as a local deity and was later stolen from the family mentioned in the news report. ....Subsequent archaeological research at Bharhut has shown that there were other stupas in the area as also a network of four smaller sites that emerged around Bharhut."
It happened last year in London too, when the moonstone, which the auctioneer claimed as genuine was purchased by a collector for £ 553,250, even though it had been valued at only £ 30,00012 and a Sri Lanka expert had considered it a replica. If it was only a replica would any collector pay 18 times more for it, and eleven people bidding for it?13
Norton Simon Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art has voluntarily returned Cambodian sculptures, when they realized they were stolen property. But the Denver Art Museum and the Cleveland Museum of Art are refusing to return the Cambodian art objects saying there is no evidence the statues had been stolen, but there is no other way these items could have reached America. Their attitude is the same as that of Canada.
Demands for returning all cultural treasures to the country of origin could go viral. George Clooney, who starred in Monuments Men, first claimed that the Parthenon marbles shoudl be returned, and then on a visit to France, that the Mona Lisa should be returned to Italy. Where do we draw the line?
Even if we are to really reverse Elginism, is it practically possible to relocate all the fragile, delicate artefacts, find safe, suitable areas to place them and still be available for all humanity to see them, and also be available for generations to come?
There is also another proactive process which has begun and which should be admired and encouraged. The Boston Museum of Fine Arts had returned eight works of art from 500 B.C. to the 19th century, not because Nigeria had requested them, but because the curator, Victoria Reed, had researched 300 objects by a 'benefactor' and realized that the museum had no legal right to retain them.
What was destroyed could never be recovered or restored. But what has been stolen could be restored to the rightful owners whether they were purchased or taken by force.
Simon Mackezie and Tess Davis published a report in the British Journal of Criminology, on the trafficking of cultural treasures, titled, 'Temple Looting in Cambodia, Anatomy of a Statue Trafficking Network'.14 The study was on the trafficking of artefacts from source to market, with a four-stage network, (1) looter, (2) early-stage intermediary, (3) late-stage intermediary and (4) collector. These middlemen work with a Janus face, the dark side handling the illegal looters, and the clean face to the international market.
The National geographic published a report by Heather Pringle on illegal antiquities trade links with terrorism and violent crime.15 She says "a recent survey of 14,500 field archaeologists indicated that looters are at work in at least 103 countries worldwide." The collectors would consider this a 'victimless crime' even if they accepted it as a crime, which means there is no harm done. But there is a victim, the cultural heritage of a people.
One argument put forward by curators is that these artefacts would be better protected in their museums than in a third world country. But here too, who has the right to decide?
The priority should be to prevent any further acts of Elgin atrocities, and the illicit trade for these objects. Museums all over the world should discontinue the purchase of stolen or plundered objects of cultural value.
The return of the Nataraja was made possible because the man who smuggled it was arrested in Germany two years ago and extradited to India. The federal authorities in USA had seized stolen artefatcs worth over US$ 100 million from this man, Subhash Kapoor last year.
Yet this is only the tip of the iceberg, about the modern day theft, and sale of artefacts of immense national heritage value for most countries. And they are just the icebergs while all the thefts, plunder and collection for the past few centuries would form one huge continent of solid ice. Reversing Elginism has to begin from the earlier plunders, now openly displayed without any shame, in most rich countries.
This victimless crime is not only for theft. An example of how development always cause destruction is the railway network in India. Two hundred cartloads of stones had been removed from thirty-six Gupta period temples at Tigawa in Madya Pradesh, to be used for ballast on the new railway line. About one hundred miles of railway line connecting Lahore and Multan had used brick ballast from the buildings at Harappa.
An example of plundering the plunderer is the Rosetta Stone. The 2300 year stone with writing in hieroglyphic, demotic and Greek in both Egyptian and Greek languages. It had been plundered by French soldiers from a place called Rosetta in Egypt, and when the French surrendered to the British they had to hand over all their valuable artefacts to the British who had the audacity to take them all and display in their new museum. The British stole many more items, not just small treasures, but huge monoliths like the bust of Ramases II weighing several tons. The "civilized" British had no compunction to desecrate a grave of a more civilized people who had lived over 3,500 years ago.
The plundering had continued and will continue.
We also have to stop deaccession, the permanent removal of an object from a museum collection, giving various excuses. BBC reported that in July 2014 a 4,000 year old limestone statue, which had been plundered from Egypt, was sold for $ 27 million, by the Northampton museum. The sale was carried out despite the protest by the Egyptian Ambassador who condemned it "as an abuse to the Egyptian archaeology and the cultural property...Sekhemka belongs to Egypt...it is not ethical that it will be sold for profit.. ".
It is not easy to understand the mind of man, when he could proudly and openly display stolen goods and continue to buy stolen property for display. All the ancient artefacts are stolen or smuggled out because there is a demand, because there is a market and there are museums and private collectors ready to pay big money.
That is why even now ISIS "is looting, destroying and illicitly trafficking antiquities out of Iraq and Syria. Rachel Martin talks with Michael Danti, a professor of archaeology at Boston University
If there is no demand for stolen or smuggled goods, the artefacts found at ancient heritage sites will be safe." As reported in NPR on September 29th, 2014. It is all big money, where gamblers and drug dealers could easily launder their dirty money.
BBC reported on March 28th 2013, "Since the revolution in Egypt, large holes have been appearing in the ground close to places of archaeological significance, such as the Great Pyramids at Giza."16
"Archaeological theft is so profitable, drug smugglers along this remote stretch of border use the same routes to smuggle artifacts into the country." U S Homeland Security Investigations reported last year, that thieves removed thousands of items from archaeological sites in the area of Northern Mexico near Big Bend National Park.17
Coming back to our own moonstone, after the moonstone auction in London in April 2013, for Rs 100 million, another moonstone was stolen in May from a temple in Kabitigollawa two months later, as reported in the Dinamina on 5th June 2013. And the Daily Mirror reported a day earlier, on 4th June, about a tour guide arrested in an attempt to smuggle out valuable artefacts to the United States.
Robert Reinhold, wrote in the Penn Museum Expedition Magazine in the Summer 1973 issue, about 'Theft and Vandalism, An Archaeological Disaster'.18 He blames the archaeologists, museums and the mass media for giving so much publicity for new archaeological discoveries, and the value of the treasures discovered. The resultant demand for such treasures by museums, and by rich individuals has created a bull market and a worldwide clandestine traffic. "To supply this market looters are rapidly destroying much of the evidence from which archaeologists hope to piece together a record of the human past.....There are no easy answers, for the situation is a complex one with few clear-cut villains and heroes—even the archaeologists are not without fault......(there are) many conflicting and possibly irreconcilable forces—the legitimate needs of both scholars and museum curators, the inflationary economy, economic realities in poorer countries, and official corruption."
Reinhold, in his investigations for the New York Times, made the observation that in the past archaeologists were more interested in filling museums with what they discovered. But today they are working on problem solving, "on reconstructing the social, economic and political forces that prevailed in ancient times. Therefore, the archaeologist tends to view relics as clues to a puzzle and not primarily as art objects." He also quotes from Prof. Michael Coe of Yale, "Many archaeological excavations are never written up—that is pure destruction, even worse than the looters do,” he says. “It’s a lot more fun to dig than to write—the glamor is all in the expeditions.”
Victimless crime is not all for theft. There is also destruction of heritage spaces and objects, by carelessness or unconcern, which often happens in the name of progress and development. An example of how development always cause destruction is the railway network in India. Two hundred cartloads of stones had been removed from thirty-six Gupta period temples at Tigawa in Madya Pradesh, to be used for ballast on the new railway line. About one hundred miles of railway line connecting Lahore and Multan had used brick ballast from the buildings at Harappa.
It has happened and is happening in our country too, using heavy earthmoving equipment in excavation and restoration of heritage sites, for development and for tourist promotion.
The need to stop such plunder and destruction had been realized for a long time, and more and more governments and non-governmental organizations are trying to reclaim their heritage and to stop the continuing Elginism around the world.
Digital technology has opened the door for us to solve this problem, so the museums could return the objects to the rightful owners, and still retain the objects and share it with the whole world. Since the Elgin Marbles and the Rosetta Stone are some of the most talked about objects of plunder, and since the British museum boasts that over two million objects from their collection are available to study online, they do not have to hold on to stolen property. They do not have a moral or legal right to hold the real objects in their museums, or justify their action by claiming that it is seen by a world audience and actively studied and researched.
Let us look forward to the day we could walk through any museum anywhere in the world, from our own home on our own time. Let us use the available technology to make it possible. It would help us to really see, study, and learn from what we see, taking our own time about it, while it would also help us to compare these artefacts which are found spread around the world, from different times, different cultures.
We should be patient, till it becomes affordable for all museums to go on-line, to offer the facility of virtual museums accessible by all from anywhere. Googleartproject is offering the virtual museum, where with the touchpad or the curser keys, we can walk around the museum, spend as much time as we want, at each object. Then the artefacts could be preserved under better conditions, and be safer from vandals and thieves. And we could visit the museums, any time of day and night, at our own phase and whenever time permitted.
When all cultural heritage material becomes available for all humanity, anywhere at any time, the monetary value of such objects would go down, and the middlemen and traders will not be interested in trying to sell them any longer, people will not try to launder their money by purchasing such objects, and museums will not be able to use such objects to market themselves.
It is also time for all the museums around the world to make digital records for their own display and return the items they have, to the countries from where they were plundered.
2William St. Clair, Lord Elgin and the Marbles, Oxford University Press (1983), p. 261
3Vrettos, Theodore, The Elgin Affair: The True Story of the Greatest Theft in History.
5Cuno, James, Who Owns Antiquity?: Preface. p ix. Princeton University. 2008
7Cuno, James, Museums Matter: In Praise of the Encyclopedic Museum, University of Chicago Press, 2011
8Cuno, James, p. 3