First of all I congratulate you all for this magnificent and modern building. This organization is 150 years old. This institute itself is a subject of archaeology. Over the last 150 years it must have grown and spread in its unique way. It must have achieved great accolades. The period of 150 years is really a long time for an institute like yours.
I do not know whether ASI has a record of its 150 year old history or not. In case it doesn't have a record, it would be a great idea to get it done. Over the years, several people must have undertaken the work here. There would have been an idea based on which this institution was envisaged. There would be several other aspects like the process of its expansion, the usage and changes in technology used, its present impact on the society, and its way of attracting the people in this field across the world. Even today, the archeological artefacts of our country provide insights into reconstructing the past realities to the world. With the development of science and space technology, the complex struggle of dualities related to the human life that existed before were now demolished. The belief that the river Saraswati did not exist ever was one of the viewpoints. However, space technology confirmed that this viewpoint was erroneous. The river was not mythical. There is another debate regarding the origin of Aryans. Some people are holding on to their favourite topics. This is an enormous segment. Technology has aided in the field of archaeology immensely due to which new discussions and debates have come up.
I believe that these rock inscriptions and old artefacts and stones are not inanimate objects. Every stone in this world has something to say. Every paper related to archaeology has its own story. Every object derived from archaeology depicts the hard work and dreams of man. Therefore, the people associated with archaeology start their work on such a deserted land that doesn't attract attention of the world for several years. Just like a scientist remains completely immersed in his research work related to the future in the laboratory, an archaeologist remains oblivious to the rest of the world while engaged in his research work among the deserted forests and hills. They don't even realize that 10-20 years pass in the process. Then one day they come up with their thesis on some new topic that draws the world's attention. There is a hillock close to Chandigarh. Some people from France, some experts in life sciences, archaeologists from both abroad and within the country started their research work on this hillock. They came up with their findings that the remains of the world's oldest living organism were found on this hillock. It was lakhs of years old. The French President wanted to visit that place where people from his country had also contributed. I took him there. In short, these things are sometimes beyond beliefs. A person working in this field makes a great difference in order to provide new ways of thinking.
Sometimes the power to challenge history is born out of that stone. It is often not accepted in the beginning. However, we are sometimes so much familiar and habituated to these things that we fail to give the much needed importance to them.
Those who don't have anything always try to keep things safe. I clearly remember that once I had gone with a delegation on the invitation of the American government. They had asked me for an itinerary as to where I would like to visit and what all did I wish to see and learn. So, I had told them that I wished to know about the hospitals and schools in their small villages. I also asked them to take me to their most historic place over which they take pride. I think they took me to the state of Pennsylvania. They showed me a massive historic monument and were proudly telling me that it was 400 years old. For them it was something historic and a matter of pride. We have a wonderful history of about 2000 and 5000 year old. This cut-off has done a lot of damage to us.
After independence we should have come out of this mentality but unfortunately it had gripped the nation like anything. They consider our historical pride to be a slave. I believe that unless we feel proud of our heritage and culture, we will not feel the urge to preserve it. We have this urge of renovating something only if we are proud of it. Otherwise that is just a piece of rock. I am fortunate that the village where I was born has a living history. The facilities for humans have developed over the years and Hiuen Tsang had also written that there used to be a university for the Buddhist monks. So, all those things are still there. There was a teacher in our school who used to tell us that if we visited any place and found some stones with some engravings, we must collect those and drop them in one corner of the school. All of us were habituated to collect such stones with engravings and gather in one corner of our school. Although I don't know its status now, but at that time students were habituated to it. However, I had understood back then that whenever we find any stone on the road, it definitely has a lot of value. This was the awareness of a teacher who provided us with this knowledge. Since that time, these things have always remained at the back of my mind.
I clearly remember that Dr. Hari Bhai Godhani used to live in Ahmedabad. He was a medical practitioner. He was well known for collecting things. So I had gone to meet him. He had told me that his 20 Fiat cars had already been damaged. At that time Fiat was the only popular car. The modern cars did not exist at that time. He used to visit the forests, hillocks and Rocky areas on Saturdays and Sundays in his Fiat. His car didn't last for more than a year as he used to travel on such unpaved roads. I believe that probably no individual other than him would possess such an enormous collection of artefacts. At that time he had a vast collection of artefacts. He was from the medical field. He showed me some slides. I was young but extremely curious. He showed me a rock carving in those slides which depicted a pregnant woman. He told me that the engraving was about 800 years old. In the engravings, the woman's stomach was shown as if a surgery had been done; it was cut open from one side. The different layers of the skin were also intricately carved on that stone. How the baby sleeps inside the mother's womb was also intricately carved out.
I was told that it was discovered by medical science just a few centuries ago. The thing that was carved out about 800 years ago by our Craftsmen was authenticated by the medical science much later, i.e. the different layers of the skin and the way the baby sleeps inside the mother's womb. You can imagine how the knowledge must have percolated here. This was shown by these slides.
We have this wonderful heritage. It means they had immense knowledge. Otherwise, how would have they known about the number of layers of skin and carved that out on those stones. This means our science is age-old. It is such a powerful creation which we should be proud of.
There is one good thing about the people who are interested in this subject. There is a lot of public participation in this sector. If you visit any monument in the world, you will find retired people coming forward in uniforms working as tour guides and showing around the places. The society carries this responsibility. We have to create an environment where we can form a club of senior citizens to promote this. We will be able to conserve our heritage with the help of public participation. If government servants come forward in this field, it can be done. The modus operandi is the same. Even the best of the guards cannot protect a garden unless every visitor to the garden decides that he/she will not allow a single plant to be crushed. Then no one can even touch that garden for years. Therefore, public participation has immense strength. So, if we institutionalize these things in our public life and invite the people who provide these services to the public, it will prove to be a great task!
We can seek help from the corporate sector. We can ask their workers that if at all they are interested in providing these services for 10 or 15 hours per month in order to preserve the monuments they are most welcome. Gradually, these things gain importance.
I feel that there is a need to ponder over another issue. This responsibility need not necessarily be with just the ASI. The tourism department, the culture department and other departments of the central government as well as the related departments of the state governments can also join.
Suppose we choose 100 cities that are valuable in terms of heritage and tourism with good tourist destinations, the students of that city should be taught the archaeology and history of that city. The chronology of every generation must be taught. If the students of Agra are taught about the history of Taj Mahal, there will not be any chance of delusion or diversion. They will be prepared about every generation.
We can also start a certificate course on their city. The successful candidates will know the intricacies of their cities and will become the best tour guides.
Once I had talked to the media when I was not Prime Minister. I had told them that you have talent hunt shows on television for music and dance where the children perform. Television showcases the brilliant talent of these children. Why can't we have a similar talent hunt for the best guides? They can show the city on screen for which that guide wants to work. The potential guides can wear stunning costumes, learn new languages and show around the places. There can be a competition like this. This will gradually promote India's tourism sector and professional guides will come up. It is extremely difficult to run these things without a guide.
However, there is an attachment to a thing once we know at the back of our minds that it has a history behind it. Suppose there is a person in a closed room and a small hole is carved out for letting out that person's hand. Now people outside the room who are completely unaware about who the person is and are asked to shake hands with that person’s hanging hand; it will be like shaking hands with a dead person. However, if the people outside are informed that the hand belongs to Sachin Tendulkar, they might not even want to leave that hand. This means that information has a lot of strength. It is imperative to have knowledge about our culture.
Once I wanted to develop the desert in Kutch area. Developing tourism in a desert is a serious challenge. So I began with training the children into guides. They were taught as to how to manufacture salt. They were in turn supposed to teach people about salt making. You will be surprised to know that students of class 8th and 9th were able to lucidly explain the tourists about the area and salt making and processing. First visitors were the English tourists. They explained really well and people started developing interest in that. The children too got jobs. I am surprised that the technology has now changed. Please forgive me as I want to share something. Please don't mind. Today the way the world is working; with the help of space technology you can even get the photograph of a number plate of a scooter parked in a narrow lane of Delhi from thousands of miles above the city. However, a board in front of the monuments read 'Photography is prohibited'. Today, times have changed and technology has advanced.
While the Sardar Sarovar dam was being built, people wanted to visit it. Sometimes the water used to overflow. People wished to see that. However, huge boards with 'Photography is prohibited' written on them were put up everywhere. I was the Chief Minister at that time. So I did exactly the opposite. I told the people that whoever would click the best photograph would be rewarded on the condition that they had to upload the snaps on the website. You will be surprised to know about the level of public participation. The people started taking the snaps and uploading on the website. Thereafter, a ticket fee was imposed on the visitors of the dam. Ticket was for getting registered. Then I said that these visitors would be digitally registered and the 5th lakh visitor would be rewarded and honoured. Surprisingly, the 5th lakh visitor was a couple from Kashmir's Baramullah. Then it's strength was realized. That couple was honoured. Thereafter, some students of class 8th and 10th were trained to work as guides. They were supposed to inform everything about the dam, its inception, grant of permission, the amount of cement and iron used and the volume of water that will be stored. They were tribal children and worked exceptionally well. I feel that a similar activity can be promoted in at least 100 cities of our country. The new generation can be prepared so that they come forward to be guides. Once the history is on their finger tips, you will see that gradually India's grand heritage and thousand year old history will turn out to be a wonder! We don't have to offer anything else to the world. We just need to showcase the legacy left behind by our ancestors. Nothing can hinder the growth of India's tourism industry. Moreover, we are not those children who tend to forget the hard work and contribution made by our ancestors. It is our responsibility to carry forward the legacy of our ancestors, to present it before the world with great pride and to worship it. We must move ahead with that self-confidence. With one expectation of brightening up the building with this very idea, I offer my best wishes to you all.