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The story of the Somnath temple, in the northwestern Saurashtra peninsula, has often been taken as an example of the contentious legacies of the penetration, settlement, and political establishment of Muslims in India. Its history testifies to the complex relationship between history, heritage, and the consolidation of collective memories of past events and processes.
This article focuses on two key moments in the temple's recent history: the retrieval of the Somnath gates by Lord Ellenborough in 1842 and the reconstruction of the temple between 1947 and 1951. At these two moments—one during colonial times and the other at the creation of the independent state—Somnath became the battlefield for questioning how the state should be positioned with regard to religious places, histories, symbols, and practices.
While the temple was apparently dealt with as a tangible place of heritage, both episodes show how the value endowed upon the temple had far more complex meanings. The analysis proposed in this article ends with the reconstruction of the temple. This shows the way in which architects of independent India addressed the country's history, directly or indirectly engaging with the construction of a heritage for the new state. Their efforts aimed to strengthen a shared memory of the past, which could in turn consolidate membership and a sense of belonging to the new nation. Advocates and promoters of the temple's reconstruction, among whom were Vallabhbhai Patel and K. M. Munshi, envisioned that the reconstruction would embody the long-awaited liberation of India from centuries of continuous domination by ‘foreign’ powers. In contrast, secular politicians, with Nehru at the helm, opposed the reconstruction, fearing that Somnath might become the symbol of a sectarian vision of the nation and, in the wake of partition, derail efforts to characterise independent India as an inclusive country. While the reconstruction did eventually take place, the entire episode invites us to question the relationship between the framing of Indian nationalism and the heritagisation of Indian history. Following a critical theoretical approach to Heritage studies, where heritage has less to do with the item that is preserved than with the value with which it is endowed, this article proposes to investigate the meanings that heritage preservation, conservation, and reconstruction acquired as part of the project of nation- and state-building.
This chapter sketches Jeddah’s transformation from the mid-twentieth to the early twenty-first century. Old Jeddah transformed from a slowly expanding town centre to an urban slum. Only the registration as a World Heritage Site in 2014 reversed this trend. Today, trade and pilgrimage are still important for Jeddah’s economy. However, most of the trade passes through a large container port in Southern Jeddah, and pilgrims are ferried directly from a special terminal at Jeddah’s international airport to Mecca. They no longer pass through the city and have only recently been invited back as tourists. The renewed interest in the old city as a cultural heritage site has made it central to local and Saudi Arabian contests over identity. While ‘strangers’ no longer can integrate easily, the cosmopolitan heritage is celebrated. At the same time, inhabitants of former suburbs also lay claim to the urban history. The ongoing debate about the historical identity of old Jeddah thus reflects wider debates within Saudi Arabian society.
This introduction discusses the benefits of a mobile approach to the history of sites, archaeology, and heritage formation in colonial and post-colonial Indonesia. Starting at Hindu–Buddhist, Chinese, Islamic, colonial, and prehistoric sites of heritage in Indonesia, the monograph will focus on people’s encounters and knowledge exchange taking place there, across colonial and post-colonial regimes. It follows site-related objects travelling, like the famous Buddhist statues from Borobudur temple, gifted to King Chulalongkorn of Siam, to gauge how and why these objects have transformed in meaning and play a role in parallel processes of heritage formation inside and outside Indonesia. With this site-centred and mobile approach, we can explain the relationships between heritage formation and religion, violence, and regime change over time, and show the concerns of local subjects and elites, of scholars, pilgrims, and tourists, entering colonial and post-colonial Indonesia and moving out of state-centred archaeology and transnational cultural associations, and of global (UNESCO) politics.
This study offers a new approach to the history of sites, archaeology, and heritage formation in Asia, at both the local and the trans-regional levels. Starting at Hindu-Buddhist, Chinese, Islamic, colonial, and prehistoric heritage sites in Indonesia, the focus is on people's encounters and the knowledge exchange taking place across colonial and post-colonial regimes. Objects are followed as they move from their site of origin to other locations, such as the Buddhist statues from Borobudur temple, that were gifted to King Chulalongkorn of Siam. The ways in which the meaning of these objects transformed as they moved away to other sites reveal their role in parallel processes of heritage formation outside Indonesia. Calling attention to the power of the material remains of the past, Marieke Bloembergen and Martijn Eickhoff explore questions of knowledge production, the relationship between heritage and violence, and the role of sites and objects in the creation of national histories.
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