CONFLICTS (AND COEXISTENCES) AT THE PAST(S) AND THE PRESENT(S)

The cases of heritage in Bangladesh

by Swadhin Sen

DEMOCRACY is not only about coexistence and peace. The history suggests that conflicts, differences, (and violence) are part and parcel of any democracy and democratisation process, in spite of the normalised and taken for granted assumption about the essential entanglement of peace, coexistence and democracy. In this short note, I am going to address this ‘other’ of democracy and development. As an archaeologist and student of social science, I want to engage with conflict in reference to the pasts and essential connection of the past to and representations at the present.

***

Brahmanical God Bhairava dancing on severed heads of Buddhist Monks, Orissa (?).7

Brahmanical God Bhairava dancing on severed heads of Buddhist Monks, Orissa (?).7

YOU all know that retrieving and constructing connections on the spatial and temporal scales is a difficult task. It becomes more difficult when the established trends are to conceal the conflicts of the past and their connections to the present selectively. Any discussion on past and present conflicts must take into account the spatial boundary termed South Asia at present as we have shared history of conflicts (and coexistences). Our memories and forgetfulness are being shaped, modified and reconfigured consistently by various agents of our modern ordinary living. We remember selectively or, rather to say, we are shaped in a way to remember and forget selectively. We are being taught to memorialise and remember the good things of past, the harmonious coexistence among different collectives, be those religious, regional, ethnic, ideological, or classist. Past conflicts are often invoked, nurtured and memorialised through a complex selective process. The conflicts are sought, interpreted and re-shaped for the present dominant and established narratives of nationalist or statist glory. They can be commoditised for the ever growing consumption culture and can be manipulated for the electoral democracy are hailed, managed, commoditised, consumed and circulated widely. Therefore, we do not keep out every conflict of the past from our present living. As subjects of modern nation-state and neo-liberal capitalist consumption culture, we are living — often I feel — within a continuum of manufacture and circulation of selective narratives of conflict and related harmonious coexistence.

In one of my previous popular papers1, I was trying to talk about recent upsurge in the circulation and dominance of communal, ethnic and nationalistic hatred in the public space in Bangladesh — both virtual and real. Some of you well might be aware of the recent manufacture of divides between atheist/believer construct in Bangladesh. Several bloggers have been killed already. Islamophobia is rampant in the secularised public space of Bangladesh. I am not going to elaborate upon this subject here. Rather I want to engage with some of present manifestations of conflicts in present Bangladesh in relation to the past. I am going to do that in reference to the notion and idea of heritage — the materials, monuments and artefacts that have been given a special value by authoritative discourses and institutions. I have selected to talk about conflicts of the present in reference to the past not simply because of the fact that past has a connection to the present.
I am happy to deal with conflicts. I want to delve into conflicts in the past and their connections to or obvious dissociation from the past. I want to look into the conflicts through the spectrum of a prism. In the popular and institutionalised narratives of the past, conflicts are often excluded or minimised under the rubric of a secular and harmonious notion of past in reference to communal and ethnic conflicts. I will try to show that conflicts are as much essential aspect of the past as is coexistence and mutual sharing. I also feel that to encounter the present annihilating upsurge of conflicts, it is essential to negotiate with the conflicts of the past.

***
LET me point to the very recent invocation of past in the domain of conflicts and their remembrance and forgetting. Take for example, the destruction of the world heritage site of Palmyra in Syria by ISIS. This is an act of erasure of the symbols of past that does not fit into the selective narratives of the now powerful collectives such as ISIS. At the same time, in spite of outrage and outcry from various quarter of the world, the essential connection between the huge antiquity market in the western countries and the act of violence to the multiplicity of the past has been overlooked. As has been reported by famous journalist Robert Fisk, the acts of destruction is one of the ways to conceal acts of smuggling of antiquities that have their value in the liberal open market of the west. The commoditisation of the past and its relics and its relation to the act of destruction during conflicts has been attested substantially by the Lebanese-French archaeologist Ms Farchakh2. Similar actions and processes were active not only during these events of destruction by ISIS, but also during the US invasion in Iraq. In the dominant narrative of the destruction of heritage by ISIS, the tradition of Islam as iconoclastic has been highlighted. On the one hand, the liberal ideals of heritage and its protection that have an overt Eurocentrism and it has not been questioned. The conceptual terrain of the formation of various disciplinary practices regarding the protection, preservation and exhibition of the past has its genealogy in the unequal encounter of the west and the rest. This conceptual terrain has hardly been interrogated by the official narratives. I have attempted to interrogate the contours of this terrain earlier in one of my papers3. The tradition of preserving and protecting pasts and their materiality in Islam, on the other hand, has not been talked about in narratives that have been produced in response4.

Buddhist Deity Trailokyavijaya trampling Brahmanical God Maheshwar and Umadeva, Nalanda, c 11th century.8

Buddhist Deity Trailokyavijaya trampling Brahmanical God Maheshwar and Umadeva, Nalanda, c 11th century.8

Another recent example from South Asia could be more relevant from our perspective of understanding the present conflict in reference to the past. Recently the Aurangzeb Road of Delhi in India was renamed after late president APJ Abdul Kalam. The multi-layered politics of the past and heritage is active here. The present ruling Hindu nationalist BJP government is notorious for invoking a casteist Brahmanical worldview in the past to claim for present Hindu supremacy and to justify Muslim repression at present. The demolition of the Babri Mosque in 1992 is the hallmark of the religiocentric communal conflicts regarding past and heritage. Please, note that after the demolition of the Babri Mosque, there were massive persecutions of minority Hindus in Bangladesh. So, the things that are happening in India have had a profound impact on the communal conflicts in Bangladesh historically. Harbans Mukhia, a renowned historian, has pointed towards the selective amnesia about the past, especially regarding the mediaeval period in South Asia. Mughal Emperor Akbar has been reconstructed as ‘a good’ ruler and Emperor Aurangzeb has been identified as an iconoclast, destroyer of Hindu temples and persecutor of Hindus.
Both secular and Hindutvavadi historians have contributed to these constructions. Mukhia has noted that there were examples of demolition of mosques by the Hindus during mediaeval period, there were examples of conversion of the Muslims to Hindus in mediaeval South Asia, there were examples of temple construction by Aurangzeb, there were more Hindu members in the court of Aurangzeb, and there were examples of empathy from many Muslim rulers in mediaeval India including Aurangzeb5.
Of course, there were several examples of temple desecrations in mediaeval India. But as has been shown by Richard Eaton, the number of demolished temples are much less than what is proclaimed and circulated by the Hindutvavadi scholars and politicians. The act of demolition of Hindu temples were neither specific to the mediaeval period that is regarded as ‘Muslim period’ in South Asia nor could the acts be labelled homogenously as communal. Eaton has shown that many of the acts of demolition of mediaeval temples were actions to politically delegitimise the local rulers and ruling dynasties. He also has shown by referring to the excellent scholarship of Richard Davis that many temples were destroyed and images symbolising the ruling dynasties were looted by the rivalling Hindu rulers during early mediaeval period (c 6th–13th century CE) that is during the time before the mediaeval period6. But this is not to say that temples were not destroyed by the rulers in mediaeval period in India and also in Bengal. We may cite examples here, among many, of the monuments in the ancient capital of Gaur and Pandua of Bengal. Terming the act of destruction, however, as ‘communal’ or ‘religious’ acts has an essentially reductionist understanding of history. Building of religious monuments (and their destruction) must be understood within a complex process of legitimisation in which deification of rulers and royalisation of monuments were integral processes.
***

General view of the Brahmanical Temple built upon a Buddhist Temple at Basudevpur, Bochaganj, Dinajpur.

General view of the Brahmanical Temple built upon a Buddhist Temple at Basudevpur, Bochaganj, Dinajpur.

LET me also come to the early mediaeval period (6th–13th century CE) that is cited by many of the historians as Hindu-Buddhist period of coexistence of various sects of Hindus and Buddhists. They acknowledge the fact that there were continuous augmentation of dominance by the Brahmanical sects and growing assimilation of Buddhist laity and monastic people in between the 8th and 12th centuries CE into Brahmanical pantheons. Many of the mainstream historians and archaeologists have appropriated the notion of harmonious exchange between Brahmanical sects and Buddhists in that period to legitimise the claim that various sects coexisted peacefully. The decay and, consequent, downfall of Buddhism in its land of origin was, they claim, as actuated by the growing influence of Brahmanism through peaceful assimilation of Buddhists as was by the internal decadence of monastic establishments or Buddhist sanghas because of the influence of Tantrism and loss of royal patronage. While it is true that the Brahmanical dominance was growing, it is simply ahistorical to claim that it was peaceful. The hegemonic processes were characterised by the so-called peaceful assimilation where conflicts were not manifested in violence in many cases. At the same time, the idea of the internal decay of Buddhism by Tantric influence has been criticised by several recent scholars who have pointed to complex processes of the involvement and interaction of Buddhist sanghas with society and everyday life of the people. The overt manifestations of conflicts between various sects and communities are attested by the sculptural as well as archaeological evidences. We may refer to the images of several trampling deities in both Brahmanical and Buddhist Pantheon. It is suggested that both of the competing communities had tried to prove their supremacy through imagery representation.

In the academic and official narratives in Bangladesh it has become axiomatic to proclaim that there is no minority in Bangladesh. Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and other minority groups, both ethnic and religious, are living harmoniously in the land for thousands of years. After the destruction of Buddhist temples and monasteries at Ramu in 2012, after each of the destruction and communal violence perpetrated by the majorities on Hindus, it is claimed that these are just a few deviations from this normal historical truth. They add that these are not evidence of the historical legacy of the communal conflict and these are not the manifestations of the popular consciousness that has been communalised and criminalised since thousands of years. I must admit that political parties and their interests, interests of several actors, the factors of land grabbing by forceful eviction or by the advantage of legal system provided by the Vested Property Act are also important in these events of the repression and the persecution of the religious and ethnic minorities in Bangladesh. But that cannot explain the overwhelming and ubiquitous existence of hatred and conflicts in consciousness9. The existing narratives of communal harmony and actions of a few ‘bad’, ‘greedy’ and ‘criminal’ perpetrators cannot simply explain the outburst of hatred and the language of conflict in our everyday existence with social media such as Facebook and blogsphere. I want to claim that our past and heritage making processes are not as straightforward and simplistically peaceful and harmonious as it is normally taken for granted. Eminent historian Brajadulal Chattopadhyaya in his precedential lecture in last year’s

Gopal Chandra Devsharma is expressing his devotion to the sacredness of the site during our excavation.

Gopal Chandra Devsharma is expressing his devotion to the sacredness of the site during our excavation.

Indian History Congress at Jawaharlal Nehru University has emphatically shown the problems in the idea of ‘unity in diversity’ as propagated by the intelligentsia and state representatives in South Asia. He termed the recent invocation of ‘unity’ in ‘diversity’ in modern Indian state as colonial and nationalist construct10. Writers of the ancient texts many of whom were supported and patronised by the rulers and realm of that period in the past invoked the ideas of difference and hence, the conflicts. Differences and conflicts were there — overt, visible and sharp and often, covert and hidden in allegories. Members of one religion or region identified members of other region and religions as the ‘inferior other’ by labelling them with such terms as mlechhas, yavanas, asuras, pasandas, tirthikas. The differences were also referred on the basis of bhedaa (distinct character), britti (mode of living), and prabritti (inclinations of habits or dispositions). Moreover, the implications of the formation of coexistence or unity is often ignored in these constructions of the past. Thus, Michael Gottlob has suggested, ‘In pre-modern times too the establishment of a particular way of life generally was accomplished by the subordination or marginalisation of other worldviews and practices… Unity, in corporative and hierarchical social orders is based on the inequality of its constituents.’ 11 This is not to deny the profound impact colonial modernity or modernity as projects have imparted on the lives, cultures and societies of South Asia. The differences and conflicts were re-configured and re-categorised with the conditions and processes of ubiquitous transformations in colonial encounter. Locating the origin and developments of difference and conflicts solely within colonial conditions, however, is problematic and often, an anachronistic tendency.

***

AS I have already said in one of my popular articles, there are various articulations of the notion of heritage in our ordinary lives. Heritage — it could be understood through its essential manifestations in our modern living — is embedded into our existence. It is embedded in the celebrations of our joy; in memorising our pain and distress; in manifesting our love and loyalty for country; in circulating the nationalist pride; in representing our ethnic supremacy and ethnic inferiority of others; in validating war on terror and killing millions; in legitimising religious dictums, and so on. However, what is most crucial to point at is that the heritage has profound political implications. By embedding deep into the memories, by manufacturing and consuming in the global market, and by making it an essential tool to construct identities, heritage often validates dominance and repression. Simultaneously, heritage may symbolise and mobilise resistance. It depends upon what heritage means in the processes of its construction and representation in the unequal relationship of the powerful and the weak.12
I am defining heritage not in terms of authentication and legitimisation by the official narratives that is called by Laurajane Smith, a well known scholar on critical heritage studies, as Authoritative Heritage Discourses13. I am defining heritage here in reference to the materiality of the past that continuously manifest their essential entanglement to our ordinary (and also, extraordinary) living, shape our desires and actions, and profoundly manage our existence at present. Past is, therefore, always present. The opposite is also true. Present is always some kind of invocation of the past. It is a time continuum in which break is manufactured by complex processes that is termed differently as heritagisation or heritagification. Smith has suggested, ‘Heritage is a subjective political negotiation of identity, place and memory. It is a process, or a performance in which we identify the values, memories and cultural and social meanings that help us make sense of the present, our identities and sense of physical and social place. Heritage is not something that is done, rather they are something that are possessed or managed. Therefore, heritage is a process of negotiating historical and cultural meanings, and values that occur around the decisions we make to preserve, or not, certain physical places, monuments or objects or intangible events, and the way these are then managed, exhibited or performed’.14 This is the processes of heritageisation and that happen at the present.

***

ON THE pretext of my elaborations of the existing and normaliaed historical narratives of communal harmony and heritageisation, I want to come to one of the most prominent monumental heritages in Bangladesh — Paharpur or Somapura Mahavihara. The entire monumental complex has been inscribed as a world heritage site. The excavation report of the mahavihara has shown clear evidence of burning and destruction. Our recent work on this monument have indicated that there were at least two events of attacks on this mahavihara during pre-13th century period although it is contended by the historians that these mahaviharas, several others included, were destroyed by the Muslims, especially by the army led by Bakhtiyar Khilji. The Nalanda copperplate inscription of Vipulasrimitra has attested to an attack on the mahavihara by the army from Vangala. The attack predates the coming of the Turks in Bengal. There are 64 stone sculptures of mostly Brahmanical deities at the plinth level of the central temple of Paharpur. Those sculptures are kept buried because of water logging problems in the site. There are debates regarding the origin of the sculptures. They are usually taken as an attestation of the religious tolerance of the Pala rulers and patrons as a whole and cited as examples of peaceful coexistence of two religions. Explanations of the past and its relics are manufactured in these ways to conceal the alternative probability that a Brahmanical temple was desecrated and the sculptures were collected from that temple. Instead of seeing these existences of sculptures in a Buddhist temple as an act of religious tolerance, the use of the Hindu sculptures could be explained as the political strategy of the patrons to gain legitimacy thorough the monument building process. Archaeologically, remains of monument predating the central temple of the mahavihara have been detected through recent excavations.
The heritageisation processes of Somapura Mahavihara, both by UNESCO as world a heritage site and by the state agencies have reiterated and strengthened the existing discourse of the past. Present practices and performances of preservation, conservation and restoration, the management, the exhibition and the commoditisation have endorsed the dominant idea of a romantic Buddhist past that has been identified insightfully by Philip Almond as the British discovery and construction of Buddhism in India. This version, in its recent forms and modalities, has constructed a secularised narrative of Buddhism that denies the multiplicity in the genealogy of the traditions of Buddhism in South Asia and its selective reconfigurations under the project of modernity and during the pre-modern period. For example, the complex articulations of the economic and the social dimensions of Buddhism are not sought for. The Buddhism has been reduced into a singular and monolithic tradition of ‘exotic’ and ‘romantic’ religion composed of ‘mediative’ or ‘yogic’ rituals of non-violent renunciants.

 Gathering of the refilled Temples on the occasion of Janmastami, 2015

Gathering of the refilled Temples on the occasion of Janmastami, 2015

The heritageisation process, at the same time, produces new forms and manifestations of conflicts and subverts the popular perception of a dialogical materiality of a mutually shared past. The conflicts are the results of land accusations, of different practice of consumption, of interests of various local and international stakeholders. We have already shown through our ethnographic survey in the area around Paharpur that prevailing heritage practices have also homogenised the multivocality of the past(s) in the afterlives of the monuments. One of my recent studies that I presented at a conference in Nalanda University has shown that a Tara Temple along with many stupas adjacent to the main mahavihara complex of Paharpur is perceived as Satya Peerer Bhita or the place of a religious saint Satya Peer. Contesting narratives of conflicts and compromises are invoked by local Hindus, Muslims and other groups regarding the biography of Satya Peer. At the same time, Satya Peer becomes the embodiment of a mutual dialogue between the local Muslims and Hindu as both of these communities owned the tradition of worshipping him with great reverence. The cultural biography of the monuments of Paharpur shows us how a monumental space is created and re-created as the space for religious conflict and religious dialogue. The oral histories offer different version of pasts and their perceptions.
To understand the heritageisation processes of Buddhist heritage sites in Bangladesh, the elaborations by Himangshu Prava Ray, an archaeologist and historian and a former professor of Jawaharlal Nehru University, could be illuminating. She has already elaborately analysed the recent re-discovery of Buddhism in India through different modalities and mediums, through archaeological practice and heritageisation processes. 15 It has become a political, economic and geopolitical necessity for different quarters of present Indian state to invoke a romantic version of Buddhism for their present requirements. A huge amount of funds are inflowing. Recently, the proposal of a Buddhist pilgrimage route has been envisaged through India, Nepal and Bangladesh by respective states and it is under serious scrutiny. Even the present prime minister of India Narendra Modi, leader of Hindutvavadi Bharatiya Janata Party, has invoked to this version of Buddhism. 16 Interestingly, he even contended that he would prefer to call India a Buddhist India. Please, note that Buddhists are represented and conceived as the essential aspect of ‘the self’ identity of the present Hindu Indian nationhood, where the Muslims are constructed as ‘the other’.
At Mahasthan, the famous archaeological site in Bogra and the ancient capital of Pundranagara, oral histories of multiple narratives exist. These narratives differ substantially from the experts’ view and official narratives. The official narrative homogenises the existing views of the past by labelling them as ‘mythical’, ‘superstitious’ or ‘expression of an ignorant mass’. By these processes of history and heritage making in the service of the present, they ignore the existence of communal conflicts at the same time. I must point to the protest in 2010 in opposition to the policy of the state-run agencies of preservation and conservation by the practitioners and followers of the mazar of Shah Sultan Balkhi who has been identified as the founder of the Muslim settlements in the Mahasthan area. The local Hindus perceive Shah Sultan Balkhi as the destroyer of the local Hindu kingdom. Any archaeological site and monument can have a complex and densely varied cultural biography that exhibits the varied modalities of representations in different periods of its use. Heritageisation process homogenises this multi-layered meaning.

***
THE narratives of conflicts are not only archaeological in the sense of the past(s). It is archaeological in the sense of the production of various meanings and conflicts at the present(s). I will finish my brief lecture with our recent discovery of a Buddhist temple that was later converted into a Hindu temple. This year, we have excavated in Bochaganj of Dinajpur and we have revealed this evidence of conflict. The entire Hindu Temple of later period was built on top of the earlier Buddhist temple. Interestingly, the excavation provided the local people, predominantly Hindus, with growing sense of affiliation to the excavated remains.
We had refilled the site after excavation. But the ‘temples’ found in site turns into a rallying point for the construction of new affiliations and new formations of identity of the local Hindu communities. This is not unusual. The history of archaeology shows that throughout the world, archaeological ‘sites’ and objects are intimately connected to the formation, re-shaping, legitimisation and manifestations of identities — religious, ethnic, collective, etc. The local people have organised keertan and other rituals on the ‘site’ this year on the occasion of janmastami though the site has no relation to the God Krisna. The site now transforms into a space for the assertion of new meanings through re-creation by present rituals. This new sense and assertion of identity has covertly manufactured a divide among the local Hindus and Muslim.
I am just interested in this process of heritageisation which continuously produces and re-creates meanings of archaeological sites. Often, the meanings have nothing to do with or have no overt connection to the ‘original’ meanings created by the methods of archaeological research. The relationship between the past and the present is always interesting and quite revealing for those who do not assume that archaeology (and history) is all about the past. The idea and discourses of democracy is an essential component of these processes in the name of general development paradigm and particularly by citing democratic participation of people in heritage making; simultaneously, they stand in stark contrast to the aspirations and sensibilities for an ideal democratic space by selectively manipulating the conflicts of the past in order to desire harmonious coexistence and/or conflict and difference at the present.

***
PAST is, therefore, not past as we perceive it in our modern temporal sensibilities and dispositions. The boundary proposed by the modernity between the past and the present becomes blurred at many times. Instead of concealing and denying, we must acknowledge conflicts and coexistence by a reflexive critique of our subjectivities or intersubjectivities. Otherwise, I am afraid, we will not be able to negotiate and overcome hatred, conflict and violence and celebrate the differences at the present(s).

Both secular and Hindutvavadi historians have contributed to these constructions. Mukhia has noted that there were examples of demolition of mosques by the Hindus during mediaeval period, there were examples of conversion of the Muslims to Hindus in mediaeval South Asia, there were examples of temple construction by Aurangzeb, there were more Hindu members in the court of Aurangzeb, and there were examples of empathy from many Muslim rulers in mediaeval India including Aurangzeb5.
Of course, there were several examples of temple desecrations in mediaeval India. But as has been shown by Richard Eaton, the number of demolished temples are much less than what is proclaimed and circulated by the Hindutvavadi scholars and politicians. The act of demolition of Hindu temples were neither specific to the mediaeval period that is regarded as ‘Muslim period’ in South Asia nor could the acts be labelled homogenously as communal. Eaton has shown that many of the acts of demolition of mediaeval temples were actions to politically delegitimise the local rulers and ruling dynasties. He also has shown by referring to the excellent scholarship of Richard Davis that many temples were destroyed and images symbolising the ruling dynasties were looted by the rivalling Hindu rulers during early mediaeval period (c 6th–13th century CE) that is during the time before the mediaeval period6. But this is not to say that temples were not destroyed by the rulers in mediaeval period in India and also in Bengal. We may cite examples here, among many, of the monuments in the ancient capital of Gaur and Pandua of Bengal. Terming the act of destruction, however, as ‘communal’ or ‘religious’ acts has an essentially reductionist understanding of history. Building of religious monuments (and their destruction) must be understood within a complex process of legitimisation in which deification of rulers and royalisation of monuments were integral processes.

***

Radha-Krisna worship on the than (place of the deity) built on the refilled temples.

Radha-Krisna worship on the than (place of the deity) built on the refilled temples.

LET me also come to the early mediaeval period (6th–13th century CE) that is cited by many of the historians as Hindu-Buddhist period of coexistence of various sects of Hindus and Buddhists. They acknowledge the fact that there were continuous augmentation of dominance by the Brahmanical sects and growing assimilation of Buddhist laity and monastic people in between the 8th and 12th centuries CE into Brahmanical pantheons. Many of the mainstream historians and archaeologists have appropriated the notion of harmonious exchange between Brahmanical sects and Buddhists in that period to legitimise the claim that various sects coexisted peacefully. The decay and, consequent, downfall of Buddhism in its land of origin was, they claim, as actuated by the growing influence of Brahmanism through peaceful assimilation of Buddhists as was by the internal decadence of monastic establishments or Buddhist sanghas because of the influence of Tantrism and loss of royal patronage. While it is true that the Brahmanical dominance was growing, it is simply ahistorical to claim that it was peaceful. The hegemonic processes were characterised by the so-called peaceful assimilation where conflicts were not manifested in violence in many cases. At the same time, the idea of the internal decay of Buddhism by Tantric influence has been criticised by several recent scholars who have pointed to complex processes of the involvement and interaction of Buddhist sanghas with society and everyday life of the people. The overt manifestations of conflicts between various sects and communities are attested by the sculptural as well as archaeological evidences. We may refer to the images of several trampling deities in both Brahmanical and Buddhist Pantheon. It is suggested that both of the competing communities had tried to prove their supremacy through imagery representation.
In the academic and official narratives in Bangladesh it has become axiomatic to proclaim that there is no minority in Bangladesh. Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and other minority groups, both ethnic and religious, are living harmoniously in the land for thousands of years. After the destruction of Buddhist temples and monasteries at Ramu in 2012, after each of the destruction and communal violence perpetrated by the majorities on Hindus, it is claimed that these are just a few deviations from this normal historical truth. They add that these are not evidence of the historical legacy of the communal conflict and these are not the manifestations of the popular consciousness that has been communalised and criminalised since thousands of years. I must admit that political parties and their interests, interests of several actors, the factors of land grabbing by forceful eviction or by the advantage of legal system provided by the Vested Property Act are also important in these events of the repression and the persecution of the religious and ethnic minorities in Bangladesh. But that cannot explain the overwhelming and ubiquitous existence of hatred and conflicts in consciousness9. The existing narratives of communal harmony and actions of a few ‘bad’, ‘greedy’ and ‘criminal’ perpetrators cannot simply explain the outburst of hatred and the language of conflict in our everyday existence with social media such as Facebook and blogsphere. I want to claim that our past and heritage making processes are not as straightforward and simplistically peaceful and harmonious as it is normally taken for granted. Eminent historian Brajadulal Chattopadhyaya in his precedential lecture in last year’s Indian History Congress at Jawaharlal Nehru University has emphatically shown the problems in the idea of ‘unity in diversity’ as propagated by the intelligentsia and state representatives in South Asia. He termed the recent invocation of ‘unity’ in ‘diversity’ in modern Indian state as colonial and nationalist construct10. Writers of the ancient texts many of whom were supported and patronised by the rulers and realm of that period in the past invoked the ideas of difference and hence, the conflicts. Differences and conflicts were there — overt, visible and sharp and often, covert and hidden in allegories. Members of one religion or region identified members of other region and religions as the ‘inferior other’ by labelling them with such terms as mlechhas, yavanas, asuras, pasandas, tirthikas. The differences were also referred on the basis of bhedaa (distinct character), britti (mode of living), and prabritti (inclinations of habits or dispositions). Moreover, the implications of the formation of coexistence or unity is often ignored in these constructions of the past. Thus, Michael Gottlob has suggested, ‘In pre-modern times too the establishment of a particular way of life generally was accomplished by the subordination or marginalisation of other worldviews and practices… Unity, in corporative and hierarchical social orders is based on the inequality of its constituents.’11 This is not to deny the profound impact colonial modernity or modernity as projects have imparted on the lives, cultures and societies of South Asia. The differences and conflicts were re-configured and re-categorised with the conditions and processes of ubiquitous transformations in colonial encounter. Locating the origin and developments of difference and conflicts solely within colonial conditions, however, is problematic and often, an anachronistic tendency.

***
AS I have already said in one of my popular articles, there are various articulations of the notion of heritage in our ordinary lives. Heritage — it could be understood through its essential manifestations in our modern living — is embedded into our existence. It is embedded in the celebrations of our joy; in memorising our pain and distress; in manifesting our love and loyalty for country; in circulating the nationalist pride; in representing our ethnic supremacy and ethnic inferiority of others; in validating war on terror and killing millions; in legitimising religious dictums, and so on. However, what is most crucial to point at is that the heritage has profound political implications. By embedding deep into the memories, by manufacturing and consuming in the global market, and by making it an essential tool to construct identities, heritage often validates dominance and repression. Simultaneously, heritage may symbolise and mobilise resistance. It depends upon what heritage means in the processes of its construction and representation in the unequal relationship of the powerful and the weak. 12
I am defining heritage not in terms of authentication and legitimisation by the official narratives that is called by Laurajane Smith, a well known scholar on critical heritage studies, as Authoritative Heritage Discourses13. I am defining heritage here in reference to the materiality of the past that continuously manifest their essential entanglement to our ordinary (and also, extraordinary) living, shape our desires and actions, and profoundly manage our existence at present. Past is, therefore, always present. The opposite is also true. Present is always some kind of invocation of the past. It is a time continuum in which break is manufactured by complex processes that is termed differently as heritagisation or heritagification. Smith has suggested, ‘Heritage is a subjective political negotiation of identity, place and memory. It is a process, or a performance in which we identify the values, memories and cultural and social meanings that help us make sense of the present, our identities and sense of physical and social place. Heritage is not something that is done, rather they are something that are possessed or managed. Therefore, heritage is a process of negotiating historical and cultural meanings, and values that occur around the decisions we make to preserve, or not, certain physical places, monuments or objects or intangible events, and the way these are then managed, exhibited or performed’. 14 This is the processes of heritageisation and that happen at the present.

***
ON THE pretext of my elaborations of the existing and normaliaed historical narratives of communal harmony and heritageisation, I want to come to one of the most prominent monumental heritages in Bangladesh — Paharpur or Somapura Mahavihara. The entire monumental complex has been inscribed as a world heritage site. The excavation report of the mahavihara has shown clear evidence of burning and destruction. Our recent work on this monument have indicated that there were at least two events of attacks on this mahavihara during pre-13th century period although it is contended by the historians that these mahaviharas, several others included, were destroyed by the Muslims, especially by the army led by Bakhtiyar Khilji. The Nalanda copperplate inscription of Vipulasrimitra has attested to an attack on the mahavihara by the army from Vangala. The attack predates the coming of the Turks in Bengal. There are 64 stone sculptures of mostly Brahmanical deities at the plinth level of the central temple of Paharpur. Those sculptures are kept buried because of water logging problems in the site. There are debates regarding the origin of the sculptures. They are usually taken as an attestation of the religious tolerance of the Pala rulers and patrons as a whole and cited as examples of peaceful coexistence of two religions. Explanations of the past and its relics are manufactured in these ways to conceal the alternative probability that a Brahmanical temple was desecrated and the sculptures were collected from that temple. Instead of seeing these existences of sculptures in a Buddhist temple as an act of religious tolerance, the use of the Hindu sculptures could be explained as the political strategy of the patrons to gain legitimacy thorough the monument building process. Archaeologically, remains of monument predating the central temple of the mahavihara have been detected through recent excavations.
The heritageisation processes of Somapura Mahavihara, both by UNESCO as world a heritage site and by the state agencies have reiterated and strengthened the existing discourse of the past. Present practices and performances of preservation, conservation and restoration, the management, the exhibition and the commoditisation have endorsed the dominant idea of a romantic Buddhist past that has been identified insightfully by Philip Almond as the British discovery and construction of Buddhism in India. This version, in its recent forms and modalities, has constructed a secularised narrative of Buddhism that denies the multiplicity in the genealogy of the traditions of Buddhism in South Asia and its selective reconfigurations under the project of modernity and during the pre-modern period. For example, the complex articulations of the economic and the social dimensions of Buddhism are not sought for. The Buddhism has been reduced into a singular and monolithic tradition of ‘exotic’ and ‘romantic’ religion composed of ‘mediative’ or ‘yogic’ rituals of non-violent renunciants.
The heritageisation process, at the same time, produces new forms and manifestations of conflicts and subverts the popular perception of a dialogical materiality of a mutually shared past. The conflicts are the results of land accusations, of different practice of consumption, of interests of various local and international stakeholders. We have already shown through our ethnographic survey in the area around Paharpur that prevailing heritage practices have also homogenised the multivocality of the past(s) in the afterlives of the monuments. One of my recent studies that I presented at a conference in Nalanda University has shown that a Tara Temple along with many stupas adjacent to the main mahavihara complex of Paharpur is perceived as Satya Peerer Bhita or the place of a religious saint Satya Peer. Contesting narratives of conflicts and compromises are invoked by local Hindus, Muslims and other groups regarding the biography of Satya Peer. At the same time, Satya Peer becomes the embodiment of a mutual dialogue between the local Muslims and Hindu as both of these communities owned the tradition of worshipping him with great reverence. The cultural biography of the monuments of Paharpur shows us how a monumental space is created and re-created as the space for religious conflict and religious dialogue. The oral histories offer different version of pasts and their perceptions.
To understand the heritageisation processes of Buddhist heritage sites in Bangladesh, the elaborations by Himangshu Prava Ray, an archaeologist and historian and a former professor of Jawaharlal Nehru University, could be illuminating. She has already elaborately analysed the recent re-discovery of Buddhism in India through different modalities and mediums, through archaeological practice and heritageisation processes. 15 It has become a political, economic and geopolitical necessity for different quarters of present Indian state to invoke a romantic version of Buddhism for their present requirements. A huge amount of funds are inflowing. Recently, the proposal of a Buddhist pilgrimage route has been envisaged through India, Nepal and Bangladesh by respective states and it is under serious scrutiny. Even the present prime minister of India Narendra Modi, leader of Hindutvavadi Bharatiya Janata Party, has invoked to this version of Buddhism. 16 Interestingly, he even contended that he would prefer to call India a Buddhist India. Please, note that Buddhists are represented and conceived as the essential aspect of ‘the self’ identity of the present Hindu Indian nationhood, where the Muslims are constructed as ‘the other’.
At Mahasthan, the famous archaeological site in Bogra and the ancient capital of Pundranagara, oral histories of multiple narratives exist. These narratives differ substantially from the experts’ view and official narratives. The official narrative homogenises the existing views of the past by labelling them as ‘mythical’, ‘superstitious’ or ‘expression of an ignorant mass’. By these processes of history and heritage making in the service of the present, they ignore the existence of communal conflicts at the same time. I must point to the protest in 2010 in opposition to the policy of the state-run agencies of preservation and conservation by the practitioners and followers of the mazar of Shah Sultan Balkhi who has been identified as the founder of the Muslim settlements in the Mahasthan area. The local Hindus perceive Shah Sultan Balkhi as the destroyer of the local Hindu kingdom. Any archaeological site and monument can have a complex and densely varied cultural biography that exhibits the varied modalities of representations in different periods of its use. Heritageisation process homogenises this multi-layered meaning.

***
THE narratives of conflicts are not only archaeological in the sense of the past(s). It is archaeological in the sense of the production of various meanings and conflicts at the present(s). I will finish my brief lecture with our recent discovery of a Buddhist temple that was later converted into a Hindu temple. This year, we have excavated in Bochaganj of Dinajpur and we have revealed this evidence of conflict. The entire Hindu Temple of later period was built on top of the earlier Buddhist temple. Interestingly, the excavation provided the local people, predominantly Hindus, with growing sense of affiliation to the excavated remains.
We had refilled the site after excavation. But the ‘temples’ found in site turns into a rallying point for the construction of new affiliations and new formations of identity of the local Hindu communities. This is not unusual. The history of archaeology shows that throughout the world, archaeological ‘sites’ and objects are intimately connected to the formation, re-shaping, legitimisation and manifestations of identities — religious, ethnic, collective, etc. The local people have organised keertan and other rituals on the ‘site’ this year on the occasion of janmastami though the site has no relation to the God Krisna. The site now transforms into a space for the assertion of new meanings through re-creation by present rituals. This new sense and assertion of identity has covertly manufactured a divide among the local Hindus and Muslim.
I am just interested in this process of heritageisation which continuously produces and re-creates meanings of archaeological sites. Often, the meanings have nothing to do with or have no overt connection to the ‘original’ meanings created by the methods of archaeological research. The relationship between the past and the present is always interesting and quite revealing for those who do not assume that archaeology (and history) is all about the past. The idea and discourses of democracy is an essential component of these processes in the name of general development paradigm and particularly by citing democratic participation of people in heritage making; simultaneously, they stand in stark contrast to the aspirations and sensibilities for an ideal democratic space by selectively manipulating the conflicts of the past in order to desire harmonious coexistence and/or conflict and difference at the present.

***
PAST is, therefore, not past as we perceive it in our modern temporal sensibilities and dispositions. The boundary proposed by the modernity between the past and the present becomes blurred at many times. Instead of concealing and denying, we must acknowledge conflicts and coexistence by a reflexive critique of our subjectivities or intersubjectivities. Otherwise, I am afraid, we will not be able to negotiate and overcome hatred, conflict and violence and celebrate the differences at the present(s).

Notes:
1. Swadhin Sen, Living at the Masculinist Orgasmic Moment of Annihilating Hatred. Special Supplements INDEPENDENCE DAY SPECIAL 2015; 26 March 2015 [http://newagebd.net/106385/living-at-the-masculinist-orgasmic-moment-of-annihilating-hatred/#sthash.43wFJeEZ.dpbs]
2. Robert Fisk, Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers – and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting. The Independent, 10 September 2015 [http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/isis-profits-from-destruction-of-antiquities-by-selling-relics-to-dealers–and-then-blowing-up-the-buildings-they-come-from-to-conceal-the-evidence-of-looting-10483421.html]
3. Swadhin Sen, Essential Dilemma in the Liberal Understanding of Heritage: On recent looting and destruction of museums in Iraq and its reaction [https://www.academia.edu/343992/Essential_Dilemma_in_the_Liberal_Understanding_of_Heritage_On_recent_looting_and_destruction_of_Museums_in_Iraq_and_its_reactions]
4. Adam Walkner, Islam Has a History of Protecting Civilisation, Not Destroying It [http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/adam-h-walker/islam-has-a-history-of-protecting-civilisation_b_6993580.html]
5. Harbans Mukhia, As Aurangzeb is Erased, Here are Some Tales From the Flip Side of History [http://thewire.in/2015/09/04/as-aurangzeb-is-erased-here-are-some-tales-from-the-flip-side-of-history-9943/]. Also, The Past Cannot be Righted by Inflicting Wrongs on History [http://thewire.in/2015/08/31/the-past-cannot-be-righted-by-inflicting-wrongs-on-history-9594/]. RecentlyAudrey Truschke, a Mellon postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Religious Studies, Stanford University has shown that much of the current religious conflict in India has been fueled by ideological assumptions about the Mughal period rather than an accurate rendering of the subcontinent’s history [http://news.stanford.edu/news/2015/september/sanskrit-mughal-empire-090915.html].
6. Richard M. Eaton, Temple desecration in pre-modern India: When, where, and why were Hindu temples desecrated in pre-modern history, and how was this connected with the rise of Indo-Muslim states?Frontline Vol. 17, Issue 25, 2000, Part 1 (http://www.frontline.in/static/html/fl1725/17250620.htm). Part 2 (Vol. 17, Issue 26, 2000) (http://www.frontline.in/static/html/fl1726/17260700.htm)
7. Giovanni Verardi, Hardship and Downfall of Buddhism in India. Manohar Publishers, 2011.
8. Rob Linrothe Ruthless Compassion: Wrathful Deities in Early Indo-Tibetan Esoteric Buddhist Art, 1999 [https://books.google.com.bd/books?id=AdtYxZoG228C&pg=PA194&lpg=PA194&dq=trailokyavijaya&source=bl&ots=AZQnJ4h9tk&sig=RnL6wReYhfrXAuR6CpZ-EY2wxJg&hl=en&sa=X&sqi=2&ved=0CDsQ6AEwCWoVChMI4syJmdjixwIVjlKOCh2ACwPW#v=onepage&q=trailokyavijaya&f=false]
9. See, for example, my article Rethinking Communalism (Translated by Rahnuma Ahmed). (http://www.sacw.net/article3523.html)
10. Brajadulal Chattopadhyaya, Interrogating ‘Unity in Diversity’: Voices from India’s Ancient Texts. General President’s Address, Indian History Congress, Platinum Jubilee Session, 2014.
11 Michael Gottlob, India’s Unity in Diversity as a Question of Historical Perspective, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 42, No. 09, 2007, p. 780
12 Swadhin Sen, Our past, their pas(s): Cultural Heritage and Popular domain in Bangladesh (http://old-archives.newagebd.net/special.php?spid=7&id=26)
13 Laurajane Smith, Uses of Heritage, Routledge, London, 2006.
14. Laurajane Smith, Discourses of heritage: Implications for archaeological community practice. Nuevo MundoMundosNuevos, 2012 (http://nuevomundo.revues.org/64148)
15. Himangshu Prabha Ray, The Return of the Buddha: Ancient Symbols for a New Nation, Routledge India, 2014.
16. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/I-would-prefer-calling-India-as-Buddhist-India-says-PM-Modi/articleshow/48834500.cms

Swadhin Sen is professor at the department of archaeology in Jahangirnagar University. This article is a modified version of the paper he presented at Taoyaka Bangladesh Seminar (doctoral students of IDEC, Hiroshima University), hosted by the anthropology department in Jahangirnagar University on September 8, 2015. The photographs of janmastami were taken by Mrinmoy Kumar Devsharma Mithun.

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