Former regional director (North) of the Archaeological Survey of India, KK Muhammed is known as a ‘People’s Archaeologist’ owing to his relentless efforts to mobilise the masses in protecting many endangered historical and cultural sites across the country. He was in Goa to deliver a talk about his role is various discoveries and also to shed light on his tryst with the dacoits while on his quest. He spoke about the discovery of the Ibadatkhana and a Christian chapel in Fathepur Sikri and the temple conservation in the Chambel Valley, which was carried in a hostile atmosphere amidst threats from the dacoits and the mining mafia ruling that area.
The talk held at Institute Menezes Braganza, was coordinated by asst professor of the Goa University, Nandkumar Kamat. He introduced the speaker, but before he carried on, Kamat also paid homage to Bismarck Dias, urging the audience to observe a minute’s silence. Kamat while speaking about the keynote speaker said: “KK Muhammed is a people’s archaeologist; he has always been involved with the people of the place he worked in. Even while he was posted in Goa, his restoration work in the temples and churches are well noted. His work in the Chambal valley is of great significance where he took down each of the 40 temples, brick by brick and rebuilt and restored them.” Kamat also said that not much is being done in the restoration and preservation of the monuments and artefacts in the state. “Goan artefacts are being traded out of the state. The government is not doing much to preserve the cultural heritage of the state. With one tenth of the money that was spent on the Lusifonia Games, we can restore all the monuments in Goa. Also, there are no security guards posted at any of the sites,” he said before asking Muhammed to shed light on the discoveries.
One of the most notable projects undertaken by KK Muhammed was the restoration of the Bateshwar Temple complex. The group of temples situated in the Chambal valley of Madhya Pradesh.
“The temples from the Gujjara-Pratihara dynasty were in ruins after an earthquake and when I found them in 2004, the area was under the control of Nirbhay Singh Gujjar, a very notorious dacoit, who had about a 100 cases of murder against him. It was a really daunting task to convince the dacoits about the restoration of the temples. But I managed to win him over when I told him that he was a descendant of the rulers and it didn’t not give them respect that he sit in a temple and smoke a beedi,” said Muhammed. After the dacoits granted permission, he was able to inspect, document, photograph, take down each of the temples and rebuild them in a span of only 4 months. He restored around 60 temples of the complex in that time period. “We were guarded by the dacoits in all this time, but after Gujjar was killed the Mining mafia took over the place,” he said. Muhammed then asked the government to intervene, but the violence continued, and his role was questioned, after which he was transferred. Today, his work stands tall, however the mining mafia still holds strong.
KK Muhammed was credited with the discoveries of the Ibadatkhana and a Christian chapel in Fathepur Sikri in the ’80’s. The Ibadatkhana a symbol of secularism and religious tolerance during the Mughal rule in India, was a place of meeting of various religious leaders to engage in discourse. For years there had been debate about the exact location of the ibadatkhana, but all the speculations were put to rest when KK Muhammed deciphered the hidden messages in the paintings found in the Akbarnama. “When we went to the location, there were overgrown trees, we cut down all the foliage and found the spot but there was no way to prove the location. That is when I consulted the Akbarnama and found a few paintings there, and I corresponded the paintings to the location and then came to a conclusion of the exact location of the Ibadatkhana,” said Muhammed.
It may come to the surprise of many that there was a Christian chapel in the kingdom of Emperor Akbar. The chapel was built to felicitate the talks between Akbar and the kingdom of Lisbon for the conversion of the Mughal ruler. “Fr Rudolf Acquaviva was sent with Fr Antony Monserrate to make Akbar convert, and they are even depicted in one of the paintings of the Akbarnama. The chapel is also depicted in the paintings and thus we were able to locate the exact spot,” he said.
Muhammed states that there are very little funds allocated to preserving and restoring the cultural heritage of the country, “the excavation in Fatehpur Sikri took eight years to complete and was done in an amount of 2 crores.”