The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is a government department under the Ministry of Culture. It was formed in 1861 by Sir Alexander Cunningham as the successor of the Asiatic Society of India. It has headquarters in New Delhi and 24 regional circles and 5 regional directorates. The ASI aims to promote archaeological research in India, and to preserve its cultural heritage. Its mission is to provide accurate information on the past, present, and future of the nation’s cultural heritage.
In 2014, the ASI was named after a legendary archaeologist. The first Harappan sites in India were identified in this way. This was followed by a series of archaeological digs around the Ghaggar-Hakra River. The ASI also resurfaced itself after the success. This victory has inspired many archaeologists to find the ancient civilization’s remains and learn more about it.
The pro-mandir movement was central to BJP electoral victories in the 1990s, and has remained an important issue in Hindutva politics ever since. Proponents of the temple movement used archaeology to prove their thesis. The controversy over the excavation placed archaeology at the center of the political debate. The ASI director-general Braj Basi Lal was responsible for the excavations at Ayodhya in the late 1970s. The results of his excavations were published in the book Indian Archaeology – A Review.
The ASI is responsible for the preservation and study of the archaeological heritage of the country. The agency was formed under various acts of the Parliament to protect monuments of national and international importance. The UNESCO World Heritage List lists more than one million sites across the country. As the nation’s central agency for surveying and mapping, it oversees all archaeological research. This is why the A.S.I is so important.
In the late twentieth century, archaeology gained nationalist value in India. Hindu nationalist groups such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) mobilized archaeology to achieve their goal: to make a nation coincide with its territory. As such, the ASI was forced to serve the Hindutva agenda by denying any other interests.
In 1902, the government considered abolishing the post of Director General. In place of him, a professor of archaeology was appointed. Initially, the institute was only supposed to operate within the British Indian empire, but it was not implemented. In 1908, the government appointed Dr. John Marshall as the new Director General. The new ASI director, John Marshall, made significant changes to the organization’s administration.