Archaeological Survey of India

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Archaeological Survey of India
Archaeological Survey of India.jpg
Abbreviation ASI
Formation 1861
Headquarters Janpath, New Delhi, India - 110011
Region served
Parent organisation
Ministry of Culture, Government of India
605 crore (US$91 million) (2014-2015)[1]

The Archaeological Survey of India is an Indian government agency attached to the Ministry of Culture that is responsible for archaeological research and the conservation and preservation of cultural monuments in the country. It was founded in 1861 by Alexander Cunningham who also became its first Director-General.


The first systematic research into India's history was conducted by the Asiatic Society which was founded by the British Indologist William Jones on 15 January 1784. Based in Calcutta, the society promoted the study of ancient Sanskrit and Persian texts and published an annual journal titled Asiatic Researches. Notable among its early members was Charles Wilkins who published the first English translation of the Bhagavad Gita in 1785 with the patronage of the then Governor-General of India, Warren Hastings. But by far the most important of the society's achievements was the decipherment of Brahmi script by James Prinsep in 1837. This successful decipherment inaugurated the study of Indian palaeography.

Formation of the ASI[edit]

Alexander Cunningham

Armed with the knowledge of Brahmi, Alexander Cunningham, a protégé of Prinsep, carried out a detailed survey of the Buddhist monuments which lasted for over half a century. Inspired by early amateur archaeologists like the Italian military officer, Jean-Baptiste Ventura, Cunningham excavated stupas across the length and breadth of India. While Cunningham funded many of his early excavations himself, in the long run, he realized the need for a permanent body to oversee archaeological excavations and the conservation of Indian monuments and used his stature and influence in India to lobby for an archaeological survey. While his attempt in 1848 did not meet with success, the Archaeological Survey of India was eventually formed in 1861 by a statute passed into law by Lord Canning with Cunningham as the first Archaeological Surveyor. The survey was suspended briefly between 1865 and 1871 due to lack of funds but restored by Lord Lawrence the then Viceroy of India. In 1871, the Survey was revived as a separate department and Cunningham was appointed as its first Director-General.[2] To this day, Alexander Cunningham is revered as the "Father of Indian Archaeology".[citation needed]


Cunningham retired in 1885 and was succeeded as Director General by James Burgess. Burgess launched a yearly journal The Indian Antiquary (1872) and an annual epigraphical publication Epigraphia Indica (1882) as a supplement to the Indian Antiquary. The post of Director General was permanently suspended in 1889 due to a funds crunch and was not restored until 1902. In the interim period, conservation work in the different circles was carried out by the superintendents of the individual circles.


The post of Director General was restored by Lord Curzon in 1902. Breaking with tradition, Curzon chose a 26-year-old professor of classical studies at Cambridge named John Marshall to head the survey. Marshall served as Director General for a quarter of a century and during his long tenure, he replenished and invigorated the survey whose activities were fast dwindling into insignificance. Marshall established the post of Government epigraphist and encouraged epigraphical studies. The most significant event of his tenure was, however, the discovery of the Indus Valley Civilization at Harappa and Mohenjodaro in 1921. The success and scale of the discoveries made ensured that the progress made in Marshall's tenure would remain unmatched. Marshall was succeeded by Harold Hargreaves in 1928. Hargreaves was succeeded by Daya Ram Sahni, supervisor of Marshall's excavation of Harappa in 1921−22, who in 1931, became the first Indian Director General of the survey.

Sahni was succeeded by J. F. Blakiston and K. N. Dikshit both of whom had participated in the excavations at Harappa and Mohenjodaro. In 1944, a British archaeologist and army officer, Mortimer Wheeler took over as Director General. Wheeler served as Director General till 1948 and during this period he excavated the Iron Age site of Arikamedu and the Stone age sites of Brahmagiri, Chandravalli and Maski in South India. Wheeler founded the journal Ancient India in 1946 and presided over the partitioning of ASI's assets during the Partition of India and helped establish an archaeological body for the newly formed Pakistan.


Wheeler was succeeded by N. P. Chakravarti in 1948. The National Museum was inaugurated in New Delhi on 15 August 1949 to house the artifacts displayed the Indian Exhibition in the United Kingdom.

Madho Sarup Vats and Amalananda Ghosh succeeded Chakravarti. Ghosh's tenure which lasted until 1968 is noted for the excavations of Indus Valley sites at Kalibangan, Lothal and Dholavira. The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act was passed in 1958 bringing the archaeological survey under the aegis of the Ministry of Culture. Ghosh was succeeded by B.B. Lal who conducted archaeological excavations at Ayodhya to investigate whether a Ram Temple preceded the Babri Masjid. During Lal's tenure, the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act (1972) was passed recommending central protection for monuments considered to be "of national importance". Lal was succeeded by M. N. Deshpande who served from 1972 to 1978 and B. K. Thapar who served from 1978 to 1981. On Thapar's retirement in 1981, archaeologist Debala Mitra was appointed to succeed him - she was the first woman Director General of the ASI. Mitra was succeeded by M. S. Nagaraja Rao, who had been transferred from the Karnataka State Department of Archaeology. Archaeologists J. P. Joshi and M. C. Joshi succeeded Rao. M. C. Joshi was the Director General when the Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992 triggering Hindu-Muslim violence all over India. As a fallout of the demolition, Joshi was dismissed in 1993 and controversially replaced as Director General by Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer Achala Moulik, a move which inaugurated a tradition of appointing bureaucrats of the IAS instead of archaeologists to head the survey. The tradition was finally brought to an end in 2010 when Gautam Sengupta an archaeologist, replaced K.M Srivastava an IAS officer as Director General.He was again succeeded by Pravin Srivastava, another IAS officer. Srivastava's successor and the present incumbent, Rakesh Tiwari is also a professional archaeologist.


The Archaeological Survey of India is an attached office of the Ministry of Culture. Under the provisions of the AMASR Act of 1958, the ASI administers more than 3650 ancient monuments, archaeological sites and remains of national importance. These can include everything from temples, mosques, churches, tombs, and cemeteries to palaces, forts, step-wells, and rock-cut caves. The Survey also maintains ancient mounds and other similar sites which represent the remains of ancient habitation.[3]

The ASI is headed by a Director General who is assisted by an Additional Director General, two Joint Directors General, and 17 Directors.[4]


The ASI is divided into a total of 27 circles[5] each headed by a Superintending Archaeologist.[4] Each of the circles are further divided into sub-circles.[citation needed] The circles of the ASI are:

The ASI also administers two "mini-circles" at Leh and Hampi.[5]


The Survey has had 29 Directors-General thus far. Its founder, Alexander Cunningham served as Archaeological Surveyor between 1861 and 1865.[2]

  1. 1871−1885 Alexander Cunningham
  2. 1886−1889 James Burgess
  3. 1902−1928 John Marshall
  4. 1928−1931 Harold Hargreaves
  5. 1931−1935 Daya Ram Sahni
  6. 1935−1937 J. F. Blakiston
  7. 1937−1944 K. N. Dikshit
  8. 1944−1948 Mortimer Wheeler
  9. 1948−1950 N. P. Chakravarti
  10. 1950−1953 Madho Sarup Vats
  11. 1953−1968 Amalananda Ghosh
  12. 1968−1972 B. B. Lal
  13. 1972−1978 M. N. Deshpande
  14. 1978−1981 B. K. Thapar
  15. 1981−1983 Debala Mitra
  16. 1984−1987 M. S. Nagaraja Rao
  17. 1987−1989 J. P. Joshi
  18. 1989−1993 M. C. Joshi
  19. 1993−1994 Achala Moulik
  20. 1994−1995 S. K. Mahapatra
  21. 1995−1997 B. P. Singh
  22. 1997−1998 Ajai Shankar
  23. 1998−2001 S. B. Mathur
  24. 2001−2004 K. G. Menon
  25. 2004−2007 C. Babu Rajeev
  26. 2009−2010 K. N. Srivastava
  27. 2010−2013 Gautam Sengupta
  28. 2013−2014 Pravin Srivastava
  29. 2014−present Rakesh Tewari


India's first museum was established by the Asiatic Society in Calcutta in 1814. Much of its collection was passed on to the Indian Museum which was established in the city in 1866.[6] The Archaeological Survey did not maintain its own museums until the tenure of its third director-general, John Marshall. He initiated the establishment of various site museums at Sarnath (1904), Agra (1906), Ajmer (1908), Delhi Fort (1909), Bijapur (1912), Nalanda (1917) and Sanchi (1919). The ASI's museums are customarily located right next to the sites that their inventories are associated with " so that hey may be studied amid their natural surroundings and not lose focus by being transported".

A dedicated Museums Branch was established in 1946 by Mortimer Wheeler which now maintains a total of 44 museums spread across the country.[7]


The ASI maintains a Central Archaeological Library in the National Archives building in Janpath, New Delhi. Established in 1902, its collection numbers more than 100,000 books and journals. The library is also a repository of rare books, plates, and original drawings.

The Survey additionally maintains a library in each of its circles to cater to local academics and researchers.[8]


The day-to-day work of the survey was published in a series of periodical bulletins and reports. The periodicals and archaeological series published by the ASI are:

  • Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum : It consists of a series of seven volumes of inscriptions discovered and deciphered by archaeologists of the survey. Founded in 1877 by Alexander Cunningham, a final revised volume was published by E. Hultzsch in 1925.
  • Annual Report on Indian Epigraphy The first volume of the Annual Report on Indian Epigraphy was brought out by the epigraphist E. Hultzsch in 1887. The bulletin has not been published since 2005.
  • Epigraphia Indica: The Epigraphia Indica was first published by the then Director General, J. Burgess in 1888 as a supplementary to The Indian Antiquary. Since then, a total of 43 volumes have been published. The last volume was published in 1979. An Arabic and Persian supplement to the Epigraphia Indica was also published from 1907 to 1977.
  • South Indian Inscriptions The first volume was edited by E. Hultzsch and published in 1890. A total of 27 volumes were published till 1990. The early volumes are the main source of historical information on the Pallavas, Cholas and Chalukyas.
  • Annual Report of the Archaeological Survey of India: It was the primary bulletin of the ASI. The first annual report was published by John Marshall in 1902-03. The last volume was published in 1938-39. It was replaced by "Indian Archaeology: A Review".
  • Ancient India: The first volume of Ancient India was published in 1946 and edited by Sir Mortimer Wheeler as a bi-annual and converted to an annual in 1949. The twenty second and last volume was published in 1966.
  • Indian Archaeology: A Review: The Indian Archaeology: A Review is the primary bulletin of the ASI and has been published since 1953-54. It replaced the Annual Report of the Archaeological Survey of India.

State government archaeological departments[edit]

Apart from the ASI, archaeological work in India and conservation of monuments is also carried out in some states by state government archaeological departments. Most of these bodies were set up by the various princely states before independence. When these states were annexed to India after independence, the individual archaeological departments of these states were not integrated with the ASI. Instead, they were allowed to function as independent bodies.

In popular culture[edit]

The fictional character Kakababu, in Sunil Gangopadhyay's famed Kakababu series, is an ex-Director of the Archaeological Survey of India.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Budget 2014-15 Ministry of Culture" (PDF). Retrieved 30 March 2014. 
  2. ^ a b "History". Archaeological Survey of India. Retrieved 7 April 2015. 
  3. ^ "Monuments". Archaeological Survey of India. Retrieved 17 April 2015. 
  4. ^ a b "Organisation". Archaeological Survey of India. Retrieved 7 April 2015. 
  5. ^ a b "Circles". Archaeological Survey of India. Retrieved 7 April 2015. 
  6. ^ "The Asiatic Society". Retrieved 17 April 2015. 
  7. ^ "Museums". Archaeological Survey of India. Retrieved 17 April 2015. 
  8. ^ "Central Archaeological Library". Archaeological Survey of India. Retrieved 17 April 2015. 
  9. ^ "Government of Karnataka Department of Archaeology, Museums and Heritage". Retrieved 17 April 2015. 

External links[edit]