Archaeological Survey of India

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Archaeological Survey of India
Archeological Survey of India.jpg
Abbreviation ASI
Formation 1861
Headquarters Janpath, New Delhi, India - 110011
Region served
Parent organization
Ministry of Culture, Government of India
INR605 crore (US$95 million) (2014-2015)[1]

The Archaeological Survey of India (भारतीय पुरातत्‍व सर्वेक्षण) is an Indian government agency in the Ministry of Culture that is responsible for archaeological studies and the preservation of cultural monuments. According to its website, the ASI's function is to "explore, excavate, conserve, preserve and protect the monuments and sites of National & International Importance."


The first systematic research into India's history was conducted by the Asiatic Society which was founded by the British Sanskritist Sir 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.

Alexander Cunningham

Armed with the knowledge of Brahmi, Alexander Cunningham, a protege 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. The Archaeological Survey of India was eventually formed in 1861 by a statute passed into law by Lord Canning with Alexander Cunningham as the first Director-General. The survey was suspended briefly between 1865 and 1871 due to lack of funds but restored by Lord Lawrence the then Viceroy of India. To this day, Alexander Cunningham is revered as the "Father of Indian Archaeology".

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 found piles of skeletons in Mohenjodaro which he postulated to be victims of violence thereby vindicating the Aryan Invasion Theory. Wheeler founded the journal Ancient India in 1946 and presided over the partioning of ASI's assets during the Partition of India. Following India's independence, Wheeler 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 2013 when Gautam Sengupta, an IAS officer was replaced as Director General by Pravin Srivastava, an archaeologist. Srivastava's successor and present incumbent, Rakesh Tiwari is also a professional archaeologist.


ASI administers 3636 monuments it has declared to be of national importance under the provisions of the Antiquity and Art Treasure Act 1972.

The important sites excavated recently include Harsha-ka-Tila at Thanesar in Haryana exposing a cultural sequence from the Kushan period to medieval periods.

Museums under the auspices of the ASI are for example the National Museum, New Delhi and the Red Fort Archaeological Museum.

An 18 member National Committee on Conservation Policy was formed in January 2011 by Ministry of Culture. Their main agenda was to make guidelines for Conservationa and Protection of monuments, formulate principles for conservation and comprise international best practices. A draft “National Conservation Policy for Monuments, Archaeological Sites and Remains” was released in May 2013. This was submitted to Ministry of Culture after getting feedback from various stakeholders. Ministry of Culture approved the final policy named “National Policy for Conservation of Ancient Monuments, Archaeological Sites and Remains(NPC - AMASR)” in January 2013. The Conservation policy will be applicable only for monuments and sites protected by ASI under Archaeological Sites and Reamians Act (AMASR), 1958.[2]


The Archaeological Survey is divided into a total of 25 circles each headed by a Superintending Archaeologist. Each of the circles are further divided into sub-circles. The circles of the ASI are:

  1. Agra
  2. Aurangabad
  3. Bangalore
  4. Bhopal
  5. Bhubaneswar
  6. Chandigarh
  7. Chennai
  8. Dehra Dun
  9. Delhi
  10. Dharwad
  11. Goa
  12. Guwahati
  13. Hyderabad
  14. Jaipur
  15. Kolkata
  16. Lucknow
  17. Mumbai
  18. Patna
  19. Raipur
  20. Ranchi
  21. Sarnath
  22. Shimla
  23. Srinagar
  24. Thrissur
  25. Vadodara


Other archaeological departments[edit]

Apart from the ASI, archaeological work in India and conservation of monuments is also carried out 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". Retrieved 30 March 2014. 
  2. ^ Retrieved from 'Archaeological Survey of India' on 17 September 2014

External links[edit]