13. The Paradox of Valuing the Invaluable: Managing Cultural Values in Heritage Places

  • Tara Sharma
Heritage conservation in India is historically rooted in a material-based approach. In recent years some have attempted to adopt a more values-based approach, yet conserving living sites and objects of worship presents many challenges. Values are still largely defined by “experts,” and conservation decisions based on such assessments may be contested by traditional custodians and local communities whose practices favor renewal and maintenance over the preservation of physical fabric, and who place the continuity of intangible social values at the core of decision making. Citing examples from villages in the Trans-Himalayan region of Ladakh, this paper explores approaches negotiating multiple, often contentious, cultural values surrounding the treatment of religious sites and objects.

Heritage conservation in India is historically rooted in a material-based approach. In recent years some have attempted to adopt a more values-based approach, yet conserving living sites and objects of worship presents many challenges. Values are still largely defined by “experts,” and conservation decisions based on such assessments may be contested by traditional custodians and local communities whose practices favor renewal and maintenance over the preservation of physical fabric, and who place the continuity of intangible social values at the core of decision making. Citing examples from villages in the Trans-Himalayan region of Ladakh, this paper explores approaches negotiating multiple, often contentious, cultural values surrounding the treatment of religious sites and objects.

Places and objects valued by local communities across Asia have been handed down from generation to generation, either repaired and maintained in the form in which they are inherited, or sometimes created anew over older remains. Traditional systems of management practices, local beliefs, and living art traditions enable continuity in the transmission of social values embodied in these places. The positioning of these practices and associated social values within the heritage discourse has gained acceptance over the past several decades, particularly with the shift from a material- to a values-based approach.1

The basic premise of the values-based approach is that people ascribe value to heritage places in countless ways, and that values play a central role in defining and directing conservation of built heritage. The ultimate aim of conservation in the values-based approach is not to conserve material for its own sake, but rather to maintain (and shape) the values embodied by the heritage, with physical intervention or treatment being one of many means toward that end (). A primary challenge is prioritizing diverse (particularly intangible) values. In practice, differences may arise stemming from the very construct of the notion of heritage or the diverse values seen to be embodied in it by multiple communities of heritage conservators and traditional custodians.

This paper explores some of the practical challenges faced in the field when negotiating diverse cultural values by sharing experiences working with core communities in villages across the Trans-Himalayan region of Ladakh in India.2 These experiences are positioned across a spectrum spanning the formal conservation discourse in India, epitomized by the predominantly material-based approach of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the values-based approach of heritage professionals working on so-called unprotected heritage, and traditional and/or Indigenous management practices, worldviews, and belief systems.

Negotiating diverse and often conflicting values in heritage places is often biased by one’s own limited understanding of larger social or religious contexts within which this heritage is situated—beginning with the very process of identifying heritage. Participatory approaches to cultural mapping can contribute to a more layered and nuanced understanding of heritage, but conserving diverse values in practice during conservation projects is far more challenging. Where traditional approaches of renewal and maintenance continue, communities place the continuity of intangible social values at the core of decision making. For conservation programs implemented by heritage experts, it is the continuity of the physical fabric that still dictates the values to be conserved. This paper explores the dilemmas faced by both heritage conservators and core communities in negotiating values stemming from very different views on continuity.

Approaches to the Conservation of Built Heritage in India

The main conservation principles and concepts as understood and practiced today by heritage institutions and professionals emerged in eighteenth-century Europe (). For former colonies of the British Empire, this was inherited as an archaeology-based conservation practice that still forms the backbone of heritage legislation in countries such as India. In the postcolonial period, Asian countries have also absorbed much of the modern heritage discourse from global institutions like UNESCO and ICOMOS ().

The Ancient Monuments and Antiquities Sites and Remains Act, passed in 1958 and amended in 2010, remains the primary legal instrument by which more than thirty-five hundred nationally protected monuments and sites are preserved by the ASI.3 An ancient monument is defined as “any structure, erection or monument, or any tumulus or place of interment, or any cave, rock-sculpture, inscription or monolith which is of historical, archaeological or artistic interest and which has been in existence for not less than one hundred years” (, section 2a). Archaeological sites and remains are “any area which contains or is reasonably believed to contain ruins or relics of historical or archaeological importance which have been in existence for not less than one hundred years” (, section 2d). Within the framework of this definition, the emphasis on what is commonly referred to as the material-based approach has informed much of the ASI’s work.

In 2014 the National Policy for Conservation () was framed by the ASI for nationally protected monuments under their purview. It sought to consider the changing contexts for monument conservation in India and articulated the need for a shift from a material-based to a values-based approach. Article 5.01 states, “It is important to define the nature of conservation intervention for monuments that is based on their value/significance which is determined by the nature and extent of intervention required for its conservation. The imperative of such values-based approach is derived from the nature/typology of a monument and from the interpretation of its value/significance.” Subsequent articles of the policy, however, define the range of conservation measures that may be adopted on a monument as depending largely on its archaeological, artistic, or architectural value. The policy does not specifically address social values, and in fact certain provisions may not augur well for the conservation of social values. For instance:

  • “Missing or damaged sculptures, idols, wall paintings, inscriptions, etc., should not be replaced or attempted to be completed.” (Article 4.11)

  • “In cases where inappropriate modern or recent additions and/or alterations have been made to the monument in the recent past, after its protection, which have a direct impact on the authenticity/integrity of the monument, it may be desirable to remove or undo such interventions. The monument should then be restored to either its original or an earlier known state depending upon the available evidences.” (Article 4.16)

This is particularly true in religious places where renewal and evolution are integral to the life cycle. It is here that the potential for conflict arises between custodians and heritage professionals, as we will see.

While ASI’s approach is confined to monuments and sites under its protection, a more flexible values-based approach has been adopted by heritage professionals working on what is referred to as “unprotected” heritage. Documents such as the INTACH charter () acknowledge, for example, the role of traditional craftsmanship in conservation and the tradition of renewal. The practical applications of these principles, however, remain contested even among heritage professionals.4 Not all heritage, however, is conserved by the ASI or the network of trained heritage conservators. In fact, a sizable portion of India’s heritage is maintained by age-old practices of repair and renewal carried out by community-led traditional management bodies that continue to perform a function in contemporary community life. Over the past few decades, partnerships between these community bodies and heritage practitioners have formed in places like Ladakh to conserve diverse values and have enriched the heritage discourse in India.

The Conundrum of Defining Values: By Whom? For Whom?

The gap between traditional and contemporary conservation practices stems from the very definition of what constitutes “heritage” (). In the case of Asian heritage, this definition stems more from spiritual or intangible beliefs and worldviews than tangible or material aesthetic principles (). The task of identifying heritage itself is driven predominantly by the heritage professional. As Laurajane Smith points out, “Heritage is heritage because it is subjected to the management and preservation/conservation process, not because it simply ‘is.’ This process does not just find sites and places to manage and protect. It is itself a constitutive cultural process that identifies those things and places that can be given meaning and value as ‘heritage,’ reflecting contemporary cultural and social values, debates, and aspirations” (, 3).

The identification of built heritage through the creation of inventories is one of the first steps taken in developing long-term conservation strategies. In 2003, the Namgyal Institute for Research on Ladakhi Art and Culture (NIRLAC), with a mandate to develop a regional conservation program for the Trans-Himalayan region of Ladakh, began the task of inventorying immovable cultural resources. The NIRLAC approach overturned then-popular top-down practices wherein experts—conservation architects, historians, archaeologists—would visit an area to identify heritage places of significance at the regional level, which in the case of Ladakh generally focused on Buddhist monasteries and temples, palaces, and forts. The project, funded by the Ford Foundation, instead chose to understand heritage from the village level up in order to identify what kinds of built or landscape elements were valued by the village communities.

The criteria for the inventory had to be constantly reevaluated and revised as community perceptions came to be more clearly understood (). It encompassed a wide range of heritage, from the well-known typologies of monasteries, forts, and palaces; to village temples, mosques, stupas, mani walls (built of stones inscribed with Lamaist prayers), lhato (altars to the protector deities), lubang (altars to the underworld deities, lu), solitary cave retreats for monks, and steles; to remains of archaeological importance, such as petroglyphs or abandoned ruins of ancient temples or stupas. The inventory also documented elements of the landscape that the community held sacred, including mountains, rock formations, trees, lakes, and so on. Nomadic camping grounds and pasture lands were also included (fig. 13.1) ().

Figure 13.1
The inventory included elements of the landscape such as the nomadic camping grounds in the Changthang region. Image: Tara Sharma
Seven decorated stupas and a small square building lined up consecutively, with a scenic view of a mountain ridge at dawn. Figure 13.2
The inventory also included contemporary places of cultural significance such as the Jiwestal, where His Holiness the Dalai Lama delivers his teachings in Ladakh. Image: Tara Sharma

While recording the significance of each heritage place, emphasis was given to understanding its value for contemporary village communities. For example, rows of stupas (chorten) that line the entrances to Buddhist villages were included for their significance to passersby who circumambulate them as they travel to and from the village, rather than for their antiquity. Age itself was measured in generations as recounted by villagers, whose estimations were sometimes accurate and sometimes glaringly erroneous, highlighting the subjective perception of time itself. Some of the contemporary places of significance such as the Jiwestal, large grounds in the outskirts of Leh, where His Holiness the Dalai Lama delivers his teachings to the people when he visits Ladakh, were included, as were the stupas constructed on these grounds (fig. 13.2). Sacred landscape elements continue to be discovered in Ladakh by eminent spiritual leaders, and during the inventory the team revisited villages where such sacred sites had been recently identified.

The inventory was carried out primarily by a team of Ladakhi youth familiar with the language and culture, and included scholars, pilgrims, monks, and tour guides in addition to architects. This leap from the typical practice of mapping by experts, where emphasis is placed on physical or architectural descriptions of the listed heritage, to a significance-based mapping drawing on the community’s association with a place, drew its share of criticism from experts at the time ().

With the village as the focal point for the inventory, legends associated with the founding and naming of villages were also documented, bringing to light the fascinating nature-culture link of human habitation in the cold, arid desert landscape. The Dards, who migrated many centuries ago from their original homeland around the Gilgit region of present-day Pakistan, are a specific ethnic group in Ladakh. One of the villages they founded is that of Dha. According to their oral histories, they migrated across the mountains from their homeland in the Gilgit region, residing for a while in the upper mountain reaches (Dha Brog) before winding down to the present settlement. From Dha Brog, an ancestral hero, Gil Singhe, is said to have shot an arrow down toward the present village, announcing that the people would settle wherever the arrow struck. The arrow struck a rock, and even today the village draws water from this point where they believe the arrow landed. The word dha means “arrow” in the local dialect ().

The inventory also highlighted some of the paradoxes inherent in its own approach. First, circumscribing what constituted heritage versus what fell outside this boundary was not always clear. For core communities, continuity of association (through cultural processes of creation and renewal) implied that values stemming from materiality or from age or antiquity were not necessarily a priority. Other values—predominantly social values for contemporary communities—were given more weight. For example, the question arose whether to include in the list contemporary stupas that continue to be created across Ladakh employing modern construction materials and contemporary styles as part of a continuing tradition. Equally, a decision was made to include places, specifically mosques and imambara (buildings used by Shia Muslims for rituals commemorating the martyrdom of Husain Ali in the first month of the Islamic calendar), that had been entirely rebuilt in the recent past using modern construction materials and new architectural vocabularies but were deemed of value for the core community, who still viewed them as spaces that had been used continuously for worship over the centuries. The space and its function, rather than the built envelope enclosing the space, were deemed to be of value.

Another dilemma involved translating ideas of heritage and values into local parlance. In a sense, everything could be considered as having heritage value, given the specific ways in which communities in Ladakh have adapted to the desert climate, where limited access to resources has impacted almost all facets of life. From objects of daily use, such as a clay pot produced in Likir or an embossed metal plate from Chiling, to the layout of villages, with the scattering of burial grounds and sacred places, terraced fields and orchards irrigated through traditional water management systems, and adobe dwellings reflecting the specific social organization (the khangba or “big house” and khangu or “little house”), all reflect diverse values to heritage professionals, while for communities all are viewed as part of a way of life.

Participatory approaches that recognize diverse values at the stage of identifying heritage in a specific cultural context are critical. It is important to note that while the process of identification of heritage values helps heritage practitioners develop conservation plans, it also impacts how communities view their heritage as selected places and objects whose specific values distinguish them from the mundane. What is of value to a specific community or communities subsequently gains value for wider communities. For example, museums established within monasteries in Ladakh hold ritual objects once valued for their functional use as aids in religious practice, which today are understood to have additional artistic or historical values that are recognized by wider global communities.

Conserving Values: How and by Whom?

While the inventory program highlighted the diverse range of values, the actual challenge of prioritizing these values came through the implementation of conservation programs. One of the most visible and contentious areas is the conservation of wall paintings inside Buddhist temples and monasteries. The historic and artistic significance of Buddhist wall paintings and temple sculptures in Ladakh, dating from about the tenth century onward, has today been well established by art historians. Substantial research since the 1970s has revealed a wealth of information on the evolution and transmission of artistic styles and the historical expansion of the various schools of Buddhism, while more recent research into materials and techniques has shed light on the high technical quality and sophistication of their execution, which has enabled them to survive to this day.

With an aim to conserve the art historical values of these paintings, several programs have been initiated by both the ASI and nonprofit organizations applying scientific principles to meet international conservation standards. The final post-conservation presentation of wall paintings is subject to intense negotiations. At the same time, local village and monastic management bodies continue their tradition of maintaining and creating anew as the need arises.

This is because for core communities, other values are recognized in these paintings, namely their use as tools to aid meditation and spiritual practice. Through the act of consecration, all sacred objects are given a “mandate” to fulfill their purpose of existence—to aid the spiritual development of living beings. This mandate runs through the life cycle of the sacred object until it succumbs to the effects of the four elements: earth, water, fire, wind.5 At this stage, depending on the spiritual value, the mandate may be transferred to a new object or painting consecrated for this purpose, or it may be allowed to completely decay if it has been associated with a powerful spiritual personality. For instance Dzongsar Ngari Choedje Thingo Rimpoche, a great scholar and until his death in 2008 the abbot of Dzongsar monastery in Kham, eastern Tibet, told me that in the context of painted scrolls, even if the painting is very badly damaged, it should not be restored because the mandate that has been given is valid as long as the last small piece of the painting remains: “Touching a thangka with one of the four elements (paint, for example, can contain water or earthen products, and sometimes is heated with fire) in order to change its structure, would end the mandate. At some point the thangka will succumb to one of the four elements.”6 According to the Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, conservation approaches should primarily be suited to answer the requirements of ritual functions and practice ().

To illustrate this diversity in values and their application in the conservation process, let us consider a few examples. In 1998, Hemis Monastery was included in India’s tentative list for nomination on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.7 The monastery, founded in the seventeenth century, is a thriving center of the Drukpa Kagyu sect and is listed as a nationally protected monument by the ASI. Values recognized at the time of its inclusion on the tentative list focused on its historical and architectural values as the oldest monastery in the region belonging to the Drukpa Kagyu and as a unique example of a monastic complex of the period. Its contemporary spiritual values for the core community were not acknowledged. In 2008, the old assembly hall in the complex, which had been deteriorating for many years, was finally partially demolished and rebuilt by the monastic community following a long standoff between the ASI and the monks. The loss of the “original” wall paintings following this partial demolition was vociferously lamented by heritage professionals and even drew the attention of the national media. For the monastic management committee, repair and renovation of the monastery as a contemporary institution was an ongoing process, as monks resided and prayed here. For the heritage professionals, the lack of conservation expertise and dependence on village masons by the monastery did not bode well (). This view was voiced by other conservators, too: “A Buddhist monastery in Ladakh sans wall paintings is nothing but mud walls. Monasteries in Ladakh are major storehouses of beautiful wall paintings belonging to different historical periods” (, 31). It is interesting to note here that contemporary wall paintings executed by trained Buddhist artists are not included in this framing of historical periods. The views of the custodians and of the conservators stem from very different understandings of the cultural values embodied in the monastery (fig. 13.3) ().

Wall paintings are particularly vulnerable to precipitation in Ladakh, and in the past few decades their conservation has elicited much discussion among custodians and conservators, particularly in regard to the diverse spiritual and art historical values they embody.
Several large cracks on deteriorated wall painting of Buddha and bodhisattvas around him. Figure 13.3
Wall paintings are particularly vulnerable to precipitation in Ladakh, and in the past few decades their conservation has elicited much discussion among custodians and conservators, particularly in regard to the diverse spiritual and art historical values they embody. Image: Tara Sharma

To understand the context of the repainting at Hemis Monastery, I spoke with the master artists, the (since deceased) Padma Shri Tsering Angdus Olthangpa and his disciple, who were given this responsibility by the monastic management. The artists explained that only decayed wall sections were demolished, and every attempt was made to retain the work of the original artist. The missing sections were repainted according to the previous iconographic layouts. However, on completion, the stark visual difference between the older paintings and new ones was found to be too distracting for spiritual practice, and it was decided to overlay new colors within the original line work. For the artists, the original work remained the original work, just refreshed with new pigments. They also pointed out that at the time of retouching the older paintings, they encountered evidence of earlier cycles of repainting. The continuity in the tradition of repairing damaged wall paintings, itself a product of a traditional monastic management system, must be understood in the context of the social values of the monastery ().

The conservation of wall paintings within the Lama Lhakhang chamber, undertaken for Chemday Monastery by the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), highlighted the potential to conserve these diverse values through in-depth discussions between custodians and conservators. The monastery, contemporary to Hemis, belongs to the same Drukpa Kagyu order and is managed through a traditional monastic system. The paintings, dating back to the seventeenth century and the time of the monastery’s founding, had survived but were in fragile condition. The entrance wall was particularly obscured with a centuries-old accumulation of soot from dust and burning oil lamps, while other walls demonstrated different issues, including detachment of the paint layers, delamination, cracks, and loss of plaster. In discussions with the monks, it was revealed that the current condition of the paintings impeded spiritual practice, and options for conservation as well as retouching and/or painting anew were discussed. After consultations between the monastic management and the artist Tsering Angdus (now deceased), it was decided to permit the conservation of the wall paintings, with the option to repaint incomplete sections post-conservation resting with the monks.

Discussions on the conservation approach involved both conservators and monks. The former group focused on the appropriate method for cleaning the paintings and whether to employ only mechanical (as opposed to chemical) cleaning. The monks were clear that if the paintings were not legible following conservation, spiritual practice would be disrupted and repainting would be needed. Where heavy soot in some areas obscured the figures beneath, solvent cleaning generally led to positive outcomes, including the revelation of a rare painting of the founder, the great spiritual leader Lama Stagtsang Raspa, and his patron, King Sengge Namgyal (fig. 13.4a and fig. 13.4b), reinforcing the strong spiritual association with the monastery’s founding ().

A seventeenth-century wall painting in the Lama Lhakhang obscured by layers of soot (a) and then after conservation (b), which revealed a rare image of the patron King Sengge Namgyal and the founder Lama Stagtsang Raspa. Images: Tara Sharma

I had the opportunity to mediate discussions among the monks, artists, and conservators concerning repainting where paint layers had been completely lost. International conservation standards of minimum intervention and reversibility generally govern the approach taken toward the conservation and final presentation of wall paintings. Yet as David Lowenthal succinctly states, the idea that “nothing should be done that could not be undone, that each valued artifact was entitled to be returned to its previous or ‘original’ condition,” is coming to be understood as more and more “quixotically unrealistic. The erosions and accretions of memory and history implacably alter every physical object no less than they do each sentient being” (, 20). In particular, “While the general approach to the conservation of a work of art is to carry out minimal reconstruction of damaged or missing elements in a mural painting, the same philosophy cannot be adopted for a living religious site” (, 81).

A range of techniques have been adopted by art conservators in the past for the final presentation of temple wall paintings in Ladakh, “which included processes such as trattegio or rigatoni, chromatic selection, neutral color infill and invisible retouching, based on the viewers’ field of vision and iconographic importance of the image for the community” (, 82). Repainting of missing portions by local artists is usually carried out under the guidance of trained conservators using conservation-grade materials and techniques to distinguish the intervention from the historic layer. The role of the conservators is ultimately to advocate for the wall paintings themselves, irrespective of their functions, and to prolong their life by stabilizing the existing materials and adopting a cleaning approach to improve their legibility ().8 Conservation programs focus on the need to conserve values associated with the historic and artistic characteristics of material fabric, and less on social values that arise from continued traditions of creation and renewal followed by artists and monks. In Chemday, the monks’ decision that local artists would repaint only the missing areas of images was followed, which enabled the paintings to be completed and fulfill their mandate for religious practice. Paintings that were complete and visible after cleaning by conservators were not repainted.

For the core community, the primary social value that the paintings embody stems from a specific cultural context in which sacred art is created and for which artists undergo rigorous training. The training includes traditional fields of knowledge such as philosophy, logic, literature, medical sciences, and astrology, along with the arts, making it a complete knowledge system. Today young novices and artists are trained at the Central Institute of Buddhist Studies in Leh, where senior artists like the late Tsering Angdus once taught.9 Tsering Angdus was a disciple of his master, Deba Pasang of Narthang of the Tsang province of southwestern Tibet, who was trained in the Menri style of the Tsang school, which was developed in the fifteenth century by Manla Dondrub, with whom Tsering Angdus believed he had a karmic connection. Great emphasis is placed on correct iconometry and drawing. In the early 1980s Tsering Angdus and his disciples painted the Guru Lhakhang in Chemday Monastery, described by one author as the finest tantric figures to be seen in Ladakh (). Tsering Angdus described the process by which he would create paintings, sitting in retreat and meditating upon the attributes of the sacred figure he was planning to portray. Mineral pigments, which he formerly prepared himself, were gradually replaced with modern synthetic pigments now commonly used by artists across Ladakh. There were rituals associated with the creation of the painting as well, culminating in the final opening of the eyes and consecration of the image (rab nas) infusing the sacred essence into the image ().

Painting a sacred image is not simply a routine following a prescribed formula of proportions and measurements, but a spiritual enactment of the artist’s intent (fig. 13.5). The deity could refuse to reside in an image if it is incorrectly portrayed at the time of consecration or if the artist is not treated respectfully by the patron. Quoting from the Tantra of Consecration, Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Tayé, the nineteenth-century Tibetan scholar and author of the encyclopedic Treasury of Knowledge, notes that “the being of pristine cognition (jñañasattva) will not enter [the image of] a deity fashioned by an artist who is displeased. At the start of the consecration the artist should be pleased” (, 185). The jñañasattva will not enter into a deity image that is imperfectly created, and in such cases only negativity will ensue. Even good deeds carried out in a place where such an image is enshrined will diminish and such places should be abandoned in favor of purer locations.

An artist painting an image of Guru Padmasabhava on the walls of a newly built temple in Gya village, Ladakh. The paintings conform to iconographic standards laid down in Buddhist canonical texts and traditionally passed from master to apprentice.
Figure 13.5
An artist painting an image of Guru Padmasabhava on the walls of a newly built temple in Gya village, Ladakh. The paintings conform to iconographic standards laid down in Buddhist canonical texts and traditionally passed from master to apprentice. Image: Tara Sharma

The conservation of diverse values, as seen from the examples above, is a complex process that requires new tools of learning and practice for today’s heritage practitioners. Accepting that heritage values are not rooted solely in antiquity or materiality, but equally in the continuity of traditions and practices, requires a new framework for engaging with communities that recognizes the roles of traditional management bodies and contemporary institutions of learning about traditional arts in the decision-making process.


Traditional practices regarding the maintenance of sacred objects and structures continues today in villages across Ladakh, stemming from a worldview that acknowledges cycles of creation, repair, renewal, and decay. Damaged folios of sacred texts, thangkas, votive tablets, and other ritual paraphernalia are often placed inside a collapsed chorten (shrine) or immersed in water to decay, much to the dismay of heritage professionals! But this practice follows a tradition laid out in Buddhist texts relating to the fine arts, mentioned in the Pratimāmānalakshanām (Theory of Proportions of Statues), a Tibetan translation of an original Sanskrit work found in the Tengyur: “The image of a goddess, established or being established, if it be burnt, worn out, broken or split up will always be faulty…. They should be given farewell according to the usual ceremonial rites” (, 40). Depending on the material of the statue, certain modes are prescribed for its ritual destruction after appropriate deconsecration rituals. The jñañasattva is reinstalled in the newly commissioned image. The text concludes with the merit that accrues to the person who thus cares for an old statue (, 42). Acceptance of the material life cycle of a sacred object—creation, maintenance, decay—stems from a worldview that places the continuity of the intangible value at the core of decision making.

Heritage professionals are now realizing that valuing the invaluable may not be such a paradox. They are negotiating diverse values, and pushing the envelope of the profession to embrace divergent value systems. Alternate narratives on traditional management practices for the conservation of heritage places, and on the stewardship of communities in decision making regarding what to conserve and how, are today finding their place in the heritage discourse. The actual implications of recognizing larger social, economic, and religious contexts within which heritage is positioned is leading to a rethinking of approaches to heritage places and objects, placing communities at the core of decision making.10


  1. The material-based approach can be described as: who (the community group responsible for heritage definition and protection), the conservation professionals; what (the meaning of heritage, and the aim of conservation), preservation of the material of the past; and how (the way heritage is protected by the relevant community group), treating fabric as a non-“renewable” resource, aligning power in the hands of the conservation professionals, the so-called experts, without the involvement of the community, and conducting conservation with reference to modern, science-based principles and practices (). The model of a values-based approach has been described as: who, stakeholders and other interest groups, including local and Indigenous communities; what, protection of values associated not only to tangible but also to intangible heritage expressions such as user or social value; and how, involving stakeholder groups and conducting conservation with reference not only to modern, science-based principles and practices of the conservation professionals but also to the traditional management systems and maintenance practices of the local communities ().
  2. The core community is defined as a specific local group that created heritage and sustains its original function, considers heritage an integral part of its contemporary life (in terms of its identity, pride, self-esteem, structure, and well-being), and sees caring for heritage as its own inherent obligation ().
  3. The ASI, established in 1861, is India’s official agency charged with protecting and conserving monuments of national importance as well as conducting archaeological excavations and research.
  4. For a review of the INTACH charter see ().
  5. Personal communication with Dzongsar Ngari Choedje Thingo Rimpoche, 2007.
  6. Personal communication with Dzongsar Ngari Choedje Thingo Rimpoche, 2007.
  7. The tentative list submission was subsequently withdrawn and replaced in 2015 by a new submission for a Cold Desert Cultural Landscape encompassing the entire Ladakh region. See http://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/6055/, accessed November 29, 2017.
  8. For an analysis on the ethical considerations to the conservation of Buddhist wall paintings in Ladakh see Fonjaudran, Menon, and Gill ().
  9. In the 1950s, following the turmoil in Tibet, access to traditional monastic centers of learning there were disrupted for monks and novices from Ladakh. To address this need, a School of Buddhist learning was established in Leh in 1959, which in 1962 received the support of India’s Ministry of Culture. Today the school has its main campus in Choglamsar and branch schools in fifty monasteries and nunneries.
  10. ICCROM’s people-centered approach and ICOMOS’s rights-based approach are examples of this shift.


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