By Ritu Jain ?India, our land of rich ancient heritage? are the words we love to use for describing our motherland and feel so proud to be a part of. A rich legacy of cultural heritage in the form of stone sculptures, metal images, wooden objects, manuscripts, books, paintings, etc. has been a gift to us from our ancestors. There would hardly be a house where, on festive occasions, an image was not created or bought or a painting not done for worship. With regional variations in the lifestyle of the people due to the existence of different tribes and communities, there was proliferation of art and craft objects. But, how often does one give a second thought to the fact that preservation of this heritage is equally important and necessary? The freshness of Taj Mahal, the richness of Red Fort, the vibrant flowing textiles in museums or the traditional miniatures in galleries are all organic materials, which need constant care like a human body. They have to be carefully monitored, cautiously restored and scientifically preserved for the present and future and the generations to come. The term conservation of cultural property means remedial measures to be taken to eradicate the defects already present in the objects and protecting them from further damage, by maintaining certain conditions for their better preservation. Hence one has to examine the object, diagnose the defect, document its condition and the type of treatment needed and then treat it?simple to sound, but the task is not only tedious but also requires utmost patience and care. History The conservation branch of the Archaeological Survey of India was established in 1917 in Dehradun for the conservation and preservation of archaeological antiquities and monuments. Madras Government Museum established a laboratory in 1930 while National Museum, New Delhi, established it in 1950. Today there are over 50 museum conservation laboratories instituted all over India. An important National Research Laboratory for the conservation of cultural property was established in 1979 at Lucknow to carry out research programmes and to cater to the national conservation requirements. Traditional Methods Since ancient times, conservation practices have been followed for preserving the cultural heritage. The abhisheka or application of oil as well as milk on idols is a common practice. The oily accretions are removed regularly by tamarind, which is acidic in nature. The accretions were removed by various poulticing methods such as oil, flour and metal preservations. By this act, the images were protected from environmental damages. Sometimes the stone idols are applied with butter for safeguard. Palm leaf manuscripts were cleaned and bundled in red cotton cloth along with dry neem leaves, pepper, turmeric, etc. The citronella oil used is also an insecticide. Wood carvings of the temple cars were coated with mahua oil to preserve them. They were annually cleaned by applying curd and then flushing with water. Camphor, neem, turmeric, etc. are often used as fumigants. Even today, shopkeepers fumigate their shops with camphor fumes to eradicate insects from cash counters, etc. Moistened khus-khus is used to cool the air. Trees were grown around the building for absorbing dust. Brooming of courtyards was done only after wetting the ground to avoid flying of dust and resettling. Preventive Conservation A well-known saying ?Prevention is better than cure? stands true even today. Quite often, despite the will to preserve and save art objects from deterioration, the necessary knowledge is lacking. It is not realised that by following simple precautions, much can be achieved. Certain preventive steps can go a long way to increase the longevity of the collection like maintaining environmental standards, having a well-planned storage area, good housekeeping and appropriate handling. Precautions against bio-deterioration and fire hazards are also necessary. A knowhow of disaster management is also extremely important. Curative Conservation Art objects, antiques and ethnographic objects are subject to natural ageing and decay. Beautifully carved stone sculptures fall to pieces because of the presence of salts, colourful textiles fade and weaken due to action of light, insects like termites can turn precious art materials into dust overnight. Wrong and casual techniques in packing of precious art objects result in damaging them. In case an object has deteriorated badly, it is suggested that this should be entrusted to a well-quipped conservation laboratory for examination of object, diagnosing the disease and then the treatment. Time has come, when we should realise that treatment of an art object is a specialised field and should be taken up with utmost care and professionally. Any improper or amateur act can result in loss of our heritage forever and we will be answerable to the future generations. Conservation of artefacts: The need of today Art objects, antiques and ethnographic objects are subject to natural ageing and decay.