Project ‘Mausam’ is a Ministry of Culture project with Archaeological Society of India (ASI), New Delhi as the nodal agency and Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), New Delhi as its Research Unit. As an initial idea, the project was proposed by Mr. Ravindra Singh, Secretary, Ministry of Culture and now has been taken up as a prelude to its nomination as a transnational inscription on the World Heritage List of UNESCO.

‘Mausam’ or Arabic ‘Mawsim’ refers to the season when ships could sail safely. This distinctive wind-system of the Indian Ocean region follows a regular pattern: southwest from May to September; and northeast from November to March. The English term ‘Monsoon’ came from Portuguese ‘Monção’, ostensibly from Arabic ‘Mawsim’. The etymology of this word signifies the importance of this season to a variety of seafarers. This intertwining of natural phenomena such as monsoon winds and the ways in which these were harnessed historically to create cultural networks form the building blocks of Project ‘Mausam’.

The endeavour of Project ‘Mausam’ is to position itself at two levels: at the macro level it aims to re-connect and re-establish communications between countries of the Indian Ocean world, which would lead to an enhanced understanding of cultural values and concerns; while at the micro level the focus is on understanding national cultures in their regional maritime milieu.

The central themes that hold Project ‘Mausam’ together are those of cultural routes and maritime landscapes that not only linked different parts of the Indian Ocean littoral, but also connected the coastal centres to their hinterlands. More importantly shared knowledge systems and ideas spread along these routes and impacted both coastal centres, and also large parts of the environs.

Project ‘Mausam’ is an exciting, multi-disciplinary project that rekindles long-lost ties across nations of the Indian Ocean ‘world’ and forges new avenues of cooperation and exchange. The project, launched by India in partnership with member states, will enable a significant step in recording and celebrating this important phase of world history from the African, Arab and Asian-world perspectives.


Fishermen, sailors and merchants travelled the waters of the Indian Ocean as early as the third millennium BCE, linking the world’s earliest civilizations from Africa to East Asia in a complex web of relationships. The commodities exchanged through these networks included a wide array of objects – aromatics, medicines, dyes, spices, grain, wood, textiles, gems, stones and ornaments, metals, and plant and animal products – and were transported through voyages and sold at markets or bazaars along the Indian Ocean littoral. Many of the commodities involved had multiple meanings and diverse functions. Spices, for example, were not only used as condiments and for preservation of food, but also played a major role in materia medica and ritual practices. Additionally, while trade might have underpinned many of these cross-cultural relationships, the Ocean was also a highway for the exchange of religious cultures and specialized technologies. The expansion of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity helped define the boundaries of this Indian Ocean ‘world’, creating networks of religious travel and pilgrimage. The construction of traditional sailing craft involved trade and transportation of wood for planking and coconut coir for stitching from different regions of the Indian Ocean, enabling the transmission and preservation of ancient boat-building technologies.

How was exchange across the Indian Ocean organized? There are multiple sources that help us answer this question; ranging from archaeological evidence to inscriptions and textual references from a range of time periods. Examples of such trade, exchange and interaction abound in the Indian Ocean world, ranging from third-millennium BCE Harappan ceramics, beads, and seals found on sites across the Arabian Peninsula to accounts of European sailors travelling the seas in the nineteenth century. Another aspect of the maritime networks relates to the visual topography that provided landmarks to sailors and defined the sailing world in antiquity. This visual topography was characterized by coastal structures, many of them religious in nature that created a distinctive maritime milieu. For example, the thirteenth-century Konark Temple on the coast of Odisha in India was known as the ‘Black Pagoda’ to European sailors, as opposed to the ‘White Pagoda,’ the Jagannath Temple in Puri. Similarly, the Buddhist temple at Nagapattinam on the Tamil coast in India, erected for Chinese Buddhists, was a major landmark for ships from the seventh to the nineteenth centuries until it was demolished by French Jesuits. Forts were other important structures that dotted the Indian Ocean coastline and could be seen from a long distance. Additionally, from at least the ninth century onwards, there are references to markets in coastal areas being located in fortified settlements.


This project aims to explore the multi-faceted Indian Ocean ‘world’ – collating archaeological and historical research in order to document the diversity of cultural, commercial and religious interactions in the Indian Ocean – extending from East Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian subcontinent and Sri Lanka to the Southeast Asian archipelago.The project will promote research on themes related to the study of Maritime Routes through international scientific seminars and meetings and by adopting a multidisciplinary approach. It will encourage the production of specialized works, as well as publications for the general public with an attempt at promoting a broader understanding of the concept of a common heritage and multiple identities.


The project will have two major units: (i) Project Research Unit and (ii) World Heritage Nomination Unit. The main objective of the project is transnational nomination of Maritime Cultural Routes, creation of a comprehensive database and UNESCO web platform on Maritime Cultural Landscapes and Routes and; linking other UNESCO cultural conventions with the World Heritage convention through this theme. A Research unit is being set up at IGNCA under the Project ‘Mausam’.


Reviving lost linkages with nations

Countries along the Indian Ocean have shared links with each other for millennia. Project ‘Mausam’ seeks to transcend present-day national and ethnic boundaries, documenting and celebrating the common cultural values and economic ties of the Indian Ocean ‘world’. This will not only strengthen current ties between countries across the Ocean, but also set a precedent for new bridges of co-operation and continued relations and interactions.

Creating links to existing World Heritage sites

Providing a platform to connect discrete Cultural and Natural World Heritage sites across the Indian Ocean ‘world’ by providing a cross-cultural, transnational narrative.

Redefining ‘Cultural Landscapes’

Identifying gaps in listing of sites and filling in lacuna by providing a holistic, multi-layered perspective and drawing relationships between the existing categories of ‘Natural’ and ‘Cultural’ Heritage. This would redefine the concept of ‘Cultural Landscapes,’ and allow for a fresh, multi-faceted approach to understanding past and present-day relationships.

Achieving transnational nomination under World Heritage

Advocating for ‘Indian Ocean Maritime Routes’ to attain transnational nomination under World Heritage, increasing scope for visibility, research, sustainable tourism, heritage development and promoting other Cultural Conventions across the Indian Ocean region.


Centres of Learning and Knowledge Networks: transformations from the third millennium BCE to the colonial period.

Oral Traditions and Literary Writings: Conceptualizing the Indian Ocean.

Movable Heritage and Artefacts: inscriptions, memorial stones, archaeological objects.

Pilgrimage and Religious Travel across the Indian Ocean.

Spices and cultural products linked to it: Rites, Rituals and Cuisine.