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Protecting our heritage & Cultural Sites
18th April World Heritage Day Special
4/19/2019 12:12:08 AM
Virendra Wangnoo
We in India celebrate our cultural heritage in many ways several time in a year. At the same time we are generally oblivious or atleast insensitive to celebrate the heritage of the entire human race. Recognising this fact, an international initiative for preservations of human heritage was launched in 1982 through an International Council on Monuments and Sites ( ICOMOS) which announced 18th April each year as World Heritage Day. In 1983, UNESCO formally gave its approval to have an international event day on 18th April to underline the necessity of safeguarding various heritage sites around the World which have been classified as World Heritage sites and take measures to protect these. This brought into focus the initiatives of relevant organisations in the field like Architects, Engineers, Artists and Archaeologists.
India stands at No. 6 amongst countries in the World having largest 37 heritage sites which are indicative of our rich cultural heritage. At present there are 1092 World Heritage sites recognised by UNESCO. Out of these 845 are cultural in nature, 209 are natural and 38 are a mixture. UNE$SCO has estimated that 55 sites worldwide are in danger. Those classified as "in danger sites" include birth place of Jesus, Church of Nativity and pilgrimage route in Bethelem. Fortunately UNESCO has not classified any site which has a danger which also explains our priority and sensitivity. Archaeological Survey of India has done a commendable job in preserving ancient sites in India.
World Heritage Day 2019 has a theme to protect and preserve heritage rural sites. This would require an international effort to know how we can contribute in preserving and nurturing heritage sites. Among 37 World Heritage sites, Taj Mahal built between 1632 and 1653 is among the top five World Heritage sites built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in honour and memory of his wife who died while delivering her fourteenth child. The effort required 20000 workers. It may take a lot of time to explain the features of all the 37 sites located in India in this write up. In our commitment to preserve our heritage, we this year shall know about a marvellous and the oldest site dating back to 2nd Century BC- the caves of Ajanta to understand the rich heritage we have inherited and that too dating back to 2nd Century. That India was artful even then is a great tribute to our cultural inheritance. It is for the scholars and historians to persue the issues relating to our heritage and also the Government has a special duty to do everything possible to protect these sites.
Ajanta Caves
The Ajanta caves (2nd Century BC to 6th Century AD)
These caves are approximately 30 in number Buddhist cave monuments of Hinyana tradition of Buddhism. These date back from 2nd Century BC to about 480 AD located in Aurangabad, Maharashtra. These caves are rock cut and include rock sculptures and paintings. These are first surviving examples of ancient Indian art. These caves were built in two phases; first one in or around 2nd Century BC to the second phase around 400-650 AD. The site was a protected monument and was being looked after by the Archaeological Survey of India who have done a commendable job in its preservance. In 1983, UNESCO classified it as a World Heritage site. These caves comprise of ancient monastries and worship halls of Budhist tradition carved into a 75 metre ( 264 ft.) wall of rock.
The paintings depict past lives and rebirths of Lord Buddha, pictorial tales from Aryasuras's Jatakmala and rock cut scuoltures of Buddhist dieties. Textual records suggest that these caves served as a moonsoon retreat for monks. These caves also served as resting site for merchants and pilgrims in ancient India. Indian history is abound with mural wall paintings as evidenced by the hiwstorial records, caves 1,2,16 and 17 of the Ajanta form the largest corpus of surviving ancient Indian wall paintings. Buddhist and Mugal Era travellers to India have chroniclised these facts. These caves were covered by a thick forest cover and Col. John Smith, a British Army Officer on tiger hunting , accidentally, discovered these caves in 1819. From then onwards these came to be known to the World especially the European Archeologists and historians. The caves are located in a rocky cliff on a small river "Waghur" in Deccan Plateau. Further round the gorge are a number of waterfalls, which, when the river is high, are audible from outside the caves. Ajanta style culture is also observed in Ellora and Elephants Caves and some cave temples in Karnataka as well. According to historian Walter, the caves were made probably under the patronage of Hindu Satwahana dynasty while some other researchers prefer the dating to Maurya Empire.
These caves have now become most popular tourist destinations in Maharashtra and are often crowded in holiday times, increasing a threat to caves, especially the paintings therein. Meanwhile, Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation announced a plan to add to the Archaeological Survey of India visitor centre at the entrance a complete replicas of caves 1,2,16 and 17 to reduce crowding the originals and enable the visitors to receive a better visual idea of the paintings which are otherwise dimly lit and hard to read in the caves.
Nevertheless, it is our duty to protect and preserve this great ancient heritage and supplement the international effort for preservations of Historical sites for posterity. It is also , therefore, very important for the visiting tourists to follow scrupulously the dos and don'ts during their visit to the ancient caves and contribute to the continuity of preservation and promotion.
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