April 18, 1982, was declared World Heritage Day by the International Council on Monuments and Sites to raise awareness about monuments and other sites which form a part of our history and culture. World Heritage Day also aims to recognise all the people involved in preserving these heritage sites around the world, especially scientists, archaeologists, geographers and engineers. The 2020 theme – Shared Culture, Shared Heritage and Shared Responsibility – comes at a time when the world together is battling the coronavirus pandemic. The idea behind this year’s theme is the recognition and value of all types of heritage sites across varied diverse groups and communities. This theme will continue to be the highlight of the ICOMOS 20th General Assembly and Scientific Symposium which is set to take place in Australia this year.
India, which is home to several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, from natural wonders to architectural marvels, boasts of a total number of 37 such sites which are further categorised as 29 cultural sites, 7 natural sites, and 1 mixed site.
Let’s take a look at all these sites, listed in chronological order when they were commissioned as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India:
Ajanta Caves (1983): Built in circa 2nd century BC, followed by a second phase in the 5th century AD, these caves showcase richly decorated paintings and frescoes. The 31 rock-cut cave monuments found within the site are believed to be representative of Buddhist religious art.
Ellora Caves (1983): This archaeological site is a blend of religious arts from the Jainism, Buddhism and Hinduism practices. The caves are home to 34 monasteries and temples that were sculpted into the rocks of the basalt cliffs.
Taj Mahal (1983): One of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Taj Mahal is a notable tourist attraction worldwide. It was built as a monument of love by Mughal emperor Shahjahan in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal after she died in 1631. Made out of pure white marble, the Taj Mahal exemplifies the principles of Mughal architectural style. It took 16 years to build the Taj Mahal.
Agra Fort (1983): The Agra Fort, also referred to as the Red Fort, is a key example of the progress of the Mughal dynasty in India. The fort portrays opulence of the Mughals and is built from red sandstone, is surrounded by towers, moats, palaces, mosques and located next to the bank of the Yamuna River.
Sun Temple, Konark (1984): Shaped like a gigantic chariot with details including walls, pillars, and carved stone wheels, the majority of the temple is now in ruins. It was also included in the list of the Seven Wonders of India.
Mahabalipuram (1984): This collection of monuments was founded by the Pallava kings during the 7th to 8th centuries and is carved from rock. The most distinctive features of the complex are the temples that are shaped like chariots, cave sanctuaries and open-air reliefs. Another notable monument in the site is the Temple of Rivage that features several sculptures glorifying Lord Shiva.
Great Living Chola Temples (1987): The three temples included in this site were built during the 11th to the 12th centuries. They are Brihadeeswarar Temple in Thanjavur, Airavateshwarar Temple and Brihadeeswarar Temple in Gangakondacholisvaram. The temples exemplify the architectural achievements of the Chola dynasty in India and also showcases the other art forms they excelled in namely bronze casting, painting and sculpture.
Sundarbans National Park (1987): Considered an important natural monument in India, it comprises a national park, tiger reserve and biosphere reserve. It is located in West Bengal, India, adjacent to the Sundarban Reserve Forest in Bangladesh and close to the Ganges Delta. The Sundarbans are filled with mangrove forest and is home to a giant reserve for Bengal tigers. Several species of birds, reptiles, and invertebrates also inhabit the area.
Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks (1988): The park consists of two core areas: Nanda Devi National Park and Valley of Flowers National Park. Nanda Devi National Park was inscribed in 1988, which was later expanded in 2005 to include the Valley of Flowers National Park.
Keoladeo National Park (1985): This bird sanctuary is also one of few natural sites listed under UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India. Every year, there are thousands of birds which flock to the area, especially during winters. The sanctuary is home to over 230 species of birds. It is already a protected sanctuary since 1971, before being named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Kaziranga Wildlife Sanctuary, Assam (1985): In 1908, Kaziranga Wildlife Sanctuary was named as a reserved forest in order to preserve the dwindling population of the Indian one-horned rhinoceros along with other species of mammals and birds.
Manas Wildlife Sanctuary, Assam (1985): Located in the foothills of the Himalayas, this sanctuary serves as home to various plant and threatened species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. After being declared a reserved forest, it was included in the “Project Tiger” initiative wherein the sanctuary was developed into a tiger reserve.
Churches and Convents of Goa (1986): Built by the Portuguese colonial rulers between the 16th and 18th centuries in Goa, The Basilica of Born Jesus in Old Goa is one of the primary structures among these monuments, and has been dubbed as the Rome of the Orient. The church was established by eight Franciscan friars who arrived in Goa in 1517. Retaining the Portuguese-Manueline style portal of its older structure, first built in 1665, the Church of St Francis of Assisi offers a visual contrast between its simple exterior facade and its lavish Baroque interior. Featuring Corinthian influences, the main altar is the highlight of its interiors, with a large statue of St Francis of Assisi above it, along with one of Jesus Christ.
Khajuraho Group of Monuments, Madhya Pradesh (1986): These monuments masterfully combine architecture and sculpture in its art form and are attributed to the Chandela dynasty in India. There are a total of 85 temples built within this complex but only 22 have survived.
Group of Monuments at Hampi (1986): Named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986, the temples showcase how the town became an important religious centre for Hindu worshippers. The Virupaksha temple and several other monuments comprise this cultural heritage site.
Fatehpur Sikri, Uttar Pradesh (1986): The city was founded in the mid-16th century and served as the capital for the Mughal Empire. However, it was abandoned due to political unrest and re-constructed as a walled city which took 15 years to complete. The rebuilt city resulted in the construction of royal palaces, mosques, courts, private quarters and many other buildings and is dubbed as the City of Victory, as the name suggests.
Elephanta Caves (1987): Located on Elephanta Island, these are a series of sculpted caves consisting of five Hindu caves and two Buddhist caves. The rock-cut architecture used in both caves dates back to the 5th century. The group of caves underwent renovation in 1970.
Pattadakal (1987): Comprising nine Hindu temples and a Jain sanctuary, the most important architectural edifice belonging to this group of monuments is the Virupaksha Temple. It shares its name with the temple in Hampi. Most of these temples were built during the reign of the Chalukya Dynasty during the 6th to the 8th centuries. The architectural styles are inspired by both Northern and Southern India.
Buddhist Monuments at Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh (1989): This site is composed of a collection of Buddhist monuments that date back from 200 to 100 BC. It’s however believed by many that the site developed under the rule of the Mauryan Empire in the 3rd century BC. Sanchi has been bestowed a rich legacy of Buddhist monuments – from the Sanchi Stupa to the Ashoka Pillar in its complex.
Humayun’s Tomb, Delhi (1993): This tomb was commonly referred to as the precursor to the Taj Mahal, and the site is listed by UNESCO due to its cultural value. It was built by the widow of Mughal Emperor Humayun and is a work of Mirza Ghiyath. Humayun’s Tomb has since also earned the name of the “Necropolis of the Mughal dynasty”. The entire property holds the tomb of Humayun and 150 tombs from the royal family.
Qutb Minar and its Monuments, Delhi (1993): The main feature of this complex is the red sandstone tower, Qutb Minar (also spelt as Qutub Minar), that stands over 72 meters tall. These complex structures were built in the 13th century and are most notable for showcasing the artistic and architectural excellence of Islam.
Mahabodhi Temple Complex at Bodh Gaya, Bihar (2002): The temple complex in Bodh Gaya is one of the four holy sites relating to the life of Buddha. It’s one of the first Buddhist temples that were constructed solely out of brick.
Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka, Madhya Pradesh (2003): The Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka was recognised by UNESCO as a repository of rock paintings within sandstone formations expanding up to 2000 hectares of land area. The paintings inside these rock shelters are believed to date back to the Mesolithic period. Interestingly, the 21 villages that surround the area strongly correlate to the subject of these paintings.
Champaner-Pavagahdh Archaeological Park, Gujarat (2004): The archaeological park is home to a prehistoric Chalcolithic site, hill fortress and what is left of the 16th century Gujarat capital. From palaces, religious buildings, fortifications, to agricultural structures, the site is one of the most important in the region.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, erstwhile Victoria Terminus (2004): Located in Mumbai, India, it is also the headquarters for the Central Railways in India. The station was designed during the late 19th century by architect Frederick William Stevens. The project took 10 years to complete and was originally named after Queen and Empress Victoria. It features a Gothic architectural style and passersby can often enjoy views of this building bathed in light to commemorate special days celebrated in the country.
Red Fort Complex (2007): This palace fort was built for the 5th Mughal Emperor in the 17th century and boasts of a unique architectural design that features a blend of Indian, Persian and Timuri styles. The enclosure wall surrounding this complex is made of red sandstone, which is why it was named as the Red Fort Complex.
Jantar Mantar, Jaipur (2010): Home to a collection of various architectural astronomical instruments, the construction was commissioned for by Maharaja Jai Singh II. There are 5 facilities in total that were built in different locations – the one in Jaipur is the largest and best preserved out of the five facilities. UNESCO has described it as an “expression of the astronomical skills and cosmological concepts”.
Mountain Railways of India (1999, 2005, and 2008): These rail routes were built in the 19th and 20th centuries and comprise a total of five mountain railways in India, out of which only three were recognized by UNESCO. These railways have been recognised for their bold engineering solutions by establishing a rail link in a rugged terrain.
Western Ghats (2012): Listed as one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots, it’s listed under the Natural category for UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India. According to incredibleindia.org, “The Western Ghats shelters over 139 types of mammals, 508 species of birds, 5,000 kinds of flowering plants and 179 varieties of amphibians that are unique to the region. Some of the endangered species, such as Malabar large-spotted civet, Asian elephants, black panther, lion-tailed macaque, tiger, wild boar, sloth bear, leopard, sambar and the great Indian hornbill, can be spotted here. The forests of the Western Ghats include 39 reserves and 13 national parks.” This is eighth biodiversity hotspot in the world and covers the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala.
Hill Forts of Rajasthan (2013): This World Heritage Site is composed of six forts: Chittorgarh Fort, Kumbhalgarh Fort, Ranthambore Fort, Gagron Fort, Amber Fort, and Jaisalmer Fort (which is also considered the only “living” fort in the country as families have lived her for generations. These forts are located within the Aravalli Range and date back to the 5th century.
Rani ki vav or The Queen’s Stepwell (2014): Located in the town of Patan, this stepwell is constructed near the banks of the Saraswati River. It was constructed in Maru-Gurjara architectural style that consists of seven levels of stairs and an inverted temple as a subterranean water resource and storage system in the third millennium BC.
Great Himalayan National Park (2014): The park was founded in 1984 and consists of alpine meadows, alpine peaks, and riverine forests. The glacial and snow meltwater is an important source of water supply. The site is home to a variety of species of mammals, birds, reptiles, molluscs, amphibians, and insects.
Nalanda (2016): An archaeological site consisting of scholastic and monastic institutional remains, this site dates back to the 3rd century BC. One can find various artworks, stuccoes, stupas, shrines and viharas within this site. It stands as an important example of the spread of Buddhism as a religion and how it came to be used for educational and monastic purposes. Nalanda acts as a memorial of the past and stands as a silent witness to the rich history of the region. Hieun Tsang, the Chinese traveller, who first visited Nalanda in the 7th century, mentions that the city was named after a serpent in his writings. It is also said that Sariputra, an ardent follower of Lord Buddha, was born here.
Khangchendzonga National Park (2016): The Khangchendzonga National Park includes a diversity of plains, valleys, lakes, glaciers and spectacular, snow-capped mountains covered with ancient forests, including the world’s third highest peak, Mount Kanchenjunga (or Khangchendzonga). It offers a diverse landscape ranging from glaciers to plains to valleys.
Complexe du Capitole: The Architectural Works of Le Corbusier (2016): The architectural works of Le Corbusier is spread over 17 sites in 7 different countries. The other sites are located in Japan, France, Argentina, Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland. The Complexe du Capitole, in Chandigarh is set against the mighty Shivalik range and includes three distinctive masterpieces of Le Corbusier (architect of the city of Chandigarh): the Secretariat, the High Court and the Legislative Assembly. The Open Hand monument is situated in this complex too.
Ahmedabad’s Old City: The Historic City of Ahmedabad is a walled city founded in the early 15th century by Ahmad Shah I of Gujarat Sultanate. It’s an important political and commercial centre of Gujarat.
Victorian and Art Deco Ensemble of Mumbai (2018): A global trading centre in the 19th century, Mumbai began modernising and constructing a number of public buildings in the Victorian Neo-Gothic style and later in the Art Deco style in the early 20th century. This fascinating blend of styles has come to be known as Indo-Deco over the years. About 94 buildings stand along the sea and are largely located around the Oval Maidan, a historical open space that continues to thrive with visitors. Bombay High Court, University Library and Convention Hall, David Sasoon Library, the Public Works Department Office, Elphinstone College and more are some of the buildings with this architectural style.
Jaipur City (2019): Founded by Sawai Jai Singh II in 1727, the city’s urban planning shows a confluence of ideas from ancient Hindu, early Mughal era as well as Western cultures. The grid plan is a model that prevails in the West, while the organization of the different city sectors (chowkris) refers to traditional Hindu concepts, according to UNESCO. Designed to be a commercial capital, the streets feature a continuous row of buildings, market spaces etc. that intersect in the centre, creating large public squares called chaupars. The pink city as Jaipur is also called, has maintained its local commercial, artisanal and cooperative traditions to this day.
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