On the occasion of World Heritage Day, April 18, experts speak to ROHAN AMBIKE on the importance of preserving our heritage sites
India has been ruled by leaders from different religious and cultural backgrounds, like the Aryans, Guptas, Mughals, British and others. All have left their mark on Indian soil, in the form of monuments and sites, many of which are protected till date. Celebrating World Heritage Day spreads awareness about these priceless monuments and the need to keep them alive for coming generations.
World Heritage Day has an important part to play in this colourful land, where you can find huge tombs sprawling over the land, towers that reach the sky and sites so beautiful they leave you mesmerised. If our heritage is what we leave behind for future generations, we need to prepare young people to protect it—and the best way is through education. There are 37 World Heritage sites located in India. These include 29 cultural sites, seven natural sites and one mixed site. India has the sixth largest number of sites in the world. This is something each one of us must be proud of! Globally, there are 1,052 sites of which 814 are cultural, 203 are natural and 35 are mixed.
Types of heritage
“Heritage can be divided into two types — tangible and intangible,” explains Saniya Mane, an Indologist and founder of Pathil, an organisation that carries out regular excursions to heritage sites and is at the forefront of creating the right awareness of Indian heritage and culture. According to Mane, tangible heritage includes the built structures and the old monuments that are preserved and at times are fighting for survival. The cultures, rituals, worshipping practices make up the intangible heritage. “We, as Indian’s should consider ourselves lucky that we have a good combination of both types of heritage,” informs Mane.
Dr Rahul Deshpande, a dentist, Indologist and expert with numerous research papers on the majestic Ellora Caves located near the city of Aurangabad, Maharashtra, believes that oral history is largely neglected. “Monument conservation is required beyond doubt. However, it is the concept of faith that survives at times when monuments are brought down or cease to exist. Today, we have a lot of folklore and folk traditions that are alive and still believed. This is the intangible heritage that is still not documented.”
Why is World Heritage Day important?
“Ancient monuments and buildings in the countries make them stand tall on the world map. These are an asset to value. World Heritage Day is a collective effort of the communities in the world to do the needful for these invaluable assets,” says Mane. Both, Deshpande and Mane agree that World Heritage Day and similar events are an opportunity to boost awareness about the assortment of cultural legacy and the efforts that are required to protect and conserve them and also to think about its susceptibility.
Adds Dr Deshpande, “World Heritage is the shared wealth of humankind. Protecting and preserving this valuable asset demands the collective efforts of the international community. This special day offers an opportunity to raise the public’s awareness about the diversity of cultural heritage and the efforts that are required to protect and conserve it, as well as draw attention to its vulnerability.”
It is not just about saving buildings made of bricks and mortar, it is about saving the layers and layers of information about our ancestors and where we are from. Without heritage, there would not be any family history or culture to identify with! The heritage sites help us understand our own ancient culture. Heritage tourism is huge and helps drive the economy of several communities. This also helps people from other parts of the world understand and learn from our culture.
Preserving heritage sites thus help sustain the local economy, creating jobs, and even generating capital. The preservation of historic sites is a one-way-street. This brings to light the importance of locating and preserving a building of historic significance because once a piece of history is lost, it is lost forever.