Waiting for Unesco heritage tag

Waiting for Unesco heritage tag

The famous Rajarani temple, a protected heritage site

The historic City of Bhubaneswar, the capital of Odisha, may soon have another feather in its cap. With hundreds of ancient temples dotting the city, mostly in the old areas, it is popularly called temple city of eastern India. The City is a virtual must on the tourists’ map travelling to the eastern part of India. Now the City is on the threshold of finding a place in the list of heritage cities in the world prepared by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).

The world body’s representative to India, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka, Armoogam Parsuramen was in the state recently and during his talks with the state government officials he had indicated that the Unesco has a proposal to accord World Heritage City status to Bhubaneswar.

The news has brought joy and happiness to many in the state who strongly believe that Bhubaneswar deserves a place in the prestigious list because of its rich cultural heritage. “The state capital has almost all the required qualifications that are needed for World Heritage City status”, said Abasar Beuria, a retired Indian diplomat and a former convener of Bhubaneswar chapter of the Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage (Intach).

If Bhubaneswar gets an entry into the Unesco’s exclusive list then the city would push aside many other “heavyweight” contenders like the national capital Delhi, Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh and Ahmedabad in Gujarat.  No Indian city has so far qualified for Unesco’s World Heritage City status despite the country’s rich culture and heritage. The well known international cities which currently figure in the world body’s elite list include Rome, Venice and Edinburgh.  

The Odisha government has been lobbying hard for the prestigious tag for last three years. It had written several letters to the world body’s decision makers, drawing their attention about the rich history and cultural heritage of the state capital.  According to experts, to get an entry into Unesco’s exclusive list, a city requires to have some significance to human civilisation. Bhubaneswar fits into the category
perfectly as it was a witness to the famous Kalinga War, a major turning point in the history of Indian civilisation.

The large-scale bloodshed and horror of the Kalinga War, fought on the banks of river Daya between the forces of Emperor Ashoka and the then kingdom of Kalinga (erstwhile Orissa) had turned “Chandashoka (an angry Ashoka)”  into a “Dharmashoka (religious Ashoka)” who subsequently embraced Buddhism and dedicated his life to spread the message of Shanti (peace) and Ahimsa (non-violence) across the globe.

The place where the historic war of 261 BC was fought on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar is now dotted with Dhauli Shanti Sthupa, popularly known as peace pagoda which attracts tourists from across the globe. Whoever has visited the spot - from an
ordinary tourist to a VIP like the former president A P J Abdul Kalam - was moved by the peaceful surroundings of the former battle ground.

Another important criterion, if experts are to be believed, is that the city should have plenty of heritage sites. Bhubaneswar which houses several important heritage sites and historical monuments like the Bindu Sagar pond, Rajarani temple, Lingaraj temple and the Khandagiri-Udaigiri caves may not face any difficulty in fulfilling this requirement.

While many residents of Bhubaneswar  are excited over the possibility of their city getting international recognition, there are many who are of the view that the authorities in charge of the City would have  to do much more, especially on the issue of proper protection of the ancient monuments and infrastructure development, if they (the authorities) really want to see the temple city getting the tag of a world class Heritage City.

“In the event of Bhubaneswar getting the status of World Heritage City, many foreigners would love to visit the city. However, if they see the basic infrastructure facilities here and the present condition of many of the heritage sites, particularly during rainy season then they would perhaps not hesitate to write to Unesco to withdraw the city’s name from the elite list. Therefore there is an urgent need to resolve all these problems if we really want to see our city in the prestigious list”, said P S Jena, a veteran of 80 summers who had seen Bhubaneswar graduating from an old and small heritage town to a modern city ensuring in the process the slow and steady decay of many heritage sites.

Like majority of the cities in the country, water-logging has become a major problem in Bhubaneswar. Not only colonies where the people reside but also many old temples and heritage sites coming under four to five feet of water after a spell of heavy rain is no more a rare occurrence in the city. It happens at regular intervals during monsoon months.

According to an estimate, at present Bhubaneswar  has 37 monuments, which have been accorded “protected” status either by the Archaeological Survey of India or by the archaeology department of government of Odisha. Many other temples, monasteries and ancient tanks in and around the city have not yet received the attention from the authorities they deserve. Importantly, a city that intends to get an entry into Unesco list also needs to have an efficient town management plan.

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