“Thirty-Six”! yes, that is the exact number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites that we have in India ‘so far’. Who knows, with the kind of cultural and natural heritage that we have, how many more additions we may make to the list. As of now, India is ranked 6th on the list of countries with the most World Heritage Sites. Italy, tops the chart with a whopping 53, World Heritage Sites! Whoa! But hang on, we aren’t far behind with our 36! if you come think of it, out of the total “1073” world heritage sites in the world, India contains 36 of them. Meaning, not more than five countries in the world can compete with that!
Well, enough with the stats, let’s now get down to the facts. Now that all of us are enlightened about what it means to be a World Heritage Site and have read about half of them in our previous article; let us now introduce you to the remaining 18, from a perspective that most of us have “never before seen”!
Just to refresh your memory, here’s a brief note about the different categories of World Heritage Sites.
· A Cultural site consists of historical buildings, work of art, archeological sites, traditional places or any man-made wonder that is the embodiment of human excellence.
· A Natural Site is the one which is the epitome of nature’s beauty or the perfect specimen of earth’s ecological evolution or safeguards the endangered biodiversity of the earth.
· A Mixed Site embodies the features of both Cultural and Natural sites.
FYI, the Khangchendzonga National Park has been inscribed as India’s first “Mixed World Heritage Site” owing to its physical and natural features, not to mention the third highest peak in the world. Culturally, it has religious significance to the Tibetan Buddist and Lepcha traditions.
So, now that tone is set, lets get on with names of the remaining 18 UNESCO World Heritage Sites that are left.
1. CHURCHES AND CONVENTS OF GOA added in 1986
With the advent of the Portuguese in the 15th-16th century in Goa, there began a propagation of Christianity in the Indian subcontinent. Hence, a number of churches and convents were built in Goa as the means of proselytization. The splendid architecture of these churches and convents represent the first Manueline, Mannerist and Baroque art forms in Asia. The most famous amongst these monuments is the Basilica do Bom Jesus which contains the relics of St. Francis Xavier. The other heritage sites include Saint Catherine’s Chapel, Church and Convent of Saint Francis of Assisi, Igreja de Sao Francisco de Assis, Church of Saint Cajetan and its seminary, Church of Our Lady of the Rosary and Church of Saint Augustine.
2. WESTERN GHATS, added in 2012
The Western Ghats or the Sahyadri mountain range runs parallel to the Western Coast of India and cover the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat. The Western Ghats are older than the Himalayan mountain range and play an important role in the monsoon weather patterns of the country. They are the best example of the Tropical monsoon system of the planet. The Western Ghats are blessed with an extremely rich Biodiversity and is ranked amongst the top 8 Biodiversity Hot Spots in the world. The forests of the Ghats are home to 325 globally threatened species of flora and fauna.
3. THE KHANGCHENDZONGA NATIONAL PARK, SIKKIM, added in 2016
Located in the heart of the Himalayas, in the northern and western parts of Sikkim, the Khangchendzonga National Park has a varied landscape of plains, valleys, lakes, glaciers and snow-capped mountains. The third highest peak in the world, Mount Kanchenjunga also lies within the premises of the National Park. Well known for its flora and fauna, the National Park is home to the elusive Himalayan Snow Leopard. It also makes has excellent trekking routes for people so inclined.
4. GREAT HIMALAYAN NATIONAL PARK, HIMACHAL PRADESH added in 2014
A major part of the Himalayan Biodiversity Hotspot, the Great Himalayan National Park is located in the Kullu region of Northern Himachal Pradesh. The meltwater for its upper mountain snow and glaciers are the source of several rivers, mainly the tributaries of the river Indus. The park provides habitat to many endangered species of animals like musk deer, Himalayan Tahr, Snow leopard, blue sheep and the Himalayan Brown Bear apart from many rare species of plants.
5. SUN TEMPLE, KONARK, ODISHA, added in 1984
An outstanding example of Indian temple architecture, the Sun Temple at Konark represents the Kalinga architecture at its best. Built in the 13th century by king Narasimhadeva 1, the temple is in the shape of a colossal chariot with intricately and artfully carved 23 wheels and is led by a group of 6 horses. The temple is a representation of the Sun God’s chariot it is considered to be one of the largest Brahmin sanctuaries in India.
6. KHAJURAHO GROUP OF MONUMENTS, MADHYA PRADESH, added in 1986
The erotic stone carvings and sculptures of Khajuraho were built under the patronage of the Chandella dynasty between 950 to 1050 CE. It consists of a total of 85 temples spread across an area of 25 square kilometres. As of now, only about 20 temples survive and belong to two different religions, Hinduism and Jainism. The most famous among the lot is the temple of Kandariya, which is elaborately sculptured and is a fine exemplary example of the genius of Indian art.
7. AJANTA CAVES, MAHARASHTRA, added in 1983
Carved into a 250 feet wall of rock these Buddhist rock-cut cave monuments has paintings depicting the various stages of the life of Buddha, pictorial Jataka tales and rock-cut sculptures of other Buddhist deities. There are about 29 cave monuments which were built in two different phases; first during the Satvahana dynasty and the second phase of the Vakataka dynasty in the period between 2nd century BCE to about 480 CE. The richly decorates paintings and sculptures of the Ajanta caves are considered to be the masterpieces of Buddhist religious art and they have had considerable influence over the subsequent art forms of India.
8. ELLORA CAVES, MAHARASHTRA, added in 1983.
To the north-west of the city of Aurangabad lies the 2 kilometres long archaeological site known as Ellora Caves. It consists of 34 monasteries and temples devoted to Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism reflecting the secular and tolerant nature of ancient India. Ellora caves represent the uniqueness of Indian art and architecture and also the technological expertise of the period.
9. ELEPHANTA CAVES, MAHARASHTRA, added in 1987
Located on the Elephanta island or Gharapuri (literally “city of islands”) some 10 kilometres to the east of the city of Mumbai is a collection of rock art dedicated to Shiva. These caves were constructed about the mid-5th to 6th centuries AD. Famous for its rock-cut sculptures and carvings that are themed around Shiva as the creator, preserver and destroyer of the Universe. The caves are carved in solid basalt rock. The 7-metre high statue of “Sadashiva” at the entrance of Cave one is the most conspicuous and eyeballs grabbing masterpiece of ancient Indian art.
10. GROUP OF MONUMENTS AT HAMPI, KARNATAKA, added in 1986
The remnants of the last Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagar (14th – 16th century CE), the Hampi group of monuments are finest specimens of the Dravidian art and architecture which flourished under the Vijayanagara empire. The Hampi group of monuments also include, the Krishna temple complex, Narasimha, Ganesha and Hemkunta group of temples, Vithalla temple complex, Pattabhirama temple complex, Lotus Mahal complex, and several surrounding bazaars and residential areas.
11. GROUP OF MONUMENTS AT PATTADAKAL, KARNATAKA added in 1987
A perfect blend of northern and south Indian architecture, the Pattadakal group of monuments represent the Chalukya style of architecture that flourished during the 7th and 8th centuries under the Chalukya dynasty. The capital of the dynasty, it consists of 8 temples dedicated to Shiva as well as a Jain sanctuary. The most significant of the temples is the Virupaksha that was built by Queen Lokamahadevi to commemorate her husband’s victory over the kings of the south. The other important monuments are Sangameshwara temple, Chandrashekhara temple, Mallikarjuna Temple, Kashivishwanath temple, Jagannath temple and many more.
12. GREAT LIVING CHOLA TEMPLES, TAMIL NADU, added in 1987
The great living temples built by the Chola rulers who ruled for four and a half centuries are called so(living) because the established rituals and traditions of temple worship still continue every day as a part of the life of the people there. The Brihadeshvara temple at Thanjavur was built by Rajaraja1 and is the most significant specimen of Chola architecture. The Brihadeshwara temple at Gangaikondacholisvaram was built by Rajendra 1 and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The Airavateshwara temple complex was built by Rajaraja 2. These temples represent the excellent skills and craftsmanship of the Cholas in architecture, sculpture, painting and bronze casting.
13. GROUP OF MONUMENTS, MAHABALIPURAM, TAMIL NADU, added in 1984.
Founded by the kings of the Pallava dynasty during the 7th and the 8th centuries, these monuments were built along the Coromandel coast. These temples are carved out of rock and are known for the Ratha (chariot) style of architecture, cave sanctuaries known as Mandapas and gigantic open-air reliefs such as the famous “Descent of Ganges”. Some the popular temples are Pancha Rathas, Dharmaraja Rathas, Arjuna Ratha, Draupadi Ratha etc.
14. JANTAR MANTAR, RAJASTHAN, added in 2010
The Jantar Mantar at Jaipur is one of the most significant and well preserved historical astronomical observatory in the country. it was built by the Rajput king Sawai Jai Singh of Rajasthan in 1738 CE for the observation of astronomical positions with the naked eye. It consists of a collection of 19 astronomical equipment including the world’s largest stone sundial. The observatory reflects the astronomical skills and cosmological concepts known in that era.
15. HILL FORTS OF RAJASTHAN, added in 2013
The six majestic forts of Rajasthan, namely Chittorgarh, Kumbhalgarh, Sawai Madhopur, Jhalawar, Jaipur and Jaisalmer comprise the world heritage site of the Hill Forts of Rajasthan. Located in the Aravalli range of Rajasthan, these forts represent the epitome of Rajput military defence architecture. The sheer length and width if the forts were more than enough to house a small city within it. Bazaars, trading places palaces, temples and urban centres existed within the fort walls. Apart from being a structure for defence, these forts are also well known for their water storage and harvesting techniques.
16. THE RED FORT COMPLEX, DELHI, added in 2007
The red fort, which needs no introduction is one of the most iconic monuments in the country. Another architectural masterpiece by Shah Jahan, the fort was constructed when he shifted his capital from Agra to Delhi. The architecture of the Red Fort represents the blending of Indo-Islamic, Timurid, Hindu and Persians form of Architecture. It is made up of red sandstone, hence the name, and contains within it several smaller buildings such as the private pavilions, The Diwan-e-am, Diwan-e-khas etc.
17. HUMAYUN’S TOMB, DELHI, added in 1993
Humayun’s tomb was commissioned by his first wife Begum Baga in1569-70 and was designed by a Persian architect Mirak Mirza Ghiyas. The tomb is the first ever garden-tomb to be built in the Indian subcontinent. The complex which houses the main tomb of Humayun also contains the toms of Begum Baga herself, Hamida Begum, Dara Shikoh and many other subsequent Mughals. There are several smaller monuments along the Pathway to the tomb including the tomb of Isa Niyazi, an Afghan noble in the court of Sher Shah Suri.
18. QUTB MINAR AND ITS MONUMENTS, DELHI, added in 1993
It was constructed by the first Muslim ruler of India, Qutub-ud-din-Aibak of the Mameluk dynasty in the honour of the famous Sufi saint Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki. The Qutb Complex also includes within it the Alai Darwaza, the Alai Minar, Qubbat-Ul-Islam Mosque, Tomb of Iltutmish and the Iron Pillar. These monuments collectively are the representatives of the earliest Indo-Muslim architecture of India.
We all knew of the existence of these places, didn’t we? But what we failed to grasp was the impact of these places over mankind in all its entirety. So, do we not owe it to them to at least appreciate their presence in our very own country? So, let’s see how fast can you tick off the entire list , shall we?