Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Apr 13:
Bhubaneswar, the capital city of Odisha, also known as Ekamra Kshetra and Temple City, may soon have another feather on its cap. If all goes well, the city could find a mention as a ‘World Heritage City’ in a list prepared by UNESCO.
State government officials, representatives of Archeological Survey of India (ASI) and permanent delegates of India to UNESCO have had many rounds of talks with the representatives of the World Heritage Convention since the submission of application on April 15, 2014.
Bhubaneswar has already entered the qualification round and lobbying for the city goes as far as five years back even though it was officially nominated only last year.
It may be noted that once a site has been nominated and evaluated, it is up to the inter-governmental World Heritage Committee to make the final decision on its inscription. The committee meets every year to decide the sites/ cities that need to be inscribed on the World Heritage List. The body can also defer its decision and request further information on sites from the states as was the case with Chandigarh in 2010.
“Bhubaneswar has a unique position among the cities of India. A temple town with series of ancient sandstone temples, heritage ponds and water tanks, its wealth of monuments is testament to an ancient continuous architectural and historical heritage covering over 2,000 years from the 3rd century BC to the 15th century AD representing most of the important dynastic changes over the period. Bhubaneswar is dubbed the “Temple City” – a nom-de-plume earned because of the 700 temples which once stood here. It still boasts of a cluster of magnificent temples, constituting virtually a complete record of Kalinga architecture almost from its nascence to its culmination. Ekamra Kshetra comprises the area of the old city of Bhubaneswar that forms the centre of this temple architecture and is considered a Hindu holy city,” wrote the permanent delegation of India to UNESCO while submitting the request on April 15, 2014.
Officials have argued for the coveted status for the city under criteria i, ii and iii of World Heritage List. It may be noted that (i) refers to representation a masterpiece of human creative genius; (ii) refers to exhibition of an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design and (iii) requires the place to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or has withered away.
Getting the World Heritage city title will have its own benefits.
First of all, the World Heritage City status is the highest and the most prestigious honour given to a city in recognition of its historic/architectural significance at an international level for having heritage of outstanding universal value.
It will also give a tremendous impetus to international tourism and will open up avenues of funding for comprehensive development of the city. The status makes preservation and maintenance of heritage mandatory, upholding the city’s cultural identity in the process.
Out of the total of 199 historical structures in Ekamra Kshetra or Bhubaneswar as it is called now, there are 23 centrally protected monuments and 11 state protected.
Konark Sun Temple has been the only place from the state to have been accorded the prestigious World Heritage Site status. There are a total of 32 World Heritage Sites in India as of last year.
India has also maintained a list of tentative sites for recognition and has submitted it to the UNESCO Committee for evaluation and acceptance. Last year, while Chilika Lake was submitted as an entry for World Heritage Site, Ekamra Kshetra was the entry for World Heritage City.
So far, Amer (earlier known as Amber), now a part of the Rajasthan’s Jaipur Municipal Corporation, is the only Indian city in the list. Many other cities, including New Delhi, Varanasi, Ahmedabad and Chandigarh, are lobbying for the prestigious recognition.
The Organization of World Heritage Cities (OWHC) was founded on September 8, 1993 in Fez, Morocco. As of December 31, 2007, the organization was made up of 233 cities of which some are included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Of the member cities, seven are located in Africa, 36 in Latin America and the Caribbean, 20 in Asia and the Pacific, 120 in Europe and Canada, and 20 in the Arab States. At the moment, there are also four Observer-members.