UNESCO identifies such places that are considered to be of immense cultural and natural importance in the world. A UNESCO World Heritage Site can be any place such as a forest, lake, building, island, mountain, monument, desert, complex or a city; which has a special physical or cultural significance. Currently there are 1092 World Heritage sites in the world and India hosts 38 out of them, ranking 6th in the world!
We will explore these exotic sites of India in series of blogs. Starting chronologically with the year in which these sites were deemed as World Heritage Sites:
Agra Fort: (1983)
The Agra Fort, also known as the Red Fort of Agra, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 as a Category III Cultural Monument. Built by the great Mughal Emperor Akbar in the year 1565 A.D, this fort represents Mughal opulence and power.
The fortress that is located on the right bank of the Yamuna River is built in red sandstone. Covering a length of 2.5 kilometres, this fort has a semi-circular plan. It has four main gates; two of the fort’s gates are notable: the “Delhi Gate” and the “Lahore Gate.”
It is surrounded by a moat which encloses several palaces, towers, and mosques. The construction of this magnificent fort lasted from the 16th century until the early 18th century. Each Emperor from Akbar’s reign in the 16th century to that of Aurangzeb in the early part of the 18th century, contributed to the construction of this monument.
There are many impressive structures built within the precincts of the fort. The most significant of them are the Khas Mahal, the Shish Mahal, Muhamman Burje (an octagonal tower), Diwan-i-Khas (1637), Diwan-i-Am, white marble mosque or the Pearl Mosque (built during 1646–1653) and the Nagina Masjid (1658–1707).
Showcasing a remarkable fusion of Persian and the Timurid arts with that of the Indian art forms, it stands proudly near Taj Mahal, with a buffer zone separating the two world famous monuments.
Ajanta Caves: (1983)
The Ajanta Caves in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra state of India are about 30 rock-cut Buddhist cave monuments which were constructed from the 2nd century BCE to about 480 or 650 CE.
These rock-cut cave monuments containing of paintings and sculptures are considered to be masterpieces of both “Buddhist religious art” and “universal pictorial art”. Discovered by chance in 1819 by a British officer, this horseshoe shaped collection of caves have since then been in the archaeological and historical limelight of the country.
Excavated in distinct 2 phases (1st phase under Satavahanas and 2nd under Vakatakas) these caves structures consists of two types: caityas (“sanctuaries”) and viharas (“monasteries”). Although the sculpture, particularly the rich ornamentation of the caitya pillars, is noteworthy, it is the fresco-type paintings that are the chief interest of Ajanta.
Brilliant in their detailing, the Ajanta Caves are among the greatest surviving examples of ancient Indian cave art.
Ellora Caves: (1983)
Considered to be the epitome of ancient Indian rock-cut architecture, these caves were built by the Kalachuri, Chalukya and Rashtrakuta dynasties over a period spanning from the 6th to 9th centuries CE. A complex of 34 rock-cut temples and caves is unique in its essence as it has the presence of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain temples and sculptures that portray the tolerance which was extended towards different faiths and beliefs in Ancient Indian History.
It is one of the largest rock-cut monastery-temple cave complexes in the world and features the largest single monolithic rock excavation in the world, the Kailasha temple, a chariot shaped monument dedicated to Lord Shiva!
Each year the caves attract large crowds of religious pilgrims and tourists. The annual Ellora Festival of Classical Dance and Music is held there in the third week of March.
Taj Mahal (1983)
The mesmerising Taj Mahal, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, is a mausoleum — a funerary mosque. Built by Emperor Shahjahan in memory of his third wife Begum Mumtaz Mahal who had died in 1631, it is a large edifice made in white marble which is a typical feature of Mughal architecture.
A style that combines elements from Persian, Islamic, and Indian architectural styles, this magnificent monument is almost synonymous with India. This much acclaimed masterpiece was built over a 16-year period between 1631 and 1648 under the Chief Architect Ustad Ahmad Lahauri supported by several thousand artisans under the guidance of an Imperial Committee.
It was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1983, under Category I, as a Cultural Property/Monument. It is set amidst the vast Mughal Gardens which are spread over 17 hectares of land on the right bank of the Yamuna River.
Its octagonal layout is marked by four exclusive minarets at four corners with a pristine elevation of a central bulbous dome below which the tombs are laid in an underground chamber. It was completed at an estimated cost of 32 million Indian rupees which would today stand up to 58 billion Indian rupees. It is considered as the best example of Mughal architecture worldwide and is called the “Jewel of Muslim Art in India”.
The whole monument is a sight to the sore eyes with its calligraphic inscriptions in-crusted in polychromatic pierra dura, decorative bands and floral arabesques. The monument’s graphic beauty is by far the most picture perfect site in the whole wide world!
Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram: (1984)
Founded by the Pallava kings along the Coromandel coast in the 7th and 8th centuries CE, these group of rock-cut monuments is known especially for its rathas (temples in the form of chariots), mandapas (cave sanctuaries), giant open-air reliefs such as the famous ‘Descent of the Ganges’, and the temple of Rivage, with thousands of sculptures to the glory of Shiva.
The temple town has approximately forty monuments, including the largest open-air bas-relief in the world. It was inscribed under the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1984 as a Cultural Heritage under Categories (I) (II) (III) and (VI).
The Pallavas were a powerful ancient dynasty that ruled a huge part of South India, including present day Tamil Nadu, between the 6th and 9th centuries AD, with Kanchipuram as their capital. They are credited with introducing the Dravidian style of temple architecture. Some of the famous temples in Mahabalipuram or Mammalapuran are Shore Temple, Pancha Pandava Cave Temple, Ganesha Ratha Temple, Karukathamman Temple, etc. Most of the monuments at Mahabalipuram are rock cut and monolithic and are some of the oldest surviving specimens of Dravidian architecture.
Konark Sun Temple: (1984)
Yet another architectural marvel of India’s heritage, Konark Sun Temple, commonly known as Konark Temple is situated in the eastern state of Odisha, India. It is one of the eminent tourist attractions of India. The Konark Sun Temple is a 13th-century Sun Temple (also known as the “Black Pagoda”) located on the east coast of the Bay of Bengal in the Mahanadi Delta.
It is built in the form of the chariot of Surya (Arka) the sun god with 24 wheels, and is heavily decorated with symbolic stone carvings and led by a team of horses. It was constructed by King Narasimhadeva I of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty. The temple is one of the most renowned temples in India and is a World Heritage Site inscribed in 1984 as a Cultural Property under Categories (I), (III) and (VI).
This temple reflects the grandeur of the traditional style of Kalinga Architecture, which was prevalent then. There are three images of the Sun God at three different sides of the temple, positioned in proper direction to catch the rays of the sun at morning, noon and evening.
The main temple which enshrined the presiding deity has fallen off and only the remains can be seen. Even in its ruined state it is a magnificent temple reflecting the mastermind of the architects that imagined and constructed it.
India is full of such magnificent beauties. Stay tuned as we discover the rest of UNESCO World Heritage Sites of India!
© 2019 Ashwini Nawathe, Kaleidoscope of My Life
All Rights Reserved