First of all I would like to apologise for writing after a long gap of three days. I know today is the last day of UNESCO World Heritage Week and we still have to cover a lot of Indian Heritage Sites. I was debating on whether I should cram all of them together in one post but then it won’t do them justice. So, instead of wrapping up the series today, as it originally should have, I will continue it for three more days. Hope you guys are enjoying exploring India’s Heritage with me.
Each of the sites that we have discussed and those we will discuss in the coming days deserve a dedicated lengthy write-up. I hope I will be able to write them in detail in future, but for now I hope this much of information suffices. So continuing with our story:
Sanchi Stupa: (1989)
The moment we hear Sanchi Stupa, our mind goes back to 300 BCE to Ashokan Period. The Great Stupa at Sanchi is one of the most important Buddhist monuments reflecting the gems of Buddhist art and architecture. This Stupa is located in Sanchi Town, Madhya Pradesh, India. It is the oldest stone structure in India and was built during the Mauryan period.
Originally commissioned in the third century BCE by Emperor Ashok this huge hemispherical dome has a height of 12.2816.46 m (54.0 ft) and consists of a central chamber where the relics of Lord Buddha are placed. The stupa was vandalised during 2nd century BCE and renovated during the Shunga-Satavahana Period when the gateways and the balustrade were built and coloured.
This Buddhist sanctuary was an active Buddhist religious monument, which flourished until the 12th century. The sanctuary has a plethora of monolithic pillars, palaces, temples and monasteries in different status of preservation. The site was first discovered in 1818 in a deserted state of preservation and Archaeological excavations undertaken thereafter revealed 50 unique monuments. The monument that today attracts huge crowds of pilgrims and tourist alike has gone through heavy conservation work undertaken by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
Humayun’s Tomb: (1993)
Being the first garden-tomb on the Indian subcontinent, Humayun’s Tomb has inspired several major architectural innovations, culminating in the construction of the Taj Mahal!
This splendid mausoleum built in the memory of Emperor Humayun, the second Mughal ruler, stands as a magnificent testament to the style of Mughal royal mausoleums. It is the first of the grand dynastic garden-tombs to be commissioned.
The tomb was commissioned by Bega Begum in 1565 AD, Humayun’s Persian wife and chief consort. It was designed by Mirak Mirza Ghiyas and his son, Sayyid Muhammad, Persian architects chosen by her.
The construction of the tomb began nine years after the Emperor’s death and was completed in 1572 AD under the patronage of the third Mughal Emperor and Humayun’s son, Akbar.
It is interesting to note that from the 17th to the 19th centuries the gardens surrounding the tomb gradually filled with the tombs of Humayun’s descendants and his entourage. Humayun’s mausoleum has earned the title of necropolis of the Mughal dynasty. No sepulchre in India or elsewhere contains such a high number of tombs of the Mughal emperors and their relatives. . Located in Nizamuddin, East Dehli, Humayun’s tomb or Makbara-e -Humayun is one of the best preserved Mughal monuments.
Qutb Minar and its Monuments: (1993)
Qutb Minar is an 800-year-old, 72.5 (238 foot) tower in Delhi, India. It is one of the tallest, oldest structures on Earth. Built in the early 13th century, this red sandstone tower of Qutb Minar is 72.5 m high, tapering from 2.75 m in diameter at its peak to 14.32 m at its base. It has alternating angular and rounded flutings.
The surrounding archaeological area contains funerary buildings, notably the magnificent Alai-Darwaza Gate, the masterpiece of Indo-Muslim art (built in 1311), and two mosques, including the Quwwatu’l-Islam, the oldest in northern India, built of materials reused from some 20 Hindu temples.
The whole Qutb complex is a testimony to the Islamic depredations during the period as seen from the materials used for building the complex were those that were removed after destroying Hindu and Jain temples. A shining iron pillar of 7.02 metres (23.0 ft) height (without any trace of rusting) erected at the centre of the complex, with inscriptions in Sanskrit, of the Chandra Gupta II period is a mute witness of all the stories.
Rome was not built in a day. Similarly, all these monuments were contributed to by many succeeding rulers. The Qutb Minar was begun by Qutbu’d-Din Aibak, in around 1202 and completed by his successor, Muhammad-bin-Sam. It was damaged by lightning in 1326 and again in 1368, and was repaired by the rulers of the day, Muhammad-bin-Tughluq (1325-51) and Firuz Shah Tughluq (1351-88). In 1503 Sikandar Lodi carried out some restoration and enlargement of the upper storeys.
However beautiful the complex, it’s a sobering thought to know that equally magnificent temple were destroyed to build the complex that today has found its way into the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
You lose some, you gain some…
Mountain Railways of India: (1999, 2005, 2008)
When we were young all of us were ever so excited to watch the train storm past us. Running at a lightning speed, trains have always captured our imaginations as it goes by making a peculiar noise bound towards an unknown far away destination.
Did you know that India is the fourth largest railway network in the world comprising of 119,630 kilometres of total track with over 7,216 stations! Indian Railways also happens to be the world’s eighth-largest employer by number of employees (1.4 million). Trains have become a part of our basic mode of transportation.
The uniqueness network of railway systems of India have at least three UNESCO listed Mountain Railways of India. A collective listing of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, the Kalka-Shimla Railway and the Matheran Hill Railway (claim pending), course through the ragged and mighty mountain terrains of India (the Himalayas and the Western Ghats).
The World Heritage UNESCO recognition of these mountain railways of India has been stated as for being “outstanding examples of bold, ingenious engineering solutions for the problem of establishing an effective rail link through a rugged, mountainous terrain”.
Mahabodhi Temple Complex at Bodh Gaya: (2002)
Bodh Gaya, the place where Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment! Bodh Gaya is located almost 96 Km away from Patna, Bihar. It is an important religious centre for the Buddhists as this site has the Bodhi Tree where Siddhartha gained Enlightenment and became Gautam Buddha.
The famous Mahabodhi Temple was established in the reign of Ashoka the Great in c. 250 BCE. It’s one of the earliest Buddhist temples. Currently, the Mahabodhi Temple Complex at Bodh Gaya comprises the 50 m tall Mahabodhi Temple, the Vajrasana, sacred Bodhi Tree and other six sacred sites of Buddha’s enlightenment, surrounded by numerous ancient Votive stupas.
The structures have been built in bricks. The huge 50 m tall temple was built in Indian architectural style, dated between 5th and 6th centuries, and it is the oldest temple in the Indian sub-continent built during the “Golden Age” of Indian culture credited to the Gupta period. Sculpted balustrades of the Ashokan times (3rd century BC) are preserved in the Archaeological Museum located within the temple complex. The Gupta era temple also happens to be the oldest surviving temple built entirely bricks.
It is also the first temple to be built by Ashoka.
Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka: (2003)
It is a bit weird that a site that actually has the credit of being home of one of the oldest cave paintings of whole world was recognised as a World Heritage Site so late in the day. But nonetheless, this archaeological wonder contains the earliest rock-cave paintings of India and the world.
The Bhimbetka rock shelters are an archaeological World Heritage site located in the state of Madhya Pradesh. There are the earliest traces of human life in India. Interesting these paintings also show the traces of dance from prehistoric times!
Some of the Stone Age rock paintings found among the Bhimbetka rock shelters are approximately 30,000 years old (Palaeolithic Age). The paintings can be classified into seven periods which range from the Period I (Upper Palaeolithic), Period II (Mesolithic), Period III (Chalcolithic), Period IV & V (Early History) and to Period VI & VII (Medieval).
The rock shelters comprise a group of 5 rocks which were discovered only in 1957 and are renowned for the Mesolithic era carvings and paintings. These paintings are instrumental in telling us about the life and activities of the hunter-gatherers.
The word Bhimbetka is said to derive from Bhimbaithka, meaning “sitting place of Bhima”. Now whether the Pandava prince really sat there or not we can’t say for sure but it indeed is an amazing archaeological site showcasing a gradual evolution of humans in India.
Wrapping up today’s journey with the oldest site of Indian Heritage! Stay with me as we have so much more of Indian Heritage to discover…
Please find the links of the previous parts here:
Hope you guys enjoy!
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