Santiniketan, the university town in West Bengal's Birbhum district founded by Rabindranath Tagore, has been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. This was announced by the international organisation in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where the World Heritage Committee is holding its 45th session till September 25.
Along with Santiniketan, the Sacred Ensembles of the Hoysala have also found a place in the coveted list, in this session. This takes the tally of Indian sites on the UNESCO list to 42, according to the Archaeological Survey of India.
Santiniketan, which was started in 1901 by the nobel laureate, was initially a school and art center based on ancient Indian traditions. It aimed to promote the idea that all people are united, regardless of their religion or culture. Later, in 1921, it evolved into a "world university" called Visva Bharati.
The Hoysala temples of Karnataka, located in the Belur, Halebidu and Somananthpura regions, were built in the 12th to 13th centuries and stand as symbols of the creativity and skill of the artists and architects of the Hoysala era. The Hoysala Empire ruled a large portion of the modern day state of Karnataka, as we know today.
But what does it take to be inscribed on the World Heritage List?
Santiniketan was first considered for World Heritage status by the Indian government in 2010. The campaign was restarted in 2021, and a new dossier was compiled by the Archaeological Survey of India with the assistance of Visva Bharati officials and submitted to UNESCO.
Similarly, the temples were finalised as India’s nomination for consideration as World Heritage for the year 2022-2023, but have been on UNESCO's Tentative list since April 15, 2014.
This designation is not only granted to historical or archaeological sites, but also to customs, traditions, and ecologically significant places. The UNESCO, sums it up well by defining cultural and natural heritages as “irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration…our touchstones, our points of reference, our identity”.
To be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list, a heritage must go through a rigorous and well-defined process. This process consists of approximately 9 steps from nomination to potential delisting.
The intricate and often lengthy procedure begins with each of the 190 states compiling a "Tentative List", comprising of sites in their jurisdiction that have natural and cultural merit. This is a list that each State Party will pull from when nominating a site for inscription.
The nomination file is extensive, containing elements such as maps, thematic analyses, property history, and other evidence required to show the heritage stands true to UNESCO criterions, such as, a masterpiece of human creative genius, interchange of human values, testimony to a cultural tradition or superlative natural phenomena.
After the file is submitted, it must be approved by the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), before being sent to the World Heritage Committee. This Committee meets once a year to decide which heritage conforms to the criteria for inscription. It has the authority to reject or postpone a decision, as well as to remove sites from the list if they no longer fit the mandatory criteria.
What does it mean to be inscribed on the list?
When a site is inscribed on the World Heritage List, the member state agrees to an ongoing commitment to maintain, conserve, and monitor it. They must inspect the sites every six years, submitting reports on the state of the monument and the preservation and conservation measures put in place.
This enables the Committee to decide whether a site should be included to the List of World Heritage in Danger. This list currently includes 56 sites, such as Minaret and Archaeological Remains of Jam (Afghanistan), Historic Centre of Vienna (Austria), Abu Mena (Egypt), Hatra (Iraq) and Historic Town of Zabid (Yemen).
The UNESCO defines dangers as "armed conflict and war, earthquakes and other natural disasters, pollution, poaching, uncontrolled urbanization, unchecked tourist development”.
Being included on this list enables the Committee to allocate funds from the World Heritage Fund for urgent support, while also raising global awareness about the current issues, in a bid to promote greater conservation and preservation endeavors.
Which other Indian sites are on the list?
After the recent additions, India now has 42 world heritage properties overall, which includes 34 in the cultural category, seven in the natural category and one mixed property.
India has the sixth largest number of UNESCO sites in the world, after Italy, Spain, Germany, China and France. Some of these sites include, Ajanta caves, Ellora caves, Agra Fort, Taj Mahal, Mahabalipuram Monuments, Kaziranga National Park, Churches and Convents of Goa, Fatehpur Sikri, Mahabodhi Temple, Red Fort and Nalanda.
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