As we celebrate World Heritage Week from November 19 to November 25th, a thought keeps lingering in my mind. Do we really value our heritage? One may ask this question – Why it is important to preserve our heritage? Heritage is an all-encompassing word. It includes many things – built heritage like monuments and buildings, culture and traditions. Over the span of last few years as I went around exploring Jaipur and the surroundings, I was shocked to find that almost 90-95% of our built heritage is in urgent need of attention and repair. Read on to know Why attitude of people towards our heritage needs a big change after these pictures. My focus in this post is only built heritage.
The attitude towards our heritage requires a huge change. Given the sheer quantum of heritage buildings in Jaipur and rest of Rajasthan, it requires massive efforts and funds. I’m sure this holds true for other old/ancient cities and sites across India. This is why I feel preservation of heritage is important.
1.Our heritage is a link to the past.
The buildings and monuments are an important indicator of our beliefs, practices, customs and way of life. It provides us with an easy way to study how we have evolved as a society. With presence of around 1000 temples in the old city of Jaipur, it is easy to understand why religion and religious customs are still very strong in Jaipur.
2.Heritage provides us with the platform to study our history.
Cenotaph like the one in Jaipur – Royal Gaitore speaks a lot about attitude of the rulers towards art and religion. Some buildings are ornate whereas others are simple. Many structures are made of white marble or sandstone. And then there are the ones which blend marble & sandstone beautifully. Historians can decipher the state of finances during the reign of a particular ruler by simply analyzing these structures. Similarly, the pyramids in Egypt provide a clue towards prevalent customs and religion of a period.
3.Preserving heritage is profitable & it opens up new opportunities.
Many small towns in Europe have shown that preserving heritage buildings and culture is a way forward to bolster tourism and wealth. Small towns in Germany, Italy, Switzerland and many other countries attract many tourists because of their heritage. This is the only source of income in in these places. In a stark contrast, there are many heritage sites, monuments and buildings spread across our country, if restored and preserved, these can open new opportunities for government and people.
4. Our heritage makes us unique.
In a globalized world, buildings are similar everywhere. Be it Bangalore, Hong Kong or London. It is all glass and concrete façade. But when one looks at the old buildings, they all have a story to tell. They have unique design elements. You will not find a structure as Hawa Mahal anywhere else in the world!
5. Heritage inspires travel
Distinct culture, customs and buildings are great travel attraction. Everyone wants to experience something new. People won’t travel thousands of miles to witness or experience things they can find in their backyard. Kremlin in Moscow, Louvre in Paris, Amer Fort in Jaipur, Taj Mahal in Agra are great attractions. Similarly Diwali in India, Songkran in Thailand, Bull fighting in Spain are a big draw among travelers & tourists.
In my opinion the following attitudes need to change.
Old is past. Most residents feel that old buildings and customs have no place in current times. They link old buildings and customs with the bygone era. This is one reason Jaipur is losing old havelis and buildings at a fast pace. Old buildings in walled city area are being grazed down to make way for commercial spaces despite of a government ban.
Collusion with government officials allow people to circumnavigate this ban. One of the great reasons for converting old buildings into commercial ones is the lure of money.
I’m afraid in next couple of years, Jaipur may end up losing 50-60 percent of old buildings in walled city area. Bikaner city has already experienced this phenomenon where people sold off beautiful & ornate Jalis and windows from haveli façade. Here is a picture of beautiful window from the haveli in Bikaner.
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All these parts were modular & could be taken off before razing down a haveli. Making quick money in antique market was a big lure for people to do so. But a prompt action from authorities has now made it impossible for people to do so.
Government and authorities need to change their attitude as well. They have been only doing what is necessary. For example, the areas which are visible to the tourists visiting Amer Fort are in excellent conditions but the ones which are not visible to the tourists are crumbling down. Authorities are not interested in repairing & restoring such structures. What is apparent is that the government only wants to optimize the money spent on heritage!
Let me also add here before someone gets an impression that all is not well. Everything is not bad, we also have many heritage sites that are being maintained beautifully and are a great tourist attraction like Amer Fort, Hawa Mahal, Nahargarh Fort to name a few. This post merely highlights the general issue of attitude towards heritage.
During my visit to a heritage temple in Jaipur, the priest confessed that he would like to get the repairs done using ancient techniques. He was forced to use modern techniques because of lack of skilled people and whooping costs. Old technique of construction involved lime plaster and stone. Popular repair technique on the other hand relies on bricks, cement and concrete.
Unless government provides technique, trained manpower and financial help to owners of heritage buildings, it is impossible to use ancient techniques in restoration. Repairs carried out using modern methods in heritage buildings are neither effective nor lasting. They only inflict further damage to structures. Moreover, it is an eyesore.
Heritage preservation cannot be done unless both government and public make an effort. It seems even authorities have become insensitive to the changing façade in old bazaars. Inability to enforce law, populism, corruption, vote bank are taking a toll on our heritage. Introduction of underground metro in old bazaars of Jaipur against public opinion needs lot of mulling over and thoughts.
Underground metro construction work has caused damage to heritage structures. Authorities are building metro project in the name of development. It is likely that we may lose much of our built heritage in next decade or two since neither public nor authorities have any inclination to save our heritage. Meanwhile I have thought over & over…what will attract tourists to Jaipur? Metro? Malls? Glitzy modern buildings? Uninspiring architecture?…. I fail to come up with the answer!
Let me show you this picture from Amer Fort which is self explanatory of the attitude of our countrymen towards heritage. This picture captures Janani Deori section or residential unit of queens. I have written a separate post on this issue –Stop doing this to our heritage!