BJP wants de-recognition of Champaner Word Heritage Site

Saffron brigade’s bid to de-recognise a unique world heritage site representing pluralistic traditions

By Rupa Abdi,

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It is unfortunate how all fundamentalists, both Hindu and Muslim, share a general dislike for all that is good and beautiful in this world. First it was the turn of the Taliban to tear down the beautiful sculptures of Lord Buddha at Bamiyan in Afghanistan and now it is the turn of the Saffron brigade in Gujarat to try and de-recognise the unique Champaner-Pavagadh UNESCO heritage site – a 27sq km archeological park which represents pluralistic culture and traditions in a communally divided Gujarat. Its derecognition would mean that it will no longer be protected from vandalism, wear and tear and encroachment, ultimately resulting in its destruction.

About 45 km away from Vadodara city in Gujarat, scattered over 6 sq km around the Pavagadh Hill, lie assemblage of over 100 small and large monuments largely unexcavated and bearing archaeological, historic and living cultural heritage properties. The history of the Champaner-Pavagadh archaeological park dates back to pre-historic times, when it was first inhabited by the Stone Age man. Subsequently, early settlements were recorded in the 6th and 7th century AD when the site became part of the Maitrak dynasty ruling from Valabhi in Gujarat. With the decline of Maitraks in the 9th century, the region came under the influence of Gurajar Pratihar and Parmara rulers. It then passed into the hands of Khichi Chauhans of Rajasthan, the descendants of Prithviraj Chauhan in 13th century. The site’s Muslim period began with Sultan Mehmood Begada, who shifted his capital from Ahmedabad to Champaner fort to keep the Sultans of Mandu at bay. This was in the year 1484. This region came under the Mughals in the year 1535 when the fledgling town was plundered by Humayun. By the end of 16th century, the town gradually lost its eminence as an important center of commerce and governance. The architecture is a blend of Muslim and Hindu styles with some pre-Sultanate monuments having Jain motifs and temples. The Muslim monuments, mostly built by Mehmood Begada, like the Jami Masjid, Nagina Masjid, Kevda, Lila Gumbaj are typical of the Sultanate architecture with medieval Hindu influence, attributed mainly to Hindu artisans. The site includes, among other vestiges, fortifications, palaces, religious buildings, residential precincts, agricultural structures and water installations, from the 8th to the 14th centuries. This site is the only complete and unchanged Islamic pre-Mughal city in India. The Kalika Mata Temple on top of the Pavagadh Hill is considered to be an important shrine, attracting large numbers of Hindu pilgrims throughout the year.

This site was given the status of World Heritage site by UNESCO in 2004 after 22 years of persistent effort by a Vadodara based NGO, Heritage Trust, led by a noted architect – Karan Grover. However, a debate is currently raging among the pro-heritage and anti-heritage lobbies, the latter being largely fueled by Niraj Jain, a BJP member from Vadodara. In spite of the obvious advantages to the local people from the world heritage site status of this area, which include strengthening of the local economy due to increased tourist influx and consequent reduction in the labour migration to surrounding cities, the anti-heritage lobby is complaining against the restrictions put on construction of commercial and residential structures in the protected zone, lack of local consultation, and they feel that Muslim monuments are getting more attention than the Kalika Mata temple, the latter complaint has obvious communal overtones.
Ironically while the anti-heritage lobby led by a BJP member is demanding a de-recognition of this place as a World Heritage site, the much touted ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ website of the Gujarat government proudly proclaims that the “Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park” was added to Unesco’s World Heritage List in 2004.

[Photo by Razi Abidi]