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[353-11]. Singh, Rana P.B. 2011. Varanasi, India’s Cultural Heritage City: Contestation, Conservation & Planning; in, Singh, Rana P.B. (ed.) Heritagescapes and Cultural Landscapes. Planet Earth & Cultural Understanding Series, Pub. 6. Shubhi Publications, New Delhi: pp. 205-254. Hb, ISBN (10): 81-8290-226-6. © Rana P.B. Singh. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Varanasi, India’s Cultural Heritage City: Contestation, Conservation & Planning Rana P.B. Singh Banaras Hindu University, India ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Abstract. It has been realised that the cultural and natural heritages are increasingly threatened by destruction not only due to the traditional causes of decay, but also by changing socio-economic and political conditions. From India 28 properties are enlisted in WH List, however Ghats of Varanasi has not yet been proposed for inclusion, mostly due to political complexity and lack of strong movement from the stakeholders. This essay attempts to critically examine the rationales for proposing Varanasi as a heritage city in the WH List and the problems faced in this process since last ten years. In this context the status of Varanasi on the scale of UNESCO-WH List, the implications of the present Master Plan and City Development Plan (JNNURM), role of INTACH (Varanasi), governance strategies and issues of public awareness are critically examined. It is suggested that the auspices of City Administration a Heritage & Conservation Cell in the Development Authority and Municipal Corporation should be created, and specific by-laws also be formulated for the development and preservation of heritagescapes. Keywords: JNNURM, heritage planning, contestation, Master plan, public participation, stakeholders. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 1. The Master Plan and Heritage Zones People say, “By seeing Banaras, one can see as much of life as the whole India can show”. In fact, Banaras is an archetype of all India, but it is full of complexity and contrasts resulting too difficult in comprehension for those who stand outside the Indian tradition. Vārānasi, popularly called Kāshi or Banāras (wrongly spelt as Benares in anglicised way), known as the Cultural Capital, Heritage city of India and one of the oldest living

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  • [353-11]. Singh, Rana P.B. 2011. Varanasi, Indias Cultural Heritage City: Contestation, Conservation & Planning; in, Singh, Rana P.B. (ed.) Heritagescapes and Cultural Landscapes. Planet Earth & Cultural Understanding Series, Pub. 6. Shubhi Publications, New Delhi: pp. 205-254. Hb, ISBN (10): 81-8290-226-6. Rana P.B. Singh.


    Varanasi, Indias Cultural Heritage City: Contestation, Conservation & Planning

    Rana P.B. Singh Banaras Hindu University, India


    Abstract. It has been realised that the cultural and natural heritages are increasingly threatened by destruction not only due to the traditional causes of decay, but also by changing socio-economic and political conditions. From India 28 properties are enlisted in WH List, however Ghats of Varanasi has not yet been proposed for inclusion, mostly due to political complexity and lack of strong movement from the stakeholders. This essay attempts to critically examine the rationales for proposing Varanasi as a heritage city in the WH List and the problems faced in this process since last ten years. In this context the status of Varanasi on the scale of UNESCO-WH List, the implications of the present Master Plan and City Development Plan (JNNURM), role of INTACH (Varanasi), governance strategies and issues of public awareness are critically examined. It is suggested that the auspices of City Administration a Heritage & Conservation Cell in the Development Authority and Municipal Corporation should be created, and specific by-laws also be formulated for the development and preservation of heritagescapes. Keywords: JNNURM, heritage planning, contestation, Master plan, public participation, stakeholders. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    1. The Master Plan and Heritage Zones People say, By seeing Banaras, one can see as much of life as the

    whole India can show. In fact, Banaras is an archetype of all India, but it is full of complexity and contrasts resulting too difficult in comprehension for those who stand outside the Indian tradition. Vrnasi, popularly called Kshi or Banras (wrongly spelt as Benares in anglicised way), known as the Cultural Capital, Heritage city of India and one of the oldest living

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    cities of the world, records a continuous settlement history since ca. 1000 BCE. However, the present city has grown mostly during the early 18th century. Varanasi acquired status of a million+ city (as Urban Agglomeration) in 1991 and recorded a population of 1,231,220 in 2001. The citys population consists of predominantly of Hindus (63 per cent), substantial Muslims (30 per cent) and other religious groups. The main city of Varanasi spreads over an area of 84.55km2. Additionally, everyday about 40,000 commuters visit the city, which increases to 60,000 during festive season. There are ca. 3,300 Hindu sanctuaries, and 1,388 Muslim shrines and mosques (more than in any city in the world). Existence of 4 universities and 3 deemed universities, 150 Muslim schools, ca. 100 Sanskrit pathashalas (traditional schools), and 50 Inter and Degree colleges make the place a City of Culture and Learning. The vividness and multiplicity, and the diversity and unity are easily envisioned in its practising religions, performing cultures, functioning society and regulating economy altogether making a cultural mosaic or universe of heritagescapes, in which age-old festivities and performances play a major role (cf. Singh 2009c: 17-18).

    As the city has grown in area, population, business and administrative functions, its influence extends beyond the municipal limits. From a city with a single core (CBD, i.e. Chauk), it has now acquired the character of an Urban Agglomeration (UA) spread over an area of 115.27 km2. And then there is a much larger area called Varanasi Urban Region over which it has no formal control but to which it sends its products and from which it draws its food and other requirements. What happens in the region has implications for the city and its people and vice versa. With further improvement of the GT road (National Highway 2) into a super highway, the future expansion of the city will continue to be on all sides surrounding the city.

    In 1982 the Varanasi Development Authority (VDA, formed in 1974) made an assessment of the earlier plans of the city. And, under its direction, the Town & County Planning Organisation (TCPO) prepared a comprehensive Master Plan of Varanasi 1991-2011, during which time the population of Varanasi Agglomeration is expected to double (cf. Singh 2009c: 327). The five-tier areal units are defined on the basis of administration and planning strategy, taking Varanasi Development Region, VDR (as in Master Plan 2011) as the outer limit. From lower to higher hierarchy they are: Varanasi City Municipal Corporation 84.55 km2, Varanasi Urban Agglomeration, VUA 112.26 km2, Varanasi Master Plan - Operative Area 144.94 km2, Varanasi Master Plan - Projected Area

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    179.27 km2, and the outer most Varanasi Development Region, VDR 477.34 km2 (Fig. 7.1). Fig. 7.1. Varanasi, Development Region: Development Plan, 2011-2021.

    Under the Master Plan 2011 the expanded area proposed for Greater Varanasi is 179.27 km2, however the land use categories planned do not fit the standard norms of ecological balance in the minimum threshold. The most noticeable change during the 1991-2011 Plan is the expansion of the area of the city (+112%). The major changes since 1991 as introduced after 1988, indicate a catastrophic increase of land under government and semi-government uses (+390.50 per cent), and public and community facilities (+190.63 per cent). The increasing pace of population results to

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    increase area under residential uses up to 253.63 per cent over 1988 (cf. Singh 2009c: 327). This catastrophic change spoils the ecological system of land use; the most crucial group is parks and open ground that records a decrease of over 60 per cent in comparison to 1999. Similarly a great loss of agriculture and open land within the master plan area, at a rate of above 40 per cent, is again a great warning. In addition to the citys population, everyday about 40,000 commuters visit the city; this numbers increases to 60,000 during festive season.

    Fig. 7.2. Varanasi, Development Plan 2011.

    For the first time in the history of Master Plans for Varanasi, some strategies of urban heritage and heritage zoning were proposed in the recent Master Plan (1991-2011; Singh 2009c: 327, cf. Fig. 7.2) to maintain and preserve the ancient glory of Varanasi, and to identify necessary facilities and infrastructure and various heritage complexes (cf. Rana and Singh 2000: 150-154). A little over 2% of the total area is proposed under

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    tourism and heritage zone. More emphasis has been laid on the government and semi-government uses.

    According to the zoning plan, five heritage zones can be identified in Varanasi (Fig. 7.2):

    1.1. Riverfront Ghats (stairways to the riverbank) The riverfront heritage covers the portion of the city stretching within

    200 m from the river bank. Eighty-four riverfront ghats cover a length of 6.8 km along the crescent-shaped bank of the River Ganga, Ganga-ji (Ganges in anglicised way, devotionally called Ganga-Ji), from the confluence of Asi drain in the south to the confluence of the Varana river in the north (Fig. 7.3). Here the riverfront is overlooked by lofty palatial buildings built mostly by kings and lords from different parts of India between 18th and 20th centuries, and the area along the ghats is dominated by various shrines and temples. One of the most impressive buildings is the Darbhanga Palace, presently called Brij Rama Palace, which is presently in the process of conversion into a heritage hotel that will consequently result into loss of heritage and promotion of environmental pollution. The ghats of Varanasi (cf. Fig. 7.4) represent one of the finest ensembles of monumental architecture linked with the everyday activities of the devout people, thus symbolising the heritage tradition of India.

    Almost all visitors (tourists and pilgrims) take part in the on-site package scenic tour programmes (whether at a luxury or a basic level), of which the Ganga ghats are the most popular. The ghats are the nexus of the major rituals and festivals (the intangible cultural heritage resources) in the holy city, from where all rituals start by taking a sacred bath and get concluded by giving a donation to the riverfront priests, like thanks giving.

    In order to absorb the population growth in the old city centre, new buildings are being constructed either by demolishing old structures or by building on them. Since most of the heritage sites are in these densely inhabited narrow lane areas, two UP State Government orders (no. 320/9-A-32000-127, of 5 February 2000, and 840/9-A-3-2001, of 11 April 2001) state that, in all the towns situated along the Ganga river, no development activities can take place 200 metres from the riverbank. It specifically prohibits new construction on the riverfront ghats unless these buildings are temples, maths and ashrams (monasteries) and only if these have approved construction plans or are only being renovated. The order goes on to say that all other old buildings that are within 200 metres from the ghats can only be renovated. Overall these orders aim to protect the integrity, sacredness and the ancient glory of cities along the Ganga. The crescent-moon shaped riverbank is a landscape temple in the form of an

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    amphitheatre, where the ghats form the platforms, the water the altar and the sun is God.

    Fig. 7.3. Riverfront Varanasi, World Heritage Site.

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    Fig. 7.4. Riverfront Varanasi: a scene of the Ahilyabai to Shitala Ghats.

    1.2. Durgakund-Sankatmochan Area This area contains about twenty temples and shrines and the water

    pools of Durgakund and Kurukshetra kundas, which are two historic sacred tanks dating from the late 18th century (Singh 1994). Every Tuesday, and more frequently in the month of Shravana (July-August) and Ashvina (September-October), especially the nine nights (Navaratri) in the light fortnight, worshippers perform rituals in the Durga temple. This was built on the orthodox model of Hindu temples, but without an excessive display of minute carvings and sculptures. Towards the east near the Ganga river is the oldest sacred pond in Varanasi, viz. Lolarka Kund, which was referred to in the Mahabharata (2nd century BCE) and which still attracts a large mass of pilgrims, especially on its annual day of celebration falling on the Bhadrapada (August-September) 6th of the light fortnight. In this area also stand the temples of Tulasi Manas Mandir and Sankatmochan Hanuman Mandir.

    1.3. Kamachcha-Bhelupura Area This area records some of the old monasteries, ancient shrines and an

    ancient heritage site associated with the Jain Tirthankara Parshvanath, together with many monuments and buildings of the British period (18th-19th centuries). The historically notable temples and shrines in this zone

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    are: Kamachha Devi, Krodhan Bhairava, Angareshi Chandi, Vatuka Bhairava and Vaidyanath Shiva. The Dvarakadhisha (Krishna) temple and sacred pool of Shankhudhara are other heritage sites.

    1.4. Kabir Math (Lahartara) Area This site was the birthplace of Kabir, a great saint-poet and social

    reformer of the 16th century. There are several monasteries in this area related to the life of Kabir. The Kabir Temple Complex is coming up as a great heritage and centre of solace and learning. Under the heritage complex development programme by the UP Government, a development plan has been prepared and some works have already been started.

    1.5. Sarnath Fig. 7.5. Sarnath: Places of attraction.

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    This archaeological heritage site was famous for its sanctity, beauty and natural scenery (Fig. 7.5), qualities that attracted the Buddha to give his first sermon here in 528 BCE. Following Muslim invasions and the downfall of the Gahadavalas Kings, the site was left in ruins and only came to light in CE 1793.

    The principal site in Sarnath includes a well-preserved commemorative stupa (a decorated masonry tumulus) which dominates the site, the foundations of a reliquary stupa, the ruins of the temple complex and ancient monasteries, and a myriad of small votive stupas. The stupa and its surroundings are already proposed in the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1998. The on-going development plan is in accord with heritage conservation, environmental sensibility, public involvement and user feelings, as befitting a most important centre of heritage tourism. It is sad to record that there is lack of co-ordination between Japanese donors and the Indian institutions involved in planning.

    1.6. Other Heritagescapes There are many other sites, areas and monuments in Varanasi which

    urgently require restoration and preservation and inclusion in the sustainable heritage tourism programmes. These include the Hindu Observatory at Man Mandir Ghat, the Amethy temple at Manikarnika Ghat, the Sumer Devi temple at Ramanagar and adjoining tank, and many others. Varanasi is famous for its series and layers of sacred circuits, among which the Panchakroshi is the most popular. This pilgrimage circuit representing the cosmo-spatial mandalic territory (kshetra) of Kashi is a unique attribute of Varanasi. The total route covers 88.5km (25 krosha, i.e. 5 krosha x 5 parts) and is divided into five parts marked by overnight stops. At these five spots there are 44 dharmashalas (rest houses) for pilgrims. In every intercalary month, malamasa (e.g. the last one was from a period of 17 May to 15 June 2007, and the forthcoming will cover from 15 April to 14 May 2010; falling every 3rd year), over 45,000 devotees perform this pilgrimage (cf. Singh, Rana 2002). Under the recently initiated heritage development project, a part of the Master Plan, partial works like improvement of roads, cleaning of the water pools and repairing of some of the roads are being completed. On the ground of pilgrimage-tourism this cosmic circuit should be given special emphasis, so also promote sustainable heritage tourism.

    Among the above five sections, of course the Riverfront City is being in the process of getting enlisted in the UNESCO Heritage List mixed cultural landscape. Due to the lack of the public awareness and active

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    participation, the complex web of bureaucracy, rising corruptions, and the rise of both individualism and consumerism, there seems to be little hope for the proper implementation of the plans and maintenance of heritage properties in their original forms. Ultimately there is an urgent need to re-vitalise the city with re-establishing the ecological order by promoting civic sense and active public awakening and participation. The Ganga river is so polluted now that only the most faithful would venture to take bath in it. The Ganga River as an environmental milieu is not simply a water stream that flows across the land, this is what the Hindu culture knows to be true and knows this in a certain way. It is not simply a question of how the river matters to society at present (in a strict sense), it is more important to see the meanings and cultural values which have been sustained for centuries. It is our moral obligation to revere this deeper attitude and maintain it in the context of the present needs, searching for a balanced relationship between man and nature within the microcosm of the Ganga river. This ideal brings together both Hindu culture and the vision of a sustainable society. The Ganga is declared as a National River by the union government of India on 4 November 2008, as the first step for environmental and heritage preservation.

    Having a prime objective to help replace the current piecemeal efforts to clean up the Ganga with an integrated approach that sees the river as an ecological entity and to address the problems and strategies for environmental cleanliness the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) was founded on 20 February 2009 and opened by the prime minister of India. Let us hope that the vision and reflections of heritage (tangible and intangible) associated with the Ganga river and continued since the ancient past would also be considered in such programmes.

    The impact of urban sprawl and neighbouring effect is constantly marked by the expansion and growth of two towns across the Ganga river, i.e. Ramanagar and Mughalsarai, lying only at 5 km and 18 km east of the main city, and recording population of 40,619 and 116,308 in 2001, respectively (cf. Singh 2009c: 335). During 1991-2001 they recorded a growth of 35 and 23%, and are expected according to the Master Plans to grow up to 30 and 38% in 2001-11, respectively. It is further estimated that both towns will be directly linked as a continuous urban space by 2031. This tendency will further intensify the demographic and economic pressure on the city of Varanasi.

    Unfortunately the Master Plan 2001-11 as prepared by the VDA and passed by the UP Legislative Assembly has failed to implement most of the priority projects enlisted. Realising this now private investors are encouraged to come forward and take care of the follow up in-process

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    Master Plan 2011-21 under the purview of withdrawal or non-implementation of the earlier strategies and projects. In the Master Plan 2001-11, a long list of roads was prepared to ensure its widening but the condition of roads could not improve despite the fact the traffic load continued to increase. The VDA could also failed its drive against high number of illegal constructions, misuse of basements sanctioned with parking provisions and developers of illegal residential colonies on the outskirts, and illegal destruction and encroachments of heritage properties. Projects like Kamdhenu Nagar were put on the backburner while the fate of Transport Nagar hung in balance due to delay in completion of the process of land acquisition. A few years back, the VDA had adopted strict attitude against the law breakers and violators of building laws, but its drives could also not continue for long resulting back into the earlier condition. However, despite its failures in the past, the VDA now appears serious for ensuring a planned development in future as would be proposed in the coming Master Plan 2011-21.

    It seems that some ready-made plans on the line of other similar cities would be superimposed, like in the past, and again rarely peoples participation be given its rational place? Will the VDA put these plans in public domain and call for opinion of the civil society who is passionate about their heritage and contributing their bit towards its maintenance and preservation? Or will it want the people living in this sacred city to be as disconnected as they are today with their heritage and traditions, which are mostly used as resource for (outsider) tourists? Do we want citizens to continue to be disconnected from the campaign and continue to flush and forget its rich traditions? There is a need to involve the communities and reconnect them to the heritage and traditions in making in-process Master Plan 2011-21 more sustainable and heritage-oriented. Lets not undermine the fact that success of the programme to bring the citys culture to better life will rest with the involvement of communities right from planning to monitoring (cf. case of the Ganga river, Babu 2009).

    2. UNESCO guidelines for Cultural Heritage & Cultural Landscape

    According to the Operational Guidelines (2005) of the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO, a property designated as cultural heritage nominated should:

    i. represent a masterpiece of human creative genius (monument, group of buildings or site);

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    ii. exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design;

    iii. bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilisation which is living or which has disappeared;

    iv. be an outstanding example of a type of building or architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history;

    v. be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change; and

    vi. be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance (the Committee considers that this criterion should preferably be used in conjunction with other criteria).

    Additionally, it would be more plausible to have one more criterion from the natural heritage to be taken into consideration for identifying cultural heritage:

    vii. contains superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance.

    The Riverfront cultural and heritage landscape and Old City Heritage of Varanasi fully accord with all the above criteria of WHC UNESCO 2005 (i to vi and vii).

    There appeared a number of imbalances and gaps on the world heritage list of UNESCO till 1994, including the over-representation of historic towns, religious buildings, and European sites. With a strategy to solve it, the concept of cultural landscapes was introduced in 1992 and a global strategy is framed; however, after passage of time more the spatial and typological alleged imbalances have grown (cf. Aa 2005: 37). Even being one of the founding members, India has not been fully represented mostly due lack of seriousness from the side of government authorities and community organisation; the Riverfront heritagescape of Varanasi is an example of not finally proposed for getting enlisted, in spite of fulfilling all the world heritage criteria (ibid.: 24; cf. Singh, Dar and Rana 2001).

    3. Varanasi on the criteria of UNESCO-WHC

    i. Representing a masterpiece of human creative genius There are several examples of architectural master pieces of attached

    with inherent meanings, archetypal representations and continuity of

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    performances and rituals. The micocosmic temple of Panchakroshi that places 273 deities in three-dimensionality as replica of the originally existing images and shrines along the five sacred routes in the city is a unique example (Gutschow 2005, also Singh 2002). Built in 1936 Bharat Mata (mother India) temple, of which the interior is dominated by a remarkable 90-square-metre map of India carved in a relief out of marble blocks set into the floor, is an example of perceiving the nation as a goddess, as eulogised in the ancient mythologies. Other distinct and unparallel examples include the temples of Gurudham, Kardameshvara, Vrisabhadhvajeshvara, Amethy, Mahamaya, Lolarka water pool, and some others too (cf. Michell and Singh 2005).

    One of Indias earliest, most picturesque and one of the finest Gothic Revival structures in Perpendicular style, the building of Sampurnananda Sanskrit University, Varanasi, dates from 1848-52. Of course the Sanskrit University (earlier college) was founded in 1795, but later it shifted to the present building. This is the only institution in the whole world that is based on Sanskrit language and ancient Indian tradition. It has also the richest collection of ancient manuscripts, kept in the Sarasvati Vidya Library. Presently the building and the collections in the library are both facing the problem of destruction and loss.

    ii. Exhibiting interchange of human values in architecture and monuments

    Varanasi is the only city in India where textually described cosmogonic frame and geomantic outlines are existent in their full form and totality, thus the city becomes universally significant even today. The city is a mosaic of the various religious groups and their traditions. In the city alone, there are over 3300 Hindu shrines and temples, about 1388 Muslim shrines and mosques, 12 churches, 3 Jain temples, 9 Buddhist temples, 3 Sikh temples (gurudvaras) and several other sacred sites and places. Here Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Christianity and even Islam have their distinct traditions, and on the other end they together conform the harmonious life and culture of the city called Banarasian. The life style of Banaras is unique in nature, and is referred to as Banarasipan. It is an art of living, both passionate and carefree, what the Banaras dwellers call masti (joie de vivre), mauj (delight, festivity) and phakarpan (carefreeness). Teaching and training of Sanskrit and Ayurveda (the traditional system of Indian Medicine) has been present here since at least the 5th century BCE, and is still in practice prominently.

    iii. Testimony to cultural tradition in history

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    The city has two remnants of a holy past: the first one being Sarnath where Buddha gave his first sermon, Turning the wheel of law in ca. 528 BCE. Later during the 3rd century BCE king Ashoka built a monastery township there which continued its existence till the 12th century CE and was later destroyed. The second one is the Rajghat Plateau, where the archaeological findings and the C14 dating of some of the wares excavated from the earliest level (upper part of IA layer, sample No. TF-293) refer the existence of urban settlements in the period during 1000-500 BCE. The archaeological investigation is further supported by Robert Eidt (1977) on the basis of scientific analysis of chronosequence of non-occluded/ occluded phosphate ratios. This site has been the original centre of one of the oldest continuously occupied modern cities in the world. The site evidences indicate small farming and domestication of animals, a sign of pastoral economy. This is only the far past. After this, the whole history of Banaras is a testimony to cultural tradition in history, as it was one of the main centres of Hindu culture and civilisation.

    iv. Outstanding example of architectural ensemble and landscape The unique crescent-shaped arc of the Ganga river has attracted people

    from various parts of India to come, settled and make their own distinct imprint along the 7 km bank of the river as clearly visualised in the architectural grandeur and the cultural landscapes. The existence of 84 ghats along the Ganga river to archetypal connotations, e.g. 12 division of time x 7 chakra (sheaths), or layers in the atmosphere; likewise the number 84 refers to the 84 lacs (hundred thousands) of organic species as described in Hindu mythologies. This development records a sequential growth during the last two thousand years. Since sunrise to sunset, the cultural landscape along the Ganga river is dominated by ritual scenes and religious activities, a supportive system for other profane functions that are dependent on this. The view of the riverfront from the river is clearly an outstanding example of architectural ensemble and landscape scenario.

    v. Example of a traditional habitat, culture and interaction Since the past people from different cultures, religions and territories

    came and settled here while maintaining their own distinct traditions in their own community, and also developed a harmoniously integrated culture of traditions lost elsewhere, which is still visible on different festive occasions. Of course, occasionally there also happen religions conflicts, tensions and contestations; however, during natural calamities like flood, water logging, heavy rains, or human induced occurrences like bomb blasts and riots, people from such diverse ideologies, like Hindus

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    and Muslims, work together to save the city and thus prove that this is a city of humanity and universality. There are fourteen tombs of Muslim Sufi saints which are regularly visited by Hindus and Muslim, who perform their own rituals side-by-side.

    vi. Example of the continuity of living traditions of life (intangible) Since ancient times the natural and cultural landscapes of the city,

    closely associated with the traditional way of life, have retained an active social role in contemporary society. The city is a place of pilgrimage and a holy site for sacred baths in the Ganga River, for having a good death, and getting relief from transmigration for learning and receiving spiritual merit, etc. In spite of several downfalls and upheavals, traditions are fully alive even today. The presence of dying homes, charitable homes and pilgrims rest houses are some of the citys unique characteristics. Additionally, silk weaving and sari making, metal, wood and terracotta handicrafts, toy making, particular painting forms, etc., bear witness to the continuity of historico-cultural tradition. Banaras is considered to be a veritable jungle of fairs and festivals with respect to variety, distinction, time, sacred sites, performers, overseers and side-shows. Every day is a great festival in Banaras so says the tradition. Recently some of the old festivals have been revived in it original style, despite some modern touches. This lifestyle has also manifested itself in a musical tradition known as the Banaras Gharana (style). Many great musicians and performing artists have been born here and still regularly return to visit and to perform their art for the public as tribute to the spirit of the soil. The names of Ravi Shankar, (late) Bismillah Khan, (late) Kishan Maharaj and many others make obvious the richness of the Banaras musical culture.

    vii. Beauty of natural phenomena & aesthetic importance The city represents a unique natural shape along the Ganga river which

    forms a crescent shape, flowing from south to north for about 7 km; the city has grown on the left bank in semi-circular form around it. The area along the right side is a flood plain, preserving the natural ecosystem. Thus, together the two sides represent the cultural and natural beauty where meet the human construct of architectural grandeur in the form of series of traditional buildings and other side perennial flow of the Ganga from south to north, which is unique in the whole course of the Ganga valley. This is described in ancient mythology and religious literature, which became part of the religious and ritual activities that are still the prominent scenes. The eastern edge of the city faces the rising sun, which makes the ghats of Banaras sacred and unique for all Hindu rituals. This

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    aesthetic harmony between the river and the city is unique in its presentation.

    viii. Unique traditional performance: example of environmental theatre

    Of course originally proclaimed in 2005 by the government of India, UNESCO has incorporated the Rmalil traditional performance of the Rmyana in its representative list of 90 declared on 4 November 2008. This list also includes two more intangible heritages, i.e. Kutiyattam, Sanskrit Theatre, and the Tradition of Vedic Chanting. The Rmalil is a dramatisation of the epic journey of Rma, the 7th incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. The Rmalil, a theatrical form of story of the Rmacharitamnasa (old Rmyana), is performed in a series of scenes that include song, narration, recital and dialogue. It is performed across northern India during the festival of Dashahra, held each year according to the ritual calendar in autumn (September-October, Hindu month of Ashvina). Of course the most representative Rmalils are those of Ayodhya, Ramnagar and Banaras, Vrindavan, Almora, and Madhubani, the Rmalil of Ramanagar is unique in the whole world. In the city of Banaras Rmalil holds for different periods at different sites according to their tradition and historicity, ranging from the period of ten days to 31 days (cf. for details see Sax 1990/ 1993).

    4. Old City Heritage and Riverfront Cultural Landscape All the criteria, according to Article 2 of the UNESCO World Heritage

    Convention of 2003 and 2005, which relate in the domain of intangible cultural heritage, are already part of age-long traditions in Varanasi. This includes oral traditions of ritual performances, folk music and songs; performance arts like traditional dance, music and theatrical performances on special festive occasions throughout the year; social practices in celebrating festivals and events; knowledge and practices concerning nature (like naturopathy, alternative medicine, yoga) and the universe (classical astronomy and astrology); and traditional craftsmanship like toy and pot making, silk embroidery, etc. Moreover, other characteristics as defined in the above Article also are a part of life in Varanasi, continued and maintained since the past, being transmitted from generation to generation; being constantly recreated by communities and groups, in response to their environment, their interaction with nature, and their history; providing communities and groups with a sense of identity and continuity; promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity;

  • Varanasi, Indias Cultural Heritage City


    being compatible with international human rights instruments; and complying with the requirements of mutual respect among communities, and of sustainable development.

    Article 1 of the World Heritage Convention of 2003 clarifies its purpose for safeguarding the intangible cultural heritage by ensuring respect for the intangible cultural heritage of the communities, groups and individuals concerned, raising awareness at the local, national and international levels about the importance of intangible cultural heritage, and securing mutual appreciation thereof, and ultimately providing international cooperation and assistance. Nevertheless it is to be noted that all these plans have to pass through governmental and bureaucratic procedures. Thus many times they suffered delays, obstacles, as well as lack of priority given to other choices for political or personal motives in spite of the urgency of the matter and its universal importance. One can cite an example of administrate building complex of Chandigarh (in late 1950s built by Swiss architect and urban planner Charles-douard Jeanneret-Gris, known as Le Corbusier (1887-1965) and was already enlisted in the WH Tentative List on 23 October 2006, which is now in process to get it proposed for inscription in the UNESCO WHL in 2010; let us wait for the final result as no way one can finally predict in such a complicated process of submitting proposal and consideration of priority.

    The Ganga riverfront with its ghats fully fulfil the criteria of Cultural Landscapes as designated in Article 1 of the Convention, and specifically that of cultural landscape that retains an active social role in contemporary society closely associated with the traditional way of life, and in which the evolutionary process is still in progress, and associative cultural landscape by virtue of powerful religious, artistic, cultural associations of the natural element.

    The conservation of most heritage properties faces intense pressure. Even if these properties are presently in the same physical condition as in the last couple of decades and their architectural characteristics are being maintained without many legal and administrative measures, their architectural integrity is now being threatened. In the name of development, old structures are modified or demolished, even where these structures are made of stone and are not weak. The ownership is often collective or remote (like maths, ashrams, havelis, palaces, etc.), and renovation work is expensive. Unless stringent measures are taken for protection, there is a high probability that new structures, using new building materials, will increasingly replace old architectural shapes and material. Recent construction work and events in the old city demonstrate that even when ownership is in a single proprietors hands, he usually

  • 7. Rana P.B. Singh


    prefers rebuilding rather than renovating. Besides these risks, the buffer zones and the skyline of the old city, whose status quo is preserved at this moment, are also being threatened by encroachments and the rising heights of buildings.

    According to the Master Plan (1991-2011), under the Clause 2.9.2 Use Zone S-2 (Core Area/Heritage Zone), all the heritage monuments will be protected by the laws and construction permits be issued as per the norm of the distance-regulation. This plan is the first of its kind to be officially approved by the govt. of Uttar Pradesh (ref. No. 2915/9-Aa-3-2001-10Maha//99, dated 10 July 2001). For the first time, heritage protection issues have been discussed in this Plan and heritage zones and sites have been identified. The Plan has been revised in order to implement the policy of preservation of heritage sites and to channelize the development of the city.

    In order to absorb population growth in the old city centre, new buildings are being constructed either by demolishing old structures or by building on them. Since most of the heritage sites are in these densely inhabited narrow lane areas, two state government orders (order number 320/9-A-32000-127, dated 5 February 2000, and order number 840/9-A-3-2001, dated 11 April 2001) state that, in all the towns situated along the Ganga river, no development activities can take place 200 metres from the riverbank. It specifically prohibits new construction on the riverfront ghats unless these buildings are temples, maths and ashramas (monasteries) and only if these have approved construction plans or are solely being renovated. The order goes on to say that all other old buildings, that are within 200 metres from the ghats, can only be renovated. A recent example of renovation and conservation of the Manikarnika Ghat with the support of JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) is an example of work that was in progress till 2005 (cf. Singh 2009 b: 341-342); however in lack of continuity of maintenance and carelessness the scenario is again return back to its old phase in ugly way.

    The increasing impact of pollution and the decreasing volume of water in the Ganga together have a multiplying effect in Varanasi. The appearance of huge sand islands from the end of April and the increasing lower water level of the Ganga are proving a big threat to the very existence of the ghats and their purpose. About three decades ago the width of the river had been 225-250m, however it has recently reached to around 60-70 m. The main stream has lost the previous high speed of its current due to less volume and pressure of water, resulting in an increased pollution level. Close to the Asi Ghat, the first one, the river has already

  • Varanasi, Indias Cultural Heritage City


    left the bank about 7-8m. The existence of ghats in Varanasi is in danger because the existence of the Ganga is in danger. This trend is constantly increasing, and already some ghats at the down stream are now in 2008 facing the problem of sinking and fracturing.

    5. JNNURM and the Varanasi CDP: Dilemmas! According to the census of 2001 a little over 27.8% of Indias total

    population (1.029 billion; and projected over 2 billions by 2071) lives in urban areas, and it is expected that its share will be close to 45% by 2050. To handle Indias rapid urban growth and sprawl and its consequential problems a comprehensive and sustainable development strategy was designed and inaugurated by the Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, on 3rd December 2005. This is named Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), which will work for a period of 7 years beginning from 2005-06 under the central Ministry of Urban Development/ Ministry of Urban Employment and Poverty Alleviation, under the 74th Constitution Amendment Act (CAA), 1992. The main components under the mission include urban renewal, water supply and sanitation, sewerage and solid waste management, urban transport, re-development of inner city areas, development of heritage areas, preservation of water bodies, slum development, basic services to urban poor and street lighting. In the first phase, the Mission is being executed in 63 cities with a population of one-million and above, State capitals and 23 other cities of religious and tourist importance. With an estimated provision of Rs, 614.6 billion [1 US $ = Rs 48] for 7 years, the Mission is the single largest Central Government initiative in the urban sector. The PM emphasised the importance of cities that are internationally known for heritage, tourism and pilgrimages and maintained their historical and cultural glories, like Varanasi, Amritsar, Haridwar, Ujjain, etc.

    The Mission has to work on improving urban infrastructure and urban basic services. The JNNURM plans to trigger a deeper process of reform at the state and city level, viz. (i) using fiscal flows to all sort of service utilities and local governments to change and reform, (ii) decentralisation as potential to spark change and create incentives with the support of effective regulation, and (iii) promoting citizens demand by making service delivery provision directly to the grass level.

    The primary objective of the JNNURM is to create productive, efficient, equitable and responsive cities. In line with this objective, the Mission focuses on: (i) Integrated development of infrastructure services, (ii) Securing linkages between asset creation and maintenance for long-run

  • 7. Rana P.B. Singh


    project sustainability, (iii) Accelerating the flow of investment into urban infrastructure services, (iv) Planned development of cities including the peri-urban areas, outgrowths (OG), and urban corridors, (v) Renewal and redevelopment of inner city areas, and (vi) Decentralization of urban services to ensure their availability to the urban poor. In view of these issues the future vision for Varanasi city is to keep and develop it as an economically vibrant, culturally rich tourist city. Under this programme the City Development Plan (CDP) was prepared by the Municipal Corporation (MC) within a month through a hired agency, Feedback Ventures (FV) of New Delhi, and was submitted to the Central Government in September 2006.

    For implementing the Missions objectives of equitable, sustainable and rationally service delivery mechanisms through community participation and involvement of Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) for individual cities, comprehensive City Development Plans (CDP) are prepared. The CDP aims to provide a rational perspective and vision for the development of the city where lessons be learnt from the past, problems of the present be critically examined and solved, and prospects of the future be made reality. The Varanasi CDP was submitted on 22 August 2006, and the evaluation report on it was released on 12 October 2006. It is quite surprising that only within two months the CDP was prepared on the basis of secondary sources and giving over-emphasis on the structural plan with financial allocations.

    The Varanasi CDP submitted to the JNNURM lacks the survey and understanding of the present ground realities faced by the city. Of course, the report recognises that the process of CDP being a multi disciplinary platform includes various stakeholders who work towards the development of the city. As the stakeholders know the city better and are responsible citizens, their views are important at every step, while preparing the CDP, but in fact, the city authorities had been least concerned with this objective. In the later half of 2006, meetings for this purpose were held for an hour in the forenoon (i) on 6 June with people involved in sari (silk lion-cloth) industry, (ii) on 8 June with Weavers Association, (iii) on 13 June with Sankatmochan Temple trust, and also (iv) on 20 July having discussions with District Industrial Association and INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art, Culture and Heritage). Using their usual colonial setup of complicated bureaucracy, and neglecting the active involvement of the people, stakeholders and scholars who have been working life-long on various aspects of Varanasi, the Municipal Corporation (MCV) and Varanasi Development Authority (VDA) had succeeded in formulating the CDP that was finally submitted to the government. That is how after a

  • Varanasi, Indias Cultural Heritage City


    four hours of discourses with stakeholders, in which only two persons in each group were represented, the city authorities took only two months (5 July to 5 August 2006) for assessment and documentation of the CDP under the contract of a private agency, Feedback Venture of New Delhi (FV 2006) and had it finalized.

    In the spirit of JNNURM, the making of Varanasi CDP had claimed to follow the two-stage procedures: consultation for the purpose of making the people understands the existing situation, followed with participation process for involving the people to take decisions. However, at no stage the first draft had been put before the public, thus their claim for transparency and active public participation is not at all justified. In the appraisal report of the Varanasi CDP the above issues are mildly mentioned and further clarifications were asked for. In a bureaucratic way the list of NGOs and persons attending the meetings were submitted, and that is how the CDP has been approved (cf. Rao 2006). This whole CDP report (3 parts and annexure; and appraisal report) turned to be a mere good-looking report, lacking the contemporary surface realities like complexity of land use and space allocation, priority concerns, the Ganga riverfront heritage planning that attracted the attention of UNESCO WHC, civic amenities, etc.

    Surprisingly, the appraisal report at the end appreciated the vision of the CDP in making the city an economically vibrant, cultural rich tourist destination, adding further that the vision lays emphasis on heritage and cultural preservation (Rao 2006: 13), but no where in the CDP these aspects are considered as measures of urban planning, preserving cultural heritage, and promoting religious (like pilgrimages) or sustainable heritage tourism. Since 2001 the city has recorded a mass movement to have the Riverfront and Old City Heritage and Cultural Landscape in the World Heritage List by the UNESCO enlisted. Following the guidelines and identifications of the current Master Plan, 1991-2011, thematic surveys and documentations of the state and conditions of heritage buildings and the regional perspectives were prepared under the auspices of Varanasi Development Authority, and reports were sent to the government in 2002 (cf. Singh and Dar 2002a, b, and c). Of course, no progress has yet been noticed, again primarily due to lack of bureaucratic and governmental support, and also of strong public involvement. In the meantime some architects, urban planners and conservationists from Austria, Germany and France with the assistance of their students and the collaboration of Indian colleagues have prepared detailed inventories and documentations, including some major publications (cf. Michell and Singh 2005, and Gutschow 2005). To fill up the blanks under the key issues in the Varanasi

  • 7. Rana P.B. Singh


    CDP a few sentences and a chart have been added that refer to planning the riverfront heritage and the old city heritage zones while integrating heritage conservation with developmental activities (cf. FV 2006: 140). The critical issues of environmental deterioration, preservation of cultural heritage (tangible and intangible), demographic pressures and illegal encroachments along the riverfront heritage zone are not given a single reference. Additionally, the legislation system and need for citizens awareness about these subjects are not taken into consideration in the CDP.

    There also exist many forms of pressures that deteriorate the heritage scenario (Singh 2009b: 344-348); such pressures include (i) development pressure referring the increasing pace and threat of extremely high density (400 to 500 persons/ ha), (ii) population pressure, which is projected to reach 2.35 million by 2031, excluding the everyday floating population of pilgrims and tourists that on average runs around 35,000 people, (iii) shrinking space, resulting in lack of areas for further extension and illegal constructions, (iv) incompatible sacredscapes with the religious exigencies and the urban carrying capacity of a congested city centre bounding to have a hard impact on the long-term sustainability of the cultural assets of the city, (v) traffic load generated as result of drastic increase of population and motorisation that lead to traffic congestion, (vi) increasing load of unmanaged tourists and pilgrims that counted over a million every year, and (vii) all the above pressures together result to chronic environment pressures that results to loss of ecological order and balances.

    6. Deteriorating Heritagescapes: the Issue of Awareness The basic and primary goal in heritage planning is the protection of the

    tangible built heritage and the intangible cultural heritage together with making the landscape and cultural environment alive, peaceful, sustainable and self-mobilised. This can be developed on the process of existence- continuance-maintenance though its knowledge, understanding and awareness among the people, dwellers and visitors both. If that is achieved and transmitted to the next generations, then only development could proceed for long term and in the better service to the mankind. It has been observed that the issue of cultural and religious heritage is facing a critical situation, notable among them are already recorded by the VDA in its Master Plan of Varanasi (2001: 95):

    (a) Lack of proper and easy accessible path. (b) Lack of cheaper but optimal residence or dharmashalas (pilgrims rest

    houses)/ hotels.

  • Varanasi, Indias Cultural Heritage City


    (c) Speedy encroachment of the heritage area and their conversion into residential or commercial uses.

    (d) Lack of proper care, protection and maintenance, and civic sense. (e) Increasing loss of the outer form, aesthetical appearance and overall

    function due to illegal and immoral encroachment and also their conversion, and

    (f) Lack of strategy and system for renovation and environmental cleanliness.

    Obviously, the present situation along the Riverfront Heritagescape (study area) refers:

    1. There is no plan for heritage planning and conservation. In fact on the name of beautification and change the development and transformation of the ghats environs turned to be a more problematic area. The closing down of the old Asi confluence (i.e. shifted 1/2km in the south in 1981-82) and the pucca (stone-slab) construction of Asi and nearby ghats resulted to create a crucial problem of silt deposition. According to an estimate about 8200 m2 of silt in a length of 60m get deposited every year. Moreover, the course and the flow are also changing which cause loss of the aesthetic sense and sacramental value of the ghat.

    2. Lack of civic sense, public awareness and lack of knowledge of the ancient rich heritage resulted to several ugly construction, nearby scattered garbage, half burnt wood used by pilgrims and similar scenes. The local priests are interested into more rituals and donations and no way thinking of cleanliness, preservation and maintenance of the ancient glory.

    3. No specific measures are taken for conserving and preserving the temples and kunds, except performing and maintaining the daily religious activities by the Brahmin priests families living there in (sometimes illegal encroachments), and sometimes some devotees donate for cleanliness and repairing that never be used rationally and in totality.

    The spatial structure of ghats is basically viewed in the perspectives of following aspect:

    1. The water edge, where - direct water rituals are performed, including sacred bathing and oblation rituals.

    2. Adjacent platform, where most of the shopkeepers exist, and bathers and watchers use space for specific social and religious purposes.

    3. Open space, where the public gathering is performed on special occasions including people those sit and relax.

    These three spatial division and associated function also to be maintained as part of heritagescapes. For this purpose the following suggestions are made:

  • 7. Rana P.B. Singh


    1. The Sulabh Sauchalaya (easy toilet) should be shifted to some other place, not facing directly the ghat.

    2. Yoga camps should be installed or operated at various places at the riverfront.

    3. Installation of dustbins at suitable places to maintain the cleanliness. 4. Religious and rituals activities should be minimised and spiritual activities

    must be given due importance through awakening and cultural understanding and participation.

    5. Some government restriction (through strict law) must be imposed upon the various activities performed by the pandas.

    It is expected that by the support of- active people participation, awareness to save the age-old rich heritage, and development under the Master plan (and its judiciary control) the ghat heritage will be protected and conserved for the better benefit to the society.

    The threatening impact of consumerism has resulted into loss of heritage buildings at dangerous limit. Based on perceptual surveys and interviews the report mention that it is a matter of mystery that people of this holy city are not so conscious and concerned, while this city had awakened the society in the past. The heritagescapes of the city are the subject of illegal encroachment, unauthorised possession, unethical destruction and change in the basic structure, carelessness for the neighbourhood or community sense, and so many associated issues that together make the situation havoc. Groups of mafias are so active and rooted into the system that the common society is so terrorised that it keep themselves desperate and rarely think for making awareness and mass movements. The rich people, with support from such mafias, purchase the disputed properties and replace the structure what they like and completely transform its heritage vale, use and its contextual image in the community. Remember, it is the moral duty of the local people to maintain the existence and continuity of age-old traditions and architectural beauty that we inherited from the past. The above report further mentions that the rich people involved in such business have developed a favourable alliance with VDA which compensate them by protecting their interest. Of course, there are no such laws concerning sale and purchase heritage properties, their protection, renovations and maintenance. According to VDA those purchase such buildings are free to make use of them as they like.

    However, the sensitivity to the heritage and cultural values are not completely lost; there is still hope for change for betterment. The cases of Hotel Ganges View and Banaras Art Galley may be taken as model examples of rational renovation, preservation and maintenance and use that suits to the present requirement. Another example of heritage awakening walk (Dharohar chetna march) took place on 21 April 2008

  • Varanasi, Indias Cultural Heritage City


    when a group of eleven people performed the site survey and understanding march to visit Lolark Kund in Bhadaini. It has been realised that on the name of heritage preservation and renovation, repairing and changes are made which no way suits to the architecture, landscape and the structure of the walls, e.g. use of artificial tiles, stone blocks, paints, and fencing and locking of the neighbourhood, and cementing the natural floor surrounding the sacred trees and the sacred fire pit (havan kund). In fact, the political people performed such renovations for their own interest to gain popularity. No way, support from the architectural and conservation experts taken. Such visits to be regularised and further incorporated into mass movements under Save Kashi, Save your Culture (Kashi bachao, Sanskriti bachao).

    Since the late 1990s, mainly due to loose administration and lack of administrative control from the VDA (Varanasi Development Authority), there has been along the riverfront ghats a spate of illegal encroachments and opening of restaurants and guest houses, partial conversion of the houses into shops or paying guest houses, silk and handicrafts shops, and also transformation of heritage buildings for more economic benefits. The well known heritagescape of Mir Ghat is now changed into a commercial hotel, and the hospice nearby has been turned into guest house. The huge fig-tree that once gave shadow and shelter to the ghat died, and no one thought of replacement. The Prayageshvara temple at Prayag Ghat (built in 1934) is slowly becoming part of private property and is subject to destruction of the main architecture and colour symbolism. Similarly the architectural beauty and the symmetry of the adjacent platform at Panchaganga Ghat have recently been destroyed by the renovation and repairing works. The opening of the Disneyland-type four storied Dolphin Restaurant-cum-hotel next to the Manmandir Observatory, a protected monument by the ASI, is one of such examples of illegal construction and the worst threat to heritage building. No legal or public agitations were made to stop such development.

    While Banaras is one of the unique cities in the world where traditional lifestyle is best preserved, it is paradoxically also one of the cities where architectural heritage is least protected. There is no law that forbids private owners to make drastic changes to their historic buildings or even completely destroy them just to achieve a clear land property. There is indeed an ordinance that forbids new constructions within a 200-metre distance from the riverside, but this is little policed and extensively disrespected (Dar 2005: 140). Taking the loopholes of law and encouragement through the ideology of making identity and getting protection under the umbrella of religion, many illegal and immoral

  • 7. Rana P.B. Singh


    buildings and constructions are already growing in the other side on the sand-silt strip of the Ganga river. There is no concern for the moral code (dharma) or spiritual feeling for the nature (adhyatamik anubhuti). This, in fact, is a shameful threat to the basic essence of the cultural beauty and identity of Banaras.

    In a special meet of the VDA on 13 August 2008 the issue of enlisting heritage zone/s of Varanasi in the UNESCO World Heritage List has been discussed. This issue is now victim of confusion in understanding and framing, confrontation in political arena, and contradiction in bureaucratic system. Through the newspapers it is provoked that Varanasi needs to be declared as heritage City, keeping aside the criteria and guidelines of UNESCO WHL that refers to cultural landscape and mixed (natural and cultural) heritage. On these guidelines only the Riverfront and Old City of Varanasi fits to be nominated in the Heritage List, as discussed in the sequence. Without critically and strictly following the UNESCO Criteria, everything part of old tradition should not be projected as heritage as it leads to confusion at global scale. Also, on the name of beatification (e.g. constructing flyover bridges, and new roads) and minor repairing of heritage properties (selected buildings), and sometimes even ugly, unscientific and destructive repairing are performed on the name of heritage conservation. Such issues attract politicians who take opportunity for their electoral support by confusing people, which finally result to confrontation, of course for a shorter period. Rarely in case of Varanasi, has the bureaucracy properly maintained coordination with local NGOs, politicians, social activists, and researchers and intellectuals! Again another governmental meeting was held on 18 August 2008 at Lucknow, the States headquarters, and several ideas were chalked out, but no action and follow-up plans were crystallised.

    Sometimes misleading news also propagated, like the one (4 April 2008) that according to unofficial news Varanasi is also accepted to be inscribed as Heritage city by UNESCO, declaration waited (cf. Thats Hindi 2008). In fact, this is competently false, as no such official proposal has been submitted. Under the auspices of VDA the Kautilya Society, an NGO in service of culture and heritage, has prepared three such reports that refer to Varanasi: Inscribing Heritage Zones for WHL UNESCO during March-April 2002 [cf. Singh and Dar 2002a, b, and c]. The third report was widely circulated among the architects and scholars directly concerned with such studies, collaborative programmes and also those served the WHL and ICOMOS for heritage inscription in countries like Austria, France, Japan, Nepal, and Italy. Already seven years past after submission of the final report, and no management plan and operational

  • Varanasi, Indias Cultural Heritage City


    time schedules either finalised yet or any such attempt made. The present author has presented papers on these issues in four international conferences held abroad, but the issue has not attracted the local intellectuals. In the situation of political crises and lack of awakening it becomes now herculean task to revive the heritage conservation plan and activate public movement for this purpose.

    Whenever some queries or clarification asked from the parliament, human right commission, or UNESCO Representative in India concerning the heritage enlisting, for a few days the VDA authorities feel awakened to follow up some action programme and making of proposal. However after sometimes those issues are kept out of concern, in view of priority consideration. Additionally, so intermittently the senior officials of VDA transferred to other places that no follow-up action is implemented. The coming officials watch and learn the situation and peoples willingness for five-six months, but when they plan to start they are transferred to other centres.

    Let me cite case of the CDP Varanasi, where surprisingly no where in the CDP these aspects are considered as measures of urban planning, preserving cultural heritage, and promoting religious (like pilgrimages) or sustainable heritage tourism. Since 2001 the city has recorded a mass movement to have the Riverfront and Old City Heritage and Cultural Landscape in the World Heritage List by the UNESCO. As in case of other nations the process of nominating a certain site or tradition as a world heritage by the UNESCO can be seen as dialectic of the local and the global politics and pressure games. Of course the aim of this global cultural policy as formulated by UNESCO-WHC is to enhance the pride of the local population in their own culture, foster efforts to its preservation as well as to enrich the whole of humanity in creating a cultural memory on a worldwide scale, but the road to reach destination is arduous, time-consuming and full of frustrations (cf. Scholze 2008).

    Following the guidelines and identifications of the current Master Plan: 1991-2011, thematic surveys and documentations of the state and conditions of heritage buildings and the regional perspectives were prepared under the auspices of Varanasi Development Authority, and reports were sent to the government (cf. Singh and Dar 2002a, b, and c). Of course, no progress has yet been noticed, again primarily due to lack of bureaucratic and governmental support, and also of strong public involvement. The critical issues of environmental deterioration, preservation of cultural heritage (tangible and intangible), demographic pressures and illegal encroachments along the riverfront heritage zone are not given a single reference. Additionally, the legislation system and need

  • 7. Rana P.B. Singh


    for citizens awareness about these subjects are not taken into consideration in the CDP (Singh 2009b: 388).

    Recently (8 June 2009) under phase III of the Mega Project called Revitalisation of Varanasi as a Special Tourist Destination in State of Uttar Pradesh that earlier planned for investment of Rs 250 million is now revised and reduced to Rs 108 million. In this revised proposal special emphasis is laid on the preservation, conservation and renovation of some distinct architectural grandeur of the city that includes Ramanagar Fort (lies other side of the river and already marked as one of the sites in the cultural landscape that is underway to get nomination in the World Heritage List) and Gurudham Temple (1814, one of the three such monuments in India that preserved the archetypal architectural symbolism of Tantra). The other part of this project aims to improve the environmental condition and beautification of the riverfront ghats and the Buddhist heritage areas in Sarnath. In the II phase of this project a grant worth Rs 142 million was sanctioned for development of the Buddhist Green Park and Light and Sound project in Sarnath, establishing a Lotus Park and renovation and beautification in and around Shulatankeshvara temple area. Unfortunately the II phase started only on paper and blocked without any noticeable result. However, in the III phase renovation and beautification of Gurudham Temple and Ramanagar Fort; Ramabagh, the Kshirasagar Kund (water pool) and the monuments in the Ramalila grounds, museum in the fort and the fort itself are given special consideration. Under the above Mega Project a sum of Rs 78.6 million was sanctioned for renovation and beautification of riverfront ghats, water pools, and some important ancient lanes, however only Rs 33.5 million was spent as acclaimed by the authorities, however the visible results are noticeable up to any level of expectation. This is an example of inside and intense story concerning development of heritage planning and tourism in Banaras.

    Based on a survey (2006-07) concerning understanding the public participation and resultant action (PPRA), it is obviously noted that in order to achieve a long term self-sustained maintenance of the healthy life in Varanasi, an extensive programme of public awareness should be conducted to communicate and educate about the value of public hygiene, health and heritage and their potential socio-economic and cultural benefits, that can be enhanced by the harmonious integration between the old heritagescape and the modern constructs. This strategy will help stakeholders to participate in sustainable operations, management and maintenance plans effectively and successfully. With this approach of marching from a development culture based on physical infrastructure to a

  • Varanasi, Indias Cultural Heritage City


    development culture based on accumulation and sharing of knowledge, we need to realise that sustainable planning is possible only by active public awareness and participation. Of course, this is true everywhere, but it is more true in Varanasi, where the root of underdevelopment is none other than lack of knowledge, awareness and participation.

    The passive fatalism and uncooperative acceptance of made-elsewhere policies that has previously characterized urban planning in Varanasi, now can be reversed by the methodology of participated programme design, implementation and evaluation that the local development institutions have illustrated and recommended too.

    7. Heritage Development Plan: the Perspectives

    In a meeting held at Lucknow (5 September 2008), under the chairmanship of the chief secretary of government of the Uttar Pradesh, the authorities have reconsidered the issue of inscribing heritage zones of Varanasi in the UNESCO WHL, and nominated INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art, Culture and Heritage, New Delhi) as advising and coordinating agency. No way the earlier submitted three detailed and illustrated reports (2002, see Singh 2009b: 363) have been taken into consideration. In fact, together these three reports consist of 166 heritage sites illustrated with detailed surface plans, architectural designs, and cross-sections (cf. Singh and Dar 2002 a, b, and c). And the third report has already been distributed among scholars, institutions and architect-planners concerned with Varanasi, belonging to different parts of the world. The recommendations include assignment to the VDA for preparing phase-wise action programmes and preparation of pilot projects and management plan, taking support of the state departments of housing, tourism, and culture. The INTACH Varanasi has not been asked for coordination.

    With the initiative of the Chief Secretary of the state government of Uttar Pradesh, on 1 January 2009, the INTACH, an agency and NGO at New Delhi has been assigned the job to prepare Heritage Development Plan (HDP) for Varanasi. The plan to be prepared by this agency would be submitted to UNESCO through Government of India. This task is in extension and on the line of earlier reports prepared by the Kautilya Society, a local cultural body, on voluntary basis (cf. Singh and Dar 2002 a, b, and c). The INTACH New Delhi is entrusted this task for a fee of Rs 3.5 millions (ca. US$ 73,000). This agency has its local Chapter, INTACH Varanasi, which is not directly involved in this project, except for show piece and to honour face value; this happened by taking benefit of no local

  • 7. Rana P.B. Singh


    architect or urban planner as members of the local Chapter, in addition with the control of local chapter by the business community of a group and their kin and kiths who commonly use this platform for their personal benefit. Out of total over hundred members, only five are from the university faculty. The first VDA and INTACH New Delhi joint meeting was held on 5 January and it was expected that by June 2009, the first report of the HDP be submitted and released for the public consultation, however the report is kept secret by the authorities.

    On 16 July 2009 and again on 3 August 2009, the INTACH New Delhi has made a presentation on its report and submitted the report to the VDA. However, they avoided to disseminate the report for the public and giving its copies for review to any local expert. Surprisingly, in such plan, including the Master Plan, public participation and their suggestions are essential before finalisation, but in the present case things are kept secret. Of course the convener of the local Chapter possesses the copies of all such reports, but never allows any other person, including the members, to consult and examine the reports. Nevertheless, based on the presentation and personal experiences since last three decades, the major highlights and rational critiques of the HDP are presented here.

    With a vision of sustainable urban development, promotion of heritage tourism, conservation and preservation of heritages (tangible and intangible), the Heritage Development Plan (HDP) has been recently introduced in January 2009 under the auspices of VDA (Varanasi Development Authority) on the line of the identification of the five heritage zones in Varanasi, and also consideration of urban renewal and revitalisation programme under JNNRUM. The HDP will be applicable for the next two decadal period that refers to the followed up revised Master Plan, i.e. 2011-2031. The vision behind this project is to revive, re-create and making of sustainable effort to preserve traditional glories and values together with adjusting the modern changes, with an aim that old heritage properties changed and preserved in a way that they may serve as reproductive resource for today. Therefore the focus is laid upon preserving traditional values and architecture, urban public space where the function may work more efficiently and harmoniously, tradition and modernity go hand-by-hand in making landscape and culture more eco-friendly and symbols of human ingenuity. The heritagescapes that given specific consideration include architecture, natural landscape, built heritage (structure and function), and pilgrimage routes.

    The first phase of the HDP consists of four selected areas as pilot project:

  • Varanasi, Indias Cultural Heritage City


    (1) Dashashvamedha Ghat and the nearby area the predominant area of rituals, pilgrimages, visitation to temples, and visitors attractions. This area is delimited with the pilgrimage routes and individual temples their number goes more than 160, and around sixty per cent all religious activities and ancient temple are lying in this area. At the other end, this is also one among the three main market areas in the city, dominated by residential-cum-shop-attached-temple type of built structure. All these mixed and thus evolved a mosaic of sacredscapes. The basic aim to develop this area is restoration and development together in making the area more liveable where riverfront natural heritage, built architecture and symbolic values of temples, the grandeur of architecture, the market structure and the variety of shops that support the profane side of the human needs, the intangible performances and rituals continued, maintained and still in operation at least since last 1500 years (ancient, medieval, Mughal, colonial, post-colonial, modern periods in spite of three time major destructions, etc. work together.

    This area is facing drastic problems related to (i) depleting heritage environment, (ii) environment like unhygienic, filthy houses and lanes, wandering animals (bulls and cows), (iii) encroachment of public space, walkways, open space near houses, (iv) vehicular congestion and poor traffic management, hostile pedestrian environment, (v) lack of tourists facilities, including inadequate places and room for stay, like loges and guesthouses, (vi) inadequate pilgrims facilities, (vii) inadequate festival/ event management, (viii) dangerously opened electric lines and telephone lines, (ix) inferior urban images, lacking signage, indication of lanes and names, ugly additive structures, advertisement posters, (x) improper retail growth, dominated by vendors, side-shops and illegal shops that encroached the public spaces, and (xi) no proper and viable planning measures together with lack of public awareness and their participation, also neither exist by-laws, nor people are ready to follow upon by changing their habits and life styles. Very similar condition would be visualised in different degrees and intensities in other old parts of the city, like Chowk, Vishvesharganj, Lahurabir.

    The HDP emphasises the four interconnected attributes for revitalisation and heritage planning, viz. Pedestrian environment, Faade-scape, Riverfront Ghatscape, and Cultural centre and sites of cultural foci. Many theoretically and ideal suggestions are given in the above contexts, in addition with promoting pedestrian environment development, site interpretation, improving accessibility, civic facilities, health and hygiene.

  • 7. Rana P.B. Singh


    (2) Chet Singh Palace along the riverfront is to be projected as a Cultural Centre in the city due to its magnificent buildings, morphological structure, functional space, built space where public and private can interact so closely.

    Chet Singh (1770-1781) built the palatial building of this Ghat in mid the 18th century as a small fortress, which witnessed the fierce battle between the troops of Warren Hastings and Chet Singh in 1781 that resulted to the defeat of Chet Singh. Thus this fortress went under the control of British. In late 19th century the King Prabhu Narayan Singh had again took the possession of this fort. The northern part of it was donated to Naga group of ascetics who later on built their monasteries and ghats, called Niranjani Ghat and Nirvani Ghat (cf. Singh 2009b: 270). This palace has been principal residence of king in British Period. This building composed of (a) a palace with pavilions, built on the terrace overlooking the Ganga, (b) a group of buildings for the women (demolished), (c) a Mughal garden with darbar (assembly hall) and water tower, and (d) a chain of interconnected three temples. The palace has a particularly favoured relationship to the Ganga. It opens out onto the ghat which is a continuation of the palace and reached by means of a monumental gateway. The gateway houses a stairway, which gives access to the terrace. There, a central pavilion stands looking out over the Ganga, on which the Maharaja appeared for glimpse. The terraced level is defined at two corners by two massive structures tapped by octagonal domed pavilions. There are three state temples of Shiva in the compound, built in 18th-19th century. The Kashiraj Trust of the Maharaja, own this palace and area like other properties of the estate. No specific measures are taken to conserve and preserve the palace and its compound, except that once or twice in a year for some celebrations the palace is allotted and on that very occasions cleaning, white washing and some repairing are done. In lack of proper care and maintenance the whole environment is in the stage of depletion.

    Developing the Chet Singh palace and associated ghat as cultural centre will promote activities in enhancing dissemination and revival of cultural performances (classical music, play, etc), example of heritage preservation and re-use, religious activities used for promoting civic sense, use of temples for more public visits. The centre will be a nodal point for cultural interpretation. The arrangement of signage, illumination, landscaping, properly suited lightings, revival and reorientation of garden, additive extension of built space that would help to maintain old heritage, and meeting and interaction among tourists and pilgrims leading to

  • Varanasi, Indias Cultural Heritage City


    spiritual awakening and understanding would be some of the measures suggested.

    (3) Five halt stations (vsa sthna) on the pilgrimage route of Panchakroshi Yatra that delimits the cosmic circuits, viz. Kandwa, Bhimachandi, Rameshvar, Shiopur, and Kapildhara. This route represents the only such unique historical circuit of pilgrimage covering ca. 88km interconnecting 108 shrines and temples (cf. Singh 2002). All the five stations are attached with a sizeable kund those are now critically facing environmental problems (for details, see chapter 9 of this book). The emphasis is laid upon the kunds, main temple complexes, dharmashalas (pilgrims rest houses), preservation and restoration of historic buildings, pilgrimage paths, maintenance of green space in view of keeping the serene and sacred scene of the area alive and more eco-friendly for the mass of pilgrims.

    (4) Selected Water pools (kunds), exemplified with Sarang Talab, Pisachmochan and Pushkar as representative of three conditions of heritage and cultural contexts, respectively facing the problems of environmental pollution and loss of cultural values, site in danger that has once recorded history of ancient ritual of ancestors worship and religious cleanliness, and a cultural symbol having association with Brahma (god of creation) and Krishna (god of love).

    The basic objectives for restoration and development of such water pools include edge formation and improvement, revetment and construction of retaining walls that help to restoration, additional restoration, and upgradation of public and open space that would promote social cohesiveness and more harmonious and hygienic environment. There should be a system of re-charging, maintenance of cleanliness, and societal consciousness to have their sense of attachment to place that constantly help to maintain the spirit of place. By 1932, there were more than hundred water pools; but at present only twenty exist and their condition is unhygienic, environmentally polluted, filled with filth and commonly used as sewer pits by the neighbouring houses.

    For the first phase monetary budget is proposed to worth Indian rupees Rs 2500 million (ca US$ 53 millions), which would further subdivided for four sub-projects according to the requirements.

    The second phase of HDP would consists of preparing detailed inventory and listing of heritage properties; till August 2009 the INTACH has tentatively prepared the list of such 693 properties. Selected properties,

  • 7. Rana P.B. Singh


    like Tripoli Entrance gateway at Ramanagar, Balaji temple (Mangla Gauri Ghat), Jagannath temple (Assi), would be taken as pilot object for making detailed plan for conservation and preservation.

    Basic drawback of the HDP. The basic drawback of the recently proposed HDP is lack of public participation, negligence of the historical-cultural processes that made the landscape and lifeways, avoidance of taking any sort of cooperation from the local experts and people, superimposition of so many theoretical and other constructs that are thought as the best measures by them, choosing samples of water pools (kunds) without rationality of cultural significance and symbolic values as perceived and practiced by local people since historical past, not considering the proposal on the line of urban planning acts and the earlier planned Master Plan, avoiding to make the report and details to the public for critical observation, completely keeping aside intangible heritage (like Ramalilas, ancestors rituals, fairs and festivals, environmental theatres, traditional Sanskrit teaching and schools, traditional wrestling, folk art and craftsmanship, toy making, silk weaving, seasonal songs and associated singing assemblies, , etc.), giving over emphasis on (recreational) tourism and Western visitors, neglecting the requirements of the huge mass of pilgrims (ca. 2 million every year), avoiding coordination with other development plans that concerned with transport system, sewerage drains, building construction, cultural activities, etc. And, several such loopholes may be looked into. If these issues be sort out to a certain degrees, the proposed HDP would be rationally befitted and eco-friendly accepted and activated for a sustainable future of this heritage city.

    In view of experiences in the past, it is clear that in lack of any pilot project no way one could justify the relevance of the heritage conservation plan and details of related aspects that would lead to put the main heritage zones and properties first in the Tentative List of UNESCO WHL, and followed up proceeding toward getting enlisted in the Final List. Additionally, sometimes controversial and false propaganda through media and newspapers and doubts created by the officials and politicians also play a role of obstacle.

    8. INTACH Varanasi: Role, Reflections and Contestations The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH)

    was set up on 27th January 1984, having headquarters at New Delhi, registered as a society/trust under the Registration of Societies Act 1860, as a nationwide, non-profit membership organization with aims to protect and

  • Varanasi, Indias Cultural Heritage City


    conserve Indias vast natural and cultural heritage. INTACH has made significant contribution over the years in conservation and protection of our natural and cultural heritage in India through its 150 chapters in various cities, those formed under Section V [Sub clause (xviii) of Clause (D) of Rule 17] of the Rules and Regulations of the INTACH pertains to the powers and functions of the Governing Council and the Executive Committee. The rule suggests appointing chapter Convener for a period of three-year, and may be extendable for one successive term.

    In 1985 the INTACH Varanasi Chapter was established with the consent and approval of the headquarters at New Delhi. Soon afterwards (1986) the INTACH New Delhi executed a charitable Deed of Trust by legal document signed by the then member-secretary and by others including the close relatives (same business community, kith and kin, like a noted Harvard professor of Indian art Pramod Chandra) and appointed Mr Ananda Krishna (b. 12 Nov. 1925 ) as its chairman, who succeeded to appoint his own son Mr Kalyan Krishna (b. 28 June 1946 ) as Executive Trustee and he himself served as nexus of power control being the Chairman even after passing 24 years. Thus using INTACH name through tricks of power-game a parallel-but-associated organisation named the Rai Krishnadas INTACH Varanasi Nyas was founded by its (lifelong!) chairman Mr Ananda Krishna on the name of his father (late) Rai Krishnadas (1902-1980), a noted scholar of Indian art and Hindi literature who carried the lineage tradition of business of art and artefacts. Later the chairman has appointed his own son, Mr Kalyan Krishna, as its Convener; thus the legacy of father-son has succeeded to have their functional hegemony and financial control over the two bodies in one-frame till 5th May 2006 [serving over two decades] when Mr Kalyan Krishna was replaced by another convener Mr Navneet Raman.

    The second committee of INTACH Varanasi (6th May 2006 to 26th November 2009), under the convenership of Mr Navneet Raman, had taken some major initiatives in heritage programmes, following the guidelines of the Central committee. During this period only three meetings held, and hardly one-fourth (out of ca. 102) of members had attended each of the meetings; additionally, no minutes of earlier resolutions were further passed and execution monitored, and also no pilot project or priority programmes were structured. This is another indication of communication gap, and avoidance of participation of the experienced and well-educated personnel in heritage studies and planning. Nevertheless, one can also noticed that Mr Navneet and his team had brought the Chapter back to life through various activities, programmes, heritage walks, international conferences and meetings, coordination with

  • 7. Rana P.B. Singh


    other chapters and public awakenings. He had paved the path of heritage conservation as a great leader, activist, organiser, friend and visionary, but at the end he was a victim of complex bureaucracy and manoeuvred political game, which resulted to get him out from the convenership on 26 November 2009 [after serving 3 years]. Most of the local life members were completely against such appointments/dismissals in which without taking into consideration the local members feelings, or due democratic and juristic process, as almost every NGO or such organisations work, one-sided decision of the headquarters was made.

    One of the founding members of INTACH painfully narrated this incidence as the utter arbitrariness and high handedness that seems to pervade the administration of INTACH, with no respect for the rights of Chapters and members whatever. .. I regard this kind of behaviour as symptom of a deep seated malaise that cannot do our Trust any good and its perpetrators should be voted out of office. The main officials associated to the Chapter use this as platform for their own image-making and benefits; in fact, the INTACH Varanasi Chapter is under the grip of a community of businessmen. Moreover, maintaining conspiracies and avoiding transparencies are common practices in the chapters working. The first meeting of the existing Committee was held on 10 January 2010, and no working plan or pilot projects were chalked out for on-going or future programmes. Of course in its second meeting, held on 25 April 2010 (attended by only 18 members, out