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Two Maharashtra sites in UNESCO heritage shortlist

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In a major boost for conservation and tourism, two sites from Maharashtra have made it to the tentative list for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) prestigious world heritage site tag. The state is also working on a third nomination, officials said.

UNESCO has accepted the proposal for the Stone Age era petroglyphs or geoglyphs (carvings on the ground) in the Konkan as a ‘tentative nomination’ last month.

These sites are located at Jambhrun, Ukshi, Kasheli, Rundhetali, Devi Hasol, Devache Gothane, Kudopi in Maharashtra and Phansaymal in Goa.

The state’s nomination for the ‘Maratha Military Architecture in Maharashtra’ is already on this list; now, work is underway to submit a third proposal featuring the state’s famed sea forts.

If accepted as world heritage sites, these locations will be in the same league as the Stonehenge in the United Kingdom, Vatican City, Taj Mahal at Agra and the Red Fort complex in Delhi.

India has 40 world heritage sites and those in Maharashtra include the Ajanta caves, Ellora caves, Elephanta caves, Western Ghats, the CSMT railway station complex in Mumbai, and Victorian Gothic and Art Deco ensembles along Marine Drive in south Mumbai. The tag helps boost conservation and protection of these monuments and drives international tourist traffic.

“We are working on three such proposals for the first time,” said Tejas Garge, director, Museums and Archaeology, Government of Maharashtra. “This will deepen the cultural projection of Maharashtra on the international scene.”

On March 25, UNESCO added Maharashtra’s nomination for ‘Geoglyphs clusters of the Konkan region, south-western Maharashtra and Goa’ in the tentative list. These geoglyphs are estimated to have been carved out in laterite rock by prehistoric humans in the period between 20,000 BC (Mesolithic era) to 2,000 BC (early historic). The nomination was submitted to Unesco in 2020 and the agency had raised certain queries regarding the protection status of these sites. These have been answered, leading to the nomination being accepted tentatively.

Garge said the state government will submit a dossier to UNESCO via the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the union ministry of culture with details of the history, features, and conservation strategy, and justify how this theme fits into the criteria (see box) for being declared a world heritage site. The process for appointing a consultant for this will begin soon. Unesco’s experts will then visit these locations after which the citation will be awarded. The dossier, which runs into thousands of pages, is expected to be completed in about 18 months.

Geoglyphs are rock art produced on the earth’s surface by positioning rocks, rock fragments or by the reduction technique (carving out or removing part of a rock surface to form a design). These geoglyphs in the coastal area of Konkan are the only material cultural remains that point to the prehistoric human activities in the Konkan.

The large concentration of geoglyphs on the laterite plateaus (referred to as ‘sada’ in local terminology) in the Konkan region is the most remarkable open-air ensemble of prehistoric human expression of rock art in the Konkan region. Some animals represented in these petroglyphs include rhinos and elephants, which do not have a natural habitat in the Konkan today. The widest petroglyph is an elephant carving at Kasheli in Rajapur (18m x 13m), possibly the largest in South Asia, while the smallest is 2cm x 3cm was found at Jaigad.

Maharashtra has 72 recorded sites of such geoglyphs, with over 1,600 carvings.

Garge added that, in 2021, the directorate had submitted a nomination for the ‘Maratha Military Architecture in Maharashtra,’ covering 14 forts, namely: Raigad, Rajgad, Shivneri, Torna, Lohagad, Salher, Mulher, Rangana or Panhala, Ankai-Tankai, Kasa, Sindhudurg, Alibag, Suvarnadurg and Khanderi. The tentative nomination for this project was accepted last year. He added that they had recommended the appointment of a consultant to prepare a dossier on the military architecture of the forts.

Fortifications in the Indian sub-continent first appeared probably around 4 B.C. in the form of the Harappan settlements. These were perimeter walls to define and defend human settlements.

The forts of Western India have played a significant role in the political and architectural history of the region. The best use of these fortifications and application of guerilla warfare were made by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, who challenged the Mughals and laid the foundation of the Maratha empire, which was the predominant power in India before being supplanted by the British. The directorate has selected 14 forts based on their overall appeal and their unique historic value. Maharashtra is perhaps the only state to have all types of fort architecture—land, sea and hill forts.

Garge said that the department has also recommended the appointment of a consultant to draft a nomination proposal for the sea forts, which will include components like the site management plan, development of sustainable tourist facilities, and conservation and protection interventions. This list will include the 11 forts of Vasai, Madh, Underi, Revdanda, Korlai, Janjira, Bankot, Anjanvel, Jaigad, Purnagad, Yashwantgad and Arnala.

The dossiers for the military architecture and sea forts proposals will be prepared in 14 months after the appointment of the consultants.

“Being inscribed on the World Heritage List is prestigious… It boosts tourist traffic and conservation, and develops the larger area. The study and research in these subjects gets a boost,” said Maya Patil (Shahapurkar), head, department of archaeology, Ahilyabai Holkar University of Solapur.

Sudhir Risbud, who was among those who discovered these geoglyphs, said the world heritage tag would bring global recognition and international tourists to the Konkan, and consequently, boost development. “The benefits of this status are many… including interest among academics and research by international experts,” he noted, adding that this would also lead to a growth in funding for conservation and site management.

“The locals will stand to benefit… due to a rise in tourism, which will promote sales of local products. The rich cultural traditions of the Konkan will be presented before the world,” said Rutwij Apte, who is a research associate on the petroglyphs project.

What makes for a Unesco world heritage site

Masterpiece of human creative genius

Exhibit of an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area

Unique testimony to a cultural tradition or to a living or disappeared civilisation

Outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape

Outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use

Association with events or living traditions, ideas, beliefs, artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance

Contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance

Outstanding examples representing major stages of earth’s history

Outstanding examples of significant on-going ecological and biological processes

Contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including threatened species.

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