Western Ghats Maratha Forts should be in the UNESCO’s World Heritage List

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Western Ghats Maratha Forts should be in the UNESCO’s World Heritage List

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Rajendra Shende gave interview to journalists  of  State of Maharashtra, India in Jan 2014 which was disseminated during conference held in one of the forts : Sajjan Gad near Mr. Shende’s home town

Q : What is the origin of your proposal that Maratha Forts be World Heritage list of UNESCO?

 A. In the recently (June 2013) concluded UNESCO’s meeting in Phnom Penh- Capital of Cambodia-19 new sites were inscribed and included on the World Heritage List. One of them was a  ‘serial site’ of six majestic Hill forts of Rajasthan.

I participated in the World Heritage Committee meeting as an observer. The Committee, which debates and gives final approval (or rejects or defers the nomination) for the inscription of the site in the World Heritage, had approved 39 serial sites in the Western Ghats as a World Natural Heritage site.

I found that selecting Cambodia as a venue for 2013 meeting was a smart and very appropriate move by UNESCO. The largest Hindu temple in the world i.e. Angkor is not far from Phnom Penh.  It is World Heritage Site for last more than 20 years now and it has benefitted immensely from the international efforts in restoration. It has become a leading example of the best-managed cultural site through globally supported scientific, technological and cultural activities. Apart from Japan, EU and Australia, a full Indian team of experts is working there for the restoration. It also shows the advantages of World Heritage site and that good management of World Heritage site can help a country with limited resources and benefit from its heritage.

The World Heritage List has of now 981 sites in 160 countries. The list now numbers 759 cultural, 193 natural and 29 mixed (cultural as well as natural) properties. India’s share is total of 30 sites of which 24 are cultural and 6 are natural including one of serial sites Western Ghats.

 Q. What is the specific proposal?

 A. Proposal id for making efforts for Sahyadri/Maratha Forts in UNESCO’s World Heritage List. When I was studying in my town Rahimatpur (Satara) and later in IIT-Mumbai, I have extensively trekked in Sahyadri.  I was quite inspired by the Hill forts of Sahyadri and how Ch. Shivaji strategically used them for his military tactics as well as for the wellbeing of the communities around and protection of the environment.

These hill forts indeed continue to be source of inspiration for many particularly youngsters, in Maharashtra and elsewhere. Over the years I have seen some restoration efforts to preserve these inspiring places but always felt that more needs to be done. The time and pace of modernization, I thought, would take toll and may reduce these Maharashtra’s heritage sites to just fun-sites for the urban tourists. Ch. Shivaji had visioned these sites more than just the spots of beauty or adventure. He had stated that ‘. …In forts not only the kingdom gets its strength but theses hill forts are also instrumental in survival, nourishment and well being of our people, particularly in the wake of attack by our enemy

See:  ( script is from 17th century papers of Maratha Kingdom)

” ???? ?????? ????? ???? ????? ??? ?????, ??? ?????? ??????? ????? ????. ????? ???? ????? ???? ????? ??? ??????? ????? ??????????? ???. ????????????? ?????? ???????????????? ??? ?????? ????. ????? ???? ??????? ? ????? ?????? ????. ??????? ??????? ?????, ??????????? ? ???, ?? ????????????? ????. ???????? ??????? ??? ???????????????? ????? ????? ???. ?? ??? ??? ??? ???? ??? ?????? ?????? ???. ?? ?? ?????? ???? ???? ????, ??? ??? ????? ???????.”

 (???????? ?????? ??????)

The concept that the Forts are our ‘treasure and long lasting legacy’ is stated by no less that Ramachandrapant Amatya, who stated that:

 “??????? ???????? ??? ?? ?????. ????? ?????? ???????? ???, ????? ?????? ?????, ????? ?????? ???????? ???, ????? ?????? ????????????, ????? ?????? ???? ????????????.”

 (?????????-??????????? ??????)

Suvarnadurg_fort2When the World Heritage committee of UNESCO approved the inclusion of six Hill Forts of Rajasthan, (Chittorgarh; Kumbhalgarh; Sawai Madhopur; Jhalawar; Jaipur, and Jaisalmer) in the list of World heritage, I was overjoyed and proud for my country and its heritage. Indian delegation led by Ambassador Oberoi and the expert Mrs. Shikha Jain had done excellent job in putting forward the case of these forts. At the same time, my mind started hovering atop the Hill Forts of Maharashtra. I started visualizing similarity and comparing the features of Hill forts of Rajasthan and those in Maharashtra, particularly the eclectic architecture of the forts, power of the Rajputs and rugged characters of forts of Marathas.

Having participated in the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO in 2012 where Western Ghats sites were inscribed, I knew very well that only aspiration and wish are not enough to get Sahyadri/Maratha forts in the list of World Heritage. The features of defensive walls of the forts, palaces, trading centers, temples that supported learning, music and the arts, using the natural defenses offered by the landscape: hills, rivers, and dense forests are quite distinct. They also feature significant storages and extensive water harvesting structures, largely still in use today. However, they need to fulfill the UNESCO criteria, among others, “Outstanding Universal Value”.

Last Year in 2012, a serial site containing 39 sites in the Western Ghats were included in the list. That time too I participated in the UNESCO meeting in Saint Petersburg-Russia. At that time India’s proposal of Forts of Rajasthan was deferred in order to get more clarification from the Government of India. In 2013, India not only got it listed but in the process it learned lessons and gained valuable experience. I thought that this would be useful in pushing the proposal of Hill forts of Sahyadri in Maharashtra.

I talked to the Indian Delegate and the Member-Secretary in charge in the Ministry of Culture in Cambodia about Sahyadri/Maratha forts and she showed positive interest.  I understand that some groups have already thought of inclusion of some forts but the process needs to be launched in scientific and organized way, and we should take it up as matter of urgency.

Recently in a meeting of Government of India, tentative list for proposing World Heritage Sites from India has been finalized. It contains 55 sites but does not include Maratha/Sahyadri Forts.

Though my work in TERRE Policy Centre has remained, among others, focused on the conservation of World Natural Heritage and sustainable development of the communities around such sites, the idea of Sahyadri forts remained in my mind for three reasons:

First, there has been some parallel between the Outstanding Universal Value, authenticity and integrity (important criteria used by UNESCO’s Committee for including a site in the list of World Heritage) of Rajasthan forts and Hill Forts of Sahyadri. Second, the advisory committee of UNESCO themselves in their evaluation presented to UNESCO’s committee had remarked the linkage of the Hill forts of Rajasthan and Maratha forts of Sahyadri. It stated that

Rajput style was not ‘unique’, but the particular manner in which Rajput architecture was eclectic (drawing inspiration from antecedents and neighbors) together with its degree of influence over later regional styles (such as Maratha architecture) do make it distinctive.’

Third point is more related to my personal views. Right from my IIT days, when I had trekked in those forts, I felt that about 300 Hill Forts in Sahyadri represented legacy of Chhatrapati Shivaji’s governance, which till this day remains inspiration for Maharashtra and India. These forts do not just represent military architecture and guerilla defense techniques but the concept of living with the nature, potential of surviving in the adversity, and adapting to the changing circumstances. It is true that Chattrapati Shivaji identified in these forts unique defensive instruments against the enemy, but I feel that he had longer-term view in making the forts as integral part of the habitat of his people. He, according to me, was the proponent of the sustainable use of ecosystems for the well being of the people. It is my view that Chhatrapati Shivaji considered the forts as models for the sustainable development of the local communities. That legacy of the Sahyadri Forts, of living with nature, needs to be conserved for the future generation.

I also would like to categorically state that I might not be the first one to think of including Sahyadri forts in the list of World Heritage Centre. In fact couple of groups in Pune had approached me with data on forts with similar idea for Raigadh in the past. Government of Maharashtra need to move faster with strategic and organized manner to accelerate the process in consultation with local communities and experts, make authentic documentation to justify the fulfillment of the UNESCO criteria.

What are the benefits of including the Sahyadri Forts in the World Heritage List?

 Various local and youth associations and state government agencies are already making efforts to conserve Hill forts of Sahyadri, even though they are not in the UNESCO list.

Various local and youth associations and state government agencies are already making efforts to conserve Hill forts of Sahyadri, even though they are not in the UNESCO list.

The added advantages of including them in the World Heritage list will be multiple. Some of them are:

  1. Conservation and restoration of the Cultural site are expensive and time-consuming processes. Such processes are also considered as art as well as science. They involve passion and technology. Number of sites in UNESCO list of World Heritage have benefitted in the past from global knowledge of conservation and restoration. Sahyadri forts, too, would benefit from such knowledge and exchange of global experiences and lessons.
  2. Enhanced international and national tourism would provide needed additional funds to accelerate restoration.
  3. Sahyadri forts have history that goes back many centuries, even earlier than Marathas i.e. in the period of Satavahanas, Rashtrakutas, Yadavas, and Shilahar. What is inspiring is the way the Hill Forts are rebuilt by Shivaji and Peshwas keeping in the mind development of the local communities by respecting the nature. Such legacy and such heritage would be useful for the next generation.
  4. After the inclusion in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage there would be additional national and international tourists that would provide tourism and other business opportunities for local communities, especially youth. This would also provide employment opportunities for young and help in contributing to ‘ reverse migration’.
  5. There is potential of getting financial support from some of the independent foundations and bilateral donors.

Q. What more could happen by including them in the World Heritage List?

A. UNESCO and its advisory bodies have done global thematic studies on conservation and restoration of the various types of forts i.e. Hill Forts, Forest forts, Water Forts and Desert forts. The best practices for the long-term conservation of forts and the experiences from other countries would thus be available for the Hill Forts of Maharashtra.

RaigadFort3Along with ‘prize’ of inscription as World Heritage, there comes the responsibility of preparing development plans, effective implementation, and monitoring. The most important advantage would be that government has to monitor and report regularly to UNESCO’s committee on the conservation and restoration. Such oversight by UNESCO is helpful in maintaining the quality of the heritage sites and transparency. The buffer zones around the Forts are also need to be conserved

The intangible benefit, that the ‘Hill forts of Sahyadri are part of the world heritage’ is the feeling that makes us feel proud of our rich legacy and will have long lasting impact on young and future generation.

 Q. Is it true that once the forts are declared as world heritage site, the development of the forts and the buffer zone will stop?

 A. It is other way round. Once the declaration is made, the neglect and damage due to passage of time and due to indiscriminate exploitation of the forts and the bio-diversity around it in the buffer zone would be prevented. As I said there are nearly 960 cultural World Heritage sites around the world and every year there are more and more requests for the inscription. The countries struggle and make efforts to get the sites included in the list to get all the benefits described above. This itself is the proof that inscription provides benefits for the conservation of the site and the development of the local community.

Rajasthan government did exemplary work in getting the Hill Forts included in the UNESCO List, precisely for these reasons.

Q. What is needed to make the forts as World Heritage list?

 A. Ministry of Culture and Department of Archeology is the national nodal agency for making any proposal to UNESCO for Cultural Heritage. Ministry of Environment and Forest, Wildlife Institute of India is the nodal agency for World Natural Heritage. If the proposal is for ‘Mixed Sites’ i.e. Cultural and Natural, both Ministries will be nodal agencies. It is important to understand that proposal for the inclusion in UNESCO list has to be consented by the local communities. So it is ‘Bottom up’ process and NOT ‘top-down’.

Forts proposals in general are over represented all over the world including India mainly due to passion for the history. In India forts are in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Hyderabad, Goa and Maharashtra.  Fort proposals, as Heritage sites, come under thematic category classified by International Scientific Committee on Fortifications and Military Heritage (IcoFort) , which has carried out studies and continues to provide guidance.

It is not necessary that all 300-hill forts of Maharashtra are part of the proposal. But among those selected there has to be some logical link. Ownership by government is important condition. In case of Rajasthan forts, more than 50 forts where then reduced to just 6 to start with, which were approved by UNESCO.

Once there is agreement with the local community regarding the proposal, it is up to the Government of Maharashtra, to take up the development of the detail proposal as per the requirement of UNESCO, under the guidance of central Ministry of Culture and/or Ministry of Environment. It should be done in well-planned and thoughtful steps and through systematic study. International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) is the scientific committee to evaluate Cultural Heritage sites and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is for Natural Heritage sites.

Such activity would require capacity building efforts for the stakeholders, carrying out community dialogue, research, study of the UNESCO requirements, and developing plans.

 Fortunately Maharashtra government will benefit from the experience of Rajasthan government who was successful in getting the hill forts inscribed in record time of 3-4 years.

Firstly, Hill Forts of Maharashtra have to be proposed in the UNESCO’s ‘ tentative list’ either under Cultural or Mixed.  UNESCO has to agree to the inclusion of the proposal in the tentative list. Unless UNESCO agrees for the inclusion in the tentative list, based on the certain UNESCO criteria, UNESCO will not accept in the future the detail proposals. Further, as per latest rules, there has to be at list one year between UNESCO’s agreement to accept the tentative list and making detail proposal. Such process itself needs extensive exercise of local consultation and guidance from national and international experts and knowledge of the thematic study on Forts prepared by UNESCO’s advisory committee.

Any given time UNESCO maintains such tentative list. Presently the tentative list has more than 1500 sites of which India has 33 sites of which Maharashtra has 2 sites i.e. Matheran Railways (submitted by Railway Ministry) and Victorian Art Deco of Mumbai.

After inclusion in the ‘tentative list’ then detail proposal need to be prepared with help of national and UNESCO exerts.

Q. How would you as individual, contribute?

 A. Making proposals for the World Heritage site is a job of experts from archeology, culture and history. I am not an archeological expert. But I take passionate interest in Indian, culture, Indian history and the management of World Heritage sites, particularly World Natural Heritage. I also know how to handle the diplomatic negotiations at global level. If I could be of any help in facilitating the process, I would be pleased to contribute.

Q. What is your message to make this dream true?

 A. I want to make final remark:

There are three types of Heritage sites that are considered by UNESCO for inscription: Cultural, Natural and mixed. My personal opinion is that Hill Forts of Sahyadri should be proposed under ‘ mixed’ category. They are definitely part of our culture but they also have unique eco-values. Chhatrapati Shivaji, who ruled from these forts, is symbol of courage, nationalism, and people-oriented governance at the same time he was promoter of sustainable ‘living with nature’. He was proponent of living even in crisis situation.

One of the country delegate while approving the Hill Forts of Rajasthan said that  ‘Rajasthan forts not only depicts the military architecture and the defense system but their water harvesting and water wells provide us lessons of how to live in adverse conditions. In todays world which is under constant crisis, financial as well as climate, heritage of Hill forts of Rajasthan need to be preserved to transmit such messages of sustainability to our future generations”

I can say the same about Hill forts of Sahyadri. Ch. Shivaji provided us lessons crisis management, adapting to the changing circumstances, by living with nature in the difficult period when enemy has encircled the forts.

Today we see that we too are totally encircled by the crisis. Hill Forts of Ch. Shivaji are inspiring places to learn from the past.




Dear Sir, Your efforts will help to get the status of world Heritage site to Fort of Ch. Shivaji Maharaj


1) Is Mr.Vinod Tawade and the present state govt. interested in such proposals ? Did you met them in this regard?
2) The UNESCO will take a lot time and only a couple forts may be inscribed.
Do you have any alternative plan that the present govt. might consider favourabley?

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