World Heritage Day is an international day for monuments and sites. I have visited many world heritage sites. I visited these sites in different geographies. Museum Island in Berlin, Duomo Cathedral in Milan, San Marco Venice, Jungfrau mountain Switzerland, Old town of Bern, Switzerland, Swiss Vineyards of Lavaux, Statue of Liberty New York, Eiffel Tower Paris and Tower of London are just some of them.
Travel is a great experience for those who have the privilege. I get to enjoy time with my family, and it is a learning–filled experience for my family members. On World Heritage Day, I look up the list of world heritage sites. India is one of the world’s last surviving most ancient cultures and has many heritage sites. If you look at the criteria UNESCO uses, these are what they are. There are six of them:
- Represents a masterpiece of human creative genius.
- Exhibits an important interchange of human values.
- Bears a unique testimony to a cultural tradition of civilization.
- Is an outstanding example of an architectural or technological ensemble throughout history.
- Is an outstanding example of traditional human settlement or interaction with the environment.
- Is tangibly associated with traditions, ideas, beliefs, and works of universal significance.
I noticed three differences in the heritage sites I visited in Western Europe versus the ones I visited in India.
- The number: Western Europe has more sites attributed to heritage and culture by UNESCO than the Indian subcontinent has. (See screenshot of UNESCO map)
- The diversity: While landscaping and architecture are very eye–catching in the heritage sites of Western Europe, heritage sites showcase a diversity of art-forms going beyond physical architecture alone, spanning across the whole of the Indian subcontinent, that is simply unmatchable.
- The focus on sustainability: The Western European heritage sites show the world the dominion of Man. In India, visits to all the cultural and natural heritage sites showcase a peaceful co-existence of all life forms, flora, fauna included; of life on land and in the water included.
Personally, I have had the good fortune of visiting these UNESCO World Heritage sites in India: Amer fort Rajasthan, Taj Mahal Agra, Big Temple Tanjavur (Brihadeeshwara Temple), Bharatpur Bird sanctuary, Airawateshwara Kumbakonam, Fatehpur Sikhri Agra, Meenakshi Ammal Madurai, and Qutab Minar Delhi. Let me then explain each of these three points further.
Apart from these sites which are on the list of UNESCO Heritage sites, there is a lot more to see in India. At the time of writing this article, many examples of Indian heritage aren’t yet listed by UNESCO. These unlisted places form a very important part of Indian culture and heritage. Numbers then become a subjective quantification. If you look at the list of sites available on the UNESCO website, Europe has almost double the number of sites than India has.
India is a much older civilization than Europe. Isn’t it curious that Europe would then have more sites? A big reason for this is the process that goes behind the World Heritage Site certification granted by UNESCO. It costs a particular culture significant money, time and resources for cleaning and conservation, and then invite a UNESCO team to visit a site to ascertain its heritage status. It is only obvious that countries with larger budgets at their disposal for conservation of their heritage will have more tangible UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The Diversity of Art
To give you an example of the diversity of heritage present in India, from the Taj Mahal in Uttar Pradesh in North India to the Great Living Chola Temples in Tamil Nadu in Southern India, I stood speechless. It is not just the impressive continuity of civilization one gets to witness. Indian art forms are diverse and many. My team and I made this short video that shares some of the classical arts that can still be seen alive and well in India. Some of these I have grown up watching, imbibing and even enjoying by doing! They range from temple frescos, rock–cut sculptures, saris, rangoli, jewelry, and paintings.
Watch: How Elegant is Indian Art?
India also has a very rich performing arts scene that has kept its ancient storytelling culture alive. Many of these performing arts are alive not only for entertaining the masses but also to pass on traditions of faith and spirituality that keeps India’s family values in place in society. Some of these traditions are so valuable that Sangeet Natya Akademi, India’s central body for performing arts, that is responsible for preserving Indian culture (and comes under Ministry of Culture), nominated the Durga Pooja for UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage for 2020.
Durga Pooja is celebrated worldwide by the communities belonging to Bengal, the Eastern state of India, that was divided into West Bengal and Bangladesh. During Durga Pooja, the feminine divine is worshipped and celebrated by all genders in India, across all social divisions. In a significant role reversal, the woman is recognized as the creator, the one with the power to destroy and the power to sustain. She is recognized as the one with the power to give wealth and wisdom. It is a celebration that goes on for ten days. The same Goddess is revered in a traditon in Southern Indian state of Kerala called Mudiyeetu. Mudiyeetu is now a UNESCO world heritage as it is an intangible cultural ritual art form.
Watch this video, to get a glimpse of how various parts of India keep intangible cultural heritages alive, during just one of the many festivals that take place simultaneously across the land.
Here is a list of a few more examples of intangible cultural heritage of India that UNESCO has already recognized. However, there are many more examples of India’s intangible cultural heritage that does not have a UNESCO recognition. (suite…)
by Divya Badri
M. K. Gandhi (1869–1948) was an Indian lawyer, politician, social activist, and writer who became the leader of the nationalist movement against the British rule of India.
While many would think that he would be eternally famous for being a man who fought in a non-violent way to accomplish his goals, I wonder if the current generation knows who he was and how he lived his life.
In my 13 yr old child’s class in Switzerland, in a local Swiss school, when he mentioned Gandhi during a classroom discussion on ethics, most of the other teen students remarked “Gandhi, who?”. It’s been 150 years since Gandhi was born. That marks a century and a half. It is a long time. No wonder.
It’s important to understand, that certain incidents in history don’t fade away easily, even a century later. Quoting from a recent article in the Swiss media in English “The Swiss press was hostile to Gandhi especially after he criticized certain papers for mischaracterization of his speeches made in London. Gandhi’s anti-military and anti-capitalist remarks also won him many enemies.” This was the year 1931. (source)
It’s also important to note, that Switzerland had an important relationship with Britain. Recently, news of Thomas Cook – the travel company collapsing, made headlines. The news renewed memories of the investment the British made in Switzerland, which was what sowed the seeds of today’s huge Swiss tourism industry. It was the exact time Gandhi was an activist in British India. The Swiss have historically been pro-British, and Gandhi was anti-British!
In the ’80s, when Richard Attenborough’s film Gandhi with Ben Kingsley was famous, teens, then studying in the western schools, would possibly know of Gandhi, but children born post Y2K are probably more familiar with the film Slumdog Millionaire (2007) than Gandhi (1982). How then, will teenagers in countries which didn’t appreciate an Indian, anti-British historically, know today, who Gandhi was? Gandhi has been the missing laureate for the Nobel Peace Prize. Does he feature in Swiss textbooks of 12–15 yr old students in the local Swiss schools? Perhaps not. Should he come up in classroom discussions, 150 years since his birth? Well, with teenagers around the world worried about their future marching across in youth movements, yes, very much. Gandhi’s life can be a great learning experience to the teens of today, across the world.
It might fascinate the teenagers worldwide to know, that what Greta Thunberg is trying to explain to the world today, was the very same set of sustainable principles Gandhi lived by, 100 years ago.
In the last seven decades, the global North has enjoyed relative peace. The last big war was World War II. October 2 is Gandhi’s birthday and is celebrated all around the world as the International Day of Non-Violence. Today, when we talk about change in climate and lifestyles, we could look at his inspirational life on sustainable living and not just on non-violence.
Watch the video to find out how and let me know if you like the choice of music!
My Life is My Message. – M.K. Gandhi