Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Working towards 'World Heritage Site' status

The “Excavated remains of the Nalanda University” is the adorned element for the world heritage site but it doesn’t represent the whole picture. There are more physical structures, like the unexcavated mound spread further north is integral part of the heritage and so is the various tanks and water bodies. The complete expanse of the ancient Nalanda University including the parts that are still to be unearthed should be addressed as “Heritage Zone”. This is required so that the visual, structural and functional integrity of the entire establishment can be maintained and staged for proper interpretation.

Heritage zone is crucial for conserving the authenticity of the Remains of Ancient Nalanda University, due to the characteristics of the structure and their origin. This is an archeological site that was deserted centuries ago; the culture that surrounds it has transformed and yet held on to the basic roots of the teachings upon which the institution was based. Many of the physical elements are still buried and must be recovered through archaeological excavations but the intangible heritage that was passed on to various other places has managed to live on. This place is still of significance to all those who consider it as the original fountain head of wisdom and has led us to rediscovering and understanding the life of Nalanda monastery in its days of glory. Many of the philosophies that originated here have found its way to main stream and the story of its origin is lost somewhere along the way. To preserve all that is exposed and buried under soil, to acknowledge all that this place has offered and the foundations that this institution had laid, we need to treat it more than just an archeological site that needs conservation. We need to respect the culture that gave birth to a pioneering concept and the symbiosis that developed between the society and this institution to sustain it for 8 centuries.

The community and the university sustained each other for a very long time and it would be worth exploring if in the modern times that relationship can be revived without affecting the integrity of the ruins or unnecessarily displacing the population that lives on it. Being context sensitive would provide economically viable solutions and bring the teachings of Buddhism out of the monastic units and teach us a lesson about interdependent coexistence within the surroundings. The Nalanda remains are part of the local history, and the surroundings were originally the lands of the people whose ancestors have protected and preserved the remains to its present state and in many cases donated the land for exploration of the site. Heritage zone need to be linked to sustainable development and community participation to improve the quality of life in the area.

To conserve this heritage we need to expand the site borders. Since the extent of the site that might be buried under earth is still unknown, it is advisable to at least increase the conservation area and safe guard it under a heritage zone. Significant efforts need to be put into studying the environmental characteristics and cultural surroundings as they are intrinsically related to the economic basis of Nalanda University that generated the construction and development of such a unique establishment. And those cultural reasons and the literature left to us from the ancient times might be the only way to understand adequately the historic significance and cultural relevance of this exceptional place. A heritage zone located outside the current boundaries will protect it from any other significant damage. Since the site is so unique and the strict boundaries are yet unknown the heritage zone would need to be updated as more information based on archeological survey or otherwise is made available.


Shashi Bhushan said...

yes...heritage zone need must be updated.

Pallav anand said...

Good! you should add more photographs