India Bags Top Awards For Heritage Conservation

In Bangkok, four Indian sites win the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation 2022
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya Photo credit UNESCO /  Injee Kim
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya Photo credit UNESCO / Injee Kim

Four awards have come the country's way in a phenomenal boost for the heritage conservation crusade in India. The UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation were given out, on the 26th of November, in Bangkok, to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya Museum and Byculla Station, Mumbai, Maharashtra, and to the step-wells of Golconda Fort, Hyderabad, and the Domakonda Fort, Kamareddy, in Telangana. 

There are 13 projects from six countries&mdashAfghanistan, China, India, Iran, Nepal, and Thailand &ndash awarded by an international jury. Mr. Feng Jing, Chief of the Culture Unit at UNESCO Bangkok, said, "The Awards are able to give people a sense of pride and sense of ownership of their own heritage. It is encouraging to see the increased number of entries received this year, given that we are still in a recovery period from the global COVID-19 pandemic. This year's submissions have once again brought up interesting discussions regarding the trends in cultural heritage in the Asia-Pacific region. We are seeing greater attention to cultural landscapes, including heritage infrastructure systems that are very compatible with a sustainable development approach to our cities and rural areas."

Award of Excellence 

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Fort, Mumbai, Maharashtra

The highest honour, the Award of Excellence, has been presented to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya Museum, a part of the Victorian Gothic and Art Deco ensembles of Mumbai. It underwent extensive conservation carried out via well-informed architectural and engineering solutions. The museum, celebrating its centenary this year, has been called "heroic" for its restoration work. The UNESCO panel congratulated the museum's efforts by stating, "The conservation approach deftly incorporated both traditional craftsmanship and rigorous techniques for stabilizing twentieth-century materials like reinforced concrete. The comprehensive upgrade of the galleries and functional spaces will enhance the museum's public services as it advances into its second century. Executed to the highest level of technical excellence, the project sets a standard for the conservation of World Heritage monuments in India and beyond." The museum's director, Sabyasachi Mukherjee had, presided over the restoration of the Grade 1 monument, carried out by renowned conservation architect Vikas Dilawari. This is the architect's 18th UNESCO heritage award. The TCS Foundation funded the 25-crore project. 

Award of Distinction

Step-wells of Golconda Fort, Hyderabad, Telangana

The work on the step-wells was done by conservation architect Ratish Nanda, the Projects Director of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC), under the aegis of which the restoration and conservation were carried out. The step-wells are part of the Golconda fort's Qutub Shahi dynasty tomb complex. Noting the extensive work carried out by AKTC, UNESCO said, "In recovering the step-wells and associated aqueducts from a state of neglect and partial ruins, the project has revived the function of the historic waterworks of irrigating the surrounding orchards and forests, thus enabling the holistic restoration of the historic landscape."   

Award of Merit 

Byculla Station, Mumbai, Maharashtra

The restoration at the station, at the oldest on the Mumbai-Thane line, was carried out without interruption of the services. The work was headed by famed conservation architect Abha Narain Lambah. The project was initiated by Shaina NC of the I Love Mumbai organisation, and supported and funded by Minal Bajaj and Niraj Bajaj of the Bajaj Group Trusts, and the Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation. Restored at the cost of more than rupees four crore, the restoration work was also guided by Anil Kumar Lahoti, General Manager Central and Western Railway, and Shalabh Goel, DRM, Mumbai Division, Central Railway. The conservation of the Grade II heritage building drew praise from UNESCO, "By saving India's first railway station from impending demolition, the project is a notable case of community-initiated public-private partnership for preserving a significant part of Mumbai's recent history." 

Domakonda Fort, Kamareddy, Telangana

This project was a private restoration by the descendants of the Domakonda Samasthan family, who appointed conservation architect Anuradha Naik as the chief consultant. Having acquired all required permissions from the Archaeological Survey of India department, the architect began work on it in the early 2000s. It is an ongoing project due to the volume of work. The fort, built in 1786 AD, is constructed on a circular plan, with two entrances, one in the east and the west. In its appreciation of the efforts to conserve the fort, UNESCO said, "The project applied original construction techniques and authentic materials and trained local artisans in traditional building skills. The involvement of villagers during the restoration process and in the operations of the fort ensures direct benefit for the community. The project has not only generated greater appreciation for a once neglected fort of high historical significance but has also promoted a sense of community pride and custodianship for the heritage property."

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