‘The sense of preserving heritage is missing’

Professor Rana PB Singh, having stayed in both Varanasi and Kyoto, offers a comparison of Kashi and Kyoto

Rana PB Singh | June 2, 2017


#JnNURM   #Ganga   #city governance   #BHU   #Kyoto University   #Narendra Modi   #Kashi   #Varanasi   #Kashi Kyoto partnership agreement   #Japan   #civic infrastructure   #Kyoto  


It’s said that to see as much of life as India can show, all one needs to do is visit Varanasi. The city, often called India’s cultural capital, has recorded continuous settlement of people since 1000 BC. But the modern city grew mostly in the early 18th century. It now has about 15 lakh residents. With about 3,300 Hindu shrines, small and big, and 1,388 Muslim places of worship, and being holy to both Buddhists and Jains, Varanasi is indeed a microcosm of Indian culture and pluralism. There are four universities, three deemed universities, over a hundred Sanskrit pathashalas, 150 Muslim schools, scores of colleges. And there are numerous centres for the learning of yoga and Hindustani classical music, making it a veritable centre of learning.

Read: Between chaos and Kashi

The vividness and multiplicity, and the diversity and unity are easily enshrined in its practising religions, performing cultures, functioning society and regulating economy – altogether creating a cultural mosaic or universe of ‘heritagescapes’, in which age-old festivities and performances play a major role. The vividness of religion, culture, language and tradition has given a rich architectural heritage to the city. Surprisingly, none of the heritage properties in the city are listed in the UNESCO’s heritage list, except for the inclusion of the Buddhist site of Sarnath in the tentative list in 1998. Even with that, no one is sure if or when it will be included in the heritage list: the local authorities of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) have no idea on any further movement.
 


No hope without an awakening
Prof Rana PB Singh offers a comparison of Kashi and Kyoto
Kyoto   Kashi/ Varanasi/ Banaras
The Kamo river, the riverfront walkways with their shrines   The Ganga, and the ghats along the banks of the river, considered holy by Hindus
 
Full of lush greenery   Only scattered tress, and no natural park
 
Everywhere public spaces and green parks   Very few public spaces and green parks
 
Known as model of cleanliness and good governance   Known as model of dirtiness and mal- or misgovernance
 
Nara, Buddhist-Shinto suburb   Sarnath, Buddhist site and suburb
 
Around 2,000 temples and shrines. Some of them are Shinto, Buddhist or animistic and some are related to folk myth   Around 3,500 Hindu shrines, 1,388 Muslim sacred places and shrines, 45 Sikh sites, four Jain sites, 42 churches, and 100 folk shrines
 
Ancient city since 850 BCE   Ancient city since 850 BCE
 
Ancient capital till 1868   Cultural centre and capital of Kashi Kingdom, during 9th-12th century
 
Strong public awareness and participation   Only talk of ancient greatness and myth, no real participation and preservation of culture
 
City of learning, seven universities   City of learning, with five universities
 
Centre of art, craft, music and culture   Centre of art, craft, music and culture
 
Most of the development and maintenance is by community organisations   Most of the development and maintenance by government, with hardly any public participation
 
Tradition and modernity go side by side, following the philosophy of ‘Lifenology’ and Suitogaku, which aim at creating productive human-nature interfaces.   Tradition and modernity go their own individual ways. There’s talk of spirituality, but hardly any true practice. Rituals are practised without understanding their basis.

Meanwhile, for over a decade, efforts are being made to nominate the riverfront, with its picturesque ghats, and the old city area, in the UNESCO’s world heritage list. However, due to lack of public awareness and active participation, the complex web of bureaucracy, rising corruption and the rise of both individualism and consumerism, there seems to be little hope for proper implementation of plans and maintenance of heritage properties in their original forms.
 
Schemes like the Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY), Pilgrimage Rejuvenation And Spiritual Augmentation Drive (PRASAD), Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and Smart City Mission are good, but what the city actually needs is sustainable development, which does not mess with the originality of the city.
 
As far as Kyoto is concerned, there are physical similarities between Kyoto and Kashi; however, saying that Kashi can be developed on similar lines as Kyoto is practically impossible. The development model of Kyoto cannot be applied in Kashi, for the holy city of India has pathetic civic sense. In Kyoto, the municipal corporation follows the working style and leadership of its people. In Varanasi, the basic notion is that the government is accountable for maintaining basic sanitation. The citizens feel no responsibility towards it. The common man or the resident of the city celebrates nonchalance. Take the example of the famous Banaras gharana, of which many proponents have won Padma awards. But there’s no record of its heritage and history. The basic sense of preserving and conserving heritage is missing in this temple town.
 
 
Singh, a former professor of BHU, has lived both in Varanasi and Kyoto, and has specialised in cultural geography and heritage studies.

(The article appears in the June 1-15, 2017 issue of Governance Now)
 
 

 

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