Did you know that in 1806 the English East India Company’s Marine Board urged the Council in Fort William, Calcutta (now renamed Kolkata), to save the ‘Black Pagoda’ on the eastern coast of India as it was growing shorter in height? The ‘pagoda’ served as a navigational landmark when they sailed through the Bay of Bengal. An investigation into the matter led to the discovery of Odisha’s famous Sun Temple of Konark. The magnificently carved temple—which was built in the 13th century to resemble the chariot of the Sun god, pulled by seven straining horses and running on 24 giant wheels, yet maintaining all the rules of Indian temple architecture—was lying forlorn and in ruins, with local people removing the stones to be used in their own houses. Under protection since then, the Sun Temple, which now draws a large number of visitors, was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1984.
When UNESCO inscribed Ahmedabad as a World Heritage Site in 2017, the first city in India to be tagged thus, there was a lot of excitement. Until then, not many knew that the so long taken for granted ‘pols’ or traditional neighbourhoods of Ahmedabad, one of the major reasons behind the UNESCO award, were examples of a unique architectural identity.
These are but two of the many incidents that speak volumes about the state of awareness as well as about the protection and preservation of India’s heritage structures.