With Santiniketan and Hoysala, India now has 42 UNESCO heritage sites

UNESCO says a country with sites inscribed on the World Heritage List is often better able to raise awareness among citizens and governments for heritage preservation

Hoysala ensemble (left) and Santiniketan (right) are the newest Indian entrants to the World Heritage List (photo: UNESCO/ Wikipedia)
Hoysala ensemble (left) and Santiniketan (right) are the newest Indian entrants to the World Heritage List (photo: UNESCO/ Wikipedia)

NH Digital

India recently added Santiniketan and the Hoysala ensemble of temples to the UNESCO Heritage List, marking the inclusion of 42 Indian sites receiving this distinction.

"@UNESCO adds Hoysala Temples in Karnataka to World Heritage List, India celebrates 42nd site," the Archaeological Survey of India wrote on X.

According to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), when a country has sites inscribed on the World Heritage List, the resulting prestige often helps raise awareness among citizens and governments that aids the preservation of its other heritage spaces as well.

"Greater awareness leads to a general rise in the level of the protection and conservation given to heritage properties. A country may also receive financial assistance and expert advice from the World Heritage Committee to support activities for the preservation of its sites," it says.

Santiniketan was established by India's Nobel Laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore in 1901, as a residential school and a cultural centre. The poet who authored India's national anthem also established Visva-Bharati university over a century ago in 1921 in Santiniketan. The heritage site earned the UNESCO tag on Sunday, 17 September.

"New inscription on the @UNESCO #WorldHeritage List: Santiniketan, #India. Congratulations!" the world body made the announcement in a tweet on X.

'It is an ensemble of historic buildings, landscapes and gardens, pavilions, artworks, and continuing educational and cultural traditions that together express its Outstanding Universal Value,' says UNESCO, in an article about the inclusion of Santiniketan on the list, adding that it [UNESCO] is also directly and tangibly associated with the ideas, works and vision of Rabindranath Tagore and his associates, pioneers of the Bengal School of Art and early Indian Modernism. 

The decision to give this prestigious recognition to Santiniketan was made during the 45th session of the World Heritage Committee in Saudi Arabia, affirming its importance on the global stage.

Santiniketan is the third site in West Bengal, after the Sundarbans National Park and the Darjeeling Mountain Railways to be included in the list. Last year, the state’s Durga Puja got space in the “Intangible Cultural Heritage of humanity” list of the UNESCO.

A day after the Santiniketan inclusion, UNESCO announced the inscription of the 13th-century sacred ensemble of temples of the Hoysala rulers — the famed temples of Belur, Halebid and Somananthpura in Karnataka — into the World Heritage list.

'Just inscribed on the @UNESCO #WorldHeritage List: Sacred Ensembles of the Hoysalas, #India. Congratulations,' the world body announced on Monday, September 18.

The 'Sacred Ensembles of the Hoysala' have been on UNESCO's tentative list since 15 April 2014.

Located in the Hassan district of Karnataka, the Hoysala temples built in the 12th and 13th centuries, are dedicated to Shiva or Vishnu and are renowned for their exquisite architecture and intricate stone carvings. 

Chennakesava Temple is one of the most significant temples. It was constructed by King Vishnuvardhana of the Hoysala dynasty in the 12th century to commemorate his victory over the Cholas.

The other temples part of the sacred ensemble of Hoysala at Belur are Kappe Chennigaraya Temple, Veeranarayana Temple and Ranganayaki Temple, which are relatively smaller in size than Chennakesava Temple but are famous for their architectural marvel.

Previously, 40 heritage sites from India had been included on the list. They are:

  • Agra Fort (1983): A historical fort in the city of Agra, also known as Agra's Red Fort. Mughal emperor Humayun was crowned at this fort.

  • Ajanta Caves (1983): 29 rock-cut Buddhist cave monuments dating from the second century BCE to about 480 CE in the Aurangabad District of Maharashtra.

  • Archaeological Site of Nalanda Mahavihara at Nalanda, Bihar (2016): It comprises the archaeological remains of a monastic and scholastic institution dating from the 3rd century BCE to the 13th century CE.

  • Buddhist Monuments at Sanchi (1989): The stupas, temples, viharas, and stambha at Sanchi in central India are among the oldest and most mature examples of aniconic arts, comprehensively documenting the history of Buddhism from the 3rd century BCE to the 12th century CE.

  • Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park (2004): Located around the historical city of Champaner, the heritage site is studded with forts with bastions starting from the hills of Pavagadh, and extending into the city. According to UNESCO, ‘the site is the only complete and unchanged Islamic pre-Mughal city’, ‘a living cultural heritage’.

  • Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus) (2004): It is the main railway station in Mumbai, and the headquarters of the city’s Central Railway System.

  • Churches and Convents of Goa (1986): The churches and convents of Goa, the former capital of the Portuguese Indies – particularly the Church of Bom Jesus, which contains the tomb of St Francis-Xavier – illustrate the evangelization of Asia.

  • Dholavira: a Harappan City (2021): It is one of the five largest Harappan sites and most prominent archaeological sites in India belonging to the Indus Valley Civilization.

  • Elephanta Caves (1987): Located in Western India on Elephanta Island (otherwise known as the Island of Gharapuri), it features two hillocks separated by a narrow valley, dotted with numerous ancient archaeological remains that are the sole testimonies to its rich cultural past

  • Ellora Caves (1983): A series of 34 magnificent rock-cut temples in northwest-central Maharashtra state, western India.

  • Fatehpur Sikri (1986): It is a small city in northern India, just west of Agra, founded by a 16th-century Mughal emperor. 

  • Great Himalayan National Park Conservation Area (2014): It is a compact, natural and biodiverse protected area system that includes 25 forest types and an associated rich assemblage of fauna species.

  • Great Living Chola Temples (1987): These were built by kings of the Chola Empire, which stretched over all of south India and the neighbouring islands.

  • Group of Monuments at Hampi (1986)a; The austere and grandiose site of Hampi comprise mainly the remnants of the Capital City of Vijayanagara Empire (14th-16th Cent CE), the last great Hindu Kingdom.

  • Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram (1984): Located along southeastern India’s Coromandel Coast, it a celebrated port city of the Pallavas. The group of monuments there consists of rock-cut cave temples, monolithic temples, bas-relief sculptures, and structural temples as well as the excavated remains of temples. 

  • Group of Monuments at Pattadakal (1987): It is a complex of 7th and 8th century CE Hindu and Jain temples in northern Karnataka

  • Hill Forts of Rajasthan (2013): These are six forts, spread across Rajasthan state in northern India.

  • Historic City of Ahmadabad (2017): Also known as Old Ahmedabad, the walled city of Ahmedabad in India, was founded by Ahmad Shah I of the Gujarat Sultanate in 1411. 

  • Humayun's Tomb, Delhi (1993): It is the tomb of Humayun in Delhi, India.

  • Jaipur City, Rajasthan (2019): The walled city of Jaipur, in India's north-western state of Rajasthan was founded in 1727 by Sawai Jai Singh II.

  • Kakatiya Rudreshwara (Ramappa) Temple, Telangana (2021): It is the main Shiva temple in a walled complex built during the Kakatiyan period (1123–1323 CE) under rulers Rudradeva and Recharla Rudra.

  • Kaziranga National Park (1985): It is a national park in the Golaghat and Nagaon districts of the state of Assam, India. The park, which hosts two-thirds of the world's Indian rhinoceroses.

  • Keoladeo National Park (1985): It is a vast bird sanctuary and former royal game reserve in the north Indian state of Rajasthan.

  • Khajuraho Group of Monuments (1986): These are a group of Hindu and Jain temples in Chhatarpur district, Madhya Pradesh, India.

  • Khangchendzonga National Park (2016): It is a national park and a biosphere reserve located in Sikkim, India.

  • Mahabodhi Temple Complex at Bodh Gaya (2002): It is one of the four holy sites related to the life of the Lord Buddha, and particularly to the attainment of Enlightenment.

  • Manas Wildlife Sanctuary (1985): It is located in the State of Assam in North-East India, a biodiversity hotspot.

  • Mountain Railways of India (1999): This site includes three railways. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was the first, and is still the most outstanding, example of a hill passenger railway. 

  • Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks (1988): It is renowned for its meadows of endemic alpine flowers and outstanding natural beauty.

  • Qutb Minar and its Monuments, Delhi (1993): Built of red and buff sandstone and eloquently carved with inscriptional bands, it is the tallest masonry tower in India.

  • Rani-ki-Vav (the Queen’s Stepwell) at Patan, Gujarat (2014): It is a stepwell situated in the town of Patan in Gujarat, India. It is located on the banks of the Saraswati River.

  • Red Fort Complex (2007): It was built as the palace fort of Shahjahanabad – the new capital of the fifth Mughal Emperor of India, Shah Jahan.

  • Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka (2003): It an archaeological site in central India that spans the Paleolithic and Mesolithic periods, as well as the historic period.

  • Sun Temple, Konârak (1984): It is a monumental representation of the sun god Surya's chariot; its 24 wheels are decorated with symbolic designs and it is led by a team of six horses.

  • Sundarbans National Park (1987): It covers 10,000 km2 of land and water (more than half of it in India, the rest in Bangladesh) in the Ganges delta. It contains the world's largest area of mangrove forests. 

  • Taj Mahal (1983): An immense mausoleum of white marble, built in Agra between 1631 and 1648 by order of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favourite wife, the Taj Mahal is the jewel of Muslim art in India

  • The Architectural Work of Le Corbusier (2016): Le Corbusier’s works in India, particularly the Complexe du Capitole, provide breakthrough innovations in the fields of the urban project, architectural theory and practice and the use of materials and techniques for implementation.

  • The Jantar Mantar, Jaipur (2010): It is a collection of 19 astronomical instruments built by the Rajput king Sawai Jai Singh, the founder of Jaipur, Rajasthan.

  • Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensembles of Mumbai (2018): The Victorian ensemble includes Indian elements suited to the climate, including balconies and verandas. 

  • Western Ghats (2012): A chain of mountains running parallel to India’s western coast, approximately 30-50 km inland, the Ghats traverse the States of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat.

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