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The world is fast becoming an urban place as nearly two third of the world’s population is expected to live in urban areas by 2025 (Schell and Ulijaszek, 1999). In developed countries, the majority of the population is living currently in cities, e.g., more than 80% of USA (Wolf, 1998) and 85% of the Australian population are living in and around urban cities (Brack, 2002). Due to this urbanisation trend, distance between city inhabitants and nature is increasing. Urban greenery/forestry is one of the ways to bridge this gap between people and nature. Urban forests or urban green spaces are one of those green infrastructures, which are more known for their non-priced benefits (like pollution control, energy conservation, leisure/recreation, carbon sequestration, etc.) than priced benefits in urban settings. Urban green spaces or parks/gardens contribute to an improved quality of urban life in many ways, even though these functions are often taken for granted by the public and city authorities, mostly in developing countries.
Broadly speaking, urban forestry is the art, science and technology of managing trees and forest resources in and around urban community ecosystems for physiological, sociological, economic and aesthetic benefits trees provide for society. Urban parks, gardens and natural landscapes provide several non-market or intangible benefits for urban population. A literature survey reveals an earliest research paper containing details of various experimental studies related to functions and impacts of urban planted areas, effect of plants on climatic characteristics of a city, climatic impacts of private planted areas around buildings, impact of green spaces on air pollution and social functions of urban parks/gardens. Subsequently, researchers have described various studies conducted in the USA about the influence of urban trees and forests on the physical and biological environment in quantitative terms. Later on research on these aspects of multiple functions and benefits of urban vegetation continued to grow in North America and Europe and was expressed in tangible monetary terms. Urban green spaces play an important part in offering town-dwellers a more stress free environment, irrespective of sex, age or socio-economic background. People are eager to access the green spaces for recreation and to experience nature.
A healthy, well managed urban forest system can provide many other benefits. For example, it can sequester carbon dioxide emissions and produce oxygen; reduce noise pollution in cities; reduce storm water runoff ; alleviate the intensity of heat island and help creating an oasis effect ; reduce air pollution and help maintain biodiversity. In addition to the above, proximity of public parks/gardens, natural areas, golf courses and tree avenues can have a significant effect on the sale price of houses. Research in European cities has established that green spaces provide better environment for commercial and residential purposes.
In India from ancient times, flowers and plants have been admired and cultivated. There are many references to the Gardens in old Buddhist literature and the Sanskrit plays. But it was from the North, Central Asia and Persia that the splendid garden traditions were introduced in India, taking roots under various Muslim conquerors. A few surviving
Mughal gardens, at present, are found in Srinagar, Pinjore, Delhi, Agra and Allahabad cities. Special care has been taken to include urban forestry in the city’s master plans in respect of newly developed cities after Indian independence, e.g., Gandinagar and Chandigarh. Gandhinagar, the capital city of Gujarat state, leads in per capita urban greenery (Figure 1) among Indian cities with Chandigarh taking second and Bangalore last position (based on 2001 population census). A casual drive through Gandhinagar city roads reveals that the variety of tree species planted on roadsides, parks/gardens/vans and as block plantation, is less in comparison to other important Indian cities. Azadirachta indica and Peltophorum species mainly dominate the Gandhinagar city area. Bangalore city has scored high in terms of ‘species richness’ with the recording of 164 species in parks, institutions, commercial and residential areas (Sudha and Ravindranath, 2000) while Chandigarh stood second with over 100 kinds of tree species along roads, parks, gardens and residential areas, excluding species in botanical gardens (Kohli et al., 2000).
Vegetation in Delhi consists mainly of tropical thorn forest with Prosopis juliflora being dominant. This is a controversial species in the city forests/reserved forests from the wildlife, mainly birds and aesthetic view point (Khera et al., 2009). However, the city has some well maintained parks and gardens like Lodhi Garden, Mughal Garden, Deer Park, Budha Jayanti Samarak Park, Indraprashtha Park and The Garden of Five Senses.
Overall, there are about 15,000 big and small parks/gardens in Delhi, maintained by different agencies. The forest department of NCT, Delhi and other governmental agencies has been responsible for increasing the green cover of the city from 30 sq kms to 300 sq kms during last ten years, despite of acute biotic pressure (Figure 2).
From the global perspective, although there are wide variations both in coverage as well as per capita availability of green spaces, cities renowned for their urban green spaces often have 20% to 35% coverage of total geographical area and 25 to 100 m2 urban green space per capita. Most of the Indian cities, with the exceptions of Ganhinagar and
Chandigarh, are far behind in per capita urban forest availability in comparison to European/Australian/US cities (Table 1). The quality of green spaces is also a questionable issue in India. Freely roaming cattle in cities, garbage heaps in and around green spaces and poor civic sense of the majority of the population seems to be among the prominent reasons. However, what is needed most is not only the education of individuals, but especially the education of municipalities regarding their duty relating to public hygiene. Public hygiene includes solid waste disposal, basic sewage facilities, drinking water purification and exhaust fume control in auto-taxis and public buses. A ‘carrot and stick policy’ for municipalities from local administration may help in this direction.
The people in urban cities need areas resembling nature so as to have a break from their busy, tiring, often monotonous and dreary routine. It is not possible for lower and middle class families to go to hill stations and distant National parks frequently for enjoying nature, hence it is the duty of local administration to bring a part of nature closer to city residents. This can be achieved by developing parks and gardens in and around urban cities. New Delhi, the capital city of India, has grown to be one of the greenest capitals in the world due to the consistent emphasis to grow more trees and strict monitoring of tree cutting permissions. This has been possible despite the infrastructure projects which came up due to the demands of the Commonwealth Games 2010. At present 20% of Delhi’s geographical area is under green cover, making per capita green space availability to around 21.43 m2. Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) maintains nearly 14000 parks, New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) has about 1,000 parks and gardens and Delhi Development Authority (DDA) has many parks, city forests, biodiversity parks and other green belts. Recently, the parks and garden society has been set up to coordinate the greening activities in Delhi. There are nine city forests and two biodiversity parks in Delhi. Nine more city forests are planned to be created. Still there is a need to identify vacant areas which can be put under the green cover. Entire ridge area (about 6,000 ha) needs to be greened. This is essential as more and more people are coming to Delhi for employment, education and residence purposes.
To promote tree planting in urban areas, Gujarat state of India has initiated a unique project of associating tree planting with religious practices of various religions. According to Puranas (religious literature of Hindus), each Grah (planet), Nakshtra (constellation) and Rashi (zodiacs) has its own favourite tree. Plantation and protection of such trees provides positive effect and power on human life. Punit Van (urban forest) covering six ha of land in Gandhinagar city covers all these aspects and is a pious place for spreading message of love for trees. Total area of the Gandhnagar capital project is 57 km2. By the year 2005, tree cover of the city was 57.13% of the total geographical area amounting to 32.56 km2. Population of the city was around 0.2 million in 2001, resulting in per capita green space availability to more than 160 m2 per person. Remote sensing satellite imageries were utilised by state government for assessing changes in tree cover of the city during 1979, 1986, 1999 and 2005. On similar concept of trees vs. religion, few more urban forests (Vans) have been created in other cities of Gujarat state, e.g., Kailash Van near Ahmedabad city, Mangalya Van of Ambaji city, Tirthankar Van in Mehsana district, Harihar Van of Somnath, Bhakti Van in Chotila of Surendranagar district and Shamal Van at Shamlaji of Sabarkantha district.
Bangalore city of India is known as the Garden City of India due to the large number of parks and private gardens, roadside and avenue trees and the magnificent Lalbagh and Cubbon park. The city has 705 parks spread across the city in the form of small and medium sized parks as well as large parks. Besides these regular parks, there are around 200 open spaces and green areas, which are waiting to be developed as parks and are without any kind of infrastructure. These are basically community amenity sites earmarked for development of community infrastructure such as parks and gardens. Authors have given few concrete suggestions to rejuvenate urban greens of the city, development of more regional parks of big size like that of Cubbon park and Lal Bagh, utilising services of NGOs and multinational companies in developing and maintaining parks and efficient use of rain water harvesting techniques.
Majority of avenue species in Bangalore city is exotic, largely planted for their high growth rate and decorative appearance. There is need to plant trees that provide multiple benefits, particularly in house compounds for providing edible pods, flowers, fruits, leaves, etc., like Mangifera indica, Murraya koenigii, Moringa oleifera, Tamarindus indica, Artocarpus integrifolia, Phyllanthus embelica and Syzygium cumini . There is also a strong need for removal of encroachments in some of the parks and gardens. Generally, such encroachers are politically powerful and are bereft of environmental concerns. Estimated crown cover of the city is about 19.9% of the geographical area. This amounts to per capita green space availability to around 17 m2.
Chandigarh city, also known as ‘city beautiful’ was the result of the partitioning of India when the country became independent in 1947. It was built as a replacement of Lahore city, the capital of undivided Punjab which went to Pakistan during 1947. The construction of the city began in 1952 and was formally inaugurated by the first President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad on October 7, 1953. The city has more than 35% of its geographical area under forest and tree cover, making it one of the greenest cities of India (Action Plan, 2009–2010). Population of the city was 0.9 million in 2001, making per capita availability of green space around 55 m2. The city has more than 2000 big and small parks and gardens, besides two reserved forests and a wild life sanctuary. Important parks/gardens are Rose Garden, Bougainvillea Garden, Garden of Fragrance, Shanti Kunj, Hibiscus Garden, Botanical Garden and Leisure Valley. Annual ‘festival of gardens’ is being organised every year in the month of February by tourism department of the local administration to promote garden tourism.
Urban forests and green spaces are in the public eye. All kinds of tree-related events, such as planting or felling, removing dangerous branches are often discussed in public and reported by the media. For these and other reasons, urban forestry should be based on scientifically sound principles and be transparent to the public. These objectives can be met if options are compared and evaluated, if management is demonstrated to the media, and if management activities are continuously monitored on a short and long-term basis. Developed countries are doing excellently on this front but the same is not true in case of developing countries like India. There is a lack of a comprehensive research database on urban forestry in the country. Reasons for this deficiency are not difficult to find. There is inadequate financial support for urban forestry development and research work. Researchers and practitioners in this field have not been able to convince bureaucracy-laden research funding agencies on the multiple contribution of urban forestry to human society in a populous and developing country like India. To compete with other kind of city expenditures/budgets, it is essential for urban forestry to raise its public profile and publicise its multiple contributions to city dwellers at large. Another reason is the paucity of trained and skilled researchers/scientists on different aspects of urban forestry. Researchers are using different models/software to study comprehensive range of ecosystem services provided by urban greenery including evapo-transpiration cooling and microclimate amelioration, carbon dioxide sequestration and oxygen generation, removal of gaseous and particulate pollutants and integrated assessment of environmental benefits using CITY green software, urban forest effects model (UFORE) and decision support system (DISMUT) in Europe, North America, Australia and even in a developing country like China. But in India these kinds of studies have not been carried out so far. During the last fifteen years, India’s neighbour China has set an excellent example in this field. A latest review article describes the various studies conducted on major ecosystem services provided by urban forests in Chinese cities like Beijing, Lanzhou, Guangzhou, Jinan, Harbin, Nanjing, Hangzhou, Yangzhou, Dalian and Zhuhai . India can learn from the Chinese example because both of them are facing almost similar urban population pressure.
Networking and international contacts proved to be crucial in urban forestry research and development in Europe. An active programme of exchanges and interactions could be established in India with relevant overseas universities, research institutions and governmental agencies. Possibility of liaison and networking with developing countries facing population pressures like India, e.g., China should also be explored. Amelioration of global warming presents opportunities for urban forests to act as carbon sinks and thereby could possibly be included in the potential future carbon trade industry. Municipalities can recover costs incurred on urban forestry by trading in carbon credits, which would accrue from reduction in greenhouse emissions.
Some academicians and forest functionaries have proposed to establish a ‘forest regulatory authority’ for effective development of market mechanism for the ecological services provided by Indian forests, including urban forests.
Important issues to be addressed by this authority would be identification and quantification of ecological services, identification of key beneficiaries, designing ecological service charges for beneficiaries and other political/legal/institutional issues.
Such an authority could work properly and satisfactorily only after having results of well designed ecosystem services-related research studies in respect of various kinds of forests of India. In other words, deeper comprehension of forests ecosystem services could provide plausible information for benefit-cost analysis of so called developmental projects requiring green spaces. The ultimate purpose of taking up urban forest research studies is to address comprehensive planning and scientific management of this valuable resource. Quantification and valuation of ecosystem services provided by urban forestry could not only permit comparison between alternate land-use options but also help to justify and augment municipal investment in this green infrastructure. Therefore accumulation of scientific evidence and findings on urban forests for creating a knowledge database is the urgent need of the hour in India. For the development of India’s environmentally sustainable cities, a greater awareness of the ecosystem services provided by city’s urban nature has to be fostered among political leaders, administrators and general public.
Pradeep Chaudhry is a Senior Forest Officer in the Indian Forest Service having work experience in different forest types of India located in the states and union-territories of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chandigarh. He has multidisciplinary interests and capabilities as reflected through his publications in various international peer reviewed journals related to different fields. He has special interest in environmental and forestry issues especially their economic and valuation aspects.
Vindhya P. Tewari is a Senior Scientist, currently working at the Institute of Wood Science and Technology, Bangalore, India. He has worked at the Institute of Forest Management and Yield Sciences, University of Goettingen, Germany in the capacity of FAO Fellow and as a DAAD Fellow. His main research fields include growth and yield modelling, forest management and silvicultural aspects of tropical tree species. He has two edited books and more than 50 research papers to his credit in various reputed national and international scientific journals.
With a population of over 1.3 billion, India is soon set to dislodge China as the most populous country of the world. While India has one of the fastest growing populations in the world today, it’s far behind most others when it comes to preserving the environment and the ecology. Today, our country is riddled with a number of environmental concerns which have only aggravated in the last few decades. It is high time we tackled these issues head on as turning a blind eye is no solution. Even as India races ahead to join the league of top economies internationally, it must stick to a growth path that is environmentally sustainable. Neglecting the environment can create havoc and the damage done may become irreparable. So we must wake up and smell the coffee before it’s too late.
Following are some of the major environmental concerns India is grappling with today.
Air pollution is one of the worst scourges to have affected India. According to a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), by 2040 there are likely to be about 9 lakh premature deaths in the country due to the drastic rise in air pollution in the country. Average life expectancies are likely to go down by about 15 months because of air pollution. India is also home to 11 out of 20 of the most polluted (in terms of air pollution) cities in the entire world. According to the rankings of the 2016 Environmental Performance Index, India ranks 141 out of 180 countries in terms of air pollution.
Rapidly depleting levels of groundwater is one of the biggest threat to food security and livelihood in the country. Accessing the groundwater has become increasingly difficult over the decades. According to news reports, excessive exploitation of limited groundwater resources for irrigation of cash crops such as sugarcane has caused a 6 percentage point decline in the availability of water within 10 metres from ground level. Low rainfall and drought are also reasons for groundwater depletion. The north western and southeastern parts of the country are the worst hit. These are also the regions responsible for most of the country’s agricultural production and food crisis is a natural corollary.
In May 2017, Phalodi in Rajasthan recorded a temperature of 51 degrees Celsius – the highest ever in the country. The increasingly tormenting heat waves in the past years are but an indication that global warming and climate change are real challenges that the country is facing now. With the Himalayan glaciers melting at an alarming rate, floods and other such natural disasters are occurring with increasing frequency. The number of forest fires, floods, earthquakes and such other calamities over the past five years has been unprecedented.
Unrestrained use of plastics is another major concern for the country. According to data from the Plastindia Foundation, India’s demand for polymers is expected to go up from 11 million tonnes in 2012-13 to about 16.5 million tonnes in 2016-17. India’s per capita plastic consumption went up from about 4 kg in 2006 to some 8 kg in 2010. By 2020, this is likely to shoot up to about 27 kg. To understand the damage that this can cause to the environment, it is important to understand that plastics are one of the least biodegradable materials. An average plastic beverage bottle could take up to 500 years to decompose naturally.
According to a 2014 report by The Economist, about 130 million households (and 600 million population) in the country lack toilets. Over 72 percent of India’s rural population defecate in the open. Ancient practices such as manual scavenging are still in vogue in the country. Lack of safe garbage disposal systems in the country make India one of the most unhygienic countries in the world. The rural regions of the country are worse off than urban tracts in this regard. This is one of the areas where the country’s government and people need to work hard and improve the prevailing conditions.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red Data Book, some 47 species of plants and animals in India are listed as critically endangered. Loss of ecology and natural habitats have left many indigenous species, including important ones such as the Siberian crane, Himalayan wolf and Kashmir stag in grave danger of going extinct. Rapid urbanization, poaching and indiscriminate hunting for leather fur etc. have rendered these animals critically endangered and the flora or herbal treasure of India in near-extinction conditions. Many of the plants commonly harvested for their medicinal properties are vanishing along with the legacy of Ayurvedic treatment.
There are two main reasons India’s environmental challenges are assuming gigantic proportions. Firstly, the exploding population and the needs of billions make environmental sustainability a very difficult issue. The other big challenge is lack of environmental awareness and conservation. Despite the efforts of government and environmental agencies, there is a lack of substantial efforts from the masses. Unless this changes, there is little hope for improvement. We can only look forward to the youth and the younger generations of the nation to remain conscientious and act in the best interests of future generations.
By Prof. Nalini Thakur, SPA, New Delhi.
Cultural landscapes are landscapes that have been affected, influenced, or shaped by human involvement. A cultural landscape can be associated with a person or event. It can be thousands of acres or a tiny homestead. It can be a grand estate, industrial site, park, garden, cemetery, campus and more. Collectively, cultural landscapes are works of art, narratives of culture, and expressions of regional identity. Cultural landscapes are a legacy for everyone. These special sites reveal aspects of our country’s origins and development as well as our evolving relationships with the natural world. They provide scenic, economic, ecological, social, recreational, and educational opportunities helping communities to better understand themselves. Neglect and inappropriate development put our irreplaceable landscape legacy increasingly at risk. Too often today’s short-sighted decisions threaten the survival and continuity of our shared heritage. It is everyone’s responsibility to safeguard our nation’s cultural landscapes. The ongoing care and interpretation of these sites improves our quality of life and deepens a sense of place and identity for future generations.
India is often referred to as the land of cultural plurality and diversity where two contrasting worldviews – that of the traditional and continuous and the formal and official (inherited from the British) thrive. These two views today coexist uncomfortably, often at cross purposes, clashing with the contemporary official and is impacting our cultural resources adversely.
In the context of the above, international principles of sacred values and categories are examined on real ground situations through field experience to explore the more recent new category of cultural landscape within the context of India’s multiple faiths /beliefs, plural communities and cultural diversities. This paper tries to articulate the questions and issues raised with focus on sacred significance and values through the Cultural landscape.
The Indian traditional perception of culture and its resources is based on continuity rather than preservation. It is governed by the cyclic passage of time. Heritage in India is integral part of the living fabric of society, and, like all living entities, these changes and transforms through time. History is understood as renewing and regenerating according to the cyclic concept of time and elements are never viewed in isolation, but only as a part of the larger context.
Indian Cultural Landscape (ICL) can be called ‘intellectual landscape’, a collection of religious, cultural and physical meanings ascribed to geographical components through collective memory, planted on the ground (shaped in real world and real time – the landscape) in active engagement of communities over generations, empowering nature and land from physical to the metaphysical. The ICL is a repository of the collective perception of geography, where memory, information and imagination converge to shape the landscape. The physical form of the landscape that still survive have a capacity to regenerate itself when associations, ideologies and continuity are re-established to engage the contemporary minds of the nation. Therefore, in content and appreciation, the ICL are distinct and have great potential to expand the UNESCO`S definition of Cultural Landscape to include a regional definition called Indian Cultural Landscape as distinct; referred to ICL in this paper.
The traditional understanding of the historical ICL is characterized by the domination of cultural geography over history. They have evolved through processes of cultural synthesis and specific practices within our complex and diverse culture. It can be said that in the Indian worldview the “sense of geography” is better than history judging from the highly evolved spatial cultural resource entities of the myriad.
In the Indian ethos, geography has always been more than just a setting of hills, rivers and forests. It can be better perceived through its cultural understanding shared by communities. The geography formed the canvas against which the Indian traditional perspectives and knowledge are conceptualized, practised and celebrated. It also forms the context where man interacts with his surrounds based on a holistic knowledge of nature with both sacred and secular underpinnings.
The ICL has been described in myths, legends, lyrics, oral traditions and religious texts. These were planted/imprinted on the ground from memory in the medieval times (at the backdrop of rise Islam to reinforce faith) and given a physical form by ascribing values and association to different forms of nature. The unique pattern of natural features and forms networked with the sacred geography of faith and its secular supports integrated man, place and faith to shape a cohesive landscape. The unity achieved at the physical and metaphysical levels gives rise to a continuity and consistency that reinforces the holistic perception of the landscape. The bond between the physical and metaphysical parts of the landscape was further with time through man’s engagement with their geography in various forms.
The Sacredness of the ICL exists right from the memory to geography which gives greater meaning / values through collective memory and association of indigenous communities.
Braj is a mythical and religious landscape with a very sacred geography, and is represented as the Mandala with Vrindavana at its core (represented by a lotus)or the Braj-Kshetra. The word ‘Braj’ in vernacular parlance means ‘where the cows roam’ and is associated with events and places of Lord Krishna’s childhood and youth. It is a circular area of 20 Yojana (measuring unit for distance) with the river Yamuna flowing at its centre, north to south with Mathura city at the centre. Today Vrajbhoomi survives with sacred natural features, planted groves, settlement patterns grounded on Krishna scriptures, water structures and temples and is bound by a continuity of shared religious and cultural values, limited within the Parikrama or circumambulation path. The core and periphery of this sacred Indian cultural landscape can change as per the beliefs of the sub-sects of a decentralized religious system within the Vaishnava mainstream accommodating multiplicity and diversity.
Establishment of Braj region dates back to Mahabharata when Satraps Vajranabha, the grandson of Krishna associated this place with Krishna. Archaeological evidence has established that in the 6th century B. C., this territory was known as Surasena with its capital at the prosperous fortified city of Mathura, located on the river Yamuna at a strategic location where the two main route of ancient India from the south and east to the north-west converged. During the Mauryan, Shunga and Kushana periods, till the 9th century, numerous Buddhist and Jain monuments were constructed and the archaeological explorations have determined that most of the existing settlements are located on or in the vicinity of sites of ancient settlements or monuments of these periods. During the reign of Sikandar Lodhi, in the 16th century, Nimbaraka, Vallabha and Chaitanya, religious preachers revealed this as the region, which identified itself with the mythical region of Krishna’s childhood. During the Mughal period also, Braj was a vast region and over historic time has been shrinking to now cover parts of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan States.
Many places within this region are associated with the life of Krishna. It is an associative landscape – a stage for early and boyhood years of Krishna`s life. From memory and sacred texts, the landscape is sculpted by the Vaishnavites anchored on ground where a distinct place is designated for a event in the life of Krishna like Gokul his place of birth, Vrindavan a pastoral landscape where he played with the gopis etc. The Chaurasi Kos yatra, visits all the places thus appropriating the act through its pilgrimage.
The larger Indian society is pluralistic giving rise to cultural diversity and a symbiotic relationship among communities, reflected in ICL. Communities developed their sacred geography based on their faith and the belief in structures specific to their individual cults by marking on the ground their meanings for places and natural features. Although they differed in ideology, faith and actions, their fundamental understanding of the extent and properties of geography and the ascribed associations to its features remained characteristically similar. Therefore within the framework of a pluralistic society, the different communities co-existed symbiotically, lending to the diversity extant in the sub-continent, which had been achieved over centuries. Example the popular belief of Char Dham, the four corners of the idea of India is equally understood by the majority, irrespective of their value-system within the Hindu sects
There are numerous ICLs presenting a range of urban, rural and regional sub categories that are distinct and unique to the sub-continent. For example capitals of princely states, historic cities with its own typological variations as planned, designed or walled; sacred settlements, other royal and imperial capitals, colonial towns, hill stations, 19th and 20th century modern habitats, to name a few that transcend historic times on land to inform and communicate the true story of the nation not found in books. The evidence of their history remains preserved as ‘historical layers’ interwoven with the tangible and intangible resources and this embedded knowledge requires to be deciphered and dissected.
However, the recent incident and verdict of Ayodhya stands as a example of the fracture in the construction of co-habiting plural narratives that had once ensured an underlying symbiosis within the larger populace. It must be mentioned here, that the Ramtek Hill, located in Ayodhya (at the summit of an elevated land form) remains immortalised in the Epic Ramayana as the birth place of Lord Rama. This location associated with the Lord Rama has been explained by Dr PS Rana as the “mesocosm” on land that is the intersection of the “macrocosm” and the “microcosm”.
During the 16th century, under the rule of Babur, a mosque was constructed in the same spot, a common practice during the rise of Islam. Evidences also show the reuse of parts of an older structure in the Mosque. Since the 19th century, there were instances of conflict that ensued over the location of Babri Mazjid. This culminated in December 1992, resulting in the demolition of the structure. Close to two-decades later, to regain status-quo, the issue was addressed by equal division of land among three conflicting groups, and the complexities of overlayed multiple and plural values that require complex interpretations, was overlooked.
In 1992, the Archaeological Survey of India, its Ancient Monuments Sites and Remains Act’58 and INTACH a National Non- Governmental Organisation set up for the safeguard of unprotected heritage were not able to save this structure. On the one hand the ASI under its Act could have brought the Babri Masjid under official protection because it had the ability to protect structures over 100 years old and INTACH could have taken initiative because the mosque was unprotected structure. Babri Masjid is a rare surviving structure belonging to Early Mughal period, hence imperative to protect. This unfortunate event brought to the forefront uncomfortable but pertinent questions and exposed the gulfs/ divided within the country and society.
The resolution of the differences between the two mutually conflicting world views requires an in-depth understanding of our cultural resources and an informed stand by decision-makers. It also may need adopting new tools perhaps the Historic Urban Landscape approach (HUL) combined with the Knowledge Systems approach to build knowledge for the regeneration of heritage sites based on “people-time-place” examination for a comprehensive understanding of our historic sites/ cities which is a fascinating area of research being developed, which can ensure effective protection and management for the future generations.
The post-independence mainstream official perception, which has gathered great strength over two centuries, is based on Colonial understanding of India and her resources. This imposes a western approach on policies in education and administration on the Indian subcontinent, introducing an alien way of life and creating a perception of traditional India, its culture, heritage, and ethos. As a result, society today remains polarised between two extremes – those
Seventy years post Independence, education and professional training, hence the decision-making and policies of governance, hinges greatly on the Colonial perception of India. This limits the understanding, quality (relevance) and actions of our official systems for effective identification and safeguarding of our cultural resources, associations and values. There is a lack of the integrated perspective that is required to understand, appreciate and manage the ICL. The official perspective is still unilateral, compartmentalised and self-limiting. Though it has scope of expanding and co-ordinating and in spirit is decentralised, there is much more effort required to establish a dialogue between different agencies for context and resource specific understanding and effective management of Indian heritage.
For example, the case of Majuli demonstrates the problems in responsible agencies, both in the region and at the centre to bring about new changes and rectification of the existing for effective site management as a landscape and not a monument or site.
Majuli is a mid-river delta system, in the Bramhaputra Valley, in Assam and is a unique spiritual Indian cultural landscape. Historically, the entire Brahmaputra valley with its tributaries defined the boundaries of kingdoms of diverse ethnic groups, who were at constant conflict, living within its plain, hills and river-side. In the 15th-16th Century AD, during an era of Islamic dominance, the introduction of Vaishnavism and the monastic institution of Sattras by Saint Shri Shri Sankaradeva, redefined the Assamese socio-cultural dimension. Bound by faith, the Sattras unified the diverse ethnic groups into a democratic casteless society in their unique ecological context. Sattras, which had an area of influence, were headed by a Sattradhikar, assisted by other monks. Till the 19th century, the Sattras functioned based on the words of the Sattradhikars and there were no written rule-book.
Each Sattra, set up its own tradition and practices, exercised a spiritual control over the members through social orders and evolved a context- specific management system that bridged socio-religious practices within its natural setting. Diverse ethnic groups performed distinct activities (traditional occupation) that enabled management of natural resources and withstood natural calamities. Traditionally, respective Sattras developed a series of synchronized systems of resource management that closely followed the natural geo- hydrological dynamics of the island and specifically responded to the area of their influence. Each community thereon, were entrusted unique and significant duties within the overall framework that formed an integral part of the spiritual and cultural fabric of the Assamese society, continuing till date.
Effective protection and management of living landscapes required an elaborate, coordinated and multilevel system to address the complexity. It was unfortunate, but not surprising, that the Majuli Island was nominated as a World Heritage cultural landscape but did not succeed. The failure remained in the existing official system to meet challenges of managing change and maintaining OUVs through coordinated actions and interfaces between various sectors. Efforts made like the Majuli Cultural Landscape Act 2006 and the Majuli Cultural Landscape Consortium still required interfaces for effective functioning, with dialogue and understanding among the jurisdictions and the agencies.
It must be noted that the paper aims not to encourage the return to an older time. It is rather towards the development of a more comprehensive understanding of our traditional systems of management that lends itself to development of a management framework.
Indian Cultural Landscapes are Intellectual landscapes, a unique resource and a playground of learning for professional and scholars a like. A product of holistic paradigm to civilization studies, it has the capacity to build knowledge, hence enhance the limited understanding of the mainstream that affects the manner in which India is perceived by Indians.
A long-term active engagement, experimental studies and analysis of complex ICLs like Majuli, Braj, Hampi and Khajuraho has illustrated the great scope to improve the modern/official system of management by incorporating important lessons from the traditional one to equip it to better understand and be more effective in action. The Knowledge Systems approach builds a local database and reconnects the historic site/city landscape to its people.
Protection and management of the Indian Heritage is a great challenge that needs to be effectively addressed by the mainstream through long-term collective commitment of the official and the popular world, its various agencies and institutions, involved in Sites. There is an immediate need to develop context and resource specific tools that are not based on any preconceived notion but are developed through consistent involvement/engagement with the site. Today, more than ever, this is a national responsibility beyond obligation to comply with international directives, so as to ensure protection of our ‘identity through culture’.
The Hampi Integrated Management Plan (IMP) demonstrates the potential of the “Indian National Framework”, to develop effective tools and mechanisms that safeguard a complex living sacred, royal and secular cultural landscape like Hampi World Heritage Site, primarily an archaeological site covering the 16th century metropolitan capital of the Vijayanagara Dynasty. The aim is to ensure safeguarding of the overall significance and values – OUVs, regional, local – which encompass archaeological, historical, architectural, religious, socio-cultural, economic and usage aspects]. Bridging between international directives and local realities lies the “National Framework” and the Integrated Management Plan (IMP) an instrument that connects to the real ground of the World Heritage Site for the protection, maintenance and management of entire range of heritage resources of the site in a participatory manner by involving the mandated agencies within the national, regional, local and traditional levels. This is to be achieved through a working group method and participatory decision-making process, where a lateral co-ordination is forged between all concerned agencies. Mechanisms for monitoring and new units for information management provided to build local capacity. In short enables decentralisation as envisaged by73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments.
The Plan document has 3 sections – Core (Heritage), Integrative (Planning and Human development) and General management (Infrastructure-related development), where priority lies in that order. Allowing sustainable growth that at no point of time undermines the cultural resources and its values, the 3 sections of the IMP provides innovative systems, interfaces and mechanisms that resolve conflicts and contradictions from other sectors such as Planning, Development and Tourism which otherwise adversely effects cultural resources.
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By: Jyoti Jennings Roth
With a rich, colorful culture, thousands of years of history, and many intertwined religions, India has been called the land of gods and goddesses. In this spiritually charged world, special sacred trees occupy a respected, ceremonial position and some are even worshipped.
The peepul is in the fig family, with curiously heart-shaped leaves that taper off at the point in a small “tail.” Rather mysteriously, the leaves of this tree rustle even when there is no breeze to move them, which is attributed to the long leaf stalk and broad leaf structure. This tree, also known as “Ashvatta,” is purportedly the most worshipped tree in India. Lord Krishna, the original incarnation of Lord Vishnu and the supreme lord of the universe according to the Vaishnava faith, identifies with the peepul in the sacred text Bhagavad Gita. He states, “Of all trees, I am the holy fig tree.” In addition, the Hindus associate the roots of the tree with Lord Brahma (the creator of the universe), the trunk of the tree with Lord Vishnu (the protector and preserver), and the leaves of the tree with Lord Shiva (the destroyer). The Buddhists also revere this tree since Lord Buddha is thought to have attained enlightenment under the peepul tree. Thus it is also called the Bodhi Tree or Tree of Enlightenment. A red thread or cloth is often tied around the tree for worship and it is considered very inauspicious to ever cut one down.
This is actually another type of fig tree, with large, glossy leaves and trunks that appear to be composed of a labyrinth of roots (called “aerial prop roots”). It grows around a host plant, often killing the original tree or plant in the process, earning it the nickname “strangler fig.” The banyan tree often represents the Trimūrti, the three lords of cosmic creation, preservation and destruction—namely, Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva. It is very often used for metaphorical reference in the Vedic scriptures written in ancient Sanskrit. With its ever-spreading roots and branches, it is also symbolic of life and fertility in many Indian cultures and is consequently worshipped by those who wish to have children. The revered banyan tree is never cut, and thus often grows over many acres.
The bael is a slender, aromatic tree that bears a sweet, yellow-green fruit. It is a very medicinal plant as well as a sacred tree. All parts of it are used for different healing purposes—the roots, leaves, and fruits—and it has proven effective in combatting many different kinds of bacteria. It is known as “Sivadruma” by the Hindus, and the leaves are often offered to Lord Shiva, who is known to be particularly pleased by this tree. Baels have trifoliate leaves, i.e. a leaf structure of three, and this is sometimes thought to symbolize Siva’s trident or the Trimūrti (described above) as well.
This is a small evergreen tree, with dark green leaves and fragrant orange-yellow to deep red flowers. The name of this tree means “without grief” or “one who gives no grief.” Water in which the ashoka flowers have been washed is used as a protective and healing draught against sorrow. It is representative of Kama Deva or the God of Love in the Hindu faith, and thus it is also associated with fertility. In fact, the bark of the tree is used as a remedy for reproductive disorders and to restore fertility. It is also thought that Lord Buddha was himself born under an ashoka tree and so it is often planted in Buddhist monasteries.
The classic appearance of the coconut palm, with its slender trunk, large fan-like leaves, and round hard-shelled fruit, is beloved as a symbol of exotic beaches and tropical forests. In India, however, coconut trees are used for all kinds of religious purposes, mainly utilizing the coconut fruits in puja (religious ceremonies) and all kinds of traditional food preparations. Some say that the fruit represents Lord Shiva, with the three black marks on coconuts depicting his eyes. Around the world, the coconut fruit is well regarded for its distinctive flavor, nutritional benefits and even medicinal value, possessing anti-bacterial properties.
Mangos can grow exceedingly tall, over 100 feet, and can live hundreds of years. When mature, these trees have dark green leaves and put out small white, sweet-smelling flowers, which eventually ripen into the famous luscious fruit. In India, the mango is commonly seen as a symbol of love and fertility and is used in religious and social ceremonies accordingly. The mango leaves are often strung in a garland and hung over the entrance of a dwelling to mark an auspicious occasion. The Buddhists revere the mango for it is believed that Lord Buddha created a huge mango tree in Shravasti, an Indian district, from a seed. The mellow, sweet flesh of mangos is very popular everywhere for its delicious flavor.
Their huge lush green leaves make it clear that bananas thrive in a very rainforest-like environment. The leaves, fruits and flowers of this tree are all utilized in Indian religious ceremonies. For example, the fruit is offered to various gods and goddesses, especially Lord Vishnu and Sri Lakshmi, the Goddess of Fortune. Banana leaves are used as plates to distribute blessed and offered food, called prasadam. Those of the Hindu faith also worship the banana trees, bearing fruits and flowers, for the welfare of the family. This tree is certainly more than just a household fruit in India.
Neems are drought-resistant evergreens in the mahogany family, with small tapering leaves and white, fragrant flowers. The flowers and leaves are used in traditional Indian cooking and small preparations of neem are consumed as part of the New Year’s celebration in several provinces. Deities are sometimes garlanded with offerings of neem flowers and leaves. It is greatly respected for its medicinal uses, including anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal, and even sedative properties. It is also commonly used as a “toothbrush.” People in India (as well as Africa and the Middle East) have been chewing on neem twigs to clean their teeth for centuries. In Hindi culture, neem is manifested as the Goddess Durga, also known as Parvati (the wife of Shiva). In some parts of India, the neem tree itself is thought to be a goddess, Neemari Devi. It is associated with Goddess Sitala Devi in the north as well as Goddess Marimman in the south, who are both associated with giving and healing of skin ailments like small-pox. The beautiful and famous Jagannatha deities in eastern Odisha are formed from neem wood. Neem flowers, leaves and even smoke from burning the leaves is often used to ward off evil spirits.
These small trees, with glossy green leaves and tiny scarlet flowers, are related to mistletoe and live off the roots of other trees. The harvested wood is yellowish, fine-grained, very aromatic, and, unlike other woods, has the distinction of retaining its prized fragrance for decades. A special paste called “chandanam” created from sandalwood is often used on the body, applied to the head, chest or neck either cosmetically or as part of a religious ceremony. The fragrant and sweet-smelling pastes of sandalwood are also very often used to worship the gods and goddesses. There is an account connected with this tree wherein the Goddess Parvati (Shiva’s wife) created Lord Ganesha out of a sandalwood paste and breathed life into the figure. Sandalwood is also prized by Buddhists who use the scent in their own ceremonies and meditations. It is very often used to purify temples and holy places in both the Hindi and Buddhist faith.
This is a small taste of the relationship between trees and spiritual life in India. The association between many different kinds of trees, plants and flowers with religious practice is a deep and significant one. It is based in a thought system that recognizes that every living thing—including every plant and tree—is an individual personality.