‘Heritage’-this word surely paints a series of pictures in our mind; pictures of monuments, cultures, places of worship, iconic buildings and many more. While we might think that we are well equipped with our knowledge in this genre, there is a lot, and a lot unknown and unexplored. Do you know there is a Chinese temple in Mumbai & small Chinese communities residing in parts of Mumbai & Kolkata since ancient times? Do you know there is a natural bridge formed of tree roots in Meghalaya? Do you know that Mumbai has a 65 million-year-old rock formation and it is one of the three kinds in the world? The list can go on and on and surprise us with a series of unknown facts.
Let us explore more about such lesser-known structures in India that hold historical & cultural significance and deserve to be preserved.
Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Temple
Worli Naka, Mumbai
Japanese Buddhist Temple, 1930s
Nipponzan Myohoji Temple stands right at the center of all the chaos and traffic at the Worli Naka and might go unnoticed unless you are a keen observer. As soon as one steps in, the interiors in yellow Malad stone and white marble, adorned with Japanese motifs, various relics, and symbols in gold, steer to a world of calm and peace. The tall triangular tower at the center is influenced by Cambodian & Hindu style Buddhist temples with relief work on it, along with carved Japanese scriptures on the lintel of the entrance. Built around the 1930s by the Japanese monk, Nichidatsu Fuji, this temple is functional for a long time and yet least famous among Mumbaikars. Often neglected, the temple today needs attention and care to restore its former glory once held in the history of Bombay. This great and distinct heritage of Bombay not only needs to be preserved but its significance also needs to be made aware of the people and tourists.
Stepwell, the 1800s
Stepwells have been the most artistic and functional features in the architectural history of India. And yet, in today’s modern world, we have failed to acknowledge and appreciate the beauty of these structures to an extent that they are almost forgotten, turned in to trash pits or into zones of high anti-social activities. One such geometric masterpiece is ‘Chand Baori’ located in Abhaneri of Rajasthan, between two hotspot tourist destinations of Jaipur & Agra. Comprising of features like arched openings, elevated canopies (the Chatris), carved columns and a yellow sandstone structure with carvings of Hindu relics- it depicts the influences of the palatial architecture of Hindu and Mughal styles seen in the vicinity. This is believed to be the deepest stepwell in India and needs to be conserved, preserved and made more tourist-friendly rater than letting it unattended, deteriorating over time.
Rock cut art, 600 – 700 AD
Apart from magnificent built structures, there also exists a lot of man-made art and influences in natural objects and our surroundings, having historical importance, but often abandoned and destroyed due to lack of care. One such example is the group of rock-cut art sculptures at Unakoti Hills in the far northeast corner of India at Tripura. Unakoti is a Shaiva pilgrimage site with a group of massive ancient temples and rock-cut art of various Hindu deities. The central rock-cut Shiva is known to be 30 ft high. The art is believed to be existing in the Unnakoti hills since the 7th century. The total number of these mesmerizing sculptures is yet unknown and remain undiscovered in the Unakoti forests, as claimed by the Archaeological Survey of India. Despite all this, very little is being done to take care of this heritage site and as a result of which, most of the sculptures today lie in deteriorating conditions.
Monolith Basalt formation, 65 million years old
The world has three monolith columns of basalt rock formed during the Mesozoic era due to the volcanic eruptions. While two of these exist in the USA, the third one exists between an urban sprawl in Mumbai’s Andheri area. Despite having such significance, this site fell prey to the societal evils of illegal quarrying and housing encroachments. It is only recently that the government took efforts to protect the site from illegal activities and declare it as a national monument. But is that enough? It is the society that needs to look at it and do justice to its existence and importance. There is surely more that can be done to preserve and conserve this heritage site.
Heritage- be it a natural site or a built structure, its cultural significance and the fact that it has stood strong even today in this ever-changing environment helping us date back our history, is something that we must all be proud of and appreciate. Hence, heritage conservation is of utmost importance in today’s time and should be worked upon through architectural conservation methods.