Rana P. B. Singh
(Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, India)
“The Ganga River and Riverfront Heritage Zone of Varanasi”, covering an area of 374ha, is in the process of proposal for enlisting in the UNESCO World Heritage List. This crescent-shape Riverfront records cultural importance since 7th century, but during 18th -19th centuries it became prominent by the palatial buildings built under the patronage of the Marathas, that continued even in 19th-20th century. Since 1950 the state government of Uttar Pradesh is involved in the repairing and maintenance of ghats (stairways to the riverbank). Among the 84 ghats, 5 are the most sacred and nexus of the major rituals and festivities in this holy city. The immense pressures from development and population are threatening the integrity of the riverfront cultural landscape. In the name of heritage conservation, old structures are modified or demolished. The buffer zones and the skyline of the old city, are also threatened by encroachments and rising heights of buildings. Only a few tangible heritage monuments are maintained by the government’s archaeology department. In the Master Plan of Varanasi (1991-2011), heritage zones and sites are identified. On this line, renovation and conservation of Manikarnika Ghat, supported by JAICA, is an example of preserving the cultural heritage. The population of the city is around 1.4 millions, and projected that by 2031 reach to around 2.4 millions! About 40,000 floating population is recorded daily in the city. Every year about a million pilgrims come to this city, excluding above 125,000 tourists from abroad. The move made by local NGOs and related institutions to propose the nomination of the Ganga Riverfront of Varanasi for the UNESCO WHL has activated mass awakening and city administration. The support of the Austrian colleagues and institutions are noticeable. This paper is a token of appeal for saving cultural heritage of India’s the most holy city.