Ahmedabad becomes UNESCO’s the first city in Bharat to attain the enviable status of a Heritage City for ‘representing a masterpiece of human creative genius,’ and ‘exhibiting an important interchange of human values over a span of time, or within a cultural area of the world’
Amdawad (Ahmedabad) earned a distinguished honour in the country when it was declared the World Heritage City at the 41st session of UNESCO”s World Heritage Committee meet in Krakow in Poland on July 8 last. It has become first Indian city to be declared a world heritage city. Ruchira Kamboj, Ambassador of India to UNESCO, Paris tweeted soon after “Thrilled to announce Ahmedabad has just been declared Indi’s first “World Heritage City by @UNESCO.”
This announcement is important because inspite of being one of the most ancient countries, Bharat had not got a single city listed as World Heritage City.
As many as 20 countries, including Turkey, Lebanon, Tunisia, Portugal, Peru, Kazakhistan, Vietnam, Finland, Azerbaijan, Jamaica, Croatia, Poland, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, South Korea, Croatia, Angola and Cuba supported the nomination for declaring Ahmedabad a heritage city.
The city has seen historically co-existence of Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Parasi and other communities. Not only different panths (sects) coexist here, but North Gujarati, South Gujarati, Kathiawadi (Saurastra region people), Kachhee, north Bharatiya, Marathi, Rajasthani, south Bharatiya, north-east people and many more coexist here peacefully.
Amdavad has multiple identifications. It was once known as Manchester of East due to thriving textile industry. It is also known as centre of freedom struggle against Britishers because Gandhiji established Kocharab Ashram and then Sabarmati Ashram here. Historical Navnirman Andolan was started by students of L.D. College of Engineering which led to overthrowing of Indira Gandhi Government in turn.
Amdavad is known for its “Pol” (housing cluster which habitats many families of the same profession persons considered as caste) culture. ‘Pol’ culture is known for brotherhood, values and ever helping nature. It is like one big family in which anybody can enter in neighbour’s house without permission. They are partners in happiness and sorrows. Pols are virtually small villages. They have very narrow lanes, usually terminating in squares called as ‘Chok’. They have community well and ‘Chabutaro’, place for feeding birds. There are gates for protecting ‘pols. They have secret passages too. An outsider chasing a resident of the Pol cannot catch ‘Pol’, won’t be able to catch him/her because of very complex roads in ‘pols’.
This city has 26 ASI protected structures, hundreds of ‘pols’ and many sites which are attached with Gandhian history. UNESCO tag to Amdavad is expected to boost tourism and will protect its pride heritage.
It is not that Amdavad has got UNESCO tag in a few months. The attempts have been made since 1984. Ford Foundation instituted first study for conserving heritage structures. Amdavad Municipal Corporation (AMC) in association with CRUTA Foundation, an NGO, launched heritage walk on November 19, 1997 ,during World Heritage Week. Heritage walk commences from
‘early 19th century Swaminarayan Mandir’ located at Kalupur. It covers 20 main spots and numerous areas. It concludes at 15th century Jama Masjid. Amdavad Municipal Corporation also set Heritage cell. On March 31, 2011, the third milestone was achieved as Amdavad entered into UNESCO’s tentative list of World Heritage Cities.
Amdavad beat national capital and the country’s financial capital in race to be listed as Heritage City. Thus it joined the ranks of Paris, Vienna, Cairo, Brussels, Rome and Edinburgh. With this achievement, Amdavad has become one of the three cities from South Asia that have UNESCO tag. Other two are Bhaktapur (Nepal) and Anuradhapura (Sri Lanka).
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shown personal interest to see that Amdavad is declared Heritage City. During his tenure as CM, Amdavad Municipal Corporation initiated process for ‘World Heritage City’ status in year 2010. In same year Narendra Modi inaugurated international conference on ‘Asian World Heritage City’ in Amdavad. It boosted desire of Modi to get Amdavad tag of heritage city by UNESCO. Conference was organised by Amdavad Municipal Corporation in association with UNESCO, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Indian Heritage Cities Network, and National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA). At that time, Municipal Commissioner I. P. Gautam presented proposal containing the details for claiming heritage city status to Armoogum Parsuramen, then UNESCO Director for Bharat and Gautam Sengupta, then ASI Director General. He said, “The city has rich historical and architectural legacy and has the potential to achieve the status of a World Heritage City.”
Along with Amdavad, Dilli and Mumbai were also in race, which were previously nominated by Bharat, but they could not make the cut. Dilli was pulled out. Then only Mumbai was left. But Central Government decided to nominate Amdavad to UNESCO in February, 2016.
Finally, in 2017, Narendra Modi and many Amdavadies witnessed their dream fulfilling. Ruchira Kamboj said in her speech, “For over 600 years, Ahmedabad has stood for peace, as a landmark city where Mahatma Gandhi began India’s freedom struggle. It has stood for unity with its elegant carvings in its Hindu and Jain temples as well as standing as one of the finest examples of Indo-Islamic architecture and Hindu Muslim art. And beyond this, it epitomizes the United Nation’s objective of sustainable development as it accelerates in its development, chosen to be one of India’s first smart cities, while preserving its ancient heritage.”
(The writer is an Ahmedabad-based columnist)