Top 10 UNESCO World Heritage Monuments in India
India has 35 World Heritage Sites listed by UNESCO and that makes India among one of the top countries globally in terms of number of world heritage sites. UNESCO identifies World Heritage Sites as places that belong to all the peoples of the world, irrespective of the territory on which they are located.
Near the gardens of the Taj Mahal stands the important 16th-century Mughal monument known as the Red Fort of Agra. This powerful fortress of red sandstone encompasses, within its 2.5-km-long enclosure walls, the imperial city of the Mughal rulers. Its construction along bank of the Yamuna River was begun by Emperor Akbar in 1565. Further additions were made, particularly by his grandson Shah Jahan, using his favourite building material – white marble. The fort was built primarily as a military structure, but Shah Jahan transformed it into a palace, and later it became his gilded prison for eight years after his son Aurangzeb seized power in 1658.
It comprises many fairy-tale palaces, such as the Jahangir Palace which was probably built by Akbar for his son Jehangir. It blends Indian and Central Asian architectural styles, a reminder of the Mughals’ Afghani cultural roots. In front of the palace is Hauz-i-Jehangir, a huge bowl carved out of a single block of stone, which was used for bathing. The MusammanBurj and Khas Mahal, the wonderful white-marble octagonal tower and palace where Shah Jahan was imprisoned for eight years until his death in 1666, and from where he could gaze out at the Taj Mahal, the tomb of his wife. Diwan-i-Am, which was used by Shah Jahan for domestic government business, and features a throne room where the emperor listened to petitioners .On the far side of the large courtyard, along the eastern wall of the fort, is Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audiences), which was reserved for important dignitaries or foreign representatives. The hall once housed Shah Jahan’s legendary Peacock Throne, which was inset with precious stones – including the famous Koh-i-noor diamond. The throne was taken to Delhi by Aurangzeb, then to Iran in 1739 by Nadir Shah and dismantled after his assassination in 1747.
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 wifeMumtaz Mahal, the Taj Mahal is the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage.
The Taj was built by Shah Jahan as a memorial for his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child in 1631. Construction of the Taj began the following year; It was built in stages, with the plinth and the tomb taking up roughly 15 years. Building of minarets, mosque, jawab, and gateway took additional 5 years to be completed. It is believed that for the transportation of the construction materials, more than 1,000 elephants were employed. Different types of marbles used in construction of Taj Mahal were brought over from many different regions & countries: Rajasthan, Punjab, China, Tibet, Afghanistan, Srilanka, & Arabia.
Not long after it was finished Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son Aurangzeb and imprisoned in Agra Fort, where for the rest of his days he could only gaze out at his creation through a window. Following his death in 1666, Shah Jahan was buried here alongside his beloved Mumtaz.
The Taj was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 and looks nearly as immaculate today depending on what time of the day it is and whether or not there’s moon at night, Taj Mahal appears to be of different colour every time.
Built during the second half of the 16th century by the Emperor Akbar, FatehpurSikri (the City of Victory) situated 40 kms west of Agra, was the capital of the Mughal Empire between 1572 and 1585.
Earlier, Akbar had visited the village of Sikri to consult the Sufi saint Shaikh Salim Chishti, who predicted the birth of an heir to the Mughal throne. When the prophecy came true, Akbar built his new capital here, including one of the largest mosques in India , the Jama Masjid and three palaces for one each of his favourite wives – one a Hindu, one a Muslim and one a Christian. The city was an Indo-Islamic masterpiece, but erected in an area that supposedly suffered from water shortages and so was abandoned shortly after Akbar’s death.
Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram
Ratha Temples are chiseled to look like chariots. These temples are datable to the reign of NahasimhavarmanMammalla (7thcentury) and are called the PandavaRathas. There are mainly seven rathas, of which 5 are named after each of the Pandava brothers- DharmrajaRatha, ArjunaRatha, BhimaRatha, NakulaRatha and SahadevaRatha. The other two rathas are called DraupadiRatha and GaneshaRatha.
Mandapas are eleven rock-cut cave temples covered with bas-relief, carved with the help of iron mallet and chisel. The most notable of these eleven cave temples are Varaha Cave Temple, Panchapandava Cave Temple, Krishna Cave Temple and MahishasuramardiniMandava.
The Rock Reliefs are carved either on independent boulders or rocks. These are popular mainly because of the exquisite bas-relief work, especially Descent of the Ganges (also called Bhagiratha’s Penance and Arjuna’s Penance) which also are the open-air relief and world’s largest bas-relief work.
The temple is named so as it is located on seashore. This temple is three temples, being two small and one large, enclosed within a two-tiered walled combined which has images of Shiva’s Vahana, Nandi.
Sun Temple, Konarak
On the shores of the Bay of Bengal, bathed in the rising sun, the temple at Konarak 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. Built in the 13th century, it is one of India’s most famous Brahman sanctuaries.
The word ‘Konark’ is a combination of two words ‘Kona’ and ‘Arka’. ‘Kona’ means ‘Corner’ and ‘Arka’ means ‘Sun’, so when combines it becomes ‘Sun of the Corner’. Konark Sun Temple is situated on the north eastern corner of Puri and is dedicated to Sun God. Konark is also known as Arkakhetra. There are three images of the Sun God at three different sides of the temple, positioned in proper direction to catch the rays of the sun at morning, noon and evening.
Sun Temple of Konark,is a massive conception of artistic magnificence and engineering dexterity. King Narasimhadeva I, the great ruler of the Ganga dynasty had built this temple, with the help of 1200 artisans within a period of 12 years (1243-1255 A.D.). Since the ruler used to worship the Sun, the temple was considered as a chariot for the Sun God.
Group of Monuments at Hampi
Hampi was the last capital of the last great Hindu Kingdom of Vijayanagar. Its fabulously rich princes built Dravidian temples and palaces which won the admiration of travellers between the 14th and 16th centuries. Conquered by the Deccan Muslim confederacy in 1565, the city was pillaged over a period of six months before being abandoned.
Temples of this city are noted for their large dimensions, florid ornamentation, bold and delicate carvings, stately pillars, magnificent pavilions and a great wealth of iconographic and traditional depictions which include subjects from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The Vitthala temple is an excellent example of Vijayanagara style. The monolithic statues of Lakshmi, Narasimha and Ganesa are noted for their massiveness and grace.The Krishna temple, Pattabhirama temple, Hazara Ramachandra and Chandrasekhara temple as also the Jain temples, are other examples.
Recent excavations at the site have brought to light a large number of palatial complexes and basements of several platforms. Interesting finds include a large number of stone images, both in round and relief, beautiful terracotta objects and stucco figures that once embellished the palaces.
Rani-ki-Vav (the Queen’s Stepwell) at Patan, Gujarat
Built in the 3rd millennium BC in the memory of the kings, it is an explicit example of fine Ancient Indian architecture. It was constructed in the honour and memory of Bhimdev 1, the son of the founder of the Solanki dynasty, by his widowed queen Udayamati. It was recently declared as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014, owing to it’s architectural marvel and splendour. Rani-ki-vav is well known for its Stepped Corridors, Sculptures and Stone Carvings in the Well. Most of the sculptures in the well are devoted to Lord Vishnu in the form of his 10 avatars, which signify his return to the Earth. Apart from being a place for storage of water, this vav also has a spiritual meaning attested to it. It is designed as an inverted temple and is divided into seven levels of wells each having its own importance as per the religious and mythological works mentioned in canonical literature.
This magnificent east facing step well measures approximately 64m long, 20m wide & 27m deep. The fourth level is the deepest and leads into a rectangular tank 9.5 m by 9.4 m, at a depth of 23 m. The well is located at the westernmost end of the property and consists of a shaft 10 m in diameter and 30 m deep.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus)
It is formerly known as Victoria Terminus Station, in Mumbai, is an outstanding example of Victorian Gothic Revival architecture in India, blended with themes deriving from Indian traditional architecture. The building, designed by the British architect F. W. Stevens, became the symbol of Bombay as the ‘Gothic City’ and the major international mercantile port of India. The terminal was built over 10 years, starting in 1878, according to a High Victorian Gothic design based on late medieval Italian models. Its remarkable stone dome, turrets, pointed arches and eccentric ground plan are close to traditional Indian palace architecture. It is an outstanding example of the meeting of two cultures, as British architects worked with Indian craftsmen to include Indian architectural tradition and idioms thus forging a new style unique to Bombay. Till 1996 the station was named “Victoria Terminus” to honour Queen Victoria. It was renamed for ChatrapatiShivaji, a famed Maratha king, by the state government in keeping with policy of renaming locations with Indian names.
The first Buddhist cave monuments at Ajanta date from the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C. During the Gupta period (5th and 6th centuries A.D.), many more richly decorated caves were added to the original group. The paintings and sculptures of Ajanta, considered masterpieces of Buddhist religious art, have had a considerable artistic influence.
Preserved inside the caves are many masterpieces of Buddhist art. Some reflect the earlier Theravada tradition of depicting the Buddha only in symbolic form such as a throne or footprints. Others, the Mahayana caves, feature colourful murals and statues depicting the life (and former lives) of the Buddha and various Bodhisattvas. The caves also depict scenes from everyday life and many include inscriptions indicating a prince or noble who gifted the cave to the monks.
The caves are numbered from east to west, 1 through 29. Today, a terraced path connects the cave, but in ancient times each was independently accessed from the riverfront. Some of the must see caves are
Cave 26 – A Mahayana prayer hall (chaitya). The highlight is a large carved statue of the reclining Buddha, representing his moment of death. Below him, his followers mourn his passing; above, celestial beings rejoice. The cave also contains a stupa with an image of the Buddha in a pavilion.
Cave 10 – Theravada prayer hall, thought to be the oldest cave temple at Ajanta, dating to the 2nd century BC.
Cave 1 – The most popular of the monastery caves at Ajanta. Every inch of the cave was originally painted, though much has worn away over the centuries. The doorway to the antechamber is flanked by murals of two great bodhisattvas. Above the left porch of Cave 1 are friezes of the Three Signs (a sick man, an old man, and a corpse) that the Buddha saw on his fateful journey outside the palace that led him to become a monk. In the sanctum is a colossal sculpture of the Buddha in the preaching pose. Murals on the walls of the main hall depict numerous Jataka Tales, stories of the previous lives of Gautama Buddha.
Buddhist Monuments at Sanchi
On a hill overlooking the plain and about 40 km from Bhopal, the site of Sanchi comprises a group of Buddhist monuments (monolithic pillars, palaces, temples and monasteries) all in different states of conservation most of which date back to the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C.
The Great Stupa at Sanchi is the oldest stone structure in Indiaand was originally commissioned by the emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BC. Its nucleus was a simple hemispherical brick structure built over the relics of the Buddha. It was crowned by the chatra, a parasol-like structure symbolising high rank, which was intended to honour and shelter the relics. The original construction work of this stupa was overseen by Ashoka, whose wife Devi was the daughter of a merchant of nearby Vidisha. Sanchi was also her birthplace as well as the venue of her and Ashoka’s wedding.
Sanchi is the center of a region with a number of stupas including Satdhara (17 KM from Sanchi, 40 stupas, the Relics of Sariputra and Mahamoggallana, now enshrined in the new Vihara, were unearthed there), Morel Khurd (on a fortified hilltop with 60 stupas), Andher (17 KM NE of Vidisha), Mawas, Sonarietc all within a few miles of Sanchi.