As we celebrate World Heritage Day today, it is worth recalling some of the most marvellous heritage sites in the state of Maharashtra which hosts five of the total 38 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The state of Maharashtra has the distinction of hosting the highest number of World Heritage Sites as compared to any other state of the country. All the five UNESCO sites in the state have intertwined layers of history and culture with unique imprints of architectural design. Dr. Tejas Garge, who is Director of the Directorate of Archeology and Museums says that the state has many more sites which have the potential to be nominated for UNESCO World Heritage Sites including Maratha forts, Lonar Lake among others. Truly, the coastal state hosts a large number of heritage sites which need to be brought on the world stage but for now let’s look at the five UNESCO recognised states.
The 32 rock-cut Buddhist cave monument lies in the Aurangabad district of the state with few cave monuments dated back to as early as 2nd century BC. A large number of cave monuments at the site also date back to the powerful Gupta empire(5th-6th Century AD). The paintings drawn on the walls of the Ajanta caves despite being over 2000 years old are completely intact which is a witness to the quality of material used in the paintings and highly skilled artisans of that time. Some of the most elemental and profound Buddhist monumental structures also leave the visitors dumbstruck. Ajanta caves arguably is considered to be one of the biggest cave structures of the country. The caves find mention in several accounts of the Chinese Buddhist scholars who visited India as India used to be the hub of Buddhist religion and scholarship in the ancient times.
Despite being mentioned in several accounts, the caves could not be discovered in the region until a British officer in the year 1819 stumbled upon it. UNESCO recognised the Ajanta Caves as a World Heritage Site in the year 1983. The site is fairly well connected with the two most important cities of the state-Pune and Mumbai- via roadways and railways.
The Ellora Caves are also situated in the Aurangabad district of the state and is at a distance of only 100 kilometres from the Ajanta Caves. The caves and other monuments at the site are dated back to a period between 600 A.D. and 1000 A.D. The caves have monuments of all the three major faiths of ancient India- Jainism, Brahmanism and Buddhism- side by side. The Ellora caves also were granted the UNESCO World Heritage Site in the year 1983.
The Elephanta Caves which are also famously known as the ‘City of caves’ are associated with the cult worship of Lord Shiva. The Rock art boasts of exquisite carvings of Hindu mythological elements on the walls of the caves along with hosting a large number of monolithic including the 20 feet Trimurti Sadashiva (Three-faced Shiva), Nataraja (the Lord of Dance) among many others. The caves were discovered the Portuguese colonisers who named the caves Elephanta caves after finding the elephant statues on the caves. In the year 1909, the British officials started efforts to arrest the damage of the caves. In 1987, the Elephanta caves were also recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. In terms of ease of access, the Elephanta Caves are at a very small distance of about 25 kilometre from the state capital and can be reached easily by road.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (Formerly known as Victoria Terminus)
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus Station was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site in the year 2004 as the building is a splendid example of the Victorian Gothic Revival architecture in the country. Designed by British architect F. W. Stevens, the Chhratrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus has come to become one of the defining monuments of the Mumbai city.
The construction of the building lasted over a decade after its construction began in the year 1878. Apart from the High Victorian Gothic design forming the base for the building, a number of Indian ancient architectural influences also can be traced to this iconic building as apart from a number of British architects, a number of Indian artisans and masons laid their services for the construction of the building. The monument is fairly easily accessible as passengers arriving at the Railway station at the onset of their tour are able to visit the iconic building.
Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensembles of Mumbai
In the later half of the 19th century, an urban planning project was ensued in Mumbai which led to the development of a series of buildings close to the Oval Maidan. The foundation of these public buildings was laid in the Victorian Gothic and Neo-Gothic styles of architecture however in the 20th century, the elements of the Art-Deco idiom also found a place in some of these buildings. A host of Indian elements in tune with the climate and topography of the region were also assimilated in the Victorian Neo-Gothic ensemble including the balconies and open verandas.
At present one can find an array of Victorian Gothic buildings on the Eastern side of the Oval Maidan while the Art-Deco buildings are located on the Western side of the Oval Maidan. The site was added in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites most recently in the year 2018. Tourists visiting the Mumbai city can easily reach the site as it is about 22 km from the main parts of the city.