Tourists at the Vijaya Vittala Temple (File photo)
Tourists at the Vijaya Vittala Temple (File photo)

Blame falls on us for damaging heritage sites

The Monday fire is the third in recent incidents threatening monuments and heritage structures in Hampi alone.

A massive blaze on the premises of the famous Vijaya Vittala Temple at the UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Site of Hampi in Karnataka on Monday has raised concerns about the safety and security of heritage monuments and structures. While locals have blamed some tourists for the fire, Hampi World Heritage Area Management Authority (HWHAMA) officials have blamed it on dry weather and summer heat. Whether it was due to natural or anthropogenic (human action or inaction) causes, the vulnerability of heritage sites to damage or desecration remains an issue that urgently needs to be addressed.

The Monday fire is the third in recent incidents threatening monuments and heritage structures in Hampi alone. In October last year, a massive gas cylinder blast occurred next to the famous Virupaksha Temple. In March this year, a youth was found dancing atop a monument at Hemakuta Hill Temple Complex. The heritage site was also in the news in September 2019 when a tourist from Bengaluru toppled two stone pillars at the same Vijaya Vittala Temple. Even the world-famous heritage structure Gol Gumbaz in Vijayapura, Karnataka, built in 1656—often called ‘The Taj Mahal of the South’—suffered damages several times due to natural and man-made causes. Its famous Whispering Gallery needed repair and restoration to resume attracting tourists. Even Agra’s Taj Mahal, known as the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’, had to be repaired owing to damaged structures and severe staining of its dome due to air pollution.

India has 40 world heritage sites—seven natural world heritage sites, 32 cultural world heritage sites, and one mixed world heritage site. The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958, and the Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972, provide for the protection of the country’s heritage. But legislation needs to be translated into effectively preventing damage to these structures.

While that should come through government initiatives, citizens must understand the importance of protecting and maintaining these sites and structures. It is not just the revenues they bring by attracting tourists. They are also witness to India’s diverse cultural and socio-religious historical mix. While we hold a grudge against invaders from centuries ago for destroying structures that could have qualified for the heritage tag, who can we blame for our faults and negligence today?

The New Indian Express