Of the 38 world heritage sites listed by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) across India, Karnataka boasts of six -- the monuments at Hampi; Pattadakal; Western Ghats; Hoysala temples of Belur-Halebid; Srirangapatna; and forts and monuments of Deccan Sultanate in Bidar, Vijayapura and Kalaburagi.
Sadly, although Karnataka hosts hundreds of heritage structures, poor maintenance, apathetic attitude and a sheer lack of political will affect their maintenance, preservation and conservation. State capital Bengaluru leads the dubious charge on this front, mirrored in other parts of the state.
Historian Suresh Moona says in 1986, Prof KN Iyengar, archaeology professor who started Karnataka Heritage Society, identified over 800 heritage structures in Bengaluru. Today, just 49 appear on the list of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), which enjoys consultative status with UNESCO.
The IT-related real estate boom in Bengaluru has been blamed, notes Moona, who recorded many of these structures. The Bangalore Urban Arts Commission (BUAC), constituted in 1976, published a book based on Prof Iyengar’s report, recording every detail of the heritage structures. In its heyday, BUAC’s No-Objection Certificate was needed to construct structures, and the commission acted as a controlling authority in keeping heritage buildings intact. That did not bode well for the state government.
In 2000, when SM Krishna was chief minister (1999-2004), it was proposed to construct Vikasa Soudha next to Vidhana Soudha, by demolishing the heritage Government Press. BUAC had proposed that Government Press be converted into a museum, and protested its planned demolition. In 2001, the state government scrapped BUAC, demolished Government Press and built Vikasa Soudha. In 1982, a proposal to demolish the heritage Attara Kacheri (Karnataka High Court building) was stalled, thanks to the High Court ordering construction of an annexe building to keep the structure intact.
Moona says Bengaluru needs a heritage council on the lines of the London Heritage Council, to preserve and maintain such structures. Far from setting up such a council, even a heritage committee prescribed by Central government rules, remains inactive. The Bengaluru Heritage Committee has only government officials as members, and is yet to appoint non-government officials and experts. The BDA Act mandates a heritage policy, which too remains on paper.
An Archaeology department official says INTACH’s list of 49 heritage buildings has been before the state government for a year. The government is taking advantage of those not listed as heritage in government records. Balabrooie (also in the INTACH list) is an example which was saved through the High Court’s intervention, but Kumara Krupa Guesthouse is managed by Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation as a hotel. “Taking advantage of the delay, Cubbon Park is being redone as a ‘Disney Land’ under the Smart City Mission,” the official points out.
Meanwhile, officials from Bengaluru Urban DC office, Bangalore Development Authority and Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike unanimously state: “Heritage is last on the priority list of Bengaluru. There are many more pressing issues, like building collapses, fires and encroachments.”
Woes Of Mysuru
Mysuru boasts of over 200 heritage structures dotting the city, including six palaces, which attract lakhs of tourists through the year. While the city has earned the sobriquet of ‘Heritage City’, several buildings continue to be in a dilapidated state due to negligence of the authorities. For instance, nine years after a part of the heritage Lansdowne Building collapsed, killing four people, the fate of this prominent landmark – which is on the verge of complete collapse – remains uncertain. While the state government announced its demolition and rebuilding, experts want it to be fortified and renovated, delaying a decision. Just two days ago, CM Basavaraj Bommai said the government is committed to rebuilding Lansdowne Building and Devaraja Market. Similarly, in 2019, the front portion of the over century-old Fire Brigade structure collapsed, but the authorities have still not taken up restoration.
Belagavi cries for attention
Belagavi district has more than 36 heritage structures of national importance, and hundreds of historically important sites. Temple ruins, palaces, forts such as the historical Belagavi Fort – where at least 10 rulers including Rattas, Vijayanagara, Adilshahi, Marathas, Mughals, Peshwas and British ruled – are crying for attention.
The walls of the fort are in a dilapidated condition. The Fort stands in Belagavi Cantonment Board limits, with the Mahar Regiment battalion office located inside. The ancient Kamal Basadi built in the 12th century and Safa Masjid are also situated inside the Fort. Initially, Belagavi Smart City Ltd chalked out a plan to restore Belagavi Fort and its moat to turn it into a tourist destination. But due to non-cooperation of the Defence Ministry and lack of political will, the project is yet to take off. The government made a budgetary allocation of Rs 1 crore to restore the fort.
Historian Professor Smita Surebankar says, “We cannot always expect the government to take up restoration and maintenance. There is a need for public-private partnership, like the restoration of Somnath Temple in Laxmeshwar by Infosys Foundation. Panchayats also have the responsibility. Moreover, awareness of heritage has to be created among students.”
Madikeri in pitiable state
Madikeri Fort and Nalaknad Palace, built during the 17th century, are the main heritage sites in Kodagu district, which narrate tales of its rulers. However, both sites lack maintenance and remain in a pitiable condition. In 2017, Virupakshaiah, a resident of Somwarpet, approached the High Court with a PIL, requesting preservation of Madikeri Fort, which has hosted district administration offices since 1924.
The offices were ordered to be moved out, but the fort suffered irreversible damage and was handed over to ASI for restoration, with a sanction of Rs 8.20 crore. But work is not going on, as the case is in High Court. Nalaknad Palace in Napoklu, the hideout of kings, was damaged during a film shoot years ago. This site also suffered damage due to heavy rain in the past three years. The entrance arch collapsed and no restoration work has been taken up.
Udupi: ancient sites neglected
In Udupi district, many archaeological sites are not protected by ASI, with the exception of Chathurmukha Basadi in Karkala and Katthale Basadi in Barkur, near Brahmavar. Prof T Murugeshi, Associate Professor, Department of Ancient History and Archaeology, MSRS College, Shirva, says three rock art sites in Gavali near Brahmavar, Avalakkipade near Byndoor, and Buddhana Jeddu, Byndoor, are unprotected sites, but the ASI should categorise them as ‘protected sites’.
The engravings found in Avalakki Pade, in Udupi, seem to depict a hunting scene. But experts say the age of the rock art is not determined and could date back to 10,000BC, the middle of the Stone Age in India. “Pandavara Kallu, a megalithic site in Bantwal taluk, needs immediate attention as many burial sites are damaged due to encroachment. Konaje Kallu, a huge megalithic dolmen site at Moodbidri, is also crying for attention. Many ancient temples are being renovated but have lost their authenticity. There should be awareness programmes for the youth on heritage,” says Prof Murugeshi.
In Hassan, the ASI and Muzrai department have neglected structures, citing a fund crunch. The authorities ignored proposals by the temple committee, demanding basic amenities for tourists. Hassan is known for monuments of the Hoysala dynasty, like Channakeshava temple in Belur, Hoysaleshwara temple in Halebid, and the 57-ft monolith of Bahubali in Shravanabelagola.
But lack of maintenance and basic amenities have been reported from Lakshminarasimha temple in Doddagaddavalli, Shiva temple in Arsikere town, Lakshmi Janardhana temple in Nuggehalli of Channarayapatna, Varadaraja Swamy and Lakshmidevi temples in Kondajji, Mosalehosahalli and Mudigere in Hassan taluk, Jain temples at Vidyagiri and Chandragiri hills in Shravanabelagola, Jain Basadis, Shantaleshwara temple in Halebid and Manzarabad fort in Sakleshpur. Tourist flow is diminishing because of this. Historian Srivatsa, says most structures are in bad shape and ASI concentrates only on prominent sites attracting tourists.
Inputs from: Ashwini M Sripad & Bosky Khanna /Bengaluru; Karthik KK/ Mysuru; Sunil Patil/Belagavi; Prajna GR/Madikeri; Udaya Kumar BR/Hassan; Prakash Samaga/Udupi and Divya Cutinho/Mangaluru