Why Is There Still No Heritage City Status For Agra?
By BRIJ KHANDELWAL
AGRA, (IANS) – Several years after the local bodies submitted detailed status reports to the Supreme Court, the demand for heritage city status still eludes Agra.
-The city engaged the Delhi School of Architecture and Town Planning to prepare the report called ‘Vision Document’ for the Taj city, in 2018.
-The Uttar Pradesh Tourism Department supported the demand for declaring Agra a heritage city.
-Green activists and conservationists have been demanding that the union government approach UNESCO to secure World Heritage City status for Agra.
Local Heritage Conservation Society activist Mukta Gupta said, “Agra is unique not just architecturally but for its culture, for its history, cuisine, and its lifestyle. Mandarins in the Agra Development Authority and a caucus of so-called builders want to destroy the past by snapping the umbilical cords that connect Agra to a glorious past.”
Medieval historians have described Agra as a cosmopolitan city, bigger than London and Paris at the time. “Agra soaks in history. Home to the Taj Mahal, two other UNESCO World Heritage sites — the Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri — every nook and corner tells a story of its splendid past,” conservationist Rajiv Saxena pointed out.
“A city so rich in culture and architecture, where every street has a historical building, needs to be recognized as a heritage city and the Union ministry should draw up plans to remove encroachments around tourist sites,” says River Connect Campaign activist Rajiv Gupta. The chief reason why tourism has not become “everybody’s business” in Agra and has not directly substantially benefited the locals is the lack of heritage consciousness, he added. Even today, the city retains its original name, and the functions of various places remain largely the same.
“We have to begin by demarcating the areas as Mughal Agra, British Agra and the Agra Development Authority’s Agra. Only then can one go ahead with conserving the real heritage of the city of the Taj Mahal,” local writer Dr N.R. Smith suggests.
The city hasn’t changed much if one considers the 1,723 ‘ghazals’ written by Lakshmi Chandra, who describes in great detail the roads and the localities of Agra — from Agra Fort to Charsu Darwaza and beyond to Lashkarpur — which was then the tenting ground for the Mughal army. Were emperor Akbar to rise from his grave in Sikandra someday, he would have no difficulty reaching Agra Fort without asking for directions. “The road plans have not changed, the landmarks are all there,” says social activist Rajan Kishore.
Every time someone makes a demand to make Agra a heritage city, interest groups and lobbies start opposing the move.
Apart from the Mughal monuments, Agra with Mathura and Firozabad districts forms the unique religious-cultural entity called the Braj Mandal, the leela-bhoomi of Sri Krishna Radha, who continues to be worshipped by millions of devotees around the world. The Chambal ravines close by and the Bateshwar ghats with 101 Shiva temples in a row along the Yamuna riverbank, as also the Jain shrine at Sheoripur are part of the living heritage. Agra is also the headquarters of the Radhasoami faith and the mausoleum to the founder of the sect now ready after 107 years of continuous construction activity, is looked at as a rival to the Taj Mahal.
The bustling oriental bazaars of Kinari Bazar, Seo ka Bazar, Rawat Para, and the beautifully sculptured havelis, the four ancient Shiva temples at the four corners of the city, the Christian cemeteries and churches, the remnants of the Armenians, not to speak of the four principal industries that are centuries old: the petha making units, the iron foundries, the glassware industries, and the leather shoe industry, all collectively constitute Agra’s rich heritage, which for want of promotional efforts continues to remain neglected.
Stones alone do not make heritage. Literature, folklore, traditions, and festivities are all part of the glorious Agra heritage. “The Agra Gharana, the exquisite inlay work, the handicrafts, the carpet weaving, the Zardozi, the poetry of Surdas, the Renuka Dham of Parshuram, the Guru ka Taal gurudwara, the oldest convent school in Asia, of the Congregation of Jesus and Mary established in 1842, the oldest mental hospital, one can go on making a list of so many firsts, and yet we are questioned about our heritage,” laments conservationist Devashish Bhattacharya.