India ranks sixth on the list of the largest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world. Travel + Leisure India & South Asia’s contributor captures a few, including the recently-added Kakatiya Rudreshwara Temple to give an insight into the country’s architectural splendour. By Ajay Sood
On one hand, tectonic movement has endowed India with bountiful nature. On the other, there are landmarks left by the many visitors who made the country a temporary home. UNESCO has taken both of these into account and inscribed many of India’s nature reserves and historical sites. I had the good fortune of visiting a few of these sites and found in them awe-inspiring architecture, craftsmanship, town planning prowess, structural innovation, and in-depth understanding of special disciplines like astronomy.
Architecture of UNESCO Heritage Sites Of India
From the Victorian Gothic Revival style of architecture at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus or Victoria Terminus (UNESCO 2004) to the Nagara style architectural symbolism in the 1000-year-old Khajuraho group of temples (UNESCO 1986), I was wowed by every structure that came my way.
A pure Dravidian imprint is visible at the 1400-year-old Mahabalipuram group of monuments (UNESCO 1984); Sun Temple at Konark (UNESCO 1984), on the other hand displays Kalinga architecture, and the Taj Mahal (UNESCO 1983) and Humayun’s Tomb (UNESCO 1993) are outstanding examples of Mughal architecture.
On my jaunt to Hampi (UNESCO 1986), I came across a fusion of styles—Vijayanagara architecture is blended with elements from the Indo-Islamic style. Not only that, but these ruins also highlight the sterling town planning of that era.
But the site that recently caught my eye is the 2021 entrant to the UNESCO list, Kakatiya Rudreshwara (Ramappa) Temple near Warangal.
It uses the Vesara style that mixes a star-shaped Hoysala floor plan, like that of Kesava Temple in Belur with a North Indian Nagara shikhara (the spire above the structure).
This style is a repeating theme in many temples of the region between Vindhyas and Krishna River.
While the above sites showcase excellence in sculpting and stone carving, Ajanta Caves (UNESCO 1983) deserve special mention. This horseshoe-shaped cluster of 30 Buddhist caves is adorned with outstanding paintings and rock-cut sculptures. Two dynasties contributed to its creation over two phases (2nd century BCE—7th century CE). Then, we had a maverick Rajput king – Sawai Jai Singh II. His obsession with fine-tuning zij (Islamic astronomical tables) had him create five astronomical observation sites or Jantar Mantars in the early 18th century. Because of the changing political climate, Jaipur replaced Delhi Jantar Mantar as his primary observatory. He employed 23 astronomers during its peak construction phase. It is hardly any surprise then that UNESCO inscribed the structure on its World Heritage Site in 2010.
During the colonial era, the British built the Mountain Railways in India (UNESCO 1999). The motivation was easy access to their summer capital, Shimla. So, while the work on Kalka-Shimla Railway started earlier, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was completed first in 1881. The Kalka-Shimla came next in 1903, and the Nilgiris Railway followed in 1908. Being narrow gauge railways, these are fondly called toy trains. On steep climbs, their pace is so leisurely it gave me an opportunity to hang outside the compartment and shoot. The next time you visit any UNESCO site in India, spare a moment to admire its architectural style and a thought for its creator.