20.06.2013 -

Capacity building in the management of Cultural Heritage Sites and World Heritage properties in Bangladesh

©Department of Archaeology / World Heritage Site of Paharpur in Bangladesh

Bangladesh cultural heritage is very rich. UNESCO Dhaka is working to safeguard this heritage sites since its establishment from 1996 in Bangladesh. Among all other activities, UNESCO has a special mandate in the field of culture to safeguard the heritage sites in Bangladesh.

At present there are two cultural (Paharpur, Bagerhat) and one natural heritage (Sundarbans) in Bangladesh. UNESCO is working to enable full protection and management of these cultural heritages including World Heritage Sites. These sites are currently under threat due to lack of people awareness, trained staff and above all absence of a national policy. This can become a threat for the future preservation and development of culture. To address this issue urgently UNESCO Dhaka in collaboration with World Heritage Centre and Department of Archaeology under Ministry of Cultural affairs implemented the project entitled “Training and capacity building for Long-term Management and Best Practice Conservation for the preservation of Cultural Heritage Sites and World Heritage Properties in Bangladesh”. The objective of this project to improve the capacity of Department of Archaeology and other related professionals for the holistic value based management of cultural heritage.

Although the study majorly focused on the management issues of Paharpur World heritage Site however, the general recommendations made for the overall management of the cultural heritage sites of Bangladesh.

Paharpur Vihara or Monastery in its ruined state is situated close to the village of Paharpur in the Upazila or Sub-District of Badalgachi in the district of Naogaon in the north-west of Bangladesh.

Paharpur Vihara fulfills the following inscription criteria to be declared as World Heritage in 1985:

Criterion (i) This monastery represents a unique artistic achievement. The symmetrical layout and massively built single unit of the monastery was perfectly adapted to its religious function. Its simple, harmonious lines and its profusion of carved decoration, in stone and terracotta, are important artistic masterpieces.

Criterion (ii) The striking architectural form introduced at Paharpur on a grand scale for the first time in Asia, profoundly influenced the subsequent construction of temples of Bagan in Myanmar and Loro-Jangrang and Chandi Sewu temples in central Java. It also continued to influence Buddhist architecture as far away as Cambodia. The craftsmanship of Paharpur terracotta still endures since the 8th century AD. in the whole of deltaic lands around.  

Criterion (iii) Somapura Mahavihara, the Great Monastery evidences the rise of Mahajana Buddhism in Bengal from the 7th century onwards. It became a renowned centre of Buddhist religion and culture during the royal Patronage of Pala Dynasty and was a renowned intellectual centre until the 17th century.

The whole complex, perimeter along with lofty central shrine, lies within an area protected by an office of the custodian under the overall supervision of regional Director guided by the Director General of the Department of Archaeology. The major issues that require immediate attention are spatial planning, conservation of the brick and management of the site. Unless these are quickly addressed the Paharpur Heritage Site might be seriously threatened in the near future and it will fail to utilize its historical and economic potentialities.

The surrounding area of Paharpur Vihara is growing up in an unplanned manner creating both physical and aesthetic problems. In order to preserve the sublimity and to prevent any future unwanted encroachment of the site, land acquisition is needed for buffer zone. Examining the present site situation and the surrounding areas it is proposed that the north entry to the Monastry should be turned into main entry and a few more access road should be built.

The most significant and predominant causes for the brick conservation is are identified as erosion of the brick, salinity in the monument, water logging and inadequate capacity of drainage system, conservation of original terracotta plaque and factors related to general maintenance and management. A modern conservation laboratory is needed to ensure proper conservation of brick structure.

Public is one of the main forces to save any heritage. In the developing countries like Bangladesh, where fund is inadequate, public can play significant role in the protection of archaeological site. The Paharpur World Heritage Site is frequently visited by different groups of people all the year around and the number of visitors is increasing every year. It has been found that visitors including local people know very little about the world heritage site. Police, Ansar (semi-police body) and Village Police in and around PWHS also have no clear concept on the heritage due to lack of training and awareness about the Antiquity act 1968.

The Department of Archaeology preserves all antiquities, sites, monuments through two legislation namely Antiquity act of 1968 and conservation manual of 1923 which are too old in the context of 21st century. So this acts needs to be improved to look forward for a national policy ensuring the community ownership following the implementation of World Heritage Convention 1972.

In conclusion, it can be expected if the community involvement and awareness can be raised, it would be very helpful for sustainable management of the cultural heritage of Bangladesh. 

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