10.05.2012 - ODG

Paharpur: A village celebrates its world heritage with the Director-General

© UNESCO/Cynthia Guttman - Student dancers who performed for the Director-General upon her arrival in Paharpur, and with Member of Parliament Dr Akram Chowdhury (left of the Director-General), local officials and experts.

As the helicopter descended over a mesmerizing patchwork of rice paddies, ponds and villages stretching as far as the eye can travel, the people of Paharpur gathered on 10 May to welcome the first Director-General ever to visit their world heritage site, greeting her with dances, flowers and singing.

It is here, some 300 kilometers north of the Bangladeshi capital, that in the 6th century, the Pala Emperor Dharmapala built what is the second largest monastery south of the Himalayas.

The Director-General toured the colossal cruciform temple, decorated at its base with terracotta plaques featuring divinities and metaphorical nature motifs. In an adjacent site museum, she viewed stone sculptures, plaques, copper coins and other artifacts bearing witness to a once renown centre of Buddhist religion and study. Excavation began in 1789 and has continued with interruptions to this date.

An international safeguarding campaign began in 1985, the year the site joined the World Heritage List, and ran until 2001. “This is the most spectacular monument in Bangladesh,” said Safiqul Islam, Director General of the Department of Archaeology. “Today, we face problems of drainage and salinity. We need to increase our level of scientific expertise to better manage and protect the site,” he said, calling for UNESCO’s reinforced support.

Due to lack of basic infrastructures, few visitors have a chance to visit the site. Nevertheless, "the citizens of Paharpur feel a strong sense of community and know the site is a big asset,” affirmed Dr Akram Chowdhury, Member of Parliament for the area.

"This is the first time a UNESCO chief visits Paharpur and we hope that it will encourage better management of cultural heritage sites,” said Mr Islam.

Mrs Bokova praised local leaders for their commitment to world heritage. “This site has value for all humanity and we will assist you to ensure its sustainable protection.”

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