TODAY -

Preserving Manipur's legacy : The urgent call for UNESCO world heritage sites in Manipur

Dr Maibam Ricky Devi *



Manipur, nestled in the mighty Eastern Himalayas, is an enchanting paradise of scenic beauty and a reverie of rich heritage splendor. This state, known as the "Jewel of India", is home to several historical sites, temples, and natural marvels that reflect its glorious past and unparalleled topography.

Ranging from the seat of Manipur's power, the Kangla Fort, to the only floating sanctuary in the world, Keibul Lamjao National Park, these irreplaceable treasures of paramount significance need to be preserved by us, as the custodians of our ancient civilization.

However, with uncontrolled urbanization, armed conflict and war, and natural disasters, these sites pose a huge threat to vandalism and degradation. Thus, it is high time that Manipur's heritage sites get recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites under the UNESCO World Heritage Convention, 1972. This Convention aims to identify and protect the cultural and natural sites as listed by their State Parties.

Manipur has a total of 63 archaeological sites and historical monuments that are protected by Manipur State Archaeology (MSA) under the Manipur Ancient and Historical Monument and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1976. Most of these heritage sites are located in the international border areas, which have recently fallen victim to vandalism due to the ongoing communal conflicts.

Whenever any hostility is inflicted upon a heritage site, it only adds fuel to the conflict and hatred among the communities, resisting peace and reconciliation to end the war. This is the key reason why we need to seek protection for the heritage sites, regardless of the communities they belong to.

By being listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites will not only ensure their safeguard but will also act as living classrooms, providing tangible and immersive experiences that transcend traditional textbooks and enhance understanding of historical events.

India currently has a total of 42 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, out of which 34 are cultural, 7 are natural, and 1 is mixed (both cultural and natural). However, it is quite disheartening to find that Manipur, despite its abundance of heritage sites, has yet to secure a coveted UNESCO WHS (World Heritage Site) designation. This leads me to question whether the authorities responsible for nominating sites from Manipur are either unaware of their significance or deliberately turning a blind eye.

One site in particular, the Keibul Lamjao Conservation Area (KLCA), holds great promise and has been included on the tentative list of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This nomination was submitted on March 11, 2016, by the Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO. KLCA includes Loktak Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Northeast India, as well as the lush green surroundings of the world's only floating wildlife sanctuary, Keibul Lamjao National Park, and Pumlen Pat.

What makes KLCA a strong contender for WHS is its rare Phumdi ecosystem and being the habitat for the endangered Manipuri brow-antlered deer, Sangai. Hence, it is highly likely that it needs protection so that our future generations can witness it too.

However, I am left pondering why only one site from Manipur has been put forth for consideration on the tentative list, while other regions such as Assam, Varanasi, Delhi have managed to nominate two sites each.

This raises questions about the selection procedure and the level of importance the Centre shows to Manipur's rich heritage. Addressing this disparity is the need of the hour to ensure that all deserving sites of Manipur are given equal attention to be recognized by UNESCO.

Apart from KCLA, there are many more significant archaeological sites that can be potent candidates for UNESCO WHS. One such archaeological site to be nominated for WHS is the Kangla Fort, the ancient seat of Manipur's Royal Kingdom. The Kangla Fort, which stands tall in the heart of Imphal city, has testified to the bravery and resilience of the Manipuri people over the decades.

It also exhibits the regal architectural styles of Manipur, adorned with intricate carvings and vibrant murals, epitomizing the artistic brilliance and cultural fervor of the people. On February 4th, 2021, esteemed politician Leishemba Sanajaoba proposed the inclusion of Kangla Fort in the UNESCO WHS list to the Centre in Parliament.

However, it is astonishing to learn that such an architectural marvel, which witnessed the rise and fall of more than 70 kings of the same dynasty, is still not considered for the tentative list of UNESCO WHS.

Every time I visit this majestic place, I still get charmed and captivated by its exuding beauty and tranquil surroundings. Its timeless allure will always remind us of the resilience and bravery our forefathers left as a legacy.

So how does the World Heritage Convention protect the UNESCO WHS?

According to Articles 1 and 2, as mentioned in the 1972 World Heritage Convention, if a World Heritage property is under threat, then the Committee can inscribe the place into the List of World Heritage in Danger.

The property can be both cultural and natural, which can pose threats due to ascertained dangers such as serious deterioration of materials, significant loss of historical authenticity, important loss of cultural significance, etc., or potential dangers such as outbreak or threat of armed conflict, threatening impacts of climatic, geological, or other environmental factors, etc. This allows the international community to take immediate actions to save the endangered sites.

The World Heritage Committee also consults with the concerned State Parties (countries that are adhered to the World Heritage Convention) to alert them about the situation and make efforts for restoration. For example, in 2003, Bamiyan Valley in Afghanistan was inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger due to continuous threats from military action and dynamite explosions.

Its safeguard was enhanced later by UNESCO at the request of the Afghan Government. The Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two Protocols (1954 and 1999) were also adopted by UNESCO in order to preserve the rich heritage from the ravages of turmoil.

Thus, the inclusion of Manipur's heritage sites as UNESCO World Heritage will not only ensure their protection but will also boost sustainable tourism with increased global visibility, foster cultural exchange, encourage research, and attract investments in infrastructure and services. This, in turn, can generate job opportunities and spur economic growth in the state.

In conclusion, Manipur, with its irresistible cultural vibrancy and grandeur, truly makes it a priceless jewel in the crown of Northeast India, and it is our duty to treasure it at all costs.


* Dr Maibam Ricky Devi wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is a multiple-times award-winning blog writer and is an active researcher in High Energy Physics
This article was webcasted on January 03 2024.



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