Sacred Sites  

wednesday 25th february at Hall No 3 Siri Fort Auditorium 10.00 am - 12.30 pm





 Protecting and Managing Living Sacred Landscapes - Issues and Challenges-   Rohit Jigyasu

The presentation would draw upon several examples to illustrate the challenges in protecting and managing living sacred landscapes. These would specifically include cultural landscape of Majuli island in Assam; an important centre of the Vaishnavite movement and Hampi World Heritage Site in Karnataka, for its mythological significance related to Kishkindha Chapter of Ramayana. The concepts of authenticity, integrity and sustainability and disaster risk management would be investigated in the context of Asian religious philosophies of Hinduism and Buddhism. The need for redefining conservation approach would be emphasised in the light of these philosophies and the contemporary social, economic and administrative realities. 

Rohit Jigyasu is a conservation architect and risk management consultant from India, currently working as invited professor at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan. He did his post-graduate degree in Architectural Conservation from the School of Planning and Architecture in Delhi, and his doctoral degree in Engineering from Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway. His Doctoral thesis was titled “Reducing Disaster Vulnerability through Local Knowledge and Capacity- the Case of Earthquake Prone Rural Communities in India and Nepal”. 

In addition to teaching at academic institutions  around the world he is a consultant with Archaeological Survey of India, National Institute of Disaster Management, UNESCO, ICCROM and the Getty Conservation Institute for conducting research and training on Cultural Heritage Risk Management. He also brings with him the practical experience of working in the world heritage sites of Khajuraho, Hampi, Konarak and Ajanta & Ellora. He has contributed to various conferences and has several publications to his credit.



 Intersecting Trajectories: The Sacred Site of Our Lady of Fatima- Karla Britton 

This paper proposes to examine the enigmatic site of Fatima, Portugal as a contemporary sacred space where there is an intense interaction between architecture, religious practices, and socio-political and cultural developments. Fatima is the site of one of the most singular religious events of the twenty century: the tradition is that in 1917 the Mother of God appeared to three young children who were shepherds in the mountainous hills of the Serra de Aire, 80 kilometers north of Lisbon. Against the political backdrop of World War I, the Bolshevik revolution and Portuguese nationalism, the six apparitions of Mary brought to three children a message of peace, love, and hope. While Fatima’s place name goes back to the site’s Moorish origins and the daughter of Muhammad, since the apparition, the site has grown today to become a place of Christian pilgrimage and prayer drawing more than six million people per year. Its esplanade, twice the size of Saint Peter’s in Rome, can hold as many as one million persons. Pope John Paul II’s devotion to Our Lady of Fatima for saving him from an assassin’s bullet greatly expanded the site’s familiarity to Roman Catholics around the world. 

As a result, a new sanctuary was constructed in 2007 designed by Alexander Tombazis, The Church of the Most Holy Trinity, to accommodate the increasing crowds of pilgrims. Concepts in the design of contemporary sacred architecture and the manner in which literature and film has addressed its history are examined (especially the 1952 film Our Lady of Fatima, and the work of José Saramago, the mémoire of Sister Lucia, and the recent suspense novel by Steve Berry). 

Karla Britton teaches the history of architecture and urbanism at the School of Architecture at Yale University. Before coming to Yale in the fall of 2003, she was Adjunct Associate Professor of Architecture at Columbia University and Director of its architecture program in Paris. She received her PhD in Architecture History and Theory from Harvard University and her MA in Comparative Literature from Columbia University. She has written on the history of the Modern Movement in Architecture, including the monograph Auguste Perret (2001).  With Dean Sakamoto, she edited Hawaiian Modern: the Architecture of Vladimir Ossipoff (2007). She is editor of Constructing the Ineffable: Contemporary Sacred Architecture and the author of Modern Urbanism, both to be published next year.



Varanasi, the Holy and Heritage City of India: Sacred  Geometry, Sacred Art and Sacred Landscape -  Rana P.B. Singh

Varanasi (Banaras/ Kashi) represents the mosaic of Indian culture with its diversity and  distinctiveness of the regional cultures through an unique process of spatial manifestation in the passage of time, unified with the power of sacrality. People from all parts of India, speaking different languages and dialects and carrying their own traits, taboos and traditions have settled in this city, ultimately accepting Vishvanatha Shiva as their main deity. In Banaras alone, there are over 3300 Hindu shrines and temples, 1428 Muslim shrines and mosques, 12 churches, 3 Jain temples, 9 Buddhist temples, 3 Sikh Gurudwaras and several other sacred sites and places. It is said ‘by seeing Varanasi, one can see as much of life as the whole India can show’; but it is not easy to comprehend for those who stand outside the Hindu tradition. The city has possessed a strong force of spiritual magnetism, the special power that always enhances the sensitivity to the “crossings” from this mundane world to the transpersonal world beyond, where humanity meets divinity. It is not a surprise why the city has found its place in all the great Indian epics, Puranas and other ancient Hindu and Buddhist literature.

The frame of the cosmic reality, according to ancient Hindu thought, consists of the three fundamental states called evolution (shrishti), existence (sthiti), and involution (samhara) that act in a cyclic process of infinity.

The sequences in the ritual cycles, the sacrality of time and the holy spots chosen for rituals are codified in mythology and tradition on the scale of cultural astronomy. The study of sacred environment of Kashi reveals that each can be considered to be a "mesocosm" that geometrically links the celestial realm of macrocosm with human realms of text, tradition, and ritual.

Prof. Rana P. B. Singh is Professor of Cultural Geography & Heritage Studies, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi. He specializes in Cultural & Historical Geography; Pilgrimage Studies, Heritage & Ecotourism; Cultural codes, Astronomy & Architectural symbolism; Environmental ethics, Humanism; Rural Land use & Settlements. He has been the Japan Foundation Fellow in Geography, Okayama University, Visiting Professor, Geogr. & Environ. System, Virginia Tech USA, Visiting Professor:  Karlstad University (Sweden). His main academic contributions have been in the field of Spatio-temporal Dimensional theory of Diffusion. Space Articulation theory in Indian villages. Literary images & Spirit of Place. Ritual Mandala & Sacrality of Space and Time. Pilgrimage Mandala, Sacred Geography & Cosmic Order of Holy Places. Geomancy & Cultural symbolism in Hinduism. Concepts of Sacredscape and Faithscape and Pilgrimage systems. He is a life-member: Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, National Geographical Society of India and is the Executive Editor of the National Geographical Journal of India. He was awarded the “International Peace Prize” by American Biographical Institute 2003 and the “American Medal of Honour”, 2003. He also has been included as an “Outstanding Man of the 20th Century” - 1999. by the International Biogr. Inst., Cambridge.


 Mapping Sacred Spaces Cultural mapping of the Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti  -   Ratish Nanda/Tara Sharma

Hazrat Nizamuddin basti is one of Delhi’s oldest areas which has evolved around the 14th century dargah of the great Sufi saint, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. The dargah is synonymous with the Sufi philosophy espoused by the saint that embraces people of all religions and all walks of life. It was due to the presence of the saint’s khankah and his dargah that the area around developed as a major necropolis where both rulers and commoners chose to be buried. The area showcases some of the most outstanding Islamic architectural heritage in India ranging from the tomb of the second Mughal emperor Humayun to the more modest grave of the Mughal princess Jahanara located within the precinct of the dargah.

To understand the cultural significance of this area, a mapping of the precinct is being carried out by a team of young  people from the basti. The mapping includes the listing of all built structures located within the basti and the surrounding areas as well as a documentation of the basti’s intangible heritage as seen in the Urs and other festivals. One of the principal aims of this programme is to develop linkages between the youth and the heritage of their neighbourhood which for many reasons does not presently exist. Based on the mapping a series of programmes will be launched to highlight the great Sufi tradition of the basti.

Ratish Nanda is the Project Director of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture urban renewal programme at the Humayun's Tomb-Sundar Nursery-Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti. Ratish is a Conservation Architect and has spearheaded the restoration of the Humayun's Tomb gardens and the restoration of the Bagh i Babur in Kabul. Ratish is a recepient of the Sanskriti Award.

Tara Sharma is a heritage manager and has been working with communities in the conservation of the their heritage. She has worked extensively in Ladakh and is presently working with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in the urban renewal programme being carried out in Humayun's Tomb - Sundar Nursery- Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti. Tara is developing the cultural mapping programme in the basti with the young people of the area.


 Sacred Spaces in Indian Urbanism - AGK Menon

However much our society venerates sacred spaces in spiritual terms, the grim reality of Indian cities is that these spaces are the most neglected and abused parts of cities in terms of civic governance. As an urban conservationist I have studied the significance of several sacred spaces in cities like, Varanasi, Ujjain and Old Bhubaneswar. The objective of these studies were to use the sacred spaces as catalytic agents to revitalize the civic environment in those cities. The logic underpinning these projects was that these spaces once defined the character and identity of Indian urbanism but today the believer is indifferent to its intrinsic spatial value and the professional town planners and administrators are unable to understand its contemporary relevance. This debilitating fact needed to be contested ifwe hoped to improve the quality of life in our cities.

In theoretical terms one could also argue that the indigenous urbanism as it is manifested in sacred spaces offers an opportunity to consciously articulate the concepts of multiple modernities that are engaging cultural theorists globally. Thus the typology and morphology of sacred spaces could be considered and used as the building blocks for the secular city.

However, the potential to develop sacred spaces as models for the emerging modern city has not been exploited so far. The double tragedy of Indian urbanism is that both, those who plan cities and the citizens, for whom the cities are planned, are complicit in the destruction of sacred spaces. The results can be seen as unlivable cities with culturally hostile urban environments. To understand this failure, one needs to examine, and thereafter, respond to the origins of town planning in India.
First, we need to understand the consequences of the imperial legacy in town planning. This legacy created the discipline of modern town planning in India. Its origins decisively shifted the focus of town planners from dealing with indigenous town planning traditions to the practice of adopting, wholesale, town planning ideas and models which were developed in England, in response to the deteriorating environmental conditions of its industrializing cities at the end of the nineteenth century. It is hardly surprising that the needs of sustaining sacred spaces of Indian cities did not fit into this English perspective of town planning. Consequently sacred spaces have borne the brunt of the shift in the gaze of the town planner.

Second, because of the intellectual hiatus imposed on the practice of indigenous traditions of town planning by the introduction of ‘modern’ town planning, Indian town planners need to pick up the threads and re-engage with the significance of sacred spaces in Indian cities. For this they need to purposefully examine indigenous town planning traditions, not only to understand its structural logic and functional dynamics, but also to translate such understanding into effective town planning strategies. Can we revive indigenous town planning traditions and make them become models for contemporary town planning? If such a shift were to take place, then it would begin to mitigate the consequences of the imperial legacy and help formulate new kinds of solutions to deal with local urban problems. It would also offer a compelling alternative to the town planners intellectual reliance on adopting foreign town practices.

Third, in the light of the above two points, there is need to restructure town planning education. Inter alia there is also need to reformulate the tools of town planning. The mind of the town planner in India is moulded in the class rooms where they are taught to valorize Ebenezer Howards’ Garden City Movement, for example, and not the logic underpinning the evolution of the bye-lanes of Shahjahanabad. Such shifts in focus in the class rooms can certainly highlight the value of sacred spaces and their continued relevance in determining the quality of life in contemporary cities.

Sacred spaces are more than religious spaces: they are civilizational markers. Perhaps they could be considered generic spatial characteristics of pre-industrial cities mediated in different regions by local cultures, but the challenge they offer contemporary town planning in India is the opportunity to accommodate these characteristics as functioning precincts in the secular modern city.


 Natural and Spatial Archetypes in Sacred Landscapes of Hinduism and Buddhism -
Amita Sinha

Abstract: Sacred landscapes are a significant part of the natural heritage of the Indian subcontinent. In my presentation I show natural and spatial archetypes to be the building blocks of Indic landscapes that are shaped by a transcendental view of nature. Nature is shaped into landscapes through mimesis while self-similarity underlies their evolution. This conceptual framework provides an understanding of how such landscapes come to be and the ways in which human communities sustain them. It can guide a self-sustaining conservation approach rooted in tradition.






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