April 18 is celebrated as World Heritage Day. Take time to value the importance of tradition and remember that these rich gifts of the past are our legacy.

Heritage.

You’ve heard the word very often, haven’t you? People use it a lot, when they’re talking about history and culture. Sometimes, nature leaves us gifts. At others, it happens to be a gift from our ancestors. Men and women, big and small, left behind a great many things from their lives. They serve as lessons to us, stories from long ago, which are all the more interesting, because they really happened. Isn’t that the whole point of history? It is one big, giant story; a marvellous adventure.

So many types

Cultural Heritage can take many forms: buildings, artefacts, songs, stories, scrolls, books, you name it. Naturally, when you’ve got a world teeming with cultures and civilisations dating back to thousands of years, a lot has to be done to record and preserve it. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has been doing a great deal towards protecting world heritage; its list of protected monuments and sites include around 962 properties, forming part of the cultural and natural heritage which the World Heritage Committee considers as having outstanding universal value.

India has around 29 World Heritage Sites listed; some of them are: The Agra Fort, Ajantha Caves, Buddhist Mountains at Sanchi, The Taj Mahal, Fatehpur Sikri, Red Fort Complex, and others. There are a few natural heritage sites as well, such as the Kaziranga National Park, and Manas Wildlife Sanctuary.

We celebrate April 18 as World Heritage Day; a day when we’re supposed to remember the rich gifts and lessons we were given, from the past. You must have been to numerous historic locations during school excursions, trips from home — what did you feel when you saw them? Inspired? Curious to know who built them, the stories behind them. How to take care of them?

Preservation

Cultural Heritage can be preserved in several ways — obviously, artefacts are stored in museums; songs and stories are recorded and documented; sculptures and inscriptions are painstakingly preserved, of which the ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) obviously does a good deal. Aside from these, there are numerous monuments scattered throughout the country that have to be kept safe. And it’s not always some organisation, like INTACH (Indian National Trust For Art and Cultural Heritage) that has to keep doing it; the biggest responsibility lies with us, the people. We stand now on the shoulders of giants. Of those who accomplished great things. And so, it’s up to us, to do what we can. It’s not easy, but every little bit helps.

Even if it means picking up rubbish. Not leaving around plastic and cups around preserved monuments. Not having snacks around boulders with incredible sculptures, and leaving coke cups for crows to pick on.

The best way to do this, is to know where we come from; who we are.

Did you know?

That a global traveller called Els Slots, has made it her mission to visit all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites? She’s one of the authors of the successful book, Hoe word ik wereldreiziger? (How do I become a global Traveller?)

Some sites to visit:

List of World Heritage Sites in India: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list

Conservation and Preservation of Heritage Site: http://asi.nic.in/asi_cons_prev.asp

INTACH website: http://www.intach.org/

Interesting facts:

The UNESCO has several conditions, for a site to be classified as a World Heritage Site. The site has to:

Represent a masterpiece of human creative genius.

Exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design.

Bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilisation which is living or which has disappeared.