“Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today and pass on to the future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration, our touchstone, our reference, our identity” – These beautiful lines from the United Nations, Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) website capture the essence of heritage and the reason why it is cherished the world over.
While one’s heritage adds to the feeling of belongingness bringing to the fore territorial loyalties, there are undoubtedly some contributions that belong to all of mankind. Located in a unique geographical terrain endowed with natural beauty, cultural diversity, a rich legacy of art and unique monuments that rightfully deserve to be on the list of “World Heritage Sites”, the state of Telangana has been crying for recognition decades prior to its separate State status.
Historians, academics, activists and intellectuals believe that empty rhetoric serves no purpose and a clear intent to preserve our rich legacy endangered by indifference and lack of priority are yet to come forth from those at the helm. Insensitivity to inscriptions, monuments and structures that cannot be replicated in their original grandeur are certainly cause for worry according to noted historian Dr Jeetendra Babu, who points out that the great sculptures at Nagarjunakonda have remained intact because of the initiative of a local teacher Gurram Malliah when the Nagarjunasagar Project was underway.
“But for the meticulous records and drawings of the sculptures and Buddhist monuments maintained by Malliah, who regularly visited the excavation sites many invaluable works may have been washed down the Krishna River. When attempts were made to shift some of the sculptures to Madras, he staged a protest on the railway tracks leading to ‘Intervention’ by the then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who ensured that the wealth of Nagarjunakonda remained with us. Unfortunately, many of us are not even aware of this,” he laments.
There are evidences of 13 cities around Musi, forts of the Vishnukundin Dynasty, monuments of the Kakatiya times, inscriptions at Podichedu village and historical evidence of Telangana rulers reigning in faraway Burma, which need to be preserved, protected and recorded in our textbooks so that generations in the present and future become aware of our history and legacy he says.
History is not axiomatic, but a study built around interpretation and it is our historical heritage that gives us a distinct identity says Prof. Aloka Parasher Sen from the University of Hyderabad. “Our heritage includes tangible heritage that includes palaces and monuments, an intangible heritage which is about customs and festivals like Bonalu and Bathukamma celebrated by local village folk and rural communities and heritage pertaining to the unique Deccan rocks, lakes and streams and agro-biodiversity according to her. “Why can’t we have Buddhist, Islamist and Shaivite trails as part of our tour package so that our heritage is open to the world? Why is there no “her story” in Telangana “history? Why are the beautiful Phanigiri sculptures in a state of ruin?” she asks.
Heritage sites in the districts of Nizamabad, Mahboobnagar, Karimnagar, Warangal, Nalgonda and places close to the State capital Hyderabad are in a state of dire neglect. The famous Laknavaram Cheruvu, where there were bricks that floated on water, the Nagullapadu temples renowned for exquisite stonework, temples and forts at Keesaragutta and Rachakonda and several unique inscriptions buried under plaster and cement are in danger and need immediate restoration.
With a wealth of coins and information pertaining to Pre-Satavahana times, historian and founder member Deccan Archaeological, Cultural Institute Dr D Raja Reddy feels history should be rewritten including details of relatively unknown rulers like the Asmaka Janapadas, the Nandas and the Mauryas.
“The Deccan Plateau is unique with many beautiful natural formations and constructions that qualify to be on the list of the Archaeological Survey of India, but of the 137 sites in the Telugu States, 129 are in Andhra Pradesh and only eight are in Telangana.
Not a single site has been added to the list in these four years. We have also failed to get the coveted World Heritage status for the Qutub Shahi Tombs and the Golconda Fort both of which are unique structures that deserve world attention,” adds M Veda Kumar Chairman, Deccan Society. Natural heritage, Mud forts and sports Akhadas known for bodybuilders in villages and towns across the State are as much a part of our legacy as historical monuments.”
The Nallamalla forest region which is a hub of ethnomedicine, mud forts in Asifabad and Nirmal and “power villages” of Adilabad known for bio-diesel made from the Jatropha leaf are part of natural heritage that needs to be protected and made popular,” says Swaroopa Shankar from the University of Hyderabad, who has done extensive research in these areas.
The selection of a bridegroom among the Chenchu tribes is in fact done based on his knowledge of flora and fauna, which makes him an eligible candidate capable of supporting his wife, she says stating that the tribal way of living also needs to be protected as part of our heritage. While the provision of basic amenities and infrastructure remain top development priorities, it is hoped that a government proud of its rich culture and tradition does not forget that preserving historical and cultural legacy will be its lasting contribution to the future.