At present, Maharashtra hosts five out of the 38 UNESCO world heritage sites, making it the state with the highest number of UNESCO recognised sites. Each of these sites is a repository of history and culture, and an architectural marvel. Each site has a tale to tell.
On this World Heritage Day on 18th April, let’s celebrate, preserve, promote & protect our rich heritage.
“The State of Maharashtra presents unique ensemble of World Heritage sites – from Rock cut architecture, classic masterpieces of painted art, sculptural monuments like Kailash dating back to 2nd century BC to Victorian Architecture and Art Deco buildings in Mumbai. Further it has potential for more world heritage nominations in the form of Maratha Forts, Lonar Lake, Petroglyphs of Konkan, among others. So come and experience world -class rich heritage of Maharashtra.”- Dr. Tejas Garge Director Archaeology and Museums
Here are the UNESCO Recognised World Heritage Sites in the State:
Located in the Aurangabad District of Maharashtra state, the Ajanta Caves are approximately 32 rock-cut Buddhist cave monuments. The very first cave monuments among the Ajanta caves date back to the 2nd and 1st B.C., and during the Gupta Period (5th and 6th A.D.), the second – 25 monasteries were added. The Ajanta caves are renowned of their paintings and sculptures and are a key tourism spot in the state of Maharashtra. Additionally, the paintings and sculptures found in the Ajanta Caves are considered to be the masterpieces of Buddhist religious art, and have had a considerable artistic influence.
Spreading over an expanse of 8,242 hectares, and a buffer zone of 78,676 hectares, the Ajanta caves form one of the biggest cave structures of the country. They have also been mentioned in several memoirs of Chinese-Buddhist travellers from the medieval era, as well as in the accounts of a Mughal-era official from Akbar’s reign in the early 17th century. Interestingly, the caves were covered by the jungle until they were accidentally discovered by a colonial British officer in the year 1819. The Ajanta caves were designated as a UNESCO recognised World Heritage site in the year 1983.
The Ajanta caves are located approximately 430 kilometres away from Mumbai, and 335 kilometres away from Pune. People can travel to Ajanta Caves by Road, State Transport or Railways. Jalgaon city, about 60 kilometre from Ajanta Caves is the nearest rail head.
Chhratrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (Formerly known as Victoria Terminus)
The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus Station, formerly known as Victoria Terminus Station, in Mumbai, is a splendid example of the Victorian Gothic Revival architecture in India, with a blend of themes derived from traditional Indian architecture. The building of this World Heritage site was designed by British architect F. W. Stevens. Over time, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus station has become the symbol of Mumbai as the ‘Gothic City’, and a major mercantile port of India.
Built over a period of 10 years, starting in the year 1878, the terminal was constructed based on late medieval Italian models, according to a High Victorian Gothic design. The stone dome, turrets, pointed arches and eccentric ground plan showcase a striking resemblance to Indian Palace architecture. It is a remarkable example of the meeting of two cultures, as it was worked upon by British architects who worked with Indian craftsmen to include Indian architectural tradition, thus forging a unique and new style to Mumbai. The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus Railway Station is the headquarter of the Indian Central Railways, and was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in the year 2004.
It is 160 kilometres away from Pune. People can travel to this UNESCO recognised world heritage site by Road, State Transport or Railways.
Also known as the ‘City of Caves’, the Elephanta Caves are a collection of rock art linked to the cult of Shiva, located on an Island in the Sea of Oman close to Mumbai. It is home to one of the most perfect expressions of Indian art, particularly the huge high reliefs in the main cave structure. Additionally, the main cave’s orientation, and the relative location of the other caves is in a Mandala pattern. The carvings of the caves are narrations of Hindu Mythology, with large monolithic 20 feet Trimurti Sadashiva (Three-faced Shiva), Nataraja (the Lord of Dance) and Yogishvara (the God of Yoga) being the most celebrated works.
The caves were discovered by colonial Portuguese, who renamed the initially titled Elefante Caves to Elephanta Caves after finding elephant statues on the caves. The main cave used to be a Hindu place of worship until the Portuguese arrived and established a base on the island. Most of the sculpture and cave damage was caused by the soldiers of the Portuguese base. The earliest attempts to restore and prevent further damage to the site was started by British India officials in the year 1909. The monuments were then restored by 1970, and designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in the year 1987.
The Elephanta Caves are situated approximately 25.5 kilometres away from Mumbai, and 161 kilometres away from Pune. People can travel to the Elephanta Caves via Road, State Transport or Water Ferries.
Extending over a stretch of more than 2 kilometres, the Ellora Caves comprise of 34 monasteries and temples that were dug side-by-side in the wall of a high basalt cliff. The Ellora caves are situated in the Aurangabad district of Maharashtra state, and are only 100 kilometres away from the Ajanta Caves located in the same district. With its sequence of monuments ranging from 600 A.D. to 1000 A.D., the Ellora Caves bring the civilisation of ancient India to life.
The ensemble of 34 caves at Ellora, showcases the spirit of co-existence and religious tolerance through the outstanding architectural activities carried out by followers of three prominent religions – Buddhism, Brahmanism and Jainism. The earliest caves that were excavated between the 5th and 8th centuries, reflect Buddhist philosophy of the Mahayana culture that was prevalent in the region during those times. The caves that showcased the Brahmanical Ideology, including the Kailasa Temple, were excavated between the 7th and 10th centuries. The last phase of excavations that was carried out between the 9th and 12th centuries witnessed the excavation of a group of caves that reflected the Jain ideologies. Just like Ajanta Caves, the Ellora Caves were also designated as a UNESCO recognised World Heritage site in the year 1983.
Ellora caves is located approximately 340.5 kilometres away from Mumbai, and 257 kilometres away from Pune. People can use Road Transport, State Transport or Railways to visit this UNESCO Heritage site. Aurangabad Railway Station is the nearest rail head and is situated at around 30 kms from the Ellora.
Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensembles of Mumbai
In the second half of the 19th century, Mumbai implemented one of the rather ambitious urban planning projects, which led to an ensemble of public building bordering the Oval Maidan in open space. They were first adapted in the Victorian Gothic and Neo-Gothic styles of architecture, and then in the Art-Deco idiom in the early 20th century. The Victorian Neo-Gothic ensemble includes the Indian elements suited to the climate, including balconies and verandas. While the Art-Deco edifices with their cinemas and residential buildings that blend Indian design with Art-Deco imagery. The unique blend has been described as Indo-Deco.
The two waves of urban development in Mumbai that took place during the late 19th and early 20th centuries transformed the city from a fortified trading outpost to the first city of India. Today, the Oval Maidan offers a spectacular ensemble of Victorian Gothic buildings on the eastern side. While another impressive ensemble of Art-Deco building sits on the western side of the Oval Maidan. They also provide a testimony to the modernisation phases that the city went through leading to a modern independent India in 1947. The Victorian Gothic and Art-Deco Ensemble of Mumbai were the latest addition to the list of UNESCOs recognised World Heritage sites in Maharashtra, and was designated as the same in the year 2018.
The Victorian Gothic and Art-Deco Ensemble of Mumbai is situated approximately 22 kilometres away from the outskirts of Mumbai City, and approximately 161 kilometres from Pune. People can visit this heritage site via Road Transport, State Transport or Railways.