Urban renewal of ancient India
We Indians like to think we are proud of our spiritual, cultural and architectural heritage. But in the hurly-burly of haphazard development of our cities, we do little to preserve our heritage, let alone build on it. Bhubaneswar, the capital city of Orissa, shows how we can do this.
Bhubaneswar is the second "planned" city of independent India after Chandigarh. Its total area of 135 sq km includes the 25 sq km or so of the Old Town which dates back more than a thousand years, with glorious temple structures that had dotted the area then, many of which are there today as well.
Until 2007, the Old Town of Bhubaneswar was no different from any of the other heritage cities of India, which are visited in hordes by pilgrims and tourists and which typically have congested roads, crowded market-places, polluted water-bodies for want of sewerage and adequate storm-water drains, and a profusion of undergrowth and mounds of solid waste in and around the historic structures. The shrines and temples are typically hidden behind the shoddy and unplanned construction which has come up over the years with little regard for design standards or harmony between the old and the new.
The Old Town Revitalisation Project of Bhubaneswar is changing all this and already making a difference. The project includes architectural restoration, environmental clean-up and city planning to open up the old temples for easier access and better appreciation of their splendour. It also revitalises the living culture of the Old Town — for example, a medicinal plants garden on the west bank of Bindu Sagar and the Lingaraj Haat.
Bindu Sagar, a sacred water body that finds mention in the "Puranas" and other ancient texts, is a stone's throw from the Lingaraj temple. It is said that when Bindu Sagar was formed, all the river goddesses were invited to bless it by pouring into it some drops of water from their rivers. This is also where Parvati is supposed to have herded cows and Shiva is supposed to have meditated under a mango tree as large as a forest.
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