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Pavagadh Culture

Culture of Pavagadh

The cultural landscape of Pavagadh is rich in history and living traditions. As asacred site worshipped for over two millennia and as a historic site replete with ruins, itdeserves a protected status that will not only ensure conservation but will also guidefuture development. Visited by over two million pilgrims every year, and a resident population of over two thousand, some of whom live off the forest produce and otherswho earn their livelihood through pilgrimage, parts of its landscape are heavily impactedto the point of degradation. Also degraded are its historic sites, more out of neglect thanout of human use. The sacred significance of Pavagadh has subsumed and overshadowedits heritage value. The average pilgrim perceives the hill as a sacred, not heritagelandscape. Access to remnants of historic forts, mosques, palaces, and tanks, is difficultas most (with the exception of gateways), lie off the beaten path. Overgrown vegetation,lack of signage, and dilapidated state of the historic structures make it difficult to visitand appreciate them.

In January 2003, a faculty student team from the UIUC joined with professionalsfrom Surat and Vadodara to map Pavagadh and propose design amelioration for degradedareas and amenities for the large numbers of pilgrims and visitors who visit the site eachyear. The new plan, developed in the subsequent sixteen-week design workshop at the University of Illinois, promotes access to heritage sites of historic importance as well as plateaus where pilgrims naturally stop to worship, rest, and, ideally in proper ritualcircumstances, to bathe in sacred tanks. Photo montage, digital models, site plans, anddetails represent the site analytically, taking into account human movement, view-sheds,site hydrology, and vegetation patterns.

The Illustrative Plan is based upon the reading of Pavagadh as a culturallandscape wherein the natural ecosystem has been modified for a millennium by humanhabitation. The contemporary vernacular landscape has evolved in response to pilgrims’needs to move, rest, congregate, buy food and drink and items needed for worship. Theserequirements are met in typical landscape settings of chabutras under trees, vending alongthe path of movement, ghats on talaos, and maidans. They represent sustainable designsolutions built with local labor and initiative to meet immediate and pressing needs. Yetcertain needs are not met—of public toilets, of view and rest spots along the steep climb,and signage that can aid legibility. In addition intensive human traffic has generatedrefuse on a large scale, especially non bio-degradable plastic. The current drought cyclehas resulted in the drying up of talaos causing hardships to the local resident communityand preventing ritual use of water. The dry talaos and kunds also detract from the sacredassociations of the landscape in which water plays a crucial role.

The occasional conflict between heritage conservation and pilgrimagerequirements is resolved by recommending that preservation be a more sacrosanct issuethan it is presently. For archaeological sites found all over the hill, protection (of goodand pristine sites) and conservation (of threatened and degraded sites) are necessary.This would mean clearing a buffer zone around monuments protected by Archaeological Survey of India, removing encroachments, and restoring structures. The main pilgrim path is augmented by a network of heritage trails that loop around plateaus and link historic structures. This design strategy of minimum disruption to the site will allow the possibility of further archaeological research. For living cultural landscapes, such asthose on and above Machi plateau, around the talaos, infrastructure and siteimprovements should be combined with design interventions that cater to pilgrims’requirements and follow an interpretive program.

The Plan aims at expanding the range of pilgrims’ landscape experience and makethem cognizant of the heritage dimension of sacred Pavagadh. It provides a context for interpretive programs, cultural festivals, and community participation that will result inelongating the pilgrims’ stay and thus generate economic returns that will benefit thelocal residents and temple trusts. Selective design interventions are proposed in responseto problems identified in the site readings. They involve no displacement of local population, and require low investment and maintenance based as they are uponvernacular landscape typologies that use local materials and labor. Visitor facilitiesranging from a large complex (lodging, festival grounds, exhibition space) to small restand viewing spots are proposed at strategic locations that will take pilgrimage easier andallow fuller exploration of what Pavagadh has to offer.