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Varanasi: Sustainable Development Goals, Smart City Vision and Inclusive

Heritage Development

Article · December 2017


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Rana P.B. Singh Pravin Singh Rana

Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, UP 221005, India Banaras Hindu University


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[488.17]. Singh, Rana P.B. and Rana, Pravin S. 2017 o. Varanasi: Sustainable Development
Goals, Smart City Vision and Inclusive Heritage Development. Kashi Journal of Social
Sciences [ISSN: 2249-037X, Jhunna Foundation, Varanasi], vol. 7 (nos. 1-2), June-
December (special issue on “Re-searching Kashi”): ca pp. 219-236. [Pdf, ref. 488.17].

Varanasi: Sustainable Development Goals, Smart City Vision and

Inclusive Heritage Development

Rana P.B. Singh and Pravin S. Rana*

Situated along the crescent bank of the Ganga River, Varanasi has been primarily an ancient
tirthas (riverfront sacredscapes) and salvific city that records settlement continuity since at
least ca 800BCE. Under the purview of Smart City development strategy through the
interfacing programmes of HRIDAY (Heritage city Development and Augmentation Yojana)
and PRASAD (Pilgrimage Rejuvenation And Spiritual Augmentation Drive) Government of
India seeks to promote an integrated, inclusive and sustainable development of heritage sites
(cities), focusing not just on maintenance of monuments but on advancement of the entire
ecosystem including its citizens, tourists and local businesses. The present essay focuses these
issues in the purview of SDGs in the future development of Varanasi, while appraising the
ongoing development plans and strategies, and the perspectives.
Key words: Geographical personality, SDGs, Smart City mission, HRIDAY, PRASAD,
cultural landscapes, IHD strategy, Master Plan.

1. Varanasi: The Geographical Personality

Varanasi or Kashi popularly known as Banaras (Fig. 1) is one of the oldest living cities of the
world. Its history goes back to several millennia. Mark Twain (1898, p. 480), the famous
English litterateur once wrote: “Banaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even
than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together.” Banaras is not the story of
bricks and stones; it is in fact a living history in itself (Singh and Rana 2006, p. 21). No other
city of the world is like Varanasi, not even in India. Its place in Hindu mythology is virtually
unrivalled. The city got its name from the two river-tributaries Varana and Asi meeting the
Ganga in the north and south, respectively. The Kashi Khanda (of Skanda Purana; 30.17-23)
says that the two rivers were created by the gods and placed in position to guard against the
entrance of evil; one was named ‘The Sword’ (Asi) and the other ‘The Averter’ (Varana). The
land lying between them is the holiest of all holy places in India (cf. Singh 2009 b, p. 18).

Prof. Rana P.B. Singh, Ex- Professor & Head (2013~2015), Dept. of Geography, Banaras Hindu
University, Varanasi, UP 221005, is Vice President, ACLA Asian Cultural Landscape Association
(SNU Seoul, Rep. Korea), and Vice President, BHAI Big History Association of India (Pune; an
affiliate of IBHA, USA); Email: ranapbs@gmail.com
Dr. Pravin S. Rana, is an Assistant Professor in Tourism Management, Vocational Courses, Faculty
of Arts, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, UP 221005. Email: psranabhu@gmail.com ;
220 Singh and Rana (2017): Varanasi: SDGs, Smart City and IHD Strategy

Fig. 1. Varanasi: the Setting.

According to the Vamana Purana (2.26-29), the Varana and the Asi, originated from
the body of primordial Purusha at the beginning of time itself (cf. Eck 1982, p. 27). The
Varana issued from the right foot of the cosmic giant and the Asi issued from its left foot; the
peer of the sacred land between these two rivers does not exist in heaven, earth, and the
netherworld”. That is why Varanasi is known as ‘Eternal City’. However, now the city is
struggling in making rightful balance between continuity of age-old heritage traditions and
superimposition of modern high-tech structures and infrastructures? We are not sure as to
how this adaptation and transformation will be befitting to the mood of the city and to what
extent the city will maintains its energy of sustainability and resilience?
Kashi Journal of Social Sciences, vol. 7, Nos. 1-2, June-Dec. 2017: pp. 219~234. 221

Situated on the river Ganga in its middle reaches, it has always been a great centre of
learning, religion, art and culture that attracted people from all over the world – rich and poor,
men and women, young and old, and even sick and dead. Hindus perceive Banaras as such a
sacred place that if one leaves this world in Varanasi then his or her soul undoubtedly goes to
heaven (Singh 2004, p. 29).
Located at a distance of 764 km from Delhi, 677 km from Kolkata and 1476 km from
Mumbai, in the eastern half of the state of Uttar Pradesh, Varanasi lies on the elevated
crescent shaped left bank of Ganga (Fig. 1). Being located on a high ground, the city has
rarely witnessed devastating floods, which the other cities along the river Ganga experience
from time to time. The Ghats with sandstone stairs buttress the built up area. One has to see to
appreciate the grandeur of the Ganga at Varanasi. At a distance of just 8 km, from city centre,
lies Sarnath, where Lord Buddha preached his first sermon. Here he revealed the eightfold
path that leads to the attainment of inner peace, enlightenment and ultimate bliss.
The average height of the city from mean sea level is 77m which is around 72m in the
south along the Asi stream, and 83m at the high ground near the confluence of the Varana to
the Ganga river in the north (known as Rajghat plateau). The nature and the character of the
bank of the Ganga has made the position of Banaras so stable and enviable that it is amongst
the few cities of the world which shows little shifting in its site. The city proper is built on a
high ridge of kankar (lime concretion) that forms the left bank of the Ganga for a distance of
5km, being quite above normal flood level. To a large extent no doubt the city owes its
importance to its peculiar site. The topography, which influences, nay even controls, the lay
out of the city, is stable; but the anthropogenic forces have altered the landscape through time
to extend the city outside the old core.
The city enjoys sub-Tropical monsoon climate, recording three distinct seasons: the
cold from November to February, the hot from March to mid-June, and the rainy from mid-
June to September, while October is regarded as strictly transitional month. The diurnal range
of temperature ranges on average between 13ºC and 14.5ºC in the cold and hot months. The
highest monthly temperature is recorded in May, varying between 32ºC and 42ºC. During
December to January relative humidity ranges between 75% and 80% due to the approach of
western disturbances (Singh and Rana 2006, p. 25).
Perceived as a site of ‘vigour and rigor’, and vividness and multiplicity, diversity and
unity are easily envisioned in its religion, culture, society and economy – altogether making a
mosaic, called “microcosmic India” (cf. Eck 1983, p. 283, also Singh 1994, p. 223). The 3,600
Hindu temples and shrines, and 1,388 mosques and Muslim shrines together with 6
universities, 3 deemed universities, 55 secondary and degree colleges, 155 Muslim schools,
and around 100 Sanskrit pathashalas (traditional schools), make it a city of culture and
learning (Singh and Rana 2002/ 2006). The city has been one of the most popularly selected
objects for researches and writings, in variety of contexts, which resulted into main entries of
ca 1610 (see Singh 2009a).
Shiva’s liquid energy flows in the form of the Ganga River, and he is represented in
the iconographic form of the linga. The residents of Banaras believe that Lord Shiva and his
associates live invisibly in the rhythm of the city, and that only the enlightened one can
experience and reveal this. Diana Eck writes (1983, p. 6), “There are few cities in India as
traditionally Hindu and as symbolic of the whole of Hindu culture as the city of Banaras. And
there are few cities in India, or in the world for that matter, as challenging and bewildering to
Western visitors as Banaras. It is a city as rich as all India. But it is not an easy city to
comprehend for those of us who stand outside the Hindu tradition”. The city has historically
evolved, continued and maintained the tradition of pilgrimage journeys (yatras) and their well
defined routes, i.e. reaching to 54 among which five are very popular and reflect the archetype
and spatial manifestation (cf. Rana 2014).
Varanasi: the city that is a prayer. On the banks of the river that is almost a faith, the
flowing Ganga, stands Hinduism’s greatest city: Varanasi. For several thousand years,
pilgrims have cleansed themselves of their sins here and sought release from the cycle of
222 Singh and Rana (2017): Varanasi: SDGs, Smart City and IHD Strategy

rebirth. Hinduism, deep and mystical, is perceptible everywhere here: in a decorated doorway,
in a glimpse of glittering temple, in the sound of a sacred bell, in the chant of the priests and in
the fragrance of flower oblations.
The sense and spirit of holiness embedded in Banaras has attracted people from
various sects and religions. For many of the adherents, this is a special place of pilgrimage. In
the course of time, people from all parts of India came and settled here to have the experience
of that spirit. Says philosopher Richard Lannoy (2002, p. 58), “Banaras, in its unimaginable
antiquity, belongs not just to Hindus, but to Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Christians.
But it is also belongs to everybody. … A sacred city dreamed into existence over the ages, it is
also a state of mind. As an old saying puts it: Banaras is wherever you are” (Singh 2017a, p.
It is a city where the past and the present mingle so beautifully that the joy of visiting
and even living is unforgettable. It has now become a large city with more than a million
people but the basic culture of the city has remained alive. Today Varanasi is a complex web
of old and new, stability and change, industry and agriculture, and business and spirituality.
Devout Hindus believe that ‘to be in Varanasi is an extraordinary experience, an experience in
self-discovery, an eternal oneness of the body and soul. It is city where experience and
discovery reach the ultimate bliss’.

2. Shaping Sustainable Heritage City System

The structuring, shaping and operating sustainable heritage city (SHC) system may be
arranged into 6-tier operation, i.e. 1- Setting the vision for SHC of the venture, 2- Identifying
the SDGs Target 11.4 & Inclusive Heritage Development, IHD, Strategies, 3- Achieving the
Political Cohesion, 4- Building the SHC Frame, 5- Measuring the SHC’s Potential & the
Progress, and 6- Ensure Accountability & Responsibility (see Table 1, and Fig. 2). The
structural shaping is rationally befitting to the city of Varanasi.

Fig. 2. Shaping Sustainable Heritage City System (compare Table 1).

Kashi Journal of Social Sciences, vol. 7, Nos. 1-2, June-Dec. 2017: pp. 219~234. 223

Table 1. Shaping Sustainable Heritage City (SHC) System (compare Fig. 2).
1. Setting the 2. Identifying 3. Achieving 4. Building the 5. Measuring 6. Ensure
vision for SHC the SDGs Tr. the Political SHC Frame the SHC’s Accountability &
of the venture: 11.4 & IHD Cohesion Potential & the Responsibility
→ Strategies → → → Progress → →
Identifying -- an Developing Local Improvement of Consisting of Involves
Inclusive heritage city governments existing monitoring and evaluating,
heritage city infrastructure should obtain traditional evaluating reporting and
vision is tune (e.g., Internet of the necessary infrastructure potential and learning from SHC
with the Things); political and new infra- work process and
heritage city’s Identifying and approval and structure programme related
identity and developing backing to must be built required to experiences. The
long-term smart and ensure that the under the IHD; achieve the reflective process
Inclusive sustainable strategic developing an UN - SDGs of
heritage heritage programme is action plan for Target 11.4, evaluation will
development, city services in pursued as Public-Private emphasising a feed into a
IHD, strategy; the purview of related to IHD. Partnerships set of process of
relevant multi- SDGs Target This includes programmes; sustainable continuous
stakeholders 11.4 containing the ensuring long development learning, which in
and within the so- adoption of the term services targets related turn will
mechanisms; called “Urban programme/ via good to heritage influence and
the existing Sustainable targets through operation- cities and inform the IHD of
governance and Development consensus. maintenance of heritage sites the future vision
organizational Goals”. Sustainable and and strategy for
mechanisms for Heritage City, settlements. smart and SHC.
historic heritage SHC.
city solutions.

(Source: modified in Indian context after, ITU-T FG-SSC 2015. Smart Sustainable Cities: A
Guide for City Leaders; as ref. Habitat III Quito Report, October 2016).

In successful operation Sustainable Heritage City System, like to other planning

models, community participation is the key energy in functioning and maintenance of the
system by making rational balance among social (religious and cultural heritage), physical
(housing and community development), and economic (cultural-heritage tourism) attributes of
heritage-holy city; this can easily be schematized using set and superimposing sets (see Fig.

Fig. 3. Interacting Action Plan for Community Participation.

224 Singh and Rana (2017): Varanasi: SDGs, Smart City and IHD Strategy

3. Heritage and Pilgrimage Inclusive Development: Framing HRIDAY and

Framing tourism and cultural development in holistic frame for national and international
resource within the purview of the ancient roots of heritage properties and traditions of
spirituality, sacrality and pilgrimages that have a long tradition and continuity in India,
Ministry of Tourism and Culture, and Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India,
have recently conceptualised two innovative and appropriate national programmes of
interfacing and counter-depending missions of (i) Heritage city Development and
Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY), and (ii) Pilgrimage Rejuvenation And Spiritual
Augmentation Drive (PRASAD). In both of these programmes the ministries of Culture and
Tourism and Urban Development will collaborate to strengthen and promote the heritage sites
and centres of pilgrimage-tourism in making the environment green and sustainable while
befitting into the roots of culture, traditions and society and also image of the site. The three
major sites selected earlier at priority level, include Varanasi, Mathura, and Ajmer. Under the
banner of new government in Uttar Pradesh (19 March 2017) an agreement between GOI
Ministry of Culture and Tourism and government of U.P. has been made on 24 March 2017 to
develop and transform the five cities as special sites for heritage and religious tourism, viz.
Varanasi, Ayodhya, Mathura, Gorakhpur, and Agra. Special plans are in process preparing
conservation and rejuvenation of heritage and religious sites in these cities to promote
pilgrimage-tourism and spiritual message for global harmony (cf. Kumar and Singh 2017).

(i) National mission of HRIDAY

The National mission on the “Heritage city Development and Augmentation Yojana”
(HRIDAY), aims conserving and preserving the distinct and unique characters of the heritage
cities, those maintained the continuity of their traditions of heritage (tangible, intangible, and
cultural landscapes, including written, oral, and performed ones), and they would be used as a
resource for sustainable development and ecological restoration. That is how, heritage
development means not only the beautification of the city and conservation of the heritage site
but also the preservation and sustainable development of the entire city with respect to its
cleanliness, planning, livelihood of the local people and economy (cf. Singh 2015).
Cultural heritage sites are the true representative of the divine order and human’s deep
faith involvement, that is how it may be accepted as religious ‘resource’, but it has scientific,
recreational, aesthetic, economic and sacramental values too. Thus the metaphorical meaning
of “HRIDAY” (literally ‘heart’) is the core concern for the ‘inclusive-sustainable
development of heritage-and-pilgrimage cities’ in India. This frame would be taken as core
concern under the HRIDAY Programme.
The protection, augmentation, management, authenticity and integrity of properties (both
tangible and intangible) are also important considerations, together with the above specific
characteristics. In the above context three basic meanings, in historical context, to the
understanding of heritage sites are:
• a political meaning – to assure responsibility for the decisions;
• a cultural meaning – to save culture rootedness and sense of continuity; and
• a didactic meaning – to promote citizen’s participation.
These meanings are associated with deconstructing the value of cultural heritage into its
component parts identifying the following six value elements:
• aesthetic value: the visual beauty of the building, site, and so on;
• spiritual value: the significance of the asset in providing understanding or enlightenment
or in representing a particular religion or religious tradition;
• social value: the role of the site in forming cultural identity or a sense of connection with
• historical value: connections with the past;
• symbolic value: objects or sites as repositories or conveyors of meaning, and
Kashi Journal of Social Sciences, vol. 7, Nos. 1-2, June-Dec. 2017: pp. 219~234. 225

• authenticity value: the uniqueness of visiting ‘the real thing’.

(ii) National mission of PRASAD

With a view to beautify and improve the amenities and infrastructure at pilgrimage centres of
all faiths, a National mission on ‘Pilgrimage Rejuvenation And Spiritual Augmentation Drive’
(PRASAD) has been announced in the Union Budget 2014-2015 and an amount of Rs. 1000
million has been proposed for this initiative. Under PRASAD the old historical-cultural
pilgrimage routes and associated sites would also be developed.
The interconnectivity and reciprocity between pilgrimage and tourism are integral part
of human travel. That is how ‘pilgrimage-tourism’ is conceived as an alternative for the
solution; of course this is more inclined to metaphysical issue and life philosophy: meeting
sacred-and-profane. Pilgrimage-tourism is considered now as strategy for heritage awakening,
deeper experiences and transferring the religiosity into global humanism and spirituality. The
sustainable frame of pilgrimage-tourism and heritage should be promoted in three ways:
philosophical, organisational, and managerial. The eco-healing approach to pilgrimage-
tourism is considered as a post-modernist way to consider pilgrimage as a bridge between
recreation and spirituality; this way pilgrimage-tourism will provide a rational alternative for
cultural consciousness and strategy for poverty alleviation.
The deeper sense of attachment is pre-requisite for awakening (of awareness). Once
one can develop deep feeling (of love) to a place that would help caring for it ― a path that
helps one to have realization leading to revelation. As the ‘caring for the place (the Earth)’ is
inherent in the pilgrimage-tourism, it provides opportunity to intimately sense and deep
feelings for the place and the people ― their behaviour, their heritage, and the present in
which they live, act, and keep the glorious tradition alive.
The approach to study tourism so for has been the study of economic activity almost
always. It limits the scope and answer to many questions posed as consequence. On the line of
‘commodification approach’ proposed by Ashworth (1991, p. 111), the ‘eco-healing package’
may be explained here which extends the horizon of potential resources in pilgrimage-tourism
as an alternative tourism (cf. Fig. 4), expected that it will fulfil the objectives of PRASAD.
The state government of Uttar Pradesh has recently (24 March 2017) made agreement with
central government to promote pilgrimages centres of Mathura, Ayodhya, Varanasi, and

Fig. 4. Components of Pilgrimage-Tourism (cf. Singh, Pratibha 2004, p. 213).

The purpose, of developing ‘eco-healing approach’ within the frame of PRASAD,

evidently is to highlight the strong rationality of developing pilgrimage-tourism on the
226 Singh and Rana (2017): Varanasi: SDGs, Smart City and IHD Strategy

pathways of ecofriendly and ecospiritual ways. The components of this package may be
briefly explained as the following:
(a) The Resource(s)
This package identifies cultural and spiritual heritage as resources. In one hand, the
goddess shrines and associated territories form the cultural heritage resources; and, the rituals,
awe, deep feelings and faith, belief, and the system of vratas and fasting, etc. together make
the spiritual resources on the other hand. The live traditions of continuing maintenance of
these resources reflect their inner strength. Their qualitative and quantitative richness may be
taken as the indicator of their potentialities for serving as the basis of an alternative tourism.
Additionally, the involvement of spiritual resources will effectively check the consumer
(tourists) behaviour and thus ensure healing of the mother earth.
(b) The Assemblage
The process of assembly begins with selection of the way. Apart from it, this process, also
involves interpretation. With reference to goddesses, the assemblage of archetypal symbolism
represented by the goddess’s form and geographical setting, the spiritualscape, and the
cultural context make the spirit of place meaningful and confirm its potentiality for pilgrimage
based tourism. While interpreting, the importance of deep feelings and intimate sensing to be
projected in clear and simple terms. Making simultaneous reference to enshrouding value
system is also equally significant.
(c) The Operational Aspect
Experience(s) and the capacity to experience are two most vital issues at the interface between
the product and consumer, i.e. spirit of place and (pilgrim) tourist. Here, the greater emphasis
is on the (pilgrim) tourist who has to undergo the process of experiencing, which depends
upon certain pre-requisites, e.g. reverence and respect, belief and faith, and more importantly
deep insight to understand the revelation and a developed sensitiveness to feel the spiritual
For the successful operation of this kind of alternative tourism, it needs to be well
organized. This stage involves many supporting agencies to provide infrastructural facilities.
Ashworth (1991, pp. 118-119) talks of certain ‘necessary preconditions’, like organizational
integration, motivational integration, financial integration, functional integration, and spatial
integration ― for the efficient functioning of his model. All of these seem to be equally
essential in the case of pilgrimage based alternative tourism that remains oriented more
towards the health of heritage (and mother Earth) than commercial profits (for appraisal in
India see, Neuß 2012).
Thanks to the recent vision and guidelines of the hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra
Modi, who is also an elected member from Varanasi city parliamentary constituency, that
under the purview of Smart City development strategy through the process of lifonology, the
interfacing programmes of HRIDAY and PRASAD seek to promote an integrated, inclusive
and sustainable development of heritage sites (cities), focusing not just on maintenance of
monuments but on advancement of the entire ecosystem including its citizens, tourists and
local businesses. The scheme covers 12 heritage cities including Varanasi, Amritsar, Ajmer,
Mathura, Gaya, Kanchipuram, Vellankanni, Puri, Dvaraka, Badami, Warangal, and Amravati.
At the first phase already Rs 5,000 million (equals to US$ 77 million) has been allocated for
the HRIDAY programme on 21 January 2015 by the Urban Development Ministry (cf. Singh
2015, p. 109).
Of the twelve cities mentioned above, Varanasi received major share, accounting to Rs
893.1 millions (US$ 15 million), which consists of implementation of project (Rs 800),
information, education and awakening programmes (Rs 30), preparation of DPR (Rs 30), and
skill development (Rs 20), infrastructure of the city (Rs 10.5), and administrative works and
its functioning (Rs 2.7). On 26 November 2014, the UNESCO by an agreement with Ministry
of Urban Development, GOI, has agreed in revitalising and conserving the rich cultural
heritage of these cities, while taking care of the increasing pace of urbanisation. In this
Kashi Journal of Social Sciences, vol. 7, Nos. 1-2, June-Dec. 2017: pp. 219~234. 227

programme priority be given to conserve and preserve the heritages (natural, cultural: tangible
and intangible, cultural landscapes), which may attract more tourists and pilgrims, and to
improve civic amenities for betterment of life and landscapes. Under the purview of HRIDAY
and PRASAD the plan to get included ‘The Riverfront and Old City Heritage Zone of
Varanasi’ has recently been further discussed (December 2014), and preparation started to
prepare dossier for its inscription the UNESCO WHL, but again, as usual, nothing finalised
yet! This is also to be kept in mind that the sacred spaces vis-à-vis public spaces, in way will
serve as peace plaza and places of spiritual awakening having “the potential for healing
communal strife and reviving urban art, (cultural and) folk practices. Heritage conservation
can thus become an empowering tool for local communities and for the visitor an opportunity
for spiritual growth” (Sinha 2014, p. 60), which is an ultimately aim of the urban areas. On 3
May 2017 under the mission of PRASAD a grant of Rs 3069.2 million (equals to US$ 48
million) is released for the development of heritage, touristic and pilgrimage sites in Varanasi
city, which will also include conservation and repairing of the lanes, pilgrimage paths, sacred
ponds (kunds), parking space, rest houses for pilgrims and related amenities and facilities
while taking care of maintaining the heritage personality and cultural image of the city.

4. The ICH (Intangible Cultural Heritage) – A Perspective for Banaras

According to UNESCO [http://www.unesco.org/new/en/newdelhi/areas-of-action/culture/
intangible-cultural-heritage/ ; retrieved on 15 May 2017], the following conceptual frame of
Intangible Cultural Heritage, ICH, refers to:
“Intangible Cultural Heritage is a broader term which no longer depicts only the
monuments and collection of objects of cultural importance. In the age of fast-growing
globalization, Intangible Cultural Heritage plays an important role in maintaining cultural
diversity. Proper understanding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage pertaining to different
communities helps in ensuring intercultural dialogue.”
“The concept of Intangible Cultural Heritage extends over a wide field, particularly the
oral traditions, languages, the process of creation of skills and know-how, performing arts,
festive events, rites and social practices, cosmologies, learning systems, and beliefs and
practices related to nature. Intangible Cultural Heritage is important not only for the
manifestation of culture, but also in the transmission of the wealth of knowledge and skills
from one generation to the next.”
“UNESCO New Delhi supports the effort of local communities and groups to identify,
enact, recreate and transmit the intangible or living heritage, and to found their culminating
point in the adoption of the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural
According to the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural
Heritage, the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) – or living heritage – is the mainspring of
humanity's cultural diversity and its maintenance a guarantee for continuing creativity. It is
defined as follows:
“Intangible Cultural Heritage means the practices, representations, expressions,
knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces
associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals
recognize as part of their cultural heritage. This intangible cultural heritage, transmitted
from generation to generation, is constantly recreated by communities and groups in
response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history, and
provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural
diversity and human creativity. For the purposes of this Convention, consideration will be
given solely to such intangible cultural heritage as is compatible with existing
international human rights instruments, as well as with the requirements of mutual
respect among communities, groups and individuals, and of sustainable development.”
228 Singh and Rana (2017): Varanasi: SDGs, Smart City and IHD Strategy

The UNESCO (2011) has further elaborated the frame of ICH (ref.:
http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/index.php?lg=en&pg=00003 ; retrieved: 15 May 2017):
“The term ‘Cultural Heritage’ has changed content considerably in recent decades,
partially owing to the instruments developed by UNESCO. Cultural heritage does not end at
monuments and collections of objects. It also includes traditions or living expressions
inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions,
performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning
nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts.
While fragile, intangible cultural heritage is an important factor in maintaining cultural
diversity in the face of growing globalization. An understanding of the intangible cultural
heritage of different communities helps with intercultural dialogue, and encourages mutual
respect for other ways of life.
The importance of intangible cultural heritage is not the cultural manifestation itself
but rather the wealth of knowledge and skills that is transmitted through it from one
generation to the next. The social and economic value of this transmission of knowledge is
relevant for minority groups and for mainstream social groups within a State, and is as
important for developing States as for developed ones.
“What is intangible cultural heritage?” Intangible Cultural Heritage, ICH is:
# Traditional, contemporary and living at the same time: intangible cultural heritage
does not only represent inherited traditions from the past but also contemporary
rural and urban practices in which diverse cultural groups take part;
# Inclusive: we may share expressions of intangible cultural heritage that are similar to
those practised by others. Whether they are from the neighbouring village, from a
city on the opposite side of the world, or have been adapted by peoples who have
migrated and settled in a different region, they all are intangible cultural heritage:
they have been passed from one generation to another, have evolved in response to
their environments and they contribute to giving us a sense of identity and
continuity, providing a link from our past, through the present, and into our future.
Intangible cultural heritage does not give rise to questions of whether or not certain
practices are specific to a culture. It contributes to social cohesion, encouraging a
sense of identity and responsibility which helps individuals to feel part of one or
different communities and to feel part of society at large;
# Representative: intangible cultural heritage is not merely valued as a cultural good, on a
comparative basis, for its exclusivity or its exceptional value. It thrives on its basis
in communities and depends on those whose knowledge of traditions, skills and
customs are passed on to the rest of the community, from generation to generation,
or to other communities;
# Community-based: intangible cultural heritage can only be heritage when it is
recognized as such by the communities, groups or individuals that create, maintain
and transmit it – without their recognition, nobody else can decide for them that a
given expression or practice is their heritage.
The UNESCO (ref.: http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/index.php?lg=en&pg=00052;
retrieved on 15 May 2017) has further incorporated the concept of ICH:

“Instances of intangible cultural heritage are not limited to a single manifestation and
many include elements from multiple domains. Take, for example, a shamanistic rite. This
might involve traditional music and dance, prayers and songs, clothing and sacred items
as well as ritual and ceremonial practices and an acute awareness and knowledge of the
natural world. Similarly, festivals are complex expressions of intangible cultural heritage
that include singing, dancing, theatre, feasting, oral tradition and storytelling, displays of
Kashi Journal of Social Sciences, vol. 7, Nos. 1-2, June-Dec. 2017: pp. 219~234. 229

craftsmanship, sports and other entertainments. The boundaries between domains are
extremely fluid and often vary from community to community. It is difficult, if not
impossible, to impose rigid categories externally. While one community might view their
chanted verse as a form of ritual, another would interpret it as song. Similarly, what one
community defines as ‘theatre’ might be interpreted as ‘dance’ in a different cultural
context. There are also differences in scale and scope: one community might make minute
distinctions between variations of expression while another group considers them all
diverse parts of a single form.
While the Convention sets out a framework for identifying forms of intangible
cultural heritage, the list of domains it provides is intended to be inclusive rather than
exclusive; it is not necessarily meant to be ‘complete’. States may use a different system
of domains. There is already a wide degree of variation, with some countries dividing up
the manifestations of intangible cultural heritage differently, while others use broadly
similar domains to those of the Convention with alternative names. They may add further
domains or new sub-categories to existing domains. This may involve incorporating ‘sub-
domains’ already in use in countries where intangible cultural heritage is recognized,
including ‘traditional play and games’, ‘culinary traditions’, ‘animal husbandry’,
‘pilgrimage’ or ‘places of memory’”.

The UNESCO has broadly classified ICH into five categories: (1) Oral traditions and
expressions, including language as a vehicle of the intangible cultural heritage; (2) Performing
arts; (3) Social practices, rituals and festive events; (4) Knowledge and practices concerning
nature and the universe; and (5) Traditional craftsmanship.

Table 2. Attributes of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Varanasi

Se Cultural Heritage Varanasi/Banaras/ Kashi
attributes (selective) (major ones referred)
1 Oral Traditions Katha (religious story telling), Birha
2 Performance Arts Dhrupad, Sanskrit Theatre, Bhajan, Nautanki/ Kauwali
Bharat Milap, Lok Nritya (folk dances), Katthak Gharana, Tabla
Gharana (e.g. Kishan Maharaj), Thumari Purvi (Poorvaiya) singing,
Birha, Vedic chanting, etc.
3 Ramalila and other Ramnagar Ramalila, Chitrakut Ramalila, Assi Ghat Ramalila, Nati
Lilas (variety and Emli Ramalila, Chetganj Ramalila, Khojwa Ramalila, Shivpur
distinctive; Ramalila, Krishnalila (Assi Ghat, temples), Nrisimhalila,
historical) Dashavataralila (Prahalad Ghat), Vamanalila (Trilochan Ghat), etc.
4 Parikrama/ Yatras, Chaurashikroshi Yatra, 96 sites; Panchakroshi, 108 sites, Yatra;
Pilgrimages Avimukta Yata, 72 sites; Nagar Pradakshina, 72 sites; Vishveshvara
Antargriha, 72 sites; Omkareshvara Antargriha, 72 sites;
Kedareshvara Antargriha, 108 sites; Aditya (Sun), 14, Yatra;
Vinayaka, 56, Yatra; Devi , 96 sites, Yatras: e.g. Kali, Gauri,
Lakshmi, Mahavidyas, Matrikas, Chandis; Ekadash Rudra Yatra, 11
sites; Rishi, 7, Yatras; Vamana Yatra, 42 sites; Vishnu Yatra, 42
sites, Char Dham Yata, 4 sites; Uttaradik Yatra, 126 sites;
Dakshinadik Yatra, 108 sites; Masika Yatra, 12 sites; Ritu (season’s)
Yatra, 6 sites; etc.
230 Singh and Rana (2017): Varanasi: SDGs, Smart City and IHD Strategy

5 Rituals and Festivals HINDU Festivals: Makara Samkranti, Vedavyasa Mela, Maha
(selective) Shivaratri, Rangabhari Ekadashi, Holi, Burhva Mangala, Chaitra
Navaratri, Rama Navami, Ramakatha Mandakini Shobhayatra,
# For dates of Buddha Purnima, Nrisimha Chaturdashi, Ganga Dashahara, Nirjala
selective Festivals, (Bhimaseni) Ekadashi, Sankhudhara Mela, Ratha Yatra, Durga-Ji Ka
see the Appendix: 1, Mela, Naga Panchami, Raksha Bandhana, Krishna Janmasthami,
page 124. Rathyatra Mela, Lolarka Chhata Mela, Sorahia (Lakshmi Kunda),
Durga Puja – Dashahara, Nakkataiya, Hanuman Jayanti, Dipavali /
Divali, Annakuta, Krishna Lila and Naga Nathaiya, Yama Dvitiya,
Prabodhini Ekadashi, Lota Bhanta ka Mela, Naga Nathaiya, Surya
Shashthi, Chhatha (Karttika Purnima), Ganga Mahotsava - Deva
Dipavali, Nanak Jayanti, Lat Bhairav Mela, Buddha Purnima;
MUSLIM Festivals: Muharraum, Idul-fitr/ Idel-Juha, Chehaluum,
Ghazi Miyan ka Mela, Sabbe-rat, etc.
6 Traditional Art & Murti casting (sculpturing), Shringar (icon decorative art), Saridozi
Craftsmanship etc., Silver work, Poshak, Kanthimala, Purda, Chitrakala, Khilauna
(wooden toy making), Silk weaving (Banarasi Sari), Tabla and
Sarangi making, Pan, Special sweets (e.g. Mallaiyo), special
7 Scholastic Traditions Banaras Hindu University, Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidhyapith,
and schooling and Sampurnanand Sanskrit University, Central University for Tibetan
discourses system Studies, Parshvanath Jain Institute, Institute of Handloom Weaving,
Sangveda Vidyalaya, Darul Salfia Islamia University, Udai Pratap
Autonomous PG College
8 Indigenous Nature therapy, Yoga centres and tradition, Ayurvedic medicine and
Knowledge & centres
Healing Tradition
9 Memorials, icons and Shankarachaya’s associated sites, Tulasidas, Kabir, Ravidas, Dadu,
Saints’ associated Nanak/ other Sikh saints, Rani Lakshmi Bai, Mazars/ (traditions of
sites and related Sheikh Salim Chisti), Sheikh Ali Hazim, Bahadur Shah, Chandan
performances Shahid, Shah Taaiyyab Banaras, Sheikh Salar Chisti- Ghazi Miyan
10 Birth places and Pt Gopinath Kaviraj, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Bismillah Khan, Pt. Ravi
memorials of Shankar, Premchand, Bhartendu Harishchandra, Jaishankar Prasad,
Freedom Fighters Ram Chandra Shukla, Birju Maharaj, Girja Devi, Rudra Kashikeya,
and Literates, & Hajariprasad Dwevedi, Shivprasad Singh
related celebrations

While giving due consideration to the UNESCO Scale of ICH, in the Indian perspective
of the ICH, specially referring Varanasi/Banaras/Kashi, various attributes of the ICH can be
classified into TEN broad categories, viz. (1) Oral Traditions, (2) Performance Arts, (3)
Ramalila and other Lilas (variety and distinctive; historical), (4) Parikrama/ Yatras,
Pilgrimages, (5) Rituals and Festivals (selective), (6) Traditional Art & Craftsmanship, (7)
Scholastic Traditions, (8) Indigenous Knowledge & Healing Tradition, (9) Memorials, icons
and Saints’ associated sites and performances, and (10) Birth places and memorials of
Freedom Fighters and Literates (see Table 2). Also to be noted that in the context of intangible
cultural heritage (ICH) as discussed above Varanasi is fully suited to be designated as a site of
intangible cultural heritages and their associated attributed be given place in the inclusive
heritage development on the scale of SDGs.

5. Varanasi in the frame of Smart City and UNO-SDGs

In the third round list of selecting Smart Cities, Varanasi has finally been nominated on 19
September 2016. In this mission a comprehensive development plan (CDP) in structured, in
which ‘heritage conservation and tourism management’ has been given a distinct place among
the seven major goals (cf. Fig. 5). The six pillars of envisioning ‘Smart-Kashi’ Plan are:
Suramya (‘Picturesque’, through religious, cultural and heritage), Nirmal (‘Pure/clean’,
Kashi Journal of Social Sciences, vol. 7, Nos. 1-2, June-Dec. 2017: pp. 219~234. 231

through greening spaces and ecological ordering and reviving the Ganga River as soul),
Surakshit (‘Safe’, through better transport, pathways and vehicle movement), Smmunat
(‘Improved’, through citizenship, civility, liveability and viable employment), Ekatrit
(‘Integrated’, through interfacing and coordination among the various cells for maintaining
SDGs) and Sanyojit (‘Planned’, through balanced between traditions and modernity in the
frame of ‘lifenology’). This mission will closely work together with HRIDAY and PRASAD.
The mission of Smart City will further be extended on the line of UNO goals of Habitat-III
and Sustainable Development Goals; in both of these culture and heritage are considered as
vital attributes of development.

Fig. 5. Smart City Initiatives, Heritage Conservation and SDGs.

The focus of making Varanasi as Smart City emphasises the “rejuvenation of the
oldest Indian living city of Varanasi as a great place to live and visit by conserving and
showcasing its enriched heritage, culture, spirituality and traditions through innovative social
and financial inclusion solutions.” These solutions lie in: (i) Rejuvenation of historic temples
and the Ganga riverfront ghats, (ii) Providing a worthy platform for visitors to experience &
imbibe Varanasi’s inherently rich cultural and heritage, and (iii) Capitalise on Varanasi’s
status under the UNESCO City of music label, and also intangible heritage (e.g. Ramalila,
etc.). These plans will be in the frame of inclusive heritage development and poverty
alleviation strategy. The Japanese government has taken lead to cooperate and assist in these
programmes (Singh 2017b, p. 27).

6. Envisioning Future & Liveable City

There is no perfect optimal plan for making city complete and ecologically liveable. Although
modern design, technology and resource transformation are important ingredients, cities will
flourish by creating opportunity through their own narratives while working with their history,
tradition, cultures, resources, location and population potentials to improve liveability (cf.
Stanley 2010). Liveable city is a concept on the minds of urban planners, developers green
builders and stakeholders concerned for good and happy places around the world. Liveable
232 Singh and Rana (2017): Varanasi: SDGs, Smart City and IHD Strategy

cities enhance the lives and well-being of its citizens, encouraging community and public
participation through designing urban infrastructure that brings people together (cf. Murry
2011). Additionally, liveable cities embody sustainability — ecologically, economically,
culturally, socially and humanistically (cf. Pal 2015, p. 278).
The following five general principles should guide the development of Liveable City
on the line of ecological sustainability; these should be given more care in the Varanasi
Master Plan 2031:
• Be better places to live, for everyone;
• Underpin growth and jobs;
• Leave a sound legacy for future generations;
• Offer better linkages to regions and other major cities;
• Integrate within and between transport and land use, urban form and new technologies.
The following principles that are more specific should guide mobility within accessible
1. Take a ‘systems’ approach to the whole network.
2. Limit the need for travel and, if this is not possible, limit the distance to be travelled. For
example, by providing work opportunities close to home and making teleconferencing
and augmented reality facilities available within local precincts.
3. Relieve people of the need to ‘drive’ vehicles, thus freeing their travel time for more
personal or productive tasks; for example, using non-crowded ‘public’ transport and
intelligent transport systems to permit automatic operation of road vehicles.
4. Separate major flows of freight and passengers via separate networks.
Similar to previous Master Plans, a new Master Plan (2011-2031) is under
consideration and preparation. The new plan is based on the land utilization in the previous
Master Plan 2011. The total land estimated in Varanasi Master Plan 2011 was 17,926 ha of
which until today only 10,916 ha was made under use in total categories enlisted and rest of
the land is pending, and expected to be used in the present Master Plan (2011-2031). Present
situation of land use in the delimitated urban area in Varanasi Master Plan 2011 is given in
Table 3, which indicate non-used share of land use categories.
Table 3. Varanasi: Present Land Use Level of Master Plan 2011*
Se. Land use Categories Percentage Land used as
Area as planned, (ha)
No. scheduled in 1999, Area
1. Residential 7,127 65.00
2. Commercial 1,430 13.00
3. Industrial 12 0.11
4. Education 615 5.60
5. Health 35 0.32
6. Govt.& Semi Government 212 1.95
7. Traffic & Transport 555 5.10
8. Railways 437 4.00
9. Cantonment Area 274 2.50
10. Park/ Stadium 42 0.39
11. Temples/ Historical Places 63 0.58
12. Electric substation 33 0.30
13. Graveyard 08 0.07
14. Sewage Treatment Plant 20 0.18
15. Water Tanks 71 0.64
Total Land Use up to 2010 10,916 ----
(Based on survey of Town & Country Planning Department, Varanasi 2011 (*tentative)
Kashi Journal of Social Sciences, vol. 7, Nos. 1-2, June-Dec. 2017: pp. 219~234. 233

Keeping above characteristics as in various land use areas (Master plan 2011), the land
left should be used for expanding areas under proposed land uses in the current Master Plan
(2011-2031), which has optimally taking into consideration of 21,000 ha for coverage, i.e.
93.4 per cent increase over the previous plan. This planning is to serve the population of
1,929,437 (by 2031), and to get the additional population of 303,500 accommodated by
2041, when the city population is expected to reach 2,298,700 persons. Varanasi Master
Plan 2011 had considered nine categories of land uses, while the current Master Plan 2031
will emphasise ten main sectors. The land use distribution and expansion in 2031 Plan is
based on utilization of pre-implemented plan and estimated population 1,929,437 in 2031.
[Note that population of 134 pre-included villages is not mentioned due to non-availability of
specific data; however, when added it would be around 1,995,200]. In the distribution of
these sectors, the labour force and its area of expertise will also be considered.
While many city governments face unprecedented challenges, a number of steps can
make cities more liveable and protect the environment. These include better urban planning,
more public transportation, better sanitation and rational water use policies, energy
conservation, urban farming, and waste recycling. In addition, slower population growth
would ease pressures on cities and buy time to find solutions. Of course, sustainable urban
development is a recent, yet controversial concept. Wheeler, in his 1998 article, defines
sustainable urban development as “development that improves the long-term social and
ecological health of cities and towns.” He sketches a ‘sustainable’ city’s features: compact,
efficient land use; less automobile use, yet better access; efficient resource use; less pollution
and waste; the restoration of natural systems; good housing and living environments; a healthy
social ecology; a sustainable economy; community participation and involvement; and
preservation of local culture and wisdom.
After passing twelve years now the concept of sustainable urban development and
liveable city planning are popularly conceived as philosophical vision for city planning,
especially for old cities; as also this would be befitting to Varanasi. Because of political and
governance structures in most jurisdictions, sustainable planning measures must be widely
supported before they can affect institutions and regions. Actual implementation is often a
complex compromise among several stakeholders and policy makers, and in bridging
machineries, which in our cases quite complex and corrupt. Nevertheless, sustainability
requires governments to stay engaged, public-private partnership to be appropriately designed
and regulated to benefit the community (Yuen and Ooi 2010, p. 8); it may be difficult, but not
impossible. A conflict between the preservation of the character of existing historic towns and
“change” has formed the central argument for conservation and sustainable planning.
Presently, heritage has superseded conservation, where marketing of heritage as a product
according to the demands of the consumer, mainly tourists, has resulted in the
commercialisation of heritage over conservation values that also turn into contestation. Today,
the symbiosis of both tourism and heritage places has become a major objective in the
management and planning of historic cities like Varanasi (cf. Nasser 2003).
As regional capital the City is serving as nexus for the economic development and its
transactions, and also trying to maintain its status as popular place of pilgrimage and tourism.
But think of the period after two decades when population will be double, the requirements
will be different and intense, the transportation would require complex network, maintenance
of city’s role as bridge between rural and urban culture, and also coping with India’s urban
share that would be half by 2031, how the city will take lead in these situations and
transformations! Presently the City is unprepared and ill-equipped to tackle the challenges it
faces to create new and better landscape and life.
Land acquisition is one of the biggest, most politically fraught obstacles to industrial
growth and expansion of the City. Farmers have fought bitter battles against their land being
taken for urban expansion, development of residential colonies, and stalling some projects for
years. There is lack of coordination among the three development institutions responsible for
234 Singh and Rana (2017): Varanasi: SDGs, Smart City and IHD Strategy

making plan and implementing them, viz. Varanasi Development Authority, Varanasi
Municipal Corporation, District Urban Development Authority, and their affiliates.
The way Master plan 2031 manages its urban transformation will determine the course
of its development and economic ascent. Unfortunately, rarely public participation is taken
care for making this Master Plan, which is mostly conceived as an extension of the old one
and additionally chalked out as manifestation of earlier model plans those have no way
concerned with the similar situation. There is another big gap between ‘inside’ (residents) and
‘outside’ (administration) approaches (Singh 2017a, p. 258). Theoretically tourism and
heritage are also given consideration in preparing development plan, but no way rationales,
threshold and land use plans based on ‘pilot projects’ and case studies are yet prepared. The
INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art, Culture and Heritage), New Delhi, has been
entrusted to work on the issues of heritage development plans, which completely avoided to
take any sort of collaboration with the local expert and resources. The situation is turning as
unwillingly the residents have to accept all such plans conceived by outsiders and
theoreticians those no way have experience or deeper interaction with the local society and
culture. Let the authorities realise these and such studies to be taken for making planning
strategies (cf. Pal 2015, p. 281).

7. Concluding Remarks
In our temporal frame we have to give respect to the past, search solutions in the present, and
make directions for the future. This should apply to the issue of urban sprawl beyond the
corporation boundary and interlinks with the surrounding areas (peri-urban), which were not
considered in preparing the CDP or DPR. Remember, a thing is right when it tends to preserve
the integrity, stability and beauty of the site as a living organism. In order that this heritage
becomes a resource for development, it needs to be first documented, then protected,
maintained and finally utilised according to specific heritage guidelines and legislations. Only
then, combined with an increased stakeholder awareness and participation, will policy efforts
and interventions become sustainable – environmentally, socially and culturally. We may
separate ourselves from the web of our heritage in the pursuit of modernity and secularism,
but it would always be at the cost of our hearts and souls.
It is realized that by developing intimate attachment to religious-heritage sites within
the frame of heritage ecology the culture would be advanced in a more harmonious and
peaceful way, where dharma (‘religion’ – natural order of moral duties) will play a vital role
(Singh and Rana 2016, p. p. 67). The lack of a mass awakening and the public’s inactivity are
hurdles to the progress of ‘civic culture: civic sense’, while such civic sensibilities is the vital
aspect of a conservation and preservation programme.
Varanasi has been a sacred city of scholarship, sacrality, wisdom, and associated
traditions. But it appears to be losing its serenity and its sacredness. The Ganga River, its soul,
is polluted. Today it is so polluted as to become unworthy of even bath? The city has become
so congested that it is difficult to reach the Ghats and more difficult to have the darshan
(‘auspicious sight’) of Vishvanatha? The people of Varanasi, nay the world community has to
move against the pollution of Ganga and overall ecological disordering in the sacred city. A
mass awakening and movement to be initiated to bring the Ganga and the holiness of the city
back to what once it has been in history while keeping absorbed the modernization and smart
technology in a way to revive the heritage values and glories of the city and making it as
nexus of global city that may provide messages of peace, harmony and human values on the
line of UNO Sustainable Development Goals. The past is there to inspire; the future is there in
dreams; the present is the time to act. Let us hope that the caravan would lengthen and a time
will come, sooner than later, to make Varanasi what it deserves to be.
Kashi Journal of Social Sciences, vol. 7, Nos. 1-2, June-Dec. 2017: pp. 219~234. 235

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