The Virupaksha temple at the end of the Hampi bazaar. The building painted with a red cross is marked as a place from which residents would be evicted. Photo: Gethin Chamberlain
In July 2011, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) removed some 250 families housed in “illegal encroachments” along the 700-metre-long colonnaded pavilion of the 16th-century Virupaksha temple, otherwise known as “Hampi Bazaar.” The evictions, announced less than 24 hours before the demolition of some of these stalls and homes was set to begin, triggered an ongoing debate about the ASI’s handling of residents living illegally on a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
While many continue to support the ASI’s decision, arguing that the bazaar residents were doing more harm than good — accusations include drug trafficking, cobbling building materials out of the site’s ruins, and diverting revenues away from the State of Karnataka with seasonal traders coming in from other provinces — others have lamented the abrupt loss of Hampi’s “living heritage.”
In the current issue of Archaeology magazine, archaeologist John M. Fritz and architectural historian George Michell refer to the ASI’s decision as “callous, not least because the local population was not involved in the decision-making process.” Fritz and Michell, who first visited Hampi in 1980 and say they watched the bazaar “return to life” in the 20 years they spent studying site, describe the evictions as “all too common in India, where there is only a limited range of paradigms for managing heritage sites.”
A girl looks at the remains of homes and businesses in the Hampi bazaar. Photo: Gethin Chamberlain
“Some sites, like the bazaar prior to 2010, are neglected, unprotected and open to illegal encroachment and inhabitation,” they write. “Other sites, like the bazaar today, are ‘protected‘ — cleared of all encumbrances such as previous inhabitants, set in pleasant garden compounds, and surrounded by walls and gates… Though Hampi Bazaar is not the only site to fall victim to one or both of these flawed approaches, it is one of outstanding national importance and international repute. And it aptly demonstrates why such an unyielding policy was not necessary.”
Earlier this year, when GHF won a UNESCO-Asia Pacific Heritage Award for its preservation of Hampi’s 15th century Chandramauleshwar Temple, the jury called the project a “benchmark for conservation practice at archaeological sites in India.” It specifically praised the public-private partnership between the Government of Karnataka and Hampi Foundation, GHF’s key partners in the project, as a “worthy model for future conservation projects” within the site and across the region.
While strong arguments have been made in support of the ASI, which is faced with the difficult task of policing a World Heritage Site, perhaps the most salient point made by Fritz and Michell — and one that may yet be incorporated, despite the pair’s defeated tone — is the argument in favor of a “living heritage” approach at Hampi, “in which past structures of different types are rehabilitated according to accepted conservation standards, yet adapted for everyday use.”
“Hampi should have seen studies to explore ways to rehabilitate the bazaar to accommodate modern shops and facilities, while at the same time respecting the historical fabric of the colonnades,” they write. “After all, this street was originally intended as a setting for bustling activity.”
Click here to read John M. Fritz and George Michell’s “Letter from India”
Click here to explore Hampi, India on Global Heritage Network