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UNESCO Observes India’s Vishwa-Bharati University as a World Heritage Site


UNESCO Observes India’s Vishwa-Bharati University as a World Heritage Site

The Vishwa Bharati University of Shantiniketan in India has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site this week. This renowned institution from the state of West Bengal, India is famed for its glorious tradition and origin as it was established by the Nobel Laureate Poet Rabindranath Tagore over decades ago and has now finally been included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.


The origin of the efforts of this development-


As per several reports, it has been found that the decision to include Shantiniketan on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites was taken at the 45th Session of the World Heritage Committee which is currently underway in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia from 10th- 25th September 2023. However, the origins of this effort finally date back to 2010, when the then Chancellor of the University, the Former Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh appealed to the UNESCO to recognize this heritage educational institution of India as a designated World Heritage Site. At the same time, it is also the world’s first living heritage university, as well.


Finally, on 18th September 2023, the institution was granted this much-awaited recognition as the 41st UNESCO World Heritage Site in India, out of the total number of 1,172 World Heritage Sites across 166 Countries of the world.


The University has developed its longstanding academic significance and importance through various fields over the past decades since its establishment. It has played a pivotal role in expanding educational research through open-learning and field-based study techniques in the fields of Vocational Education and Training, Scientific Education, Social Sciences and Humanities, Art and Culture, Foreign and Indian Languages, Agriculture, and Reconstruction.


The origins and development of the Institution


The origins and development of this institution date back to the year of 1901. The Indian Nobel-Laureate Poet Rabindranath Tagore started this institution as an initiative to expand the values of Residential Schooling and as a Centre for Art-based Learning of Ancient Indian Traditions with a broad vision of the unity of humanity transcending across religious and cultural boundaries. On 23rd December 1921, this particular School was transformed and developed into a World University that was finally established at this place of Shantiniketan. This still carries forward the significance of European and Asian Modernism incorporating the elements of ancient and medieval folk traditions spanning across the world. However, the residential school is still functioning actively today.


Soon after India’s independence in 1947, and at the beginning of the consecutive new decade, in 1951, this Institution was granted the official status of a University by the then Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, and was renamed with the present name which it bears. Over the years the University has earned the status of being a Central University and an autonomous institution of global and prime significance for research studies in India and abroad along with affiliation with important Higher Educational Authorities of India like the UGC and ICAR.


Why and how does UNESCO recognize a site from the angle of World Heritage?


Generally, any heritage site that is recognized by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site needs to be first nominated by the country where it is located. This nominated site is being thereafter inspected by international experts who finally decide upon the justification of this inclusion. This World Heritage Committee is a body of around 21 elected member states who are voted by UNESCO itself, to be a part of this Committee. The Designation of a site being a World Heritage site is considered an official designation that is given to it following careful consideration of a proposal submitted by the country and the evaluations being undertaken by these experts.


So, at the time when a property is awarded this designation is usually determined by the World Heritage Committee, which is made up of experts from 21 countries across all regions of the world who meet once a year to deliberate on the specific criteria to demonstrate the proposed sites to tag them under the ‘Outstanding Universal Value’. Thus, when a cultural or natural site gets an OUV status, it gets exceptional to transcend the national boundaries and be of a common importance for the present and future generations.


However, the process of preparing the nominations is at once a lengthy and intensive process. The UNESCO accompanies this process and ensures the completion of all necessary steps so that the Committee can do its work smoothly and once a site is inscribed into this list, the country of location can then only work towards ensuring the sustainable protection and promotion of the sites.


However, in the story of Vishwa Bharati University, we can find the convergence of history, culture, and education. Thus, as a whole it can be recognized as a story that now transcends across borders and continues to inspire generations to come, uniting humanity through the pursuit of knowledge and the celebration of diversity.


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