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Nagarparkar Cultural Landscape

Date of Submission: 12/04/2016
Criteria: (iii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Government of Pakistan, Directorate Genaral of Archaeology
State, Province or Region:
Coordinates: N24 21 35.50 E70 45 29.90
Ref.: 6111

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The Cultural Landscape of Nagarparkar is located at the southern limit of the vast Thar desert, where old stabilized sand dunes and the flat alluvial plain meet the marshy, tidal mudflats of the Runn of Kutch, and the Arabian Sea. Until as late as the 15th c. this area was covered by the Arabian Sea which extended northwards to the pink granite Karunjhar hills. Today these hills in the eastern part of the Runn surround the area of Nagarparkar and form the only raised, dry land in this dramatic locale. Areas to the west and east which were formally sea are now alluvial marshland and brackish ponds, part of the Runn of Kutch Wildlife Sanctuary and RAMSAR site.

The Nagarparkar landscape was an important centre of Jain religion and culture for centuries. The Jains were maritime merchants and financial advisors to the Rajputs, the Mughals and the Sultans of Delhi. They dominated trade and commerce in the region through the port of Parinagar, believed to have been founded in the 5th c. BC. Traces of port facilities are still visible in the nearby village of Dotar, or Doo ptar meaning two landing places.

The Karunjhar hills were a place of pilgrimage called Sardhara where there is a Jain temple of Mahadeve and a ritual pool. The hills contain many sacred spaces associated with Jain munis, followers of Lord Mahavira and Parsanatha, where Yogis and Jain munis prayed and practiced austerity.

The wealth of the Jain community was reflected in the richness of their temples. The towns of Nagarparker, Gori, Viravah, Bodhesar, contain remains of numerous Jain temples dating from the 12th to 15th centuries which appear to be the high point of Jain culture. The Temple at Gori is an excellent example; built on a high platform and reached by a series of steps carved into the rock, it is made of huge stone slabs and grand columns expertly carved with objects of Jain worship.  The temple is built in the classical Jain style, with one main temple surrounded by 52 smaller shrines, each housing one or more images of Jain prophets. The interior of Gori temple was adorned with paintings of Jain religious imagery which are older than any other frescos in the Jain temples of North India. Apart from this fabulously carved temple, there is a cluster of three other temples at Bodhesar built in 1375 AD and 1449 AD. Two temples with corbelled domes are built of kanjur and redstone, and are finely carved. The third temple, which is raised on a platform, is believed to have been built by a Jain woman and is locally called Poni Daharo.

Other significant Jain temples and remains of religious institutional buildings and water tanks are found in the villages of Nagarparkar, including the outstanding “bazaar” temple, Bodhesar, Viaravah, Kasbo and Gori. The text “Shri Gaudi Parshvanath Stavan” by Nemavijaya, written in Tharparkar region itself in 1706, describes the Parkar country as the most glorious of all regions of India.

The Jain influence declined due to the shifting of the sea away from Parinagar and the other centres of Jain settlement and economic activity. Originally the Nagarparkar area was on the edge of an open marine gulf which gradually turned into an estuary as silt was deposited by the Indus River system. This was augmented by major tectonic events which led to the westward migration of channels of the Indus and the transformation of the Rann of Kutch into saline mudflats and land locked the area of Nagarparkar.

The changes in the coastline and trade routes caused the Jain population to decline significantly in the 19th century and the last remaining Jain community left the area in 1947 at Partition. The faith still thrives in Indian Rajasthan across the border and many of the temples there, all of them named Godiji Parshwanath, trace their ancestry to much earlier religious centres such as Gori in Nagarparkar.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Nagarparkar is best understood as a Cultural Landscape “illustrative of the evolution of human society and settlement over time, under the influence of the physical constraints and/or opportunities presented by their natural environment and of successive social, economic and cultural forces, both external and internal.” Specifically, the property is a relict organically evolved landscape; it has “developed its present form by association with and response to its natural environment” and, although come to an end, retains “significant distinguishing features” visible in material form.

The OUV of the cultural landscape of Nagarparkar is evident in the way it illustrates the evolution of an important religious and commercial settlement of Jain maritime trade, from a thriving centre to collapse due to the forces of environmental change.

The Nagarparkar Cultural Landscape offers a unique opportunity to add to our understanding of early maritime trade networks along the north coast of the Arabian Sea and the role played by the Jain community as cultural and commercial brokers. At the same time, the towns of the area display an important array of Jain religious architecture combining local style with traditions born in Nagarparkar and evolved in areas to the east including Gujrat and Rajasthan.

The cultural values of the Nagarparkar Cultural Landscape are given added universal value when seen in the context of the unstoppable tectonic and geomorphological forces that acted and continue to act on this area. In a period of growing awareness and concern about climate change, rising sea levels and earthquakes, the fate of the prosperous Jain communities of Nagarparkar provides a meaningful case study and cautionary tale.

Criterion (iii): The Nagarparkar Cultural Landscape bears a unique testimony to the lost civilization and cultural traditions of the Jain maritime mercantile system that flourished in this part of the subcontinent for centuries and to the extreme environmental changes which brought about its demise.

Criterion (iv): The Nagarparkar Cultural Landscape provides important insights into the culture of mercantile Jain communities on the coast of the Arabian Sea, its art forms and local religious architecture which are unique from but related to other styles and centres of Jain culture, once important contributors to the larger cultural picture throughout the Indus area but now a lost voice.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The individual elements of the Nagarparkar Cultural Landscape vary in their condition and state of preservation; and while most are no longer functioning in their original capacity all are cared for within a local system of safeguarding. Each component, whether a temple, water pond, port remnant or spiritual space is unique and can be assessed as such. They all share a high degree of authenticity of materials, design and craftsmanship and retain attributes that reflect their original form and changes over time.

The cultural landscape has many readable layers of evidence from its earliest origins to its decline and its existence within the contemporary context. There have been virtually no alterations to the elements of the landscape in this under developed rural landscape where the greatest threat is neglect. The environmental setting has, of course, changed dramatically over time but the relationship of the cultural remains within the natural landscape has a high degree of integrity and can be meaningfully interpreted.

Comparison with other similar properties

The religious architecture of Jainism is widely represented in India where the faith is still practised. The World Heritage property of the Khajuraho Group of Monuments (1986) in Madhya Pradesh is a large religious complex of Jain and Hindu monuments of architectural importance. The Dilwara Temples and Ranakpur Temple in the Aravali Ranges in Rajasthan are mountain top centres of pilgrimage for the Jain community as is the Gomateshwara Temple in Karnataka. Similarly, the hilltop site of Palitana in Gujrat has thousands of temples along the spine of the Shatrunjaya Hills.

Properties like these differ greatly from Nagarparkar which was not a major religious centre or a place of pilgrimage. Instead it reflects Jainism as part of a vibrant commercial community based on maritime trade in the Arabian Sea and the critical interaction of that community with the changing natural environment around it.

There is no doubt that the Nagarparkar Cultural Landscape has a great deal to tell us about the role and nature of the Jain religion in this coastal area of the Arabian Sea in antiquity. However, its OUV lies equally in the insights it can provide regarding cultural change and survival in the face of overwhelming environmental change.