Karnikara Mandapam at Kunnamangalam Bhagawati Temple wins top award from UNESCO for heritage conservation

Kunnamangalam Bhagawathi Temple's Karnikara Mandapam. Photo: arpo.in

Kozhikode's Kunnamangalam Bhagawati Temple's semi-open hall aka Karnikara mandapam, an architectural marvel fashioned after a lotus blossom, won UNESCO's 'Award of Distinction' along with China's Fanling Golf Course (Hong Kong) and Dongguan Garden Residences (Yangzhou). Meanwhile, the urban revitalisation of Rambagh Gate and Ramparts in Punjab won the 'Award of Excellence,' which was announced on Thursday. Twelve projects from China, India, and Nepal were acknowledged by the awards jury in this year's UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation.

"With people, heritage, and creativity at its core, the resilient urban revitalisation of the Rambagh Gate and Ramparts in Punjab, India, has garnered the highest honour, 'Award of Excellence,'" UNESCO Bangkok said in a statement. The project was lauded by the jury for ensuring the continuity of the site's existing uses while enhancing inclusivity and access to the broader community, it said.

An 'Award of Merit' was handed to five projects -- Yan Nan Yuan, at Peking University in Beijing, China; Pan Family Residence in Suzhou, China; Church of Epiphany in Haryana, India; David Sassoon Library and Reading Room in Mumbai, India; and Bikaner House, in New Delhi. The 'Award for New Design in Heritage Contexts' went to the Erlitou Site Museum of the Xia Capital in Luoyang in China, UNESCO Bangkok said.

Deliberating since November, the jury selected a total of 12 projects based on their understanding of place, their technical achievements, and their sustainability and impact, as specified in the awards criteria, officials said.

48 entries from 8 countries
This year, the jury reviewed 48 project entries from eight countries across the Asia-Pacific region. Entries were notably diverse in scope and typology. The jury noted, taken together, all entries collectively represent significant ongoing progress in heritage conservation awareness and practice in the region, they said. The Karnikara Mandapam at Kunnamangalam Bhagawati Temple, in Kerala, Pipal Haveli, in Punjab, and Sikami Chhen, in Kathmandu, Nepal, were awarded with the 'Special Recognition for Sustainable Development' for their transformative heritage practices which contribute to larger principles of sustainable development, the statement said.

Experts as jury
The jury in 2023 was composed of seven international conservation experts directed by a chair. The geographical representation of the jury members spanned the Asia-Pacific region, just as jurors' expertise -- archaeology, intangible cultural heritage, landscape design, museology, built heritage conservation -- reflected a wide range of perspectives, it said.

Every year, since 2000, the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation program has been recognising the efforts of private individuals and organisations in restoring, conserving, and transforming structures and buildings of heritage value in the region, the statement read. The programme encourages others to undertake conservation projects within their communities, whether independently or through public-private partnerships, it added.

UNESCO introduced a new category 'Special Recognition for Sustainable Development' in 2020, together with an updated set of awards criteria to acknowledge the role and contribution of cultural heritage to sustainable development within the broader framework of the UN 2030 Agenda, the statement said. "The awarded projects serve as a testament to how cultural heritage can be successfully preserved whilst at the same time mobilised to be integrated into various local development strategies.

"The award winners were selected according to their demonstration of success among various conservation criteria, such as their articulation of the spirit of place, their technical achievement, their appropriate use or adaptation, their engagement with the local community, and their contribution towards enhancing the sustainability of the surrounding environment and beyond," UNESCO Bangkok said. 

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