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Critical Evaluation of the Role of Historical Landscape Conservation in Sustainable Regional Development: Case of the Royal Gardens of Rajnagar in Bundelkhand

India presently faces the onset of rapid development and change in every part of the country. Although the current GDP of 7.9% (Trading Economics 2016) shows positive trends, these indicators are often based on standards and indicators which focus very heavily on only the economic output of the country as per the Neo- Classical model of Economics (Czech 2010). The indicators tend to ignore the significance of the cultural, social and natural capital in the development of the country. This research focuses on the role of the cultural capital in/for sustainable development following the standard definition by UNESCO where culture should be regarded as the set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of society or a social group, and that it encompasses, in addition to art and literature, lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs (UNESCO 2001). Historically as well at present with 68.84% of the total population of the country being rural (Census of India 2011), the idea of culture draws heavily from rural agriculture. The agricultural related activities are major factors in the transformation of Indian landscapes, blurring the boundaries between agriculture, culture and sustainable development.  

Since the early settlements, India had innumerable and regionally very diverse agricultural and farming traditions, many of them being already lost to time (Shiva 2000). All these styles and techniques very organically deal with the region-specific needs in terms of climate and environment. But in the current rapid urbanization and population pressure, government and industry policies alike tend to overlook and even endanger this traditional wisdom, sorting to extreme and technology based agriculture which comes with a heavy price on environment (Shiva & Holla Bhar 2001). A possible strategy to counter this scenario is to exploit this inherent community wisdom and resilience to pave way for a long term sustainable development. The research critically investigates into this possibility through the case study of historical royal produce gardens found all across the region of Bundelkhand. The historical region of Bundelkhand lies in the centre of India. Present Bundelkhand region comprises 13 districts from two of the states of India (seven districts of southern Uttar Pradesh and six districts of northern Madhya Pradesh). The Bundelkhand region within these boundaries has an area of around 70,000 sq km with a population of 15.5 million (Census Organization of India 2015). Within the Chhatarpur District of Bundelkhand lies the town of Rajnagar, the administrative center of that part of the District, and a twin town to Khajuraho, famous for its UNESCO World Heritage listed medieval stone temples (UNESCO 2016). In 1998 a report was commissioned by the government of Madhya Pradesh as a Conservation and sustainable development strategy for Khajuraho region. This report outlined a geographical region, that also include the town of Rajagar which houses these remarkable produce gardens (The Khajuraho Planning Team 1998).These gardens in Khajuraho/Rajnagar all share the same features: they are walled, with a small Shiva temple, an outhouse (kothi), cremation platforms (Samadhi), several wells (some are stepwells), irrigation channels and their areas ranging within 3 to 6 acres. The history of these gardens is largely unknown, as is the reason for such an incredible concentration of 15 gardens just within Rajnagar itself. These gardens have been created by the royal family of Chhatarpur in the second half of the 18th century / beginning of the 19th century as produce gardens for vegetables, flowers and fruit. The hypothesis for Rajnagar is that every garden is connected with an heir prince, who would – after having reigned as a king – have been cremated in his garden, as might have been the case with his close relatives (Babbar & Robberechts 2007). Allegedly, after the Indian Independence (1947) the larger number of gardens came into private hands, as gifts from the royal family.

These gardens along with their irrigation and agricultural methods formed a unique micro self-sustainable ecosystem in the region which now faces rapid urbanization as a threat to their existence. It was not till the release of 1998 report about the Khajuraho region that the gardens were acknowledged as historical landscapes, and not just another farmer’s field.

Though with an obvious history of droughts in the region, new water intensive farming techniques has led to huge drought issues and incapacity of community resilience leading to several suicides by loan indebted farmers during the past few years (Shiva & Holla Bhar 2001). Via the case studies undertake, the inherent community wisdom and resilience (Upadhyay 2015) against the drought scenarios can be tapped into for dealing with the climate change (Young 2012). Thus in order to understand the significance of these gardens, they cannot be studied as isolated cultural heritage islands within the settlements and farm fields. To establish their role in the current environment, whole of the Khajuraho Heritage Region (The Khajuraho Planning Team 1998) including the various farmlands as agricultural landscape, water sheds, settlement of Rajnagar and tourist attractions nearby will be taken into consideration.

Thus the main aim of the research is to analyse how/if conservation of historical landscape can contribute to the sustainable development of the region. The objectives leading to the aforementioned aim will be firstly, to investigate key problems and concerns with the conservation of historical landscapes. Secondly, to investigate roles of key stakeholders and community participation in the conservation process of historical landscapes at global level. Thirdly, to investigate the bridge between the (economic) development policies and present protection systems for historical landscapes in India. Then to understand the planning and context of royal produce Bundeli gardens from 18th century in Rajnagar, Bundelkhand, India and establish all categories of values of these gardens, within the broader context of changing agricultural landscape of Rajnagar. And finally, to establish how the Gardens of Rajnagar can contribute to the sustainable development of the region.  

Given the nature of the research subject, a mix of both qualitative and quantitative research methods is to be employed. Post literature review, the author uses grounded theory analysis to identify the range of meanings and values of the landscape within the broader context of changing agricultural landscape in Rajnagar across all respondents through semi structured interviews. The sampling for the survey will be based on snowball sampling technique which bases itself on the social network of the samples.

The results thus obtained will be brought together in a model that will be then validated on another site nearby with similar geographical and historical context with similar gardens. Given that the results obtained are positive, the developed model could - with certain modifications - provide a basis for culture-led rural development in various other scenarios and contexts.  

Date:11 Sep 2015  →  11 Sep 2019
Keywords:Rural Development, India, Culture, Heritage, Sustainable Development
Disciplines:Economic geography, Human geography, Recreation, leisure and tourism geography, Urban and regional geography, Other social and economic geography, Urban and regional design, development and planning, Architectural engineering, Architecture, Interior architecture, Architectural design, Art studies and sciences, Landscape architecture
Project type:PhD project