India being the world’s largest repository of UNESCO world heritage sites is hardly surprising considering how we are the only non-Abrahamic civilisation with a continuously recorded history and culture and tradition that remains unbroken to date. However, what is mostly overlooked is that this is a living heritage unlike say ancient Greece, Egypt or Rome, which is preserved in monuments and museums and not in daily life. This living heritage expresses itself in our temples, practices, festivals, customs, and sacred pilgrimage sites.
Unfortunately, this living aspect had been neglected for more than seven decades after India’s independence. After Narendra Modi became Prime Minister in 2014, this heritage has been revived in a substantial way and is unfolding before us as each day passes. As a leader whose pulse is attuned to this civilisational nation, PM Modi has identified that our cultural heritage is perhaps the most powerful bond that forges Bharatavarsha and her people and he is essentially rejuvenating and re-strengthening those bonds.
Nowhere is this more evident than in his ambitious and nationwide projects to revive our pilgrimage sites and ancient temples, among other such initiatives.
The magnificent Somnath temple, which was destroyed multiple times by foreign invaders, was rebuilt in 1995 and then redeveloped on a massive scale by the Modi government at a rather modest budget of Rs 80 crore.
What is also more notable is his inauguration of the Kashi Vishwanath Corridor, a comprehensive initiative to transform the sacred Dham in an unprecedented fashion. In my recent visit to Varanasi, I marvelled at the sort of vision, planning and execution that has made this possible.
The same thing can be said about the Mahakal Lok Corridor project in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh, with a budget outlay of Rs 850 crore. Its first leg was thrown open to the public in October 2022 to great acclaim. A wide, spacious and aesthetic corridor flanking the Mahakal temple overlooks the ancient Shipra River and is decked with a vast array of facilities for pilgrims. At the other end is the Triveni Museum, one of the treasures of Ujjain.
Even more ambitious and fundamentally transformative is the Char Dham Pariyojana endeavour. Having started in December 2016, it aims to widen 900 km of highways and links all four Dhams – Gangotri, Yamunotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath. The project blends ease and speed of travel, numerous facilities for pilgrims and is also environmentally conscious. If that is not enough, the project is also part of the Kailash Manasarovar route. This singular project is truly unprecedented in our history at multiple levels. It reminds us of kings and donors and spiritually minded savants of the past who had made such noble endowments for pilgrims and people alike. Once it is fully completed, it will profoundly alter the way the Char Dham yatra was undertaken all these years.
Kedarnath, which forms one of the pious jewels of Char Dham, had been the unfortunate victim of rains that lashed it in 2013 and almost destroyed the great Tirtha-Kshetra. Under the Kedarnath Redevelopment initiative, the whole infrastructure of the city was restored and has been made disaster-resilient.
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Many more initiatives
When we travel to the Northeast, we notice PM Modi’s visionary initiative in the form of the PRASAD (Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual Augmentation Drive) project. With a budget of Rs 193 crore, it is a cluster of six projects aimed at spiritually linking the major pilgrimage sites and temples in the Northeast. The ancient Tirtha-Kshetra of Kamakhya temple in Assam is receiving an enormous facelift. Here, we also notice the other aspect of PM Modi’s foresight: on the one hand, economic and infrastructural development of the Northeast is proceeding at a record time through efforts like the NE railway network, and a comprehensive development of Arunachal Pradesh, one of the strategic border states of India. On the other hand, these efforts are being complemented by cultural linkages via projects like PRASAD.
Other initiatives, too, merit mention. The Swadesh Darshan scheme, with an outlay of Rs 5,399 crore, aims to thoroughly reboot our tourism infrastructure spread over 76 projects across India, and 50 projects have already been completed this year. These include theme-based trains for pilgrims among other things – the Ramayana circuit train comes to mind.
On the academic level, the ancient Harappan site of Dholavira has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list. It is one of the great hubs that tell us the real story and glory of ancient India and research and archaeology in the area have received extraordinary fillip under PM Modi’s stewardship.
Likewise, PM Modi said in his February Mann Ki Baat that more than 220 antiquities stolen from India have been brought back since 2014. These are the true civilisational wealth of our country and have the potential to unlock many profound stories of our past. To this list also belongs the installation of the statues of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Nadaprabhu Kempe Gowda I and Ramanujacharya: all of them distinguished for leading inspiring and ennobling lives and strengthening and unifying and educating our society and nation.
Last but not the least, the reconstruction of the grand Ram temple in Ayodhya should count as one of the greatest successes of Modi’s prime ministership. This victory was the outcome of a prolonged saga of patience, sacrifice, piety, and civilisational resurgence. By every account, it is an epoch of modern history. The Prime Minister signalled this by performing the Rajyabhishek of Prateek Swarup of Lord Ram in October 2022. The temple work is proceeding at breakneck speed and should be completed by next year at this rate.
As mentioned earlier, India has, for the first time since independence, a civilisationally rooted Prime Minister in Narendra Modi. His understanding of the fundamental impulse of India—spirituality—is unmatched. And through these initiatives, he is translating this understanding into concrete action and structures, which will have a profoundly lasting impact on our country and its people.
The author is BJP MP from Karnataka’s Mysore-Kodagu. He tweets @mepratap. Views are personal.