UNESCO Award, Mahidpur Fort
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UNESCO Award for Restoration of Mahidpur Fort

UNESCO Award, Mahidpur Fort

The UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation were established in 2000. Created to recognize the public-private partnerships that result in successful restoration projects at sites of cultural heritage, the awards are presented to projects that reflect best practices in heritage conservation. In 2016, the restoration of the walls and bastions of Mahidpur Fort, a project completed in 2015, received the Award of Merit.

Mahidpur Fort is an unprotected monument in the rural hinterland of Madhya Pradesh, located about 50 km from the city of Ujjain, India. It is home to a living community and does not fall on any popular tourism circuit; however it is a site of great importance, as the decisive Third Anglo Maratha War (1817-1818)—which took place between the British and Holkars and led to the subjugation of Central India by the British—occurred there.

Over time, the fort became threatened and vulnerable to collapse due to severe structural distress and other issues. Cultural resources were often vandalized or painted inappropriately, new structures were erected, and ruins were dismantled for the purpose of expansion of the Temple and its activities.

The award-winning project included the structural stabilization and restoration of the walls and bastions of the fort. The success of the project lies in the fact that the local community, although initially unaware of the site’s significance, have now become active custodians of this resource. As there is no statutory protection for this site, a grassroots advocacy movement has taken hold, reflecting a sense of ownership, pride, and belonging within the community.

One of the core objectives of the Madhya Pradesh Monuments Project (MPMP)—a partnership between World Monuments Fund (WMF) and the government of Madhya Pradesh—is the transfer of knowledge and capacity building and the training of youth. Many unemployed youth were trained in building crafts, providing them a vocation for a sustainable future. The public-private partnership between World Monuments Fund and the Department of Archaeology, Government of Madhya Pradesh also led to best practices being incorporated into government systems, which is a benchmark not only for the region but for the entire country. The fixed mindsets of the government were expanded and new ideas of conservation, restoration, and interpretation were cross-fertilized among the experts, sector specialists, and engineers. The project has demonstrated a methodological conservation planning approach and its benefit to the monument rather than piecemeal solutions.

The success of the project and its impact on the community can be gauged by the fact that other similar communities have expressed interest to the local government to restore their living unprotected monuments. The project has been successful in changing the mindset of the community as well as the custodians that heritage cultural resource is not a liability but—if restored with care and vision—can do wonders to enhance the image of a place. The fort at Mahidpur is now a local tourist attraction; every member of the community is aware of its layered history and, moreover, even the Jain Temple Trust now considers the setting and context as an asset, and not old ruins that can be taken down for expansion.

The award was presented to Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan at his office in Bhopal on December 14, 2016. Also present at the ceremony were the Minister of State for Culture Surendra Patwa; Principal Secretary of Culture Manoj Shrivastava; Principal Secretary to CM S.K. Mishra; Commissioner of Archeology Anupam Rajan; representative of UNESCO Moa Chiba; WMF's project management consultant Ms. Gurmeet Rai; and conservation architect Ms. Aishwarya Tipnis.

Later in the evening, the delegation was invited to a ceremony by the Department of Archeology, Government of Madhya Pradesh at the State Museum in Bhopal. Shri Anupam Ranjan, the commissioner of archeology, welcomed the team and spoke of the pride that the department felt in receiving the award and how it has inspired all the various engineers to put their best feet forward. The gathering—comprising the engineers of the department, the various contractors working with the historic sites, and representatives of the local community of Mahidpur—was addressed by Moe Chiba from UNESCO. Gurmeet Rai made a presentation on the entire MPMP project, sharing its aims and objectives as well as the many tangible outcomes, including capacity building for young professionals and contractors, that have emerged from the project. Ms Aishwarya Tipnis explained the journey of the restoration of Mahidpur Fort, the methodology that was adopted, and how the collaborative decisions made between the department's engineers, contractor, and the architect have been the benchmark for the success of the project.

Mahidpur Fort is the first recipient of a UNESCO award for Madhya Pradesh . The restoration of the fort has set the precedent for many more monuments that were restored as part of the MPMP project.