US to help in restoration of Balaji ghat in Varanasi
by Binay Singh, TNN | Jul 29, 2012, 04.19AM IST
VARANASI: The United States of America will fund for the documentation of Balaji ghat, a historic landmark constructed in 18th century along the Ganga in Varanasi.
"I am especially pleased to note that, given the cultural and historical significance of Varanasi, the US state department, under US ambassadors' fund for cultural preservation programme, has approved a grant of over Rs 30 lakh ($56,000) to the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) for the documentation of the 18th century Balaji ghat on the Ganges riverfront in Varanasi," Nancy J Powell, US ambassador to India, said. The US diplomat also went on boat ride in the whole stretch of Ganga to watch and capture the glimpses of majestic ghats of Varanasi.
The US ambassadors' fund for cultural preservation provides financial support for to preserve cultural heritage across the world. The fund supports a wide range of projects such as restoration of historic buildings, assessment and conservation of museum collections, archaeological sites, documentation of vanishing traditional craft techniques, improved storage conditions for archives and manuscripts and documentation of indigenous languages. The local unit of INTACH is not aware of the US funding for the documentation of Balaji ghat. "We have no details about the project. The Delhi unit may have sent some proposal in this regard," president of Varanasi chapter of INTACH Kalyan Krishna said.
INTACH is the country's largest non-profit organization dedicated to conservation and preservation of India's natural, cultural, living, tangible and intangible heritage. It has been working on number of cultural heritage sites all over India, including Varanasi.
Balaji ghat has also found a place in the world monument watch list-2012 of the World Monuments Fund (WMF). According to a report of INTACH, the organisation nominated Balaji ghat, Varanasi on world monuments watch list-2012. The report says that it was constructed to serve pilgrims worshiping at the holy river. The collapse of the main building of Balaji ghat, few years back from the decay of wood, inadequate conservation and heritage protection was a big setback to the historic riverfront of Varanasi.
Considering its significance and condition, the building has now been declared 100 most endangered heritage sites of the world by World Monuments Fund, a New York-based organization.
Inclusion in the watch list will support a plan to restore the building for use as a cultural centre and help to continue an ancient tradition of pilgrimage and enlightenment. The Balaji ghat complex was originally a seven-storey building and follows a traditional architectural form with, a temple of Shri Balaji, garden, well, assembly hall, living areas and courtyards.
These are well-connected with stone staircases, forming a remarkable architecture ensemble. It was built in the combination of stone and wood. Use of wood and elements of decorations such as exquisitely carved wooden column, brackets, doorways and other decorative elements predominantly mark the style of Maratha and Peshwa architecture.
According to the WMF report, with assistance from American Express, WMF is supporting the restoration of the top three floors of the building as part of its adaptive reuse as a cultural center. The interior spaces will be refurbished and a program will be implemented to increase public awareness of Balaji ghat and establish its reuse as a cultural centre.
Some parts of 'Naubatkhana' of centuries-old Balaji temple, where late shehnai maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan used to sit for riyaz (practice), had collapsed in September and November 2009. Earlier, a major part of the temple had also collapsed in 1998 killing 10 women, who were sitting on the ghat.