ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Hampi Bazaar Demolition I

How Heritage Divides Experts and Inhabitants

Despite widespread support on the importance of participatory planning and local knowledge networks, a clear boundary remains between those who make decisions about world heritage and those living within heritage environments. The 2011 demolition of Hampi Bazaar was just one example which showed that heritage boundary was no longer an exercise of scholarly discourse but an antagonistic boundary between human rights and world heritage.

This is the first article of a two-part series. The second article in the series is published here


Setting the Stakes

There are physical boundaries and there are symbolic boundaries. This discussion is about boundaries and the problems that arise—in theory and in practice—when we attempt to bind heritage, specifically through the creation of World Heritage Sites. In the 2008 World Heritage and Buffer Zones report, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Chair of Urban Design, Michael Turner made the following observations about heritage buffer zones:

---- The concept of buffer zone[i] is not very well understood at the local level;

---- National legislation, in many cases, still focus on individual monuments;

---- Core zone and buffer zone tend to be managed by different authorities diminishing the relationship between the two and minimizing its importance. (UNESCO 2009: 17).

My purpose is to examine these three points through a close reading of Hampi, a UNESCO designated living World Heritage Site (WHS) in the south Indian state of Karnataka.      

Coming from the discipline of urban planning, my purpose was to see how the 2006 Master Plan for the Hampi Local Planning Area balanced traditional physical planning (eg zoning, land use development) and living heritage within both plan and everyday practice. In particular, I was interested in how participatory planning[ii], the concept du jour, was being used to mediate conflicts between heritage and development in this living heritage site. Through interviews with residents of villages situated within Hampi’s heritage boundary[iii], members of the gram panchayat, professors from Kannada University, members of the Hampi World Heritage Area Management Authority (HWHAMA), and non-governmental organisation (NGO) activists I discovered that while participating planning exists in master plans, training manuals, policy reports and academic literature, in the case of Hampi, it did not exist on the ground.

Based on my experience in Hampi I would challenge Turner’s claim that “the concept of buffer zone is not very well understood at the local level” and argue that it was less about understanding and more about awareness—the majority of people I spoke to, from residents to members of the Gram Panchayat had never heard of such a thing.

Furthermore, Turner’s statement suggests that fault lies with local residents as opposed to national and international decision makers. In the case of Hampi, whether or not the buffer zone is understood at the local level is irrelevant, more important is the fact that it has not reached the local level. This lack of communication suggests that there is fault with another boundary—the boundary between heritage “experts” and residents living within a heritage landscape.

Despite numerous documents, conferences, and workshops based on the importance of the “local” knowledge networks, a clear boundary remains between those who make decisions about heritage and those who live within heritage environments. The decision maker becomes the “expert” while the latter becomes the “steward” of such decisions. Deeming the heritage site as a place of universal significance is hardly the same as being subject to such significance. While the expert moves freely from heritage site to heritage site, the steward must “manage” this heritage on the ground, walking a fine line between that which is to be protected and that which is to be used in daily life.[iv] In the case of Hampi, it is clear that as we increase in scale, we lose sight of the local context and the population living within in it.

To manage something we must first define it; as our conceptual understanding of heritage expands (eg from tangible to intangible, from cultural rights to cultural diversity) our ability to define heritage in any clear and consistent way decreases. This has obvious consequences for heritage boundaries. Returning to Turner’s three points, I would argue that, in the context of Hampi, they should be adjusted to the following:

---- The concept of the buffer zone is not well agreed on by the different authorities in charge of managing Hampi’s World Heritage Area.

---- The authorities in charge of managing Hampi’s World Heritage Area have done little to reach out to local residents in order to increase awareness of and respect for all of the World Heritage boundaries.

My observations are not necessarily a critique of existing authorities but a failure to admit to the contentious politics of boundaries and how this affects those who live within the heritage site. I bring up the 2011 demolition of Hampi Bazaar as an example of the way in which the chaotic politics of Hampi’s heritage boundary allowed for a literal pushing of boundaries in the form of tourist development within the core heritage site to be tolerated and then suddenly, without warning, obliterated—leading to the destruction of over 328 homes and livelihoods. In this case the heritage boundary is no longer a conceptual puzzle but an antagonistic boundary between human rights and world heritage.

There are many ways of approaching, even penetrating this idea of the heritage boundary. This is especially true in the case of Hampi, an enormous World Heritage Site, that, at the time of field research, contained 29 villages making up roughly 60,000 people spread through 23,645.86 hectares of land. My goal is to convey the complexity of this case through three specific discussion points related to heritage boundaries in general.

I would present a straightforward genealogy of Hampi as a World Heritage Site. The tension I allude to in this discussion is the way in which the physical expansion of the World Heritage Site (ie hectares of land)[v] corresponds to a conceptual expansion (ie our understanding of the term) of heritage among experts and practitioners with one caveat—the Heritage Site continued to be managed according to an archaic understanding of heritage as a collection of static monuments.

A Genealogy of Hampi’s World Heritage Status

Hampi achieved World Heritage status in 1986 on the basis of criteria I, II, III, and IV[vi]. It should be noted that all four criteria speak to Hampi’s history as the capital of Vijayanagar Empire, the medieval economic empire of South India, not the radical physical environment of rock and vegetation. As described by ICOMOS in 1983:

As the final capital of the last of the great kingdoms of South India, that of the Vijayanagar, Hampi, enriched by the cotton and spice trade, was one of the most beautiful cities of the medieval world…Imposing monumental vestiges, partially disengaged and reclaimed, make of [sic] Hampi today one of the most seizing ruins of the world (ICOMOS).

The Hampi Complex overlooking the royal centre. 

In this report Hampi is defined according to the tangible remnants of the 14th century Vijayanagar Empire. However, Krishna Deva Raya’s[vii] decision to establish his reign in Hampi was motivated by the landscape’s mythical connection to the Ramayana, a text believed to be from 300 BC or earlier (Menon 2012). Composed of seven cantos or chapters, it is the fourth chapter that is situated in Hampi’s environs. In that chapter, Lord Rama arrives to Kishkindra, the monkey kingdom. Lord Rama and the monkey Surgreeva, the exiled son of the sun king Surya, agreed to assist one another in the realisation of each of their quests—Lord Rama to find his wife Sita and Surgreeva to kill his younger brother Vali.

Many places in Hampi are referenced in the Ramayana—Anjanadri was the birthplace of Hanuman, the Hindu demi-god; the island on which Chandramauleshwar Temple is located is where Hanuman and Lord Rama first met; Malyantha Hill is where Lord Rama and his brother, Laskmana, stayed during the rainy season:

Rama and Lakshmana went to the mountain called Prasravana. They found a large, dry cave, its floor so smooth and clean that it may have been created just for the princes of Ayodhya to live in. They had barely laid out beds of grass for themselves when the heavens opened. For four months, with hardly a day when they saw the sun, it poured on the world. The wind howled in the valley below the cave and great trees bent their crowns to the power of Vayu and Indra (Menon 2012: 253).

Hampi’s landscape figures prominently during this part of the story, capturing the imagination of the reader or listener. Yet this landscape, which today is an intertwining of past and present, a geography of precariously balanced boulders, tropical banana plantations and endless rice paddy fields seems to play no part in Hampi’s designation of world heritage.

View of Hanumanahalli from Anjaneyadri Hill.

What is particularly interesting in the historical evolution of the World Heritage concept is that in 1992 UNESCO developed a definition to describe this very interweaving described above.

The term ‘cultural landscape’ embraces a diversity of manifestations of the interaction between humankind and its natural environment. Cultural landscapes often reflect specific techniques of sustainable land-use, considering the characteristics and limits of the natural environment they are established in, and a specific spiritual relation to nature.[viii]

Cultural landscapes fall into three main categories: those that are clearly designed and created intentionally, those that are organically evolved, and those that are associative, as in they have religious, artistic, or cultural associations of the “natural element rather than the material cultural evidence.” Hampi could, feasibly fall into any of these categories, with the category being defined according to the context of time.

Weekday afternoon in Anegundi Village, one of the many villages in the Hampi site.

If we think of Hampi in the historical context of 300 BC then we would define it as an associative cultural landscape because it speaks to religious and cultural associations with Lord Rama, Laskmana, and Hanuman. Meanwhile, the 14th century Vijayanagar kingdom was both created intentionally and organically in the sense that it was a result of “initial social, economic, administrative, and/or religious imperative and has developed its present form by association with and in response to its natural environment.”[ix]

For example, the layout of the city was based on principles of spatial and economic hierarchy; it was divided into the scared and royal centers. Today, the sacred centre contains some of the most significant (and most visited) temples and monuments within the entire heritage area. These include Virupaksha Temple, the Krishna Temple, and the Vijaya Vithala Temple. The royal centre was also known as the urban core and contained the palaces of the empire, public buildings, and quarters for different castes and classes (HWHAMA 2006: 10). The canal system was based on the advantage of monsoon rains and tanks were built throughout the various zones, these extensive canals as well as medieval aqueducts allowed agricultural fields of great distances to stay irrigated (Verghese 2001: 23; HWHAMA 2006: 30).

Ironically, Hampi was never formally recognised as a “cultural landscape” by UNESCO. Instead it remained a “site.” I believe this has greatly affected the ability to integrate conservation with development, experts and locals.


[i] According to UNESCO’s Operational Guidelines the buffer zone is “an area surrounding the nominated property, which has complementary legal and/or customary restrictions placed on its use and development to give an added layer of protection to the property. This should include the immediate setting of the nominated property, important views and other areas or attributes that are functionally important as support to the property and its protection,” (WHC 08/01 2008: 26).

[ii] Participatory planning is considered a process that incorporates the ideas, perspectives, and desires of local communities and residents into what has historically been a top-down, technocratic planning practice (see Forester 2006; Kothari 2011; Healey 2003). It is a concept espoused by planning and heritage professionals as well as intergovernmental agencies such as the United Nations and the World Bank. Forester, J (2006): "Making Participation Work When Interests Conflict: Moving from Faciliting Dialogue and Moderating Debate to Mediating Negotions," Journal of the American Planning Association, Vol 72, No 4, pp 447-456. See Healey, P(2003): "Collaborative planning in perspective," Planning Theory, Vol 2, No 2, pp 101-123.  See Kothari, A (2011):  "Corruption and the Right to Participate," Economic & Political Weekly, Vol 46, No 35, pp 12-15. 

[iii] The WH boundary includes a core zone and buffer zone.

[iv] For example, in Anegundi the medical center is unable to expand and provide more beds due to its proximity to protected monuments.

[v] In 1986, the year Hampi was inscribed at a UNESCO World Heritage Site the heritage boundary was 4,700 hectares. This increased to 10,590 in 2006, to approximately 13,624 in 2009 and then 23,641 in 2011. The most recent document (2015) uses not hectares but kilometers, stating that the total area of WH is 236.46 sq kms.

[vi] I: To represent a masterpiece of human creative genius; II: To exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design; III: To bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared; IV: To be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history.

[vii] Krishna Deva Raya (1509-1529) was an emperor of the Vijayanagar kingdom.




UNESCO (2012): "Perspectives of World Heritage: Towards Future-oriented Strategies with the Five 'C's'," M T Albert et al (ed), Valencia: UNESCO World Heritage Committee, accessed on 20 June 2015, .

Araoz, Gustavo (2012): "World Heritage and Sustainable Development: the Role of Local Communities," Presented at Your Place or Mine: New Initiatives Engaging Communities in Interpreting and Presenting Heritage in Ireland, Dublin, 18 April. 

HWHAMA (2006): Master Plan for Hampi Local Planning Area (Provisional) Report, Hospet: HWAMA.

ICOMOS (1982): "World Heritage List Number 241: Group of monuments at Hampi," accessed on 22 June 2015,

Menon, Ramesh (2012): The Ramayana: A Modern Retelling of the Great Indian Epic, New York: Harper Collins.

UNESCO (2009): "World Heritage and Buffer Zones," International Expert Meeting on World Heritage and Buffer Zones, Davos, Switzerland 11 –14 March 2008,  O a Martin (ed), Paris: Unesco World Heritage Centre, accessed on 20 June 2015, 

Verghese, A (2002): Hampi, New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

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