Santiniketan declared UNESCO World Heritage Site

Santiniketan, the town in West Bengal’s Birbhum district, was originally an ashram built by Rabindranath Tagore’s father Debendranath Tagore. Photo: ASI

Santiniketan, the town in West Bengal where poet Rabindranath Tagore built Visva-Bharati over a century ago, has been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The decision to include Santiniketan in the list was taken in the 45th World Heritage Committee Meeting held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

India had been striving for long to get a UNESCO tag for this cultural site.

A few months ago, the landmark site was recommended for inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List by the France-based International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS).

Now, India has 41 World Heritage Sites. The 41 World Heritage properties include 33 cultural, seven natural and one mixed property.


• Santiniketan, the town in West Bengal’s Birbhum district, was originally an ashram built by Tagore’s father Debendranath Tagore, where anyone, irrespective of caste and creed, could come to meditate.

• Debendranath Tagore, also known as ‘Maharshi’, was a leading figure of the Indian Renaissance.

• Among the structures built by the Maharshi was the Santiniketan Griha and the beautiful stained glass Mandir (Upasana Griha), or temple where worship is non-denominational. Both structures built in the second half of the 19th century are important in their association with the founding of Santiniketan and the universal spirit associated with the revival and reinterpretation of religious ideals in Bengal and India.

• Visva-Bharati, located in Santiniketan, is one of the most prestigious universities in India with degree courses in humanities, social science, science, fine arts, music, performing arts, education, agricultural science and rural reconstruction.

• Visva-Bharati, which means “communion of the world with India”, was built by Tagore, the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize, in 1921. 

• Before Independence, it was regarded as a college. 

• It was declared a central university and an institution of national importance by an Act of Parliament in 1951.

• The President of India is the ‘Paridarshak’ (visitor) of the University, the Prime Minister is the ‘Acharya’ (chancellor) and the governor of West Bengal is the ‘Pradhana’ (rector)  of the university.

What is a World Heritage Site?

• The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity. 

• This is embodied in an international treaty called the ‘Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage’, adopted by UNESCO in 1972.

• A World Heritage Site is a place having a special cultural or physical significance and outstanding universal value to humanity. It may be a building, a city, a complex, a desert, a forest, an island, a lake, a monument or a mountain.

• Sites recognised as being of Outstanding Universal Value are inscribed each year on the World Heritage List.

Who lists World Heritage Sites?

• The International World Heritage Programme administered by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee establishes the sites to be listed as World Heritage Sites.

• ICOMOS assisted UNESCO in writing the Convention text, in which it was appointed advisory body to the World Heritage Committee. Its role is to support the implementation of the cultural side of the Convention.

• The France-based International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) is an international non-governmental organisation that comprises professionals, experts, representatives from local authorities, companies and heritage organisations, and is dedicated to the conservation and enhancement of architectural and landscape heritage around the world.

• The World Heritage Committee defines the use of the World Heritage Fund and allocates financial assistance upon requests from States Parties. 

• It has the final say on whether a property is inscribed on the World Heritage List. 

• The Committee consists of representatives from 21 of the States Parties to the Convention elected by their General Assembly.

• It examines reports on the state of conservation of inscribed properties and asks States Parties to take action when properties are not being properly managed. 

• It also decides on the inscription or deletion of properties on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

World Heritage Sites in India

• Agra Fort

• Ajanta Caves

• Ellora Caves

• Taj Mahal

• Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram

• Sun Temple, Konârak

• Kaziranga National Park

• Keoladeo National Park

• Manas Wildlife Sanctuary

• Churches and Convents of Goa

• Fatehpur Sikri

• Group of Monuments at Hampi

• Khajuraho Group of Monuments

• Elephanta Caves

• Great Living Chola Temples

• Group of Monuments at Pattadakal

• Sundarbans National Park

• Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks

• Buddhist Monuments at Sanchi

• Humayun’s Tomb, Delhi

• Qutb Minar and its Monuments, Delhi

• Mountain Railways of India

• Mahabodhi Temple Complex at Bodh Gaya

• Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka

• Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park

• Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus

• Red Fort Complex

• Jantar Mantar, Jaipur

• Western Ghats

• Hill Forts of Rajasthan

• Great Himalayan National Park Conservation Area

• Rani-ki-Vav (the Queen’s Stepwell) at Patan, Gujarat

• Archaeological Site of Nalanda Mahavihara at Nalanda, Bihar

• Khangchendzonga National Park

• The Architectural Work of Le Corbusier, Chandigarh

• Historic City of Ahmedabad

• Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensembles of Mumbai

• Jaipur City, Rajasthan

• Dholavira: a Harappan City

• Kakatiya Rudreshwara (Ramappa) Temple, Telangana

• Santiniketan.

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