A research project of the Department of Archaeology
Funded by: AHRC-GCRF £ 59,910.35 (AH/P005993/1)(2016-2017) and Newton Fund/HEFCE £3,990.39 (2017).
Pilgrimage is one of the fastest growing motivations for individual travel with an estimated 600 million ‘spiritual voyages’ undertaken each year and the Asia Development Bank predicted that Buddhist pilgrimage to South Asia would reach an annual figure of 22 million by 2020, from a figure of four million in 2013. At the site of Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha in Nepal’s Western Terai, these numbers have expanded from 50,000 in 2006 to 1.2 million in 2019. As a result, the sustainable development of heritage sites in Nepal’s Western Terai is facing a dual challenge. On the one hand, heritage sites across Nepal’s western Terai need to be protected from rapid urbanisation and associated demands for agricultural intensification and raw resources as well as by unplanned and planned developments associated with Buddhist pilgrimage; on the other hand, the development of these sites needs to ensure that as resident communities benefit from forthcoming investment in pilgrimage centres.
The aim of this network was to promote the protection of heritage sites in Nepal’s western Terai in the face of accelerated development whilst piloting the monitoring of the positive and negative impacts of contemporary Buddhist pilgrimage on local communities and the sites themselves. The project’s objectives were to develop a multidisciplinary and collaborative approach to the protection of heritage sites and the monitoring of the social and economic impacts of contemporary Buddhist pilgrimage in Nepal's western Terai; establish pilot methodologies for the protection of heritage sites within Nepal's western Terai and the benchmarking and monitoring of social and economic impacts of contemporary Buddhist pilgrimage at five sample sites; identity and promote the potential benefits of contemporary Buddhist pilgrimage, and reduce negative impacts, by sharing pilot data results with INGOs, NGOs, IGOs and GOs in Nepal's western Terai; and share new site protection methodologies and pilot monitoring toolkits to regional clusters of contemporary Buddhist pilgrimage.
The project successfully mobilised a multi-disciplinary network of academics and practitioners from across South Asia and the UK, including archaeologists, historians, philologists, conservators, architects, environmental scientists, heritage managers, planners, engineers and economists at a series of workshops and community interactions. Through interaction with, and feedback from, local stakeholders, community leaders and administrators, the participants co-produced a set of resolutions for the enhanced protection and rehabilitation of heritage in the face of accelerated development. Many pertinently reiterate existing resolutions agreed by the delegates of the 2014 Lumbini International Buddhist Conference (IBC2014) and UNESCO’s 2017 International Scientific Committee for Lumbini (ISC2017). Our book, Archaeology, Cultural Heritage Protection and Community Engagement in South Asia, co-edited by Robin Coningham and Nick Lewer with contributions from collaborating partners within the network, explores issues of archaeology, community engagement and cultural heritage protection and considers heritage management strategies through community engagement. We highlight the challenges faced by communities, archaeologists and heritage managers in post-conflict and post-disaster contexts in their efforts to protect, preserve and present cultural heritage, including issues of sustainability, linkages with existing community programmes and institutions, and building administrative and social networks. Our selected case-studies illustrate larger-scale projects to small micro-level engagement, across a range of geographical, political, social and economic contexts and we conclude by providing a framework that links and synchronises programmes of archaeological activities alongside active community engagement.
Recognising limited community consultation and involvement within the Greater Lumbini Area, members of the network co-produced community micro-scoping and engagement interactions to enable knowledge exchange with local residents and stakeholders. This has resulted in the development and co-design of local archaeology clubs and educational resources for school students. It also contributed to the co-design of exhibitions in the Government of Nepal’s new site museum at Ramghat and UNESCO’s part-sponsored annual Heritage Festivals at Tilaurakot-Kapilavastu, which, in turn, resulted in a request from the Ministry of Education to co-design educational materials, which have now integrated heritage into the District curriculum. After visiting our activities in 2016, UNESCO's Director-General, who stated that "There is no need to choose between the preservation of heritage and the needs of the Buddhist pilgrims...This is the role of UNESCO and this International Scientific Committee, and we are determined to carry forward this important task...I know this works lies at the heart of UNESCO Chair at Durham".