Architectural Intervention in the Historic City of Panipat

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Key words: Panipat, War memorial, Tourism, Heritage, Development


Panipat has always been a landmark city with its history dating back from the Mahabharata era. The city has seen an enormous change from the past to the present, from a decisive battlefield which changed the history of Hindustan to a busy industrial centre.

The aim of this paper is to assess the role architecture plays in the identity making of a city maintaining the relationship between the past and the present. This paper tries to determine the possibilities of developing ‘phoenix tourism’ in the form of a war memorial in Panipat to restore the existing memorials and the add-on a new form of tourism apart from the Highway and the Pilgrim tourism. Phoenix tourism as a term coined by Lynch (2007) is a new kind of tourism related to death but emphasizing more on rising from the ashes. Similar is a vision of building a new identity for Panipat by bringing back the loosing history of the place.

To understand this it is very important to understand the existing built forms in the city, to merge the existing landforms into one unique identity.


Panipat, a city known as the ‘CITY OF HANDLOOM’ in present day enjoys the pride of witnessing the three famous decisive battles of Panipat in the years 1526, 1556 and 1761 which changed the whole history of India. The city was once called the ‘gateway to India’ for its geographical location and nearness to Delhi, (the then capital of India) has now turned into a major industrial town in Haryana. It is located on the National Highway No. 1 (Grand Trunk Road), one of the oldest highways of India making the city connected to Delhi and Amritsar (Town and country Planning Dept., 2006). The grand trunk road extends from the Bengal to Kabul making it a major route connecting the country with the Afghans making the city a gateway to India. This route has bought Babur to Hindustan, Ahmed Shah Abidali and many more Afghan invaders and rulers. Panipat is located 90 kilometre from New Delhi.

According to the National capital region plan, Panipat is seen as a regional centre in Haryana sub- region of National Capital Region which brings the need to intensify development in the city (Town and country Planning Dept., 2006).

Sr. no.

Land use

Area within municipal limits (in ha.)

Area within extended municipal limits (in ha.)

Area within controlled area (in ha.)

Total area (in ha.)

%age of total area























Transport and communication







Public utilities







Public and semi public







Open spaces







Special zone












Source: Town and country planning department, Haryana Govt.

Figure 1. Proposed land uses for 2021

As seen in figure 1, a major part of the city land is under the industrial sector while currently the city holds almost negligible land in the Open, Public and semi- public spaces. the industrial sector currently is scattered among the commercial and the residential sectors deteriorating the living condition of the people.

The city has seen growth in population mainly during the time of partition and also between 1991- 2001. In the period of 1991- 2001, the city has seen a growth of 89.35% i.e. from 1,90,000 to 3,62,047, this happened due to the slump in the market and closure of certain Spinning mills (Town and Country Planning Dept., 2006). With this the city hold the majority of the population i.e. 41% working in the industrial sector.

Panipat is an industrial town of International levels due to its export of handlooms (Town and Country Planning Dept., 2006). A city with international delegates often tends to invite people to the city. This makes it important to build an identity for the city which can hold the international standards.

Panipat being a battlefield in the past has witnessed structures build by the empires who took part in the war. The first battle of Panipat between Babur and Ibrahim Lodhi bought the Mughals to India as well their style of architecture. A symbol of their style here being the Kabuli Mosque build by Babur to mark his victory. Panipat has seen lot of deaths during these battles. Empires had lost many of its valour soldiers as well some prominent leaders. The defeated army, to commemorate the death of their leaders and soldiers built tombs or memorials in their remembrance. Ibrahim Lodhi, the last Sultan of the Lodhi dynasty was killed in the battlefield which can be witnessed with his tomb build by this followers. During the second battle of Panipat, when the commander in chief was killed by the chief of Akbar, his followers build his tomb at the spot where he took his last breath. The third battle of Panipat was the fall of a major empire of India, the Marathas, which made it easy for the British to capture India. This battle lasted for three months and over 70,000 Marathas were killed. The commander in chief of the army, Sadashiv Bhau was killed while fighting the battle. It is said that the spot where Bhau died, a tree came up with black mangoes, giving the memorial the name of ‘kala amb’. The spot of the tree now holds an obelisk to mark the third battle of Panipat (asi). Haryana in the present day also is a state dedicated to the Indian Army Force, the state despite having just 2% of the Indian population contributes to 10% of the officers in the army (Times of India).

These sites give the city its unique identity of diversity in the architectural styles as well as the builders of these sites. These sites have also helped keep the history of the city intact. But, now in the current scenario none of these sites are maintained and their existence is getting neglected. To keep the history of the city alive the government along with the archaeological department has built a battle museum in the city which again turned out to be a disappointment in the tourism sector with no maintenance and negligence by the people. This leads us to a question on how to develop the city to make it useful as well as bring back its identity?


The historic sites showcases the heritage values such as social. Historical and architectural. They not only become an identity of the place but also the people associated with the place. When a heritage site becomes the part of a city, it becomes vn more essential to preserve the site as it is somewhere responsible for the growth of the city. For example, the red fort in New Delhi, was built by Shah Jahan as his capital, the place where the major decisions regarding the country were made. The site is currently a major landmark and acts as a major tourist destination and during special events like Independence Day and Dusserah, the gardens of the palace are very much used. As Daniel Libeskind told of a “need to resist the erasure of history, the need to respond to history, the need to open the future: that is, to delineate the invisible on the basis of the visible” (Libeskind, 1999:127).

In the present century, these heritage sites are given major importance as they are potential of promoting heritage tourism which in turn attracts more developers. But not all built forms of the past are restored depending on its importance and the strength of the built forms.

In a conference held by the UNESCO World Heritage Centres at Vienna in 2005 shows the debated on the role of contemporary architecture in today’s historic urban landscape where the ‘historic urban landscape’ was defined to go beyond the notions of historic centres, ensembles and surroundings but also to include the bordered territorial and landscape context. It should be composed of character- defining elements: land use and patterns, spatial organisation, visual relationships and all elements of the technical infrastructure. During the conference, three major approaches were made in the management of the Historic cities i.e. by giving importance to the landscape, tourism development and introducing contemporary architecture to enhance the historic importance of the site (Van Oers).

Panipat seems to be a fragmented landscape, where all historical and ideological breaks are visible in discontinuity. To unite the fragmented landscape to a unique identity, the form and design is always debated. There is always a struggle over façade architecture, historic justice, and visitation brings a debate about the function of public, social and cultural spaces in a post- industrialist city (Heidenreich. L). The debate over the fusion of modern and traditional has been prevailing in many iconic built forms. A similar example can be seen in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Japan which was a memorial with the thought to lead the visitors counter- chronologically from the future to the past (Cho. H). The landscape was built for the global peace which bought the debate that if modernism is showcased, it would represent an escape for the troubled world while the growing interest in traditional elements echoed a regaining self- confidence and the renewal of nationalistic sentiments. To overcome this debate, architect Kenzo Tange adopted a modernist style participation with the influence from the traditional art and culture which helped him break with the nation’s imperial past and also address the international architecture community (Cho. H). But for building a Contemporary built form in a historic site needs to maintain the design quality and character of the space. This can be done with the help of perspective planning tools like height restrictions, envelop limitations, material restrictions etc. (Macdonald, 2011). Charles Jencks talks about iconic buildings as the cultural expression of dynamic cities which gives an identity to a city like the Sydney opera house does to Sydney (Jenks, 2005). But the presence of an iconic building is always debated in a historic built environment where an iconic building can take away the identity of the historic site as well on the other hand can be a necessary addition to a more traditional built environment. Sometimes it is important to have the combination of historic layers and parts that contribute to the significance (Macdonald, 2011) of the city as a whole.


Panipat, as seen has historic sites related to wars. These sites are scattered all over the city reducing the strong image of the place. As seen earlier, a battle museum was built to show the history of the place but it turned out to be a failure. The reason of the failure is simple, people couldn’t relate themselves to the place and give them the sense of belonging. This brings a need of a place which can be related to people and more used by people. The contribution of Haryana sliders can be seen at the Rezang La pass in Jammu and Kashmir where out of the 114 soldiers commemorated, 109 were from Haryana (Hindustan Time, 2012). With every soldier’s death, a whole family is affected. A mother loses her young son, a women becomes a widow, and many kids lose their father. Government gives compensation to the families for their loss they bear for the national security, but is this enough for the family to overcome their loss?

War memorial is a place to salute the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the nation and also to remember their valour and victories. A place to feel proud of the youth. A war memorial not just would act like an iconic building/ landscape but would also complement to the history of the place.

At regular times each year, activities such as memorial walks, artistic displays, community events, re-enactments and both small and large formal commemorative ceremonies are conducted to remember the war across the world. In addition to the war memorials, many of the battlefields offer picturesque scenery and leisure activities such as enjoying food (Winter, 2012). This kind of tourism/ visitation is been given many names like legacy tourism, genealogical tourism, dark tourism (care should be taken in attaching the term ‘dark tourism’ to all forms of battlefield tourism), thanatourism etc. These kind of tourism tries to connect us with the past. War memorials, the general term for spaces to remember the war are built having various thoughts in mind. The reasons can be personal, political, peace-making, provoking, tourist based, etc. the historian find an event to remember, a politician find it as a tribute to the solider, an army officer might find it provoking to work even harder, or maybe he might even think of the loss he/ she had to take for a victory, therefore, he must be looking for peace there.

As Scheff (2007) observed in the Arlington War Memorial, California, when a person suffering from the similar loss as their meet, they get an opportunity to express their emotion to a similar person helping them ‘move on’ with their lives and removes the sufferings from them. ‘The visiting to memorials and the creation of new rituals might be a step away from war towards peace’ (Scheff). In the present day where people live in nuclear families, and migrate from one place to another, brings the inability to mourn making it more difficult to people to come out of their grieves.


Haryana being a state with many war widows faces the emotional suffering to them and their families. Many of these even young to start a life all over again, but mostly they are surrounded by the wounds of the past which disables them to move forward in life. A few memorials are built in the country to commemorate the soldiers near the war sites, but these battlefields are generally far away from the residences of the families affected disabling them to visit the site to their desires. A memorial in common for the lost soldiers in the respective states would help bring a common platform for the people of mourn and remember their dear departed.


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