Buddha short-circuit: Gujarat conservation ruins cave

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The facade of the ancient Buddhist cave has been hidden behind a fibreglass shield. Inside, the floor has been plastered with freshly-laid stone tiles.

Times of India
Paul John, TNN | Jun 12, 2015, 06.07AM IST

AHMEDABAD: A Buddha tourist circuit in Gujarat was among the high points of the meeting between Chinese president Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in September 2014 in Ahmedabad. But recent construction around the 4th century AD Buddhist cave in Khambalida, in Jetpur taluka of Rajkot, is an eyesore for heritage conservationists.

The facade of the ancient Buddhist cave has been hidden behind a fibreglass shield. Inside, the floor has been plastered with freshly-laid stone tiles. These are the interventions of the Gujarat archaeology department which doesn’t seem to have understood the basics of conservation.

The reason given for constructing the grotesque canopy is constant seepage from cracks during monsoon, which was dissolving the facade of the limestone cave. However, conservationists say there were better ways of protecting the monument — which had braved the vagaries of nature for over 1,600 years — than covering it with artificial material. Ajanta caves had faced a similar problem and were reinforced with compatible material. Khambhalida has three caves.

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The entrance of the central cave, ‘chaitya’, is flanked by two large sculptures of Avalokiteshvara Padmapani and Avalokiteshvara Vajrapani — both forms of Buddha. This is the only depiction of the Avalokiteshvara in a Gujarat cave. The cave features prominently in a book on Buddha circuit brought out by the government in 2010.

Former director, Gujarat state archaeology department YS Rawat said, “There was no other way. This was a limestone cave which was fragile. The fiberglass on top prevents limestone from dissolving due to seepage. The complex is also sinking as a whole due to weakening and had to be supported by pillars.”

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