Bojjanakonda lies in neglect

Times of India
Sulogna Mehta, TNN | Dec 5, 2015, 03.30PM IST

Visakhapatnam: The beautiful Buddhist establishments of Bojjannakonda and Lingalakonda in Sankaram village near Anakapalle, around 45 kilometres from Visakhapatnam city, feature remarkable rock cut caves, numerous monolithic (carved out of a single rock) stupas, chaityas and monasteries dating back between the 4th and 9th centuries AD.

Surrounded by lush green paddy fields and vegetation, these ancient hilltop Buddhist sites are a treasure-trove for any history, architecture and archaeology buff. Numerous antiquities such as pottery, gold and copper coins, including a gold coin of Samudra Gupta of the Gupta dynasty and copper coins of the Eastern Chalukya kings, seals, terracotta tablets bearing scripts in various languages and figurines were recovered during excavations by Alexander Rea in 1907-08 on both the hills.

But in this beautiful heritage site, ugliness and callousness are also prominently marked. The sites are completely neglected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), which is supposed to be the caretaker of the place.

Several people throng the heritage site to picnic and party, cooking in the vast entrance lawns surrounding the hills and littering the place with plastic plates and water sachets. What is surprising is that the public are allowed atop the maha stupa though ASI rules say an extent of 100 metres from heritage structures should be maintained as protected area. The public is not content with just standing or sitting on the stupas and chaitayas, but throw pieces of rocks for fun, mutilating the ancient bricks and rocks by scribbling names or by throwing rocks in the caves and meditation centres. The sanctity of the place is also violated as the over-enthusiastic public hoot from inside the caves containing the Buddha statues.

“Since these are already very old structures, there’s no problem if bricks are thrown at them!” said a tourist to a guide when he was asked to stop throwing stones.

Apart from this, there are also no signages or boards describing the history and importance of the heritage site. There are no dustbins for the picnickers and plastic and food is not banned on the hilltops.

According to a staff at the site, daily, 70-80 people visit the place and on weekends or during the picnic season, at least 300 people turn up daily from 9 am to 5 pm. “Even foreigners from Buddhist nations such as Thailand, Japan, Sri Lanka, Tibet as well as from Russia, USA, Germany visit the place. But there are no multilingual guides available to explain the details about the structures to the foreigners. Even the lighting and wiring system that was damaged during cyclone Hudhud, remains unrepaired,” said an ASI staff requesting anonymity.

Not just that, the hilltops are also overgrown with weeds which is dangerous for a heritage structure. “Weeds growing from the crevices of the stone and brick structures are further damaging the stupas, viharas and chaityas. There’s no worker to even clear the weeds and dry weeds may catch fire too. Once in a while inspection happens, but no improvement or conservation takes place,” divulged the ASI staff.

T Vineed, An officer from the Indian Navy, who was touring the place, remarked, “This is such an amazing spot for tourists as well as researchers. But I am shocked and saddened to see the destruction that the lovely heritage structures are subjected to on a daily basis. First of all, a ticket of Rs 20 or even more should be introduced to weed out unwanted elements from littering the place. Adequate dustbins should be provided and food and plastic should be banned on the hilltop. Nobody should be allowed to climb or disfigure the stupas and other structures. For this, hefty fines should be imposed for violation and boards should be placed at regular intervals cautioning the public about conserving the heritage structures. Adequate number of ASI staff and guards as well as guides must be posted for proper security and maintenance of these sites.”

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