Decay of Buddhist heritage goes unchecked

by Rajendra Kerkar, Time of India, Nov 1, 2014

Keri, India -- The copper plate of the Konkan Maurya ruler, Chandra Varman of 500 AD mentions the grant of land to the Buddhist, Mahavira of Shivapur. Some scholars have identified Shivapur with Aravalem and the rock-cut caves as Buddhist. There are others who believe that Shivapur was a locality in Shiroda of Ponda taluka.

Bhoja ruler Asamkita had patronized Buddhism and his copper plate refers to the grant of Sundarika of Dipaka Vishya. Sundarika has been identified as Sunder Peth and Dipaka Vishya as Dicholi (Bicholim). Lamgao means the village of Lamas or Buddhist monks and the second rock-cut cave has been considered as the abode of Buddhist monks.

The Lamgao cave is now surrounded by intense mining activities, plagued by air and noise pollution. Though, it has been listed as a state-protected site, its entrance is covered with wild vegetation and has slowly morphed into an abode for wild boars, porcupines and other animals.

Gritli von Mitterwallner, a German historian who had studied Goan heritage sites mentions that the second cave of Lamgao very likely could have been a Buddhist excavation. This would imply that Buddhism did exist in Goa.

During the pre-Portuguese era, Buddhism had reached the coast of Goa through Buddhist merchants. In 1930 Fr Henry Heras discovered a stone sculpture of Buddha at Mushirwada, Colvale in Bardez. He dated it to 400 AD.

The sculpture at Colvale appears to have been installed in a Buddhist establishment known as 'Tambo das Rendas de Salcete e Bardez' in 1647 AD. This gives reason to believe that there was a shrine or a temple of Gautama in Colvale.

In Colvale, the site where Buddha's sculpture was discovered is now a human settlement with a number of concrete structures and no vestige of its glorious past or as a heritage site.

During his expedition, Shenoy Goembab presumed that the natural cave of Rivona in Sanguem was used by Buddhists. Panchwadi in Ponda has been identified by some historians as the centre of Mahayana Buddhists and later developed into a Vajrayana centre. The historian is of the view that Buddhist monks residing in Goa, besides practicing and preaching Mahayana, were engaged in iron smelting. In many places in Goa, earthen pipes with encrustation of iron were discovered.

The pedestal of Chamundeshwari that belongs to Vajrayana cult of Buddhism has Vajra incised on it. There is a possibility that there were monasteries at Colvale, Lamgao and Rivona that might have been used by Buddhist monks. The Rivona cave is lying in a state of total neglect and attracts wild animals at night and cattle and buffaloes during the day.

In the house of Mhamai Kamat of Panaji, a bronze head of Buddha was found. Some Buddhist merchants might have brought it to Goa during the Bhoja period.

Dadu Mandrekar, a social activist and Buddhist from Mandrem says, "At one point in time, the humanitarian ideas and ideals of Gautam Buddha flourished in Goa. There were several places known for Buddhist shrines and sculptures. Today, many of these have been destroyed and degraded. Whatever remnants are lying too is also not protected. The young generation is also unaware about the Buddhist heritage of the land."

The rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of a heritage building not only preserves cultural values, but can be a profitable investment too. Even where rehabilitation costs more than new construction, it can still produce a higher rate of return. Central locations, interesting architecture and high-quality restoration work will often stimulate economic activities not only for the subject heritage buildings but also the adjoining areas, as the visitors spend more time there. Consider the restoration of old GMC building done for Iffi 2004. It was in poor health for decades under the PWD as Goa Medical College. The grandeur of the heritage building came into focus only when it was rehabilitated for adaptive reuse. In the same year, the full stretch of historical Altinho steps was also restored. Such passion and support from government institutes can help in a big way as the heritage conservation has multiple values: cultural, aesthetic, educational, environmental, social, historical, and others. Goa is probably the only state in India where we have diverse elements of heritage; truly a fusion of east and west.

Goa is rich in heritage and we should value and accord it due importance. Our hinterland areas in Sattari, or villages like Rivona, or some hills in rural areas have a lot of heritage assets. This is not only our heritage but also our history, not just of our kings and queens, but also of our people. But this is neglected by the government and by so-called conservationists. It appears that the focus is more on protection of monuments of the Portuguese era, which actually were created by religious orders. After the Portuguese expelled these religious orders, they allowed their churches, convents and institutions to crumble and even dismantled some of them to construct new buildings in Panaji. Though the complaint is that monuments in Old Goa are not well-maintained, it would have been difficult for church authorities to maintain them, and if they are still standing now, the credit goes to the archaeological survey of India