Buddhist monuments under threat

Statesman News Service, May 31, 2005

CUTTACK, India -- The more-than-1300-year-old Buddhist monuments at Lalitagiri, 57 km from here, are under threat from illegal quarrying in the area. It worries Buddhayan, a Buddhist Cultural Centre, and conservationists, posing a serious threat to the rich archaeological treasures that have survived the ravages of time.

Located on the plains of the Mahanadi delta, Lalitagiri consists of a long hog-backed hill, with a depression in the centre and a small, isolated knoll towards the southern side of it.
In recent months, private parties have been engaged in quarrying in the protected area close to the historical site on the basis of permits granted by tahsildars at Mahanga and Darpani.

Though Orissa High Court recently issued interim orders banning the grant of fresh permits by the Mahanga tahsildar for excavation for laterite chips, the quarrying has continued on thebasis of permits issued by the Darpani Tahsildar much to the disappointment of the locals. In fact, the High Court has, since March, issued as many as four orders on petitions filed by Buddhayan.

Its vice-president, Mr Pradipta Kishore Bhuyan, said that, in spite of repeated appeals to the authorities to ban quarrying in a radius of five km from the hillock, no effective action had been taken. According to a Central directive, no quarrying should be allowed within a five-km radius of any historical site. But, at Lalitagiri, this order has not been implemented, he said.

He added: ?The indiscriminate onslaught close to the protected site is an everyday affair which may harm the Buddhist monuments.? Lalitagiri is a treasure trove of archaeology that isyet to be explored fully. The British government made it a protected monument.

The Archaeological Survey of India started excavating it in 1985 with the objective of identifying the site of Puspagiri Mahavihara, mentioned by Hiuen Tsang, chancing upon a huge stupa on the hilltop, with the ?corporal relics of the Buddha, an apsidal chaityagriha (an early form of a Buddhist temple), four monasteries, ceramics, a kitchen complex, seals, coins, silver rings, iron objects, miniature figures of the Avalokiteswara, fences, bangles, a tiny, inscribed agate, a small white stone pendant depicting an elephant seated over a lion with a seal base, plaque animal figures and beads.?

A number of stone sculptures of Maitreya, Manjusri, Avalokiteswara, Jambhala, Tara, Heruka, Aparajita were also found. These are on display in the Sculpture Shed at Lalitgiri.
A seal found at Lalitgiri describes the monastery as Shri Chandraditya Vihar Samagra Arya Vikshu Sangha, indicating a monastery in which the entire community of monks lived.