Udaygiri Buddhist site exposed to antique smuggling

By Manoj Kar, Kalinga Times, May 2, 2007

Jajpur, Orissa (India) -- Priceless archaeological treasures are now exposed to antique smugglers in and around the famous Udaygiri Buddhist monastery following withdrawal of watch and vigil exercise measures by the state police from the site.

Excavated in 1986 by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the Udaygiri Buddhist monastery nestled along hillocks in Badchana tehsil of Jajpur district wears a pathetic sight of governmental neglect.

Even though excavated Buddhist treasures are of immense historic importance and are comparable to more famous Buddhist sites such as Taxsila, Bodhgaya, Nalanda and Sarnath in terms of discoveries of rich archaeological value, little has been done to preserve to antiques or ensure the safety of the site from antique smugglers, according to conservationists.

Thrice in past years, Buddhist sculptors were smuggled out from the site while on several occasions, the rock cut sculptures were subjected to defacement and vandalism.

Security had to be beefed up in 2004 after beleaguered ASI sought for police deployment at the protected archaeological site. The state police had deputed five security personnel for watch and vigil. But that has been withdrawn since past one month with a couple of ASI guards now left to protect the priceless treasures from possible theft and vandalism.

Udaygiri, with two other Buddhist sites - Lalitgiri and Ratnagiri located in proximity - served as a prospering learning centre of Buddhism during 7th Century AD.

Buddhism had flourished under the erstwhile Bhaumakara dynasty after decline of Brahmanical cult. A number of excavations have been carried out at Udaygiri leading to unearthing of several caves.

These caves were found to contain some of the most antique and architecturally significant Buddhist sculptures. Some of them are Bodhisattva figures while others have Buddha in a mediating posture.

Ancient Buddhist monasteries, stupas and other items found here symbolise the rich history of the place. Even the hills forming the backdrop of the excavations are adorned with inscriptions and rock cut sculptures.

Unearthed caves are adorned with splendid sculptures of elephants, monkeys, sword fights and abduction of women - all of them linked with the then regal administration and cultural heritage.

On November 8, 2003, a gigantic sculpture of Buddha on mediating posture was smuggled out from the protected site with the miscreants uprooting the antique idol using sharp earth digging implements. Prior to that, a Buddha idol was decapitated. One more Buddha idol of 'Bhumisparsa mudra' was smuggled from the heritage site.

Police, however, continue to grope in dark and are still clueless with regard to three idol smuggling cases registered in the past. The case files are practically closed as investigation made little headway during the early stage of investigation.

Conservationists are apprehensive that the police withdrawal from the heritage site may spell doom for the archaeological treasures.
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