The royal family of Bastar and the local populace are “terribly upset” with the government. The Sirhasar Bhavan or the ‘Abode of Trance’ – a century-old meditation hall of the tribal people – adjacent to the royal palace of Jagdalpur, has been demolished by the district administration for “restoration.”
This incident has been described as a “blow to their prestige” by the royal family, which used to own the Bhavan years back. The residents of Jagdalpur and the tribals – who worship the king as the messenger of god – are also unhappy about the demolition.
Last year when Chief Minister Raman Singh visited the monument, the tribals requested for renovation of the Bhavan, an ordinary but spacious single storey wood and mud hall, covered with tiles. The request was granted and Rs. 75 lakh was earmarked. A few days back the hall was demolished giving the space – in Raj Mahal Chowk – a deserted look.
Documented history does not speak much about the Bhavan. Even the members of the royal family – belonging to the powerful Kakatiya dynasty of Warangal and migrated to Bastar some 600 years ago – are not aware of the birth date of Sirsahar. “It was more than 200 years old,” said the U.K.-groomed present king of Bastar, Komal Chandra Bhanj Deo. Bastar art historian Niranjan Mahabar, who is close to 80, said the Bhavan was there “much before” he was born.
It is in this hall the Bastar tribals – who came to see the king during the festival of Dussehra – used to meditate. They put on their traditional attire in the Bhavan before meeting the king, who, they believe, connect the community to god. “While meditating in the Sirhasar, very often they enter into a state of trance that is considered auspicious,” said Mr. Bhanj Deo.
On Tuesday, some of these tribals, arrived to meet the king on the occasion of Holi and started crying as they could not locate the Bhavan. An 80-year-old man, Madkam Deba, told The Hindu that the community would be “deeply hurt” when they come to know (from him) about the demolition.
Even the non-tribal residents of Jagdalpur echoed the same sentiment. Retired government employee Krishnakumar Malviya is “shocked and alarmed.” “By September tribals will start pouring in for the Dussehra. If they don’t see the Bhavan, the administration will have a tough time,” said Mr. Malviya. A stationery shop owner, who has his shop next to Sirhasar, asked, “Can the government demolish a century-old Hindu temple,” and added, “But it can easily bring down a tribal monument.”
The Bastar district administration says the building was in a “dilapidated” condition and renovation was necessary. “The material lost its strength and would have collapsed any moment,” said District Collector P. Anbalagan.
“Once the Chief Minister approved the project the royal family was approached, their permission was sought, and thus the building was brought down to construct a new one,” he said.
While acknowledging that “oral permission was sought” Mr. Bhanj Deo told The Hindu that he was not aware that the entire structure would be brought down.
“If we knew that the entire Bhavan would be pulled down, we would have fought against it.” He made it clear that “the family and the subjects” are hurt.
The royal family settled in Bastar – the epicentre of the ongoing conflict between the state and Maoist rebels – has a tremendous pull among the tribals. Yet for the last five decades, the members of the family have maintained a strategic silence not to annoy the state. The king has turned down several requests by this correspondent to interview him over the years citing the history of conflict between the royal family and the state in the past. However, the present king spoke and made it clear that “the family and the subjects” are hurt.
The administration said the new Bhavan will be in place by Dussehra, in October.