A clear lack of understanding of local sentiments on part of the State administration has marred Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama’s visit to forest town of Sirpur — on the banks of river Mahanadi in Mahasamund district.

Amidst strong objections from the local Gond community, Dalai Lama visited Sipur on Tuesday to meditate in Chanda Dai Caves — located in the forests of Singhadhurva. While the Tibetan leader meditated for about half an hour in the caves, he cancelled his earlier plan of renaming the caves after Nagarjuna — a Buddhist philosopher of 150-200 A.D. who is believed to have mediated in the caves.

The local Gond community objected to the renaming of caves, compelling Dalai Lama to change his plans.

For months, various departments of the State administration were preparing for Dalai Lama’s visit to the caves. Senior officials of the State government earlier told The Hindu that the Tibetan leader would not only spend a couple of days in Sirpur, but will also rename the caves. Several news reports announcing the renaming of the caves were published and not questioned by the State administration.

Sirpur forests have a unique history. Relics belonging to Hindu and Buddhist temples have been discovered in the area decades ago. There are eight viharas in Sirpur, which according to historians’ claims shed light on Buddhism during the latter half of first millennium A.D.. Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang visited Sirpur in 639 A.D. and vividly described the town and its predominantly Buddhist rituals. According to historians, Nagarjuna caves was discovered by the Chinese traveller. The caves are nearly 200 meters deep.

Mahasamund district collector R. Sangeetha however blamed the media for fuelling the cave-related controversy. “There was a dialogue with local community about 15 days back and we told them that there are no plans to rename the caves. In addition, I told the community people on receiving a proposal we will immediately construct the roads to the caves which has been in a dilapidated condition for years. The matter ended there,” she said.

In future, the Gond community will be consulted beforehand about any such programme. “I was not aware about such a Gond community organization, which is based in neighbouring Balodabazar district, earlier and so we could not inform them,” said the collector.