After a sustained campaign, heritage lovers and officials have been successful in almost stopping the stone-pelting ritual at Bojjannakonda, a famous Buddhist site at Sankaram, 3.5-km from Anakapalle and 41-km from here.
The villagers, as a part of the ancient ritual, used to pelt stones at a belly-shaped object, believing it to be a part of a demon.
However, following the intervention of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), the practice on the Kanuma day during Sankranti has almost been done away with.
“With the support of the police and the district administration, we have been able to stop it for the past few years. This time also we have sought the support of the district officials,” INTACH Visakhapatnam chapter convener Mayank Kumari Deo told The Hindu on Sunday.
“Bojjannakonda and Lingalametta are the twin Buddhist monasteries dating back to the 3rd century BC. These sites have seen three forms of Buddhism – the Theravada period when Lord Buddha was considered a teacher, the Mahayana, where Buddhism was more devotional, and Vajrayana, where Buddhist tradition was more practised as Tantra and esoteric form,” she said.
The name Sankaram is derived from the term, ‘Sangharama’. It is famous for the whole lot of votive stupas, rock-cut caves, brick-built structural edifices, early historic pottery and Satavahana coins that date back to the 1st century AD.
The main stupa was carved out of rock and then covered with bricks, where one can see a number of images of the Buddha sculpted on the rock face all over the hill.
At the nearby Lingalametta, one can see hundreds of rock-cut monolithic stupas in rows.
Tourists visit the Buddhist sites in large numbers to see the relic casket, the three Chaitya Halls, the votive platforms, the stupas and the Vajrayana sculpture.
Visakhapatnam is famous for Buddhist sites at Thotlakonda, Appikonda, and Bavikonda too.
“Vandalism, or defacing of any order like removing bricks and throwing stones at the heritage site, is highly condemnable. We want the administration to provide enough security on the Kanuma day to prevent damage to the archaeologically significant site,” INTACH, in a letter, urged district Collector V. Vinay Chand.
Some of the heritage lovers are visiting the site on January 16 coinciding with Kanuma, the day after Sankranti. Heritage activist Jayashree Hatangadi said interested people could visit Bojjannakonda on that day.
Recalling how the ritual had been stopped to a large extent, P.V. Prasad, a member of INTACH, said he had to stay at the site along with other heritage lovers to sensitise the locals not to damage the Buddhist site.
Heritage lover Edward Paul said all the Buddhist sites in the region needed conservation and promotion as north Andhra was home to several relics and monasteries.