Left almost unattended to for 20 years after it came to light through the excavation by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) between 1994 and 2001, the ancient Buddhist site on the bank of Bhima river near Kanaganahalli (forming part of Sannati site) in Kalaburagi district, has finally got some attention.
The ASI has now come up with a plan for the conservation of the site at a cost of ₹3.5 crore and work has just begun. ASI Regional Director (South) D. Maheshwari and Circle Superintendent (Hampi) Nikhil Das are camping at the site monitoring work.
Till now, some items of antiquity found during excavation were kept in three tin sheds in the same site, while many remained scattered in the open.
A question related to this site was raised in the Parliament on Monday. Responding to a question raised by Umesh Jadhav, Lok Sabha member from Kalaburagi, Union Tourism Minister G. Kishan Reddy said that the government had currently no proposal to make the Kanaganahalli Buddhist site a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On questions pertaining to the protection of the site, the Minister said that the ancient site was well protected.
Focus on Maha Stupa
Meanwhile, the conservation project taken up now envisages the resetting of the remains of Maha Stupa retrieved in the excavation to their original positions without much ornamentation and reconstructing of fallen portions of the Ayaka platforms using newly-fabricated bricks of the same size, shape and texture.
“The stupa was built with locally available limestone. Most of the dome slabs, drum slabs, inscribed sculptures and other structural remains were in a broken state when they were retrieved. We will start with the removal of core filling from the drum portion and then proceed to reset stone blocks to their original position. Once the consolidation of the entire stupa is done, we will go for railings and other peripheral work,” Mr. Das told The Hindu.
It is a long-term project that may take 2-3 years. “There had been conservation attempts in the past too. Some of them failed and some others were not sustained,” Mr. Das added.
Sannati and Kanaganahalli were small and ordinary villages on the bank of Bhima till 1986 when the Kali temple at the Chandralamba temple complex in Sannati collapsed. In the process of clearing the debris, they discovered an Ashokan edict which put the villages on the world map and opened new avenues of historical research on Mauryan Emperor Ashoka and Buddhism in its early years. It prompted the ASI excavations at Sannati and nearby Kanaganahalli and attracted historians across India and beyond.
The Kanaganahalli excavation opened up many marvels. For example, an ‘abandoned well’ in the eyes of local villagers turned out to be the magnificent Maha Stupa, which was referred to as Adholoka Maha Chaitya (the Great Stupa of the netherworlds) in the inscriptions and, more significantly, the stone-portrait of Emperor Ashoka, surrounded by his queens and female attendants. While the Stupa is believed to be one of the largest of its time, the stone-portrait is considered to be the only surviving image of the Mauryan Emperor which had the inscription ‘Raya Asoko’ in Brahmi on it. This image of Ashoka is currently in one of the tin sheds. It was only six months ago that this historically significant find got a glass cover.
The Maha Stupa is believed to have been developed in three constructional phases – Maurya, Early Satavahana and Later Satavahana periods stretching from 3rd Century B.C. to 3rd Century A.D. The Stupa is believed to have been destroyed in an earthquake.
The recoveries included around 60 dome slabs with the sculptural rendering of Jataka stories, Portrait of Ashoka, Shatavahana monarchs and certain unique depictions of Buddhist missionaries sent by Ashoka to different parts; 72 drum-slabs decorated with a variety of Dharma-Chakras, Stupas, the first sermon, Bodhi-tree, Naga Muchulinda, Viihara complexes; over 10 inscribed sculptures of the Buddha, over a dozen Buddha-Padas; fragments of Ayaka pillars, umbrella stones and shafts, parts of sculptures of Yakshas and lion and 250 Brahmi inscriptions with varied paleographical features.
Ms. Maheshwari says that a lot of work is yet to be done to explore the hidden historical treasures in and around Sannati, which was Ranamandal about 2000 years ago.
“The Karnataka government has given 25 acres of land which included the excavated area. The remaining area is to be used for developing tourist amenities. At present, our priority is to restore the Maha Stupa to its original position. After that, we can think of excavating other sites and connecting them into a storyline,” she said.
Potential UNESCO site
“The ASI site in Sannati is worth being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We are preparing a detailed report on the historical importance of the site to submit to UNESCO. It is a long procedure,” Mr. Das said.
However, as of now, there are not even well-developed roads to Sannati and Kanaganahalli which have the potential of attracting tourists from all over the world, especially from countries with sizable Buddhist populations like China, Thailand, Japan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. Barring a few occasions of visits by a handful of research scholars, historians and enthusiasts, the ASI site wears a deserted look throughout the year with armed guards at its gate.
A museum plan languishes
There were also plans to preserve the historically precious finds at Sannati safe in a museum and develop the area into a major tourist and pilgrimage destination. The State government established Sannati Development Authority for the purpose.
Through Housing Board, it also built a museum building, dormitories, staff quarters and a compound wall around the 18-acre plot at a cost of ₹3.52 crores near the excavated site in 2009. However, things did not move forward as per plans. The museum building has not been handed over to ASI even 10 years after its construction. Abandoned for a long time without any maintenance, the building has developed cracks and the entire premise turned out to be a wasteland full of weeds and thorny bushes.
“The ASI was ready to take the museum building into its fold and keep the excavated antiquities there. But, the State government did not hand it over to ASI,” said ASI Circle Superintendent (Hampi) Nikhil Das.