This precious Buddhist site in Karnataka is crying for attention

A sculpture-portrait of Emperor Ashoka — the only available image of the Mauryan emperor, which is considered the most important thing found in the excavation — is in a small open shed with no protective walls

October 09, 2019 12:37 am | Updated 09:29 am IST - Kalaburagi

A sculpture-portrait of Ashoka with his queens at the Kanaganahalli ASI site in Kalaburagi district.

A sculpture-portrait of Ashoka with his queens at the Kanaganahalli ASI site in Kalaburagi district.

Sannati, an important Buddhist site in Kalaburagi district excavated by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), is a picture of official apathy with many of the precious items excavated continuing to be housed in temporary sheds near the excavation site, or worse, lying scattered in the open. A few items have been shifted to a museum.

Even a sculpture-portrait of Emperor Ashoka — the only available image of the Mauryan emperor, which is considered the most important thing found in the excavation — is also in a small open shed with no protective walls. Except acquiring 24 acres of land for excavation, the State government has done little to conserve the historic site.

In September 2009, the Karnataka Housing Board took up the construction of a museum, dormitories, staff quarters and compound wall at a cost of ₹3.52 crore on a fairly big plot a few metres away from the excavated site in Kanaganahalli. The structures were almost finished but not handed over to the ASI even a decade later.

“The State has not handed over the buildings to the ASI even 10 years since their construction. As far as I know, the government has not taken them into its possession as there were some issues related to payment of bills to the contractor. The buildings are not in usable condition now. Shifting of excavated panels and other sculptures is also a challenge as items carved in light limestone are delicate,” G. Kamaraj, Deputy Superintending Archaeological Engineer attached to Dharwad Circle of ASI, told The Hindu .

Because of this neglect, barring a few visits by a handful of research scholars, historians and enthusiasts, the ASI site wears a deserted look throughout the year, with five armed guards at its gate.

About Sannati

Sannati, a small village on the banks of the river Bhima in Chittapur taluk of Kalaburagi, came into prominence after the collapse of the roof of the Kali temple in Chandralamba temple complex in 1986.

The collapse revealed the historically valuable Ashokan edicts written in Prakrit language and Brahmi script at the foundations of the temple, attracting historians from across India. The revelations subsequently prompted excavations by the ASI at Sannati and the nearby Kanaganahalli that, in turn, led to the discovery of the magnificent Maha Stupa, which had been referred to as Adholoka Maha-Chaitya (The Great Stupa of the Netherworlds) in the inscriptions. More importantly, a sculpture-portrait of Ashoka seated on his throne with his queens was also discovered.

The excavations also found around 60 sculpted domes and slabs, sculpture-portraits of more than four Shatavahana monarchs, certain unique depictions of Buddhist missionaries sent by Ashoka to different parts of India, clay pendants, black polished pottery, Satavahana and pre-Satavahana coins, ornaments made of copper, ivory and iron, a township with paved pathways, houses, limestone flooring, tablets, sculptures, and terracotta items. Historians believe that the Sannati Ranamandal (war zone) was a fortified area spread over 210 acres, of which only a couple of acres have been excavated so far.

A monk’s plea

Bhante Tissavro, a 70-year old Buddhist monk who heads the Bodh Gaya-based Budh Avsesh Bachao Abhiyaan (Save Buddhist Relics Campaign), is now on a mission to develop the Sannati site. He is running from pillar to post pressurising the Union and State governments to take up the task.

Mr. Tissavro believes that Sannati is the place where Emperor Ashoka may have travelled to towards the end of his life. “There are references to indicate that Ashoka travelled south thrice. There is no reference to his returning to the north after his third journey south,” he said. “Sadly, the only surviving image of the great emperor and the Maha Stupa that he built are simply lying uncared for at Sannati.”

He has appealed to the State government to allocate funds for the development of Sannati into a major Buddhist centre in South India. He also suggests its popularisation by organising a ‘Sannati Buddh Mahotsav’, along the lines of the Buddh Mahotsav at Gaya and Surya Mahotsav in Bihar.

“Sannati is the largest Buddhist site in India excavated by the ASI. Despite having a rich historical and cultural heritage, it is not on India’s tourist map,” he said.

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