Land sharks armed with heavy earth-moving equipment have damaged a portion of the wall of the fortified ancient city of Sisupalgarh, a majestic archaeological heritage that has survived over 2,600 years, on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar.
What has made matters worse is that the brazen act of destruction occurred just as the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and Odisha’s Revenue Administration were working in tandem to acquire the land and safeguard the invaluable heritage.
A case has been registered at the local police station. The ASI has sought the State government’s immediate intervention, before the famous ancient fortified urban centre succumbs to greedy urbanisation.
“The rampart on western part of ancient fortified city has been damaged. Miscreants have carried out destruction at three places during the past two days. This is one of worst kinds of vandalism of archaeological heritage,” Dibishada Brajasundar Garnayak, Superintending Archaeologist, ASI, Puri Circle, said.
“This is the only fortified site in India having eight gateways. If we are unable to protect the 2600-year-old heritage, we should feel ashamed,” Mr. Garnayak said.
The ASI archaeologist lamented that people were not aware of further land acquisition for the protection of the site. The rampart of the fortified city is now being demarcated by a direction from the Orissa High Court.
The excavation of the Sisupalgarh site was first taken up in 1948, when it was declared a Centrally Protected Monument under the provisions of the Ancient Monuments Preservation Act, 1904, involving an area measuring 562.681 acres and covering five villages, including Sisupalgarh, Badadhanpu Lingipur, Raghunathpur and Mahabhoisasan, in 1950.
Sisupalgarh, believed to have been built around the 7th to 6th century BCE, served as the capital of the Kalinga kingdom, and was an important centre of trade and commerce during ancient times.
During its excavation, archaeologists were surprised to find architectural and engineering marvels of the fortified city. The urban centre had an area of 1.2 km by 1 km, and it was surrounded by a moat. The water management system of the city was unique. The fortification was carried out in the 4th to 3rd century BCE, when King Kharavela took up the repair of the city 2,100 years ago.
Sisupalgarh is said to be one of very few historical references of the present capital city of Bhubaneswar. Over the years, people have encroached on the land near the historical site, with both the ASI and the State government negligent in demarcating and acquiring land around the excavated Sisupalgarh site. Many artefacts are believed to have gone under the construction of residential houses. More than 100 cases pertaining to land encroachment have been filed with the State police.
Taking a strong view of the deplorable preservation of ancient heritage, a Division Bench of the Orissa High Court, comprising Chief Justice S. Muralidhar and Justice M.S. Raman had on January 10, 2023 ordered that a joint survey under supervision of the Tahasildar, Bhubaneswar along with representatives from the ASI, be taken up.
“This will be completed in 90 days of time. All vacant government land in the notified area will be handed over to ASI for protection by constructing boundary wall. .. The encroachment over government land within the notified area of 562.681 Acre would be evicted and same would be handed over to ASI after filing of requisition for the same by ASI,” the judgment says.