Bhubaneswar: The renewed demolitions of structures surrounding the Lingaraj Temple in the Old Town of Bhubaneswar has seen the razing down of six buildings for which consent had been obtained from the owners. In the next phase of demolitions, a long block of shops and houses are slated for demolition, many of the occupants have vacated the places and the machinery is in place.
In a 70 meters stretch starting from the Ratha Gada Chhak till the Bindhbasini Temple, a dozen shops have been earmarked for being razed to the ground. What is alarming is that the administration and the Archaeological Survey of India are unaware that these shops have a set of 16 ancient Samadhis behind them. These Samadhis are of the earlier Mahants of the nearby Siva Tirtha Mutt.
The Siva Tirtha Mutt dates back to the 12th Century CE and its origin is contemporary with that of the Lingaraj Temple. The Mutt, which has lost a lot of its relevance, was once an important centre and had many responsibilities in the day to day affairs of the temple. Various religious functions were assigned to it, including many rituals during the annual Rukuna Rath Yatra.
The sixteen Samadhis, hidden under thick vegetation, have been long forgotten by the locals, but the family of Bhabani Charan Pujapanda has been performing daily rituals in most of them since the last few generations. Of various heights, the Samadhis are all in the form of three-tiered Pidhas with a Kalasha on the Mastaka. Placed in a straight line, eight of them are clearly visible, some of them have been buried over the years.
Earlier this year, a team from a local youth organisation, Maa Jageswari Sakha, had tried to clear the vegetation but as access was not possible, only eight of the Samadhis could be uncovered. However, traces and evidence of more Samadhis were seen.
According to Anil Dhir of INTACH, the set of Samadhis are a chronological record of the history of the Mutt and the Lingaraj Temple. Dhir said that the Samadhis of a Mutt are the most important determinant of its history, even if renovations and alterations were made in the premises, the Samadhis always remained untouched.
“These Samadhis are a timeline of history, ranging from the 12th Century till the 20th Century, all of them have small Shivalings; two have been stolen a few years back”, he said.
Dhir said that the Samadhis have been mentioned in historical texts and temple records since centuries. They lay just beside the Dolo Mandap of the Lord and earlier were worshiped by devotees. With encroachments and structures coming up all around, most of them became inaccessible and were forgotten. The other Mutts of the Old Town too have such Samadhis.
Prafulla Swain, a local heritage activist, has approached the authorities and the temple priests. He has also requested both the Archaeological Survey of India and the State Archaeology to stop the demolition drive around the Samadhis as it would damage and destroy them. Even if some of the shop owners have given their consent to vacate, the demolition should be done in a controlled and careful manner, ensuring that no damage is done to the Samadhis.
A.B.Tripathy, State Convener of INTACH is of the opinion that these Samadhis have a lot of historical and heritage value, they can easily be restored with proper conservation. He said that INTACH will extend all expertise if the administration is willing.
Dhir has written to the Director-General of the ASI, asking them to issue notices to the Government of Odisha to stop the wanton demolition without making a proper heritage assessment report by qualified recognised persons. He lamented that the State Office of the ASI, which is only a few hundred metres away from the site, is just a mute spectator to the destruction of the valuable heritage structures. Earlier, he had raised the matter of the Budha Ganesh Temple which was slated for demolition after removing the idol to a near school. After a hue and cry was raised, the authorities relented and have retained the temple as a roundabout in the proposed road.
Dr. Biswajit Mohanty says that even in the Golden Temple Heritage Galiyara Project, all the martyrs’ memorials of the 1965 and the 1971 wars were retained and not removed. It will be a shame if these ages-old sacred Samadhis, which have a lot of religious and spiritual relevance, are destroyed. He emphasized the need of a proper Heritage Affect and Impact Assessment Report by experts before undertaking such renovation projects in ancient religious sites.