Bhubaneswar: The emergence of the sixteen old Samadhis of the Siva Tirtha Mutt in the Old Town is drawing a lot of interest from locals, scholars and historians. The existence of these Samadhis was made by historian and heritage expert Anil Dhir, and reported to the authorities and the Archaeological Survey of India on the 16th of last month.
The Samadhis, half buried under rubble and vegetation, had been long forgotten and had been encroached upon from all sides. The six buildings in front of it were slated for demolitions after the No Objection Certificates had been obtained from the owners. Had the existence of the Samadhis not been reported, they would have been buried under the debris and removed with the rubble. The present demolition was done in a controlled and careful manner, ensuring that no damage was done to the Samadhis. In fact the demolition stopped just two feet away from the structures.
The timely intervention just a day before the demolition was due to the wide media coverage received after Dhir reported their existence. He had said that these groups of Samadhis are of the earlier Mahants of the Siva Tirtha Mutt which dates back to the late 11th 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.
According to Dhir, the set of sixteen Samadhis, set in a straight line, are a chronological record of the history of the Mutt and the Lingaraj Temple. 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”, Dhir said.
Dr. Biswajit Mohanty has reiterated the need of a proper Heritage Affect and Impact Assessment Report by experts before undertaking any renovation projects in ancient religious and heritage sites. He said that wanton destruction of culturally significant structures was tantamount to criminal trespass and vandalism. Nowhere in the world would such desecration would be allowed. This is worse damage than what was inflicted by the marauding iconoclastic invaders of yore. A proper team comprising of local stakeholders, religious heads, historians, archaeologists and heritage experts should be constituted and the entire development plans be cleared after proper study by them. The government should put on hold all further demolitions till such a clearance is obtained.
A.B.Tripathy, State Convener of INTACH too 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.
Both the Archaeological Survey of India and the State Archaeology were unaware of these sixteen ancient Samadhis. Earlier too, Dhir had raised the matter of the Budha Ganesh Temple which was slated for demolition after removing the idol to a nearly school. After a hue and cry was raised, the authorities relented and have retained the temple as a roundabout in the proposed road.