Too little, too late: Ground Penetrating Survey in Old Town of Bhubaneswar

Bhubaneswar : The ongoing Ground Penetration Radar survey underway in the areas coming under the Ekamrakshetra Beautification Project is an effort which is too little and too late. The entire area that had been earlier cleared for the project and laid with cement tiles is now being surveyed. The Gujarat based company engaged for the project is using state-of-the art equipment which can detect buried objects up till six meters. The data being collected will be collated and analysed by IIT Gandhinagar, after which a detailed report will be prepared.

Ground Penetrating Radar survey is a reliable method used in archaeological geophysics and can be used to detect and map subsurface archaeological artifacts, features, and patterning. Unlike excavation, GPR is non invasive and non-destructive.

The need for conducting a proper survey was stressed upon by experts before the demolitions happened. It was common knowledge that the entire Old Town area is replete with buried artifacts and structures. Earlier many artifacts and temple remnants have been found; even entire temples have been excavated. This had also been pointed out by INTACH in its report submitted to the authorities after the Suka Sari temples fiasco.

Experts are of the view that such surveys should be made mandatory in the entire Ekamrakshetra area before the authorities clear any plans for development or construction. In fact the Bhubaneswar Development Authority should amend its rules and incorporate compulsory GPR surveys for all the constructions in the designated heritage zones.

According to heritage expert Anil Dhir, this is akin to locking the stable doors after the horses have bolted. He has questioned why this survey was not conducted prior to the demolitions. According to Dhir, doing a GPR survey in the Suka Sari complex, after nearly seven to ten feet of earth has already been removed is a futile exercise. He has further raised the doubts on the efficacy of the survey after four inch cement tiles and a six inch compacted sand bed has been laid. “Will the authorities change their plans if artifacts are detected?” questioned Dhir. The recent unearthing of another lot of silver bricks in the Emar Mutt at Puri is but one example.

According to Dr. Biswajit Mohanty, many of the sites in the Buddhist triangle of Lalitagiri and Ratnagir have half done excavations. In many of the places including Radhanagar and Langudi, excavations yielded many valuable artifacts but these were left halfway and never completed. Many rare artifacts including coins have been found and have disappeared. GPR surveys will determine the scope and feasibility of further excavations.

Deepak Kumar Nayak, another heritage explorer is of the opinion that many of the early period temples spread all over the state are in a decrepit conditions and have many scattered sculpted pieces strewn in their complexes. Such a GPR survey done in these places will yield many more rich pieces. Nayak has earlier reported the discovery of four rock art sites, submerged temples and half a dozen neglected and forgotten temples in the Mahanadi Valley.