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US funds for temple hub

- Spruce-up plan for Dumka’s 15th century marvel

Ranchi, Aug. 13: Over centuries, some places slide down the social register. They are history’s has-beens — boasting a fascinating past but forgotten by the contemporary world. Very few get a second chance. One of those may be Maluti in Dumka district.

The 15th century capital city of a tax-free kingdom, which is now an obscure 21st century village with no amenities, caught the attention of US-based Global Heritage Fund, jogging the Jharkhand government’s memory.

Some 16km from Rampurhat on Bengal-Jharkhand border, Maluti is a place that perhaps doesn’t figure in any government scheme. The place has no electricity, road, health centre or drinking water.

But Maluti has something that can get historians, archaeologists and tourists across the world agog.

The village is arguably the only place in India to have 108 terracotta-styled temples within a radius of 350 metres from around the time of Raja Baj Basanta in the 15th century. Of these, 36 temples are lost in time. The rest are dilapidated, but exist.

Recently, Global Heritage Fund granted around $100,000 (Rs 57 lakh) to Indian Trust for Rural and Heritage Development (ITRHD) to conserve Maluti. The state government, welcoming the move, offered to extend Rs 5.7 crore for the Maluti conservation project.

According to S.D. Singh, Jharkhand-Bihar representative of ITRHD, chief minister Arjun Munda also constituted a special committee under the tourism secretary for this task. Government and ITRHD officials will meet later this month to chalk up the future course of action.

Singh also threw light on how the project began. “Seven months ago, Abha Lamba, an independent conservationist-architect, visited Maluti. She was aghast that apathy was destroying its historical richness and mooted a conservation plan before the US-based Global Heritage Fund. As the Fund doesn’t give grants to individuals, ITRHD was roped in about three months ago. Things started rolling from there,” said Singh.

The ITRHD, a two-year-old outfit, aims at synergy between heritage and development. Its chairman S.K. Mishra, a well-known bureaucrat who was principal secretary to former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar, approached Jharkhand chief minister Arjun Munda and chief secretary S.K. Chaudhary with the proposal.

“The government assured of all cooperation. Conservation activities will be done under Lamba’s guidance. The aim is to make Maluti a global tourist destination,” said Singh.

According to Singh, who’s also Intach state convener, Maluti is virgin territory for archaeologists. “Temples here are of immense significance. History has it that the king of nankar (tax-free) state constructed 108 temples. Despite continued apathy, 70-odd temples still exist. The temples are unique and don’t follow any particular style of architecture of the Middle Ages,” he added.

Sultan Alauddin Hassan Shah had gifted the kingdom to a villager Basanta Roy as the latter had managed to return the king’s pet hawk. Basanta Roy became known as Raja Baj Basanta. It is tough to imagine that around 600 years ago, Maluti was known as a thriving temple town and seat of learning.

“Currently, there are only 10,000-15,000 here, mostly tribals from Jharkhand and Bengal. Upon visiting, if you want a cup of tea, you have to travel a minimum of 16-20km. No school, no hospital or sanitation facilities. It is surprising that an US-based agency had to initiate the conservation process. It was the state government’s job,” Singh said.