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Buddhist heritage in focus

Jajpur, Feb. 1: The second edition of the annual International Conference on Buddhism at Udayagiri started as a low-key affair here today after setting high expectations with the grand inaugural conference last year.

This year’s theme for the conference is “Buddhist heritage of Odisha and promotion of tourism”.

Famous scholars seen last year were missing from the scene this time. But there were tour operators from Thailand and Malaysia, apart from Indian ones and a few Bhubaneswar-based students from Nepal.

Jajpur collector Anil Kumar Samal shared some developments in the wake of last year’s conference. “Last year, Odia Buddhist scholar based in USA, Annapurna Pandey, had condemned the quarrying of rocks from the beautiful hills that added to the grandeur of Udayagiri, Ratnagiri, Lalitgiri and the nearby Buddhist sites. The district administration had banned quarrying since then,” he said.

“Also, taking suggestions from the last conference, we have started planning a Buddhist Theme Park here, which should come up by the next edition of this event,” he said, adding that considering suggestions, a police station and a bank are in the pipeline.

However, the tour operators and a few researchers on Buddhism at the conference said they were disappointed with the facilities available at the sites. “These Buddhist sites are rich storehouses of Buddhist heritage. But it is not easy to visit the sites from Bhubaneswar. Tourists need to spend at least three four days in the region to explore the various sites here. Also, the area lacks enough hotels,” said M. Somsonk Skehaphimukh, a tour operator from Thailand.

Nicolas Rivere, a French researcher on Buddhist art and architecture at the Thammasat University in Thailand, said he was disappointed that despite exquisite sculptures displayed at the museum in Ratnagiri, no proper information about the same was available there.

“I wanted to collect some literature on Buddhist art in Odisha but could not find much at either this museum or the Odisha State Museum. There also aren’t photo books on the subject,” he said.

The administration has promised to work on these inadequacies.

Former revenue divisional commissioner (central) Arvind Padhee, who had issued the directive to stop quarrying of rocks and some minerals in this region, was present during the conference as the state secretary of tourism and culture.

Padhee said that the department would improve the situation by introducing learning centres for research at the Buddhist sites. “The Archaeological Survey of India will be requested to carry out more excavations. Railway networks and air-conditioned buses will be introduced for tourists,” he said.

Padhee also promised to tour operators that after discussions at the three-day conference, a detailed planning would be made to formulate policies regarding Buddhist tourism in the state.