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Buddhist landmark wallows in neglect

- ASI repair & maintenance work fails to keep up with rampant demolition at Kolhua

Kolhua, one of the most reveered Buddhist sites and an integral part of ancient Vaishali between 1st century BC and 3rd century AD, is facing utter neglect.

Despite being a protected site of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), several security and management issues are causing threat to this vast ancient site situated around 65km northwest of Patna in Muzaffarpur district.

At Kolhua, Mauryan emperor Asoka, had erected monolithic, polished sandstone pillar, consisting of a circular shaft, surmounted by a decorative bell-shaped capital, supporting a life-sized figure of a lion facing north. This area, under the confederacy of Vajji with its capital at Vaishali, is regarded as the world’s oldest democracy.

The Vajji (Vrijji) was the earliest democracy in India and was one of the 16 mahajanpadas. Vajji was spread throughout the north Ganga region of present day Bihar till the terai regions of southern Nepal. It was situated between Gandak and Kosi rivers. Vajji was composed of eight clans among them the Vrijis, the Lichchavis, the Jnatrikass and the Videhas were the most important.

Locals have demolished a part of its eastern boundary, giving an open invitation to theft or damage to the archaeological structures. No security guards have been deputed at the site.

“The wall on the four sides of Kolhua archaeological site was constructed in 2006-07. However, locals demolished a part of it on the eastern wall last year. Since then, hardly anyone has been paying heed to repair it,” said Amit Keshav, an entrepreneur at Kolhua.

A part of the southern side of an ancient two-storied tank identified as Markat-Hhrid (monkey tank), believed to have been dug by the monkeys for Lord Buddha, also got damaged in 2012. This, too, has not been repaired. The ASI had put debris — brick powder and sand — at the adjoining Swastika-shaped monastery having 12 cells for repairing the side around six months ago but no work has started.

Another excavation site near the main stupa, frequented by tourists, has been left open for the past two years. Several terracotta figures made in antiquities, including ancient potteries, were found during the excavation carried out by ASI’s Patna branch in 2010-11.

Peepal trees have grown on the walls of the ancient structure, including on the Swastika Stupa and the numerous votive stupas. The garden surrounding the ancient structures gets waterlogged when it rains, posing threat of damage to the ancient structures caused by water seepage.

Sources in the ASI said there was no rainwater drainage system at Kolhua. A senior ASI official at Vaishali said there was no permanent security guard at Kolhua.

“Most of the old guards of ASI have retired and there has been no recruitment in the past few years. Thus, we appoint local security guards on contract basis,” said the ASI official.

Historians seemed highly aggrieved with the neglect of Kolhua.

“It is one of the most important sites of Mauryan era in Bihar. The Asokan pillar is among the five such pillars in the state, which are still intact. Asoka had erected 30 such pillars during his reign around the third century BC. It is probably one of the earliest pillars of Asoka that does not bear the usual edict. I am shocked to know that hardly anyone is paying heed to the lack of preservation and maintenance of this site,” said Jaya Deva Mishra, a professor with the department of ancient history and archaeology at Patna University.

Legend has it that a monkey king offered Lord Buddha a bowl filled with honey at Kolhua. The ASI had discovered a statue of crowned monkey during various phases of excavation, which corroborates the legend of the monkey having offered honey bowl to Buddha.

The first excavation at Kolhua was carried out between 1989 and 1990, followed by two more phases of excavation in 1992-93 and 2010-11. The v arious phases of excavation in and around the Asokan pillar locally known as Bhim Sen ki lathi, exposed the remains of the main stupa, the tank, two monasteries and a cluster of votive stupas of various shapes and sizes, all of brunt bricks belonging to the Gupta period.

Early reference describes the height of the main tank as about 25.4’’ with a diameter of 49.8’’ at the base. According to excavation reports of ASI, the Swastika monastery has been identified as nunnery (ladies monastery) because of the remains of a toilet, which was exposed outside, attached with southeast corner of the monastery.


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