A huge dome recreated at the top of an ancient Buddhist stupa collapsed on Wednesday after incessant rains in Visakhapatnam. The stupa was part of a Buddhist site more than 2,000 years old, located at the top of the Thotlakonda hill on the outskirts of Visakhapatnam. The site from the Satavahana period also houses many other Buddhist structures like stupas, viharas and chaityas.
While the site was discovered in 1976 and restoration works have been carried out regularly over the years, the collapsed dome was built as part of a slew of renovation works carried by the Andhra Pradesh Department of Archaeology in 2016.
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According to Sohan Hatangadi, a historian and environmentalist based in Visakhapatnam, the dome was added as a part of the ‘beautification’ process carried out when the city hosted the International Fleet Review event in 2016. “The base of the stupa was recreated in the late ‘90s or early 2000s. After that, many people advised that it should be left alone. Instead, it was decided that the dome would be recreated at a cost of nearly Rs 20 lakhs,” says Sohan.
The dome was built as a visualisation of how the maha stupa would have looked 2,000 years ago. More than half of the structure now lies crumbled at the site. Sohan says that the reconstruction was a challenging job. “Recreating the curvature from 2,000 years ago is very difficult. Back then, it would’ve been built very slowly, allowing each layer to settle down and harden. It’s possible that during the recreation, the dome was not packed tightly enough or not given enough time to weather,” Sohan says.
Venkat Rao, Assistant Director at the Department of Archaeology, says that heavy rains in the past 3 years since the dome was constructed could have weathered it out. “The harmika itself would’ve weighed about 3 tonnes. It could’ve also contributed to the collapse,” said Venkata Rao, referring to the structure at the pinnacle of the dome.
“With the constant exposure to rain, water might have seeped in and built up the pressure till the point that the inside of the dome was almost disembowelled,” Sohan says.
The site has been cordoned off for the public for now. The engineering wing of the Department of Archaeology will assess the extent of damage on Friday, after which plans of restoration will be chalked out, Venkat Rao said.