Heritage activists in Visakhapatnam have been voicing their concerns over the rebuilding of a maha stupa that had recently collapsed due to heavy rains at the Thotlakonda Buddhist site. The huge dome had collapsed in October after incessant rains in the city. 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 dome had been recreated only three years back in 2016, in spite of advice from heritage enthusiasts to leave it alone. A few activists said that the collapse might have occurred due to a poor attempt to recreate the structure.
The dome was built as a visualisation of how the maha stupa would have looked 2,000 years ago. According to Sohan Hatangadi, a historian and environmentalist based in Visakhapatnam, recreating the curvature from 2,000 years ago is an extremely difficult job, as the structure would have been built over a long period, allowing each layer of the dome to settle down and harden before laying the next layer. “It’s possible that during the recreation, the dome was not allowed to weather or mature properly and it fell apart,” Sohan says.
The recreated mahastupa:Wikimedia Commons/iMahesh
Even in the past, activists have suggested that it is not advisable to interfere too much with historical sites and structures. However, the state department of archaeology has decided to go ahead with the restoration works for a second time. Andhra Pradesh Tourism Minister Muttamsetti Srinivasa Rao recently visited the site and performed a ‘bhoomi puja’ for the stupa, in order to inaugurate the rebuilding works.
If restoration must be carried out, activists demand that the ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) must be roped in to replace the state department of archaeology, as the state body is more likely to succumb to pressure from the Ministry of Tourism and take decisions that could adversely affect the heritage structures while prioritising tourist preferences. They believe that the ASI, being a central body, enjoys more autonomy and can perform the restoration works with more care.
TNM reached out to officials of the Andhra Pradesh Department of Archaeology, who refused to comment on the matter.
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.
According to Sohan, the base of the stupa was recreated in the later ‘90s or early 2000s, after which the state archaeology department was advised to leave it alone. However, the dome was added as a part of the ‘beautification’ process carried out when the city hosted the International Fleet Review event in 2016.