A grassroots effort combined with a global initiative by a group of young men to preserve Buddhist heritage and monuments in the country has received a major impetus with a gram panchayat in Haryana’s Yamunanagar district poised to donate land and funds to set up a museum dedicated entirely to Emperor Ashoka’s pillars and rock edicts.
Topra village where the gram panchayat intends to set up the museum has a proud link to the rich Ashoka legacy; this was where the Ashoka Pillar was originally mounted before it was dismantled and brought to Ferozshah Kotla in Delhi by Ferozshah Tughlak in the 14Century. The Buddhist Forum, an NGO working to raise public awareness about the deteriorating condition of Buddhist monuments and the failure to preserve them, is hopeful that the panchayat’s move will help enlighten other local communities and democratic institutions on the plight of Buddhist sites in their locality which are in danger of being forgotten or encroached upon. The Dalai Lama has also appreciated the organisation’s efforts including a documentary it made two years ago — “Dhammachhetra: The lost land of the Buddha”. Thirty-five-year-old Siddhartha Gauri, who shot the documentary and is one of the young men behind the Buddhist Forum, says that while shooting the documentary he came across several Buddhist sites which were crumbling and were being encroached upon by local people.
“Most sites did not have fencing around them. There were several mounds which remain to be dug. At many places, rural land is getting more expensive making these sites prime candidates for encroachments. We have 300 recorded ancient Buddhist sites in India. Many of these are in danger of being lost. Many more remain to be found,” says Siddhartha as he bemoans the fate of Buddhism in the land of its birth.
This month the Forum has written to nearly 800 Members of Parliament from both Houses seeking their support for identifying and preserving Buddhist monuments in their respective constituencies. The Foum’s website www.thebuddhistforum.cominitiated a global signature campaign two years ago to preserve the monuments and Buddhist heritage. It has elicited 42,000 signatures from even unlikely places like Russia. The organisation is not impressed with the efforts of the government bodies to preserve Buddhist and Ashoka heritage citing the poor preservation of Ashoka pillars and stupas.