CHANDRAPUR: The 2,000 year-old Buddhist caves, located in the premises of Mana opencast mines, were demolished by authorities of Western Coalfields Limited (WCL) here on Tuesday evening. They carried out the demolition to excavate huge deposits of coal underneath it and plan to pull down the entire hillock to erase the remains of the caves.
Hindustan Lalpeth Open Cast (HLOC), sub-area of WCL had taken up the excavation of the 300 sq metre block bearing the ancient caves two years ago. Excavation of 1.5 lakh metric tonnes coal deposits was withheld due to these caves.
They had withheld the demolition in 2009, after the collector intervened in the matter, after the religious organizations and Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage raised a hue and cry against it. However, their continued excavation around the caves had made it inaccessible.
Sources informed that the mine authorities gave the tender to a private company to demolish the hillock along with the caves. The company drilled the explosives 80 meters into the long solid rock bearing caves and blew it away. The ancient caves crumbled as boulders scattered over the high hillock. Fumes of smoke emitted from the hillock as the coal underneath caught fire.
Though the state archaeology department is aware of the old Mana caves, WCL obtained a letter from the Archeological Survey of India stating that the structure is not officially listed as a protected monument by the department.
District collectorate sources said that in 2009 the collector had asked WCL authorities not to demolish the caves. The present collector was not available for comments. However, the resident deputy collector Abhay Badkelwar said he does not remember any request for permission to demolish the caves in the last few months.
WCL chief general manager TN Jha, in charge of Chandrapur region, was in Nagpur and not available for comments.
Member of central governing committee of INTACH Ashoksingh Thakur said, "These caves should have been protected as they were a part of our culture and their destruction is irrevocable. WCL has no right to demolish the ancient structure just because it is not listed as 'protected' in the ASI's list." Terming the day as a black day for archaeology and history, he added that the WLC officers, who were from other states, held no value for local history or cultural values.
According to historians, the ancient caves belonged to the Heniyan sect. It was used as a place of worship and meditation during 1st century AD. It got its name the from Nag dynasty of Mana community that ruled the area in 9th century AD and later accepted Buddhism. The four caves were carved adjacent to each other in around 80 foot long single solid rock in Mana.
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