West Bengal village sits on archaeological treasure
LOHAPUR'S engagement with history is renewed, almost on an everyday basis. Whenever a patch of land is dug across a 16-sq km stretch in this tiny village in Birbhum district of West Bengal, villagers discover stone artefacts, most of which are idols. But the archaeological finds are either being neglected or manhandled.
The carvings on the idols bear the characteristics of Vajrayana Buddhism, practised widely in Bengal during the rule of the Pala dynasty (750-1150 ad), according to academics. Besides, Lohapur's connection with the Pala dynasty is well known.
Although religious sentiments do motivate the villagers to keep the structures with them, ironically, they don't help in proper preservation. Whatever the motivation, there's a great deal of pride in these finds. Almost every family has a figurine as a treasured possession. Some are even worshipped. But this works to the detriment of these artefacts.Some have vermillion smeared to an extent where the figurines cannot be recognised. Others have moss growing on them because rainwater drains on to them directly.
The missing idols There are interesting artefacts such as the idol of a Ganesha in a dancing pose with eight hands, owned by Samarendra Dutta who worships the idol in his shop. According to him, his grandfather fished it from a pond. Villagers, however, say that the best of the lot is missing already. "We have been trying to protect all the figurines that we excavate. But a lot of them have been taken away by outsiders because we do not have the proper infrastructure to house them,' says Prafulla Kumar Sahu. Another villager blames police officials: "They have taken away artefacts from here. It is our pride that such things are found in Lohapur. It shows that our village has a significant place in history. But what can we do when powerful people are involved in the theft.'
|Neglected relics: Some, like Samarendra Dutta's Dancing Ganesha (right), are proud possessions, but many are just moss-covered (left), or strewn around|
Conservation efforts are fitful. "We are trying to come up with a small room adjacent to the library to house the figurines so that they aren't stolen, and are protected from rain and sun,' says Gorachand Dutta, a social worker and local cpi (m) leader. "We are waiting for the room to come up, that will solve a lot of things,' says Jayanta Dutta, the local librarian. But efforts to train and encourage villagers to take care of the artefacts are clearly missing.
The state directorate of archaeology cuts a sorry figure. "We have found gold coins and other artefacts from Lohapur, which have been preserved in the state museum. But we cannot do anything about figurines that are in the possession of the villagers or are being worshipped by them. We also don't have any theft prevention cell,' says Gautam Sengupta, director of the state's archaeology directorate.
The Archaeological Survey of India (asi) is not hopeful either. "We have heard of some statues being found at Lohapur, but have no concrete information. If local intellectuals or the district administration write to us about it, we will show interest,' says a deputy superintending engineer of the Kolkata circle, asi.
So, conservation measures suffer.