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Bandora’s Jain Basti and Khandepar caves in peril

    Bandora (Goa): Overgrown with shrubs on its structure and overshadowed by a few, neat villas adjacent, the 15th century Jain Basti in Bandora is crumbling from neglect and the onslaught of natural elements. Another pre-Portuguese monument, the caves at Khandepar, also in Ponda taluka, are tottering in similar decay. “This is the state of many of our monuments and heritage sites and they are crumbling progressively due to a deficit in conservation effort,” Prajal Sakhardande, an executive member of Goa heritage action group (GHAG) said.

    The state archives and archaeology department is overseeing the protection of 51 monuments while the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has a list of 24 under its charge. Most of the ASI-protected monuments lie in a cluster at Old Goa and appear to be better maintained. The other ones conserved by the state department lie in far-flung areas and are in varying states of degradation, sources said.

    A state department official, who conceded that conservation of monuments is a herculean task, said, “We clear the vegetation after every monsoon, but even this is difficult as the monuments are located all over the state.” But heritage lovers are angered by the mediocrity of the state department’s conservation effort. “The same number of monuments were better preserved in the past. Also, there are bigger states than Goa, which are doing a better job of conservation in remote areas,” Rohit Phalgaonkar, a history researcher, said.

    If the department lacks the manpower and expertise to fulfill its commitment, the work should be outsourced. “The department can appoint an expert committee to carry on the torch of protection of our priceless heritage or we will lose it increasingly with every monsoon,” Phalgaonkar said. Two monuments which require immediate attention are Jain Basti and Khandepar caves, he added.

    The conservation agencies can also enlarge their lists to take up more heritage assets under their care. Incidentally, the forts of Reis Magos and St Estevam are among a few monuments, which the department has conserved through private agencies besides a few churches, temples and other monuments on its own.

    Each of the monuments is unique for its own signature of heritage value. “The remains at Bandora are the only remaining ones of Jain influence in Goa, among others, in Cudnem and Naroa,” Phalgaonkar said. The Jain structures at Cudnem and Naroa are remains of places of worship, while the Bandora one was a basti, which was a seminary for Jain monks.

    Heritage lovers are dismayed by construction activity near the monuments. “The construction near the Jain Basti is disrespectful to the monument,” Sakhardande said. Concurring with his view, Fr Savio Baretto, rector of Bom Jesus Basilica, added, “Heritage lovers should not allow construction activity and attempts by land sharks, as is the case with Old Goa, to usurp land near heritage sites,” he said.

    Heritage lovers are also irked by the alteration of monuments under the guise of conservation. “The concretizing of a portion of the Mahadeva temple at Tambdi Surla to plug leakage is affecting its ambience,” Sakhardande said. New interventions, especially carried out in St Estevam fort, also tend to distort history. But a department official justified it, stating that it will blend with the original structure in course of time. A state archaeology department official said they had urged the government to activate local committees at the panchayat level to participate in the conservation effort. “If these committees do their bit in clearing vegetation, it can help significantly in minimizing the degradation of monuments,” the official explained.

    Agreed Sakhardande, “Not only protected monuments, but even other ones which are not notified should be taken care of,” he said. – Article Courtesy: Paul Fernandes, Times of India

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