Bangladesh misses economic opportunities with heritage sites vanishing

Emran Hossain, back from Mahasthangarh, Bogura | Published: 00:26, Dec 11,2018 | Updated: 01:39, Dec 11,2018

 
 

A portion of the mound of the stone of god, an 8th century Buddhist temple, still under earth at Mahasthangarh, Bogura was cut to create parking space for auto-rickshaws.
Local people encroached spaces close to countless archeological sites to open shops and other economic activities suiting booming tourism.
Mahasthangarh, Bangladesh’s ancient urban archeological site draws hundreds of tourists both domestic and foreign every day.
Not that every tourist feels satisfied to see the remains of antiquity and many of them find it tempting to cook their own food in the environment filled with history.
The problems ensue on the heritage site dug up here and there to use the holes to cook foods.
Large tents are set up to use them as temporary shelters besides developing facilities for holding cultural shows.
Unrestrained walks make the sites, particularly their weak sections, vulnerable to damage and decay.
Reckless use exposes the heritage sites of antiquity to extinction with virtually none to check the illegal pursuits.
Growth of tourism without putting in place proper management system could destroy developing countries’ invaluable heritage sites, warned California based Global Heritage Fund in its report for the year 2010.
On examination of 500 heritage sites across the world, Global Heritage Fund listed 12 sites on the verge of extinction and Mahasthangarh took the 4th place on the list.
The report predicts that tourism would become $100 billion industry by 2025, up from $24.6 billion in 2010.
But many developing countries, due to their lack of capacity to manage heritage sites, would fail to tap the opportunities for economic development, says the report.
‘The situation is the worst in Bangladesh,’ Jahangirnagar University archeology professor Swadhin Sen told New Age.
‘If existing practices continue in five years not only Mahasthangarh but the other heritage sites in the northern districts of Bangladesh will vanish,’ cautioned Sen.
Sen, who worked in Mahasthangarh on and off since 1992, said, in Mahasthangarh more than 100 archeological sites, reminiscent of the ancient capital of Pundrabardhan, ‘are at the risk of being completely wiped out.’
The ancient capital city flourished not later than 300 BC by the Karatoya River, three times the width of the Ganges in the 13th century.
The city was protected by ramparts and moats on three sides while the Karotoya provided the natural protection on the 4th.
Archaeologists believe the remains of the ancient city and its suburbs can be found scattered across a 12 km radius including the fort in ruins with a much weaker Karatoya flowing by.
As no survey of the ancient capital city was ever done, Sen said, ‘It’s assumed on the basis of the surviving mounds that there are more than a hundred archeological sites in Mahasthangarh.’
‘And yet many of them have already been leveled to make space for habitations and other establishments,’ he said.
During the 1st excavation done in 1808, Mahasthangarh was discovered by archaeologists, he said.
And since 1808, over 12 sites were discovered by excavating Mahasthangarh but the mound of the stone of god, though situated very close to the fort in ruins, remains to be excavated, Sen said.
At the top of the mound of the stone of god lies a granite stone, believed to be the doorsill in ruins under a huge banyan tree. People still wash the stone with milk and vermilion with the expectation that it would fulfill their wishes.
The mound is strewn with ancient broken bricks removed from the surface due to endless visitors walking over it daily.
Dozens of makeshift shops sprang up on the mound.
The ruins of Parshuram’s palace, can be seen between the mound and the citadel.
Legend has it that Parshuram was the last Hindu king to rule the land before the Afghan saint, Shah Sultan Balkhi Mahisawar came to preach Islam about a thousand years ago.
Locals were found using the exposed part of the palace to dry their clothes in the sun.
Animals were found grazing unrestrained.
Excavations of the palace revealed ruins of three different eras, the earliest one dating back to the 8th century.
Within a stone’s throw distance is the well of life, Jiyat Kundu, with 3.86- meter diameter.
Legend has it that the well had the power to restore life to the dead.
King Parshuram was undefeatable in wars as he had the power to bring dead soldiers back to life.
Balkhi turned the leaf of history with a kite to pollute the well by throwing a piece of beef into it.
Visitors feel free to descend into the well, now dry and almost filled up with plastic garbage, to write their names on the still visible inner walls of the well.
On November 23, a group of food dealers of the government’s open market sale system set up a large tent just beside the well to hold a big party. On the site they cooked three-course lunch for about a 100 people.
Bogura Sadar’s Sakhari union’s OMS dealer Abu Bashar Manik shrugged his shoulders to the question if they took permission to cook foods on the heritage site.
‘It is no big deal. Everybody is doing it,’ said Bashar.
Mamata, 55-year-old visitor from Charghat, Rajshahi, was shocked to find the way the sites were being abused.
‘They are destroying everything,’ she said.
No staff of the Department of Archeology was seen around except for at the entrances to excavated sites to check whether or not the visitors had tickets.
At Vasu Vihara, on the evening of November 23, Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy staged the archaeo-play, Mahasthan. Excavation activities were still on at the site.
About 350 performers ran through the site during the 150-minute play depicting the ancient capital’s 3,000-year history.
Over the two previous days rehearsals took place on the site and meals were served to the performers from a special tent, erected on the site.
Piles of ancient bricks could be seen beside dug up latrines on the site.
A huge screen was set up on the main mound for providing visual projection of the play.
The play and its preparations generated huge interests among the locals who came in thousands to watch it kicking of layers of dusts.
When the play was over, the site looked like an abandoned ancient battle field with ancient brick pieces scattered here and there.
‘I can’t believe that the organizers failed to foresee the after effects on the heritage site,’ said local schoolteacher Hasibur Rahman.
The Department of Archaeology’s regional director for Rajshahi-Rangpur divisions Naheed Sultana admitted that that the play had left some negative impacts on the heritage site.
‘But the decision to select the venue for the play was taken by higher government authorities,’ she said.
She admitted that visitors sometimes cooked foods on the heritage sites and due to manpower shortage the Department of Archaeology was unable to stop the incursions.
In 2009, about 50,000 people, mostly locals, visited Mahasthangarh, the second highest visited heritage site after the Lalbagh Fort, which received 500,000 visitors, according to the GHF.
Amritsar never made it to the list of the world’s top five heritage sites though in 2009 the East Punjab city earned revenue worth $460 million from visitors exceeding five million.

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