The ASI in Aurangabad cited that Jain Keerti Stambh, 48, in front of the main gate of Ellora Caves represents one religion and that its location in front of a World Heritage monument displaying the remains of three major religions does not have the looks good.
The Archaeological Survey of India’s (ASI) proposal to move a 48-year-old pillar from the entrance to Ellora Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in Aurangabad has drawn anger from members of the Jain community.
ASI’s Aurangabad Circle sought to “displace” the Jain Keerti Stambh, arguing that since the caves feature the remains of three religions, namely Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, to have a pillar that “represents a religion… doesn’t look good”.
He also said that the pillar is located in front of ASI’s main gate, attracts peddlers, and has become an accident-prone area.
Dr. Milan Kumar Chauley, Chief Archaeologist at ASI’s Aurangabad Circle, accused the local Jain community of illegally setting up a Jain temple on ASI’s land and, in a letter dated February 9 to Director General of ASI, said that Ellora is a World Heritage Monument “where not only Jainism but also Brahmanic Buddhism [sic] there are caves, which are visited by hundreds of thousands of domestic and international tourists every year, and the Jain Stambh erected in front of the main entrance has not only been an eyesore upon entry, but is also a case of accidents in front of the door as it acts as a barricade against traffic.
The letter says the pillar not only impedes traffic, but leads to a buildup of vendors and monkeys in front of the caves.
“It is requested that the headquarters can also raise the issue with the state government not to make it a religious issue and for the popularity of the monument and the growth of tourism, it should be moved to another location,” said urged the general manager. in the letter.
In a report titled “Problems on Monuments/Sites under the Jurisdiction of the Archaeological Survey of India, Aurangabad Circle, which require the attention of the Honorable Minister of Tourism, Govt. of Maharashtra”, the district administration of ASI suggested: “The Jain Stambha in front of the main gate of the monument should be moved, as it represents a religion and its location in front of a World Heritage monument displaying the remains of three major religions does not smell good.”
The report suggested that the monument should be developed and all vendors should be moved to the visitor center.
Senior members of the Jain community described the move as “communal”. According to them, the pillar was erected in 1974 to commemorate the 2,500th Nirvana Mahotsava of Lord Mahavir, the 24th Tirthankara of Jainism, and the words “Jio Aur Jeene Do” (Live and let live) inscribed on the stambh testify to his teachings. . They believe that the pillar does not propagate any specific religion but is rather a symbol of non-violence, truth and peace.
The Jain community, represented by the joint body of all Indian organizations, namely Digamber Jain Mahasabha, Dakshin Bharat Jain Sabha, Tirth-kshetra committee, Parishad and Mahasamiti, opposed the “ill-conceived measure of the ASI against a minority community” and is likely to move the DG-ASI, the Union Ministry of Culture and the National Commission for Minorities against the measure.
Dr Bimal Jain, Co-Coordinator, All India Digamber Jain Organizations (coordinating committee), said: “UNESCO had no objection to this when it was decided as a World Heritage Site in 1983, as they conduct a detailed review before deciding and also require mandatory removal of barriers before declaration. It is legally mandated. No new construction is planned. Recommendation is ill-conceived with a community hate plan. ASI can make doors symbolizing Buddhist and Hindu caves in their plan of embellishment.
Talk with The Federal, he claimed that the location of the stambh was approved in the 1970s by the government of the day as well as the ASI itself. “The stambh is symbolic,” he said. “The decision to erect the pillar in this place was made during a national event…but if it is moved to a corner, its dignity will diminish. Something that was built almost 50 years ago …uske saath chhed chhad karne ki kya zaroorat hai?(What is the need to traffic it?) We oppose because the feelings of our community have been hurt.
“The five nationally recognized Jain Bodies have demanded effective measures to counteract the harmful recommendation of SA, Aurangabad Circle, at the highest central level. We will approach them on Monday. If need be, we will demand action against community-minded Chauley,” he said.
Jain said the forum will also file its complaint with the Chief Minister, Minister of Tourism, Secretary and Director of Tourism, Maharashtra Minorities Commission, Aurangabad Collector and Commissioner of Aurangabad Mahapalika.
Contacted, Dr. Milan Kumar Chauley said The Federal that there were several reasons why he proposed the removal of the pillar from said location; they range from receiving complaints from tourist buses and the local traders’ association to causing traffic nuisance and turning the neighborhood into an accident-prone area.
“We don’t want to replace him…we asked them to take him out of there,” he said. “It is a World Heritage property. Three religions are represented there. Someone put it (the pillar) up there in the 70s, before the caves were given the label of a World Heritage Monument (1983). Today the problem is that because of COVID and other things, there is a lot of unemployment and there is an increase in the number of peddlers there. It (the stambh) is not located at a tri-junction or at a crossroads…it is almost in front of the main gate (ASI). It acts as a barricade for traffic to move through. All the street vendors take the shadow of the structure and sell everything from handicrafts to food items. Because of these peddlers, people are complaining that you (ASI) are not handling the entrance,” he said.
The Ellora Caves consist of over a hundred caves. Of this number, only 34 are open to the general public. According to Chauley, the “biggest problem” is that the Jain community illegally occupied a cave beyond cave number 34 “during the same period they erected the pillar” and converted it into a temple. “Not only a temple, but they’ve also encroached on an area within ASI protected land. They’re doing this issue (of moving the pillar) to hide the other issue.
Addressing the issue in his letter to DG-ASI, he said: “This office remained silent for a very long time as the Jain community took physical possession of one of the caves beyond Cave No. 34 of the other side of the hill in the early 70’s and converted it into a modern temple and all of this is within the ASI protected area.” He also added that since the news about the relocation of the stambh started circulating, his office has “received a letter for the erection of the Ashokan pillar in front of the entrance of Shri Makarand Lankeshwar, Heritage Mitra”.
“In our country, if someone is taken for antisocial or antinational, you neutralize it. It’s a structure that has hurt people… so what’s the problem with moving it? ” he said. “Our people (in India) have learned that if you make something religious, it becomes a priority for everyone. We talk about tourism and the pride of this country.
Finally, Chauley said, “I’m at the grassroots level. There are many people sitting above me in the DG’s office and in the ministry, so if they give in writing that he (the stambh) should be there, I have no objection. Let it be there.
Vardhman Pande has been the guardian of the stambh since 1975. Also chairman of Shri Parshwanath Brahmacharyashram Jain Gurukul of Verul, Pande says that apart from maintaining the pillar, his job is to ask hawkers and vendors to stay away.
Speaking to the Federal, he said: “ASI says they notified us of the stambh change almost a month ago, but we checked all of our records and received no such notice. We only learned of it when we first read the news in a local newspaper on February 8. We met with Chauley on February 9 and asked him to reconsider his decision to move the pillar and place it elsewhere. Basically it doesn’t delete it, but asks us to delete it from there.”
When asked if the ASI had kept the Jain community in the dark about this issue, he replied, “They say they didn’t and they informed us. .but we had no idea this decision was in the works.” Pointing to Chauley, he said: “This (problem) has become personal since the then government and the ASI allowed us to erect this pillar, but now the chief archaeologist is asking us to remove it. .”