Will Brahmani Engulf Lord Vishnu?
A ninth-centry-old rare rock-cut sculpture on the verge of submerging in a river in Odisha
The river Brahmani that flows past many villages of Parajanga block in Dhenkanal district of Odisha has been gulping land piece by piece for decades. The marching river is now posing a threat to a 46-metre-long and six-metre-wide rare ninth-century-old Anantasayan (deep sleep) image of Lord Vishnu on the rocky bed near the river at Saranga village. This rock-cut sculpture is considered the cradle of the neo-Vaishnavism in the state.
“Since 1980s, large areas have been washed away. The rare stone sculpture would also cease to exist within five years. It will soon be the end of the last remnants of Vaishnavism civilization. The site, under the charge of State Archaeology Department (SAD), is in a shambles due to utter neglect. More than the vagaries of nature, it is mismanagement on part of authorities and misappropriation of funds on water resources. Four years back, the authorities stone-packed the river embankment to save the rock-cut sculpture and villages, but due to sub-standard work, many stones were washed away in the river, “ said Krushna Chandra Mohanty of Saranga.
“Many unscrupulous persons are setting up unauthorised brick kilns along the river, which leads to erosion of river embankments, causing floods, erosion and other environmental threats. Brick kilns by the river side are in violation of provision of Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. Apart from mushrooming of illegal brick kilns, some persons use dynamite and other explosive materials to kill fish in the river and this is also one of the reasons behind the weakening of river embankments. Although the local tahasildars in some cases charge penalty and rent on the encroachers as a deterrent measure to prevent the recurrence, the owners of brick kiln units continue with their business in gross violation of the prevailing law,” said Gayanedra Sriharichandan, Conveyor, Anantasayan Sura-khya Committee.
“Only in the last five years, the river engulfed nearly two acres of agricultural land near the ancient sculpture,” said Mahadev Das of Saranga village. The river has already devoured the lands of many villagers of Saranga, Pikhiri, Jatia, Namata, Mangalapur, Jeula, Khalapala, Kandarasiha and Lodhani villages by displacing at least 240 families. Recently, many villagers organised a special day-long prayer to ask the river to spare Anantasayan Vishnu and their villages. “The authorities have been paying lip service to our problems. We don’t want their solutions, which is why the devotees seek the direct intervention of the God,” said Ramakanta Jena, a villager of Saranga. “The ancient monument is now under serious threat of erosion. If corrective steps are not adopted, the river within two years will engulf major parts of village Saranga along with the rare rock-cut sculpture,” said Bramahanda Samal, a teacher of Sarang village.
“It will now be restored and preserved as an important archaeological-cultural tourism destination by SAD. The authorities built four years back a stone wall to prevent the river from crawling towards the sculpture,” said Dr Sunil Patnaik, a senior archaeologist of the state of Odisha. The rock-cut sculpture was about three kilometres from the riverbank three decades back, but, due to river erosion, the sculpture and the village are on the verge of being submerged in the river. The river has been crawling menacingly towards the villages, but many gullible villagers have ample faith upon the deity, Lord Vishnu, to save them from the marching river.
Sarat Chandra Jena of Sarang was the owner of two acres of land a decade back. But now, he is a landless person as the river consumed all his land. Sarat now works as a daily worker in Talechar. “Last June, our thatched house started shaking in the night as the river took away earth near the house in the monsoon season. We hurriedly left our house. There were aftershocks all night. In the morning, we found the remains of our houses inside the river,” recalled Sarat.
Many farmers of the riverside villages of these areas have been losing their lands as the river Brahmani is crawling menacingly towards the villages. “We urged the district administration umpteen times to stone-pack the riverside areas to protect the villages from the onslaught of the river. But the authorities lend only a deaf year to our grievances,” said Ramesh Chandra Rout of Sarang.
“Many innocent villagers think the river will not encroach their lands if they regularly worship the god. Last month, many villagers worshiped the God for a week by organising a yajna but the marching of the river towards the village was not stopped,” said Monoj Nayak, a retired teacher of Sarang. “The authority has decided to stone-pack the river embankments soon to save the riverside villagers from the marching river to save the villagers and the ancient rock-cut sculpture.,” said Sudhanshu Kumar Mohanty, Block Development Officer of Parajanga Block.
By Ashis Senapati from Dhenkanal