ASI, govt must answer for Hampi


Vandalism unleashed by miscreants at Hampi has been laid bare by a video that has gone viral on social media. In the video, three men can be seen pushing down a granite pillar, which tilts and then falls to the ground and breaks into pieces. Several other similarly damaged pillars can be seen in the video, but it is unclear if these were also destroyed by the same men. The pillars are part of the Vishnu Temple behind the Elephant Stables at Hampi. Situated on the banks of the Tungabhadra, Hampi has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986. Around 1,600 stone monuments are spread over an area of almost 42 square kilometres, prompting many to describe the site as the world’s largest open-air museum. Built between the 14th and 15th centuries, the monuments at Hampi mark the pinnacle of the rich architectural, cultural and economic achievements of the Vijayanagara empire.

It is distressing to watch the video of the men wantonly damaging the architectural wealth of Hampi. From the video, it is obvious that they enjoyed indulging in the vandalism. One of the men can be seen flexing his muscles after the pillar falls down, throwing up his arms in a celebratory gesture. Officials at the Architectural Survey of India (ASI) and the police have promised to identify and arrest the vandals. They deserve stern punishment. ASI officials have said that the damage to the pillars may have occurred a year ago. This raises several questions. Why did they not act earlier? Were they not aware of the vandalism? Or did they know about it but prefer to remain quiet to avoid public outrage? Importantly, are these valuable monuments not protected round the clock by security personnel? Doesn’t the ASI have an inventory of various monuments at Hampi, with detailed descriptions of their condition? Those responsible for protecting Hampi’s monuments must answer these questions.

Worryingly, this is not a one-off incident. Apparently, in 2016, pillars at the Achyutha Raya Bazaar were found damaged, and in 2017, a Shivalinga that stands amid rocks in the Tungabhadra. Around three decades ago, when UNESCO threatened to withdraw the World Heritage Site tag to Hampi due to building encroachments in the area that were damaging the monuments, the Karnataka government grandly told off UNESCO, saying that it knew what was good for Hampi. The recent vandalism lays bare the shallowness of its claims. Neither has the government protected the site from building encroachments nor has it prevented vandals from damaging the monuments. Neither the ASI nor the government can escape responsibility for the vandalism at Hampi.

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