This is some problem, which no one would have ever imagined!
Buddha's stucco idols at the ancient Nalanda University that survived the plunder by Bakhtiyaruddin Khilji in 1193 and managed to endure the vagaries of nature over centuries are now in danger at the hands of devotees, especially those from Tibet, Thailand and other Buddhist countries.
Pilgrims from southeast Asian countries who come to visit the ruins of Nalanda pinch clay from these idols. Some eat it in devotion; others pocket it as a relic, a treasure or a harbinger of good luck. Several images have been damaged due to this. Many statues have lost their limbs and many have been completely deformed due to this act of veneration.
Seeing their deteriorating condition, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has blocked the entry of tourists to the temple number 3, supposed to be the most prominent part of the excavated area of the ancient Nalanda University.
The images of the Buddha in other sections of the site have been covered with mud to save them from the onslaught of tourists. But, the unstoppable faithful still manage to breach all arrangements.
SK Manjul, superintending archaeologist of the Patna circle of ASI says, "This has emerged as a big problem at historical sites associated with the Buddha, particularly in Nalanda. Foreign religious tourists come in big groups and try to pinch mud. Such activity has been more frequent in the last four to five years, perhaps due to increase in the influx of tourists."
All attempts by the ASI to check such religious 'pilferage' have failed till now. It spared it's more officials for a watch and ward duties and posted private security guards and even requested the tourists to desist from such things, but to no avail.
"Tourists from Tibet come in several groups of 100 to 200 persons each. It is difficult to keep a watch on all of them. They also refuse to listen to the guards because they believe themselves to be stakeholders of all Buddhist sites," says NK Pathak, deputy superintendent archaeologist of the ASI.
Moreover, the guards are no match to the well-built tourists from the Buddhist countries. There have been instances in which the visitors have roughed up the guards when asked not to take away the mud. The caretakers of the site and even the local administration have desisted from lodging complaints so far for the sake of going easy on tourists.
Sources say that the travel agents facilitating the tours of the people from Buddhist countries are also responsible for this situation to a great extent. They promise the tourists that they are allowed to take some mud from the sacred places.
Unable to rein in the plunder, the ASI is now thinking of appealing to the highest seat of Buddhism itself.
"We have requested the ASI director general to approach the Dalai Lama and get an appeal issued, asking the Tibetans and other Buddhist tourists to refrain from such activities. We are sure that the tourists will listen to whatever he asks for," hoped Manjul.