Deegavapi: Bulldozed Heritage of the Buddhists-to what extent is Minister Ferial Ashrof involved in the present unauthorised constructions in the Sacred Reserve.
By Charles Perera
It was in or about 1999 that Minister Late Mohammed Ashraff bulldozed the ancient sacred archaeological site at Deegavapi. Hardly a year after, in 2000 he died in a "tragic" accident.
Deegavapi was blessed by the visit of the Buddha, and is sacred to the Buddhists. The site was declared a sacred sanctuary by King Saddhatissa( 137-119 B.C). The ruins of the stupa he built at the site still stands there to witness. It is a part of the heritage of the people of Sri Lanka, to whatever community or religion they belong to. Therefore it should be preserved as a National Heritage.
It is one of the sacred places which had been much neglected by the Archaeological Department for a considerable period of time, for what ever reason. Following is a paragraph from an article that appeared long time ago, which is relevant for what is taking place in Deegavapi to-day.
Deegavapi : The bulldozed heritage of the Buddhists:
" The Ancient Buddhist heritage site Deegavapi is under threat. Already some areas had been bulldozed. Whenever the patriots bring this issue to the attention of the authorities the sinister activities stop. When the attention is no more, they continue again. In the decades to come, these pictures could be the only reminder that once there was a Buddhist heritage site in Deegavapi."
The area around the sacred place where the stupa had been built, is a National Reserve, which belongs to the Archaeological Department. But recently unauthorised buildings had been constructed on the reserve and the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources Champika Ranawaka got four of the houses demolished. But despite this, 500 houses are now under construction to settle Muslim Families from funds received from Saudi Arabia. Why is the Archaeological Department silent ?
There is apparently a plan to construct further 1,500 houses on the reserved sacred land to accommodate Muslim Families. Neither the Archaeological Department nor a Buddhist Association has so far raised any objection for these unauthorised constructions. It is strange Mrs. Ferial Ashrof , as a Minister and a Parliamentarian, has not intervened in the matter. Is it because she is also a party to the destruction of the sacred reserve, as much as the late Mr.Mohamed Ashraff- who perhaps paid by his life for the destruction of the sacred reserve by bulldozing the area ?
The Government should intervene immediately to stop the desecration of this sacred area by unauthorised construction of houses, and take immediate action to get the authorities concerned to clear the area and re-demarcate the boundaries so that future encroachments could be stopped.
It is important to have the sacred Deegavapi in the East developed , as much as Nagadeepa in the North. The Government should provide funds to develop Deegavapi in the lines of the other sacred places such as Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Naagadipa, and Kataragama.
Deegavapi had been neglected far too long, and it is time that a serious effort is made to start development work in Deegavapi.
The JHU should take this up with the President , as an urgent matter and stop further construction work in and around the sacred precincts of Deegavapi. It is strange that neither the Archaeological Department who owns the reserved land, nor the Minister Mrs.Ferial Ashrof has raised objections for these unauthorised constructions.
Deegavapi should not be allowed to deteriorate into another "home land" issue in the East.
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