Largest Buddhist stupa paints a picture of negligence

Despite being a popular tourist attraction, the Kesaria stupa in Bihar is yet to be developed

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The Kesaria stupa is considered to be one of the largest of its kind in the world and witnesses a regular flow of tourists. With the ASI declaring it a protected monument little or no attention has been paid for the maintenance of the stupa

About 120 km from Bihar’s capital Patna, along the serpentine state highway 74, one comes across a huge pagoda, partially excavated with overgrown shrubs and trees and enclosed in a half-finished boundary-wall. One might dismiss it for just another historical ruin but for a sign that declares it to be Kesaria Stupa, which Buddhists say is the largest of its kind in the world.

While the stupa is a major attraction for Buddhists visiting Bihar, it has been reduced to a picture of neglect, without even basic amenities such as toilets.

“If you ask for a toilet, you will be redirected to a nearby hotel by the caretakers,” says Inderjeet Kumar, a local resident. 

According to historians, before attaining nirvana, Buddha spent some of his last days in Kesaria. The 104-foot tall stupa dates to between 200 AD and 750 AD, with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) commencing its excavation in 1998. Till date, six levels, some partly destroyed idols, artefacts, and inscriptions have been excavated. However, a large part of the stupa remains underground.

Locals say the Kesaria stupa witnesses a regular flow of tourists. “On any given day, at least 5-10 tourist vehicles stop by, most coming from and headed to Vaishali (about 100 km away on the same state highway). During tourist season, as many as 40-50 vehicles bring local and foreign tourists here,” says Chotan, who runs a small kiosk selling snacks outside the stupa premises. 

But despite being a popular tourist attraction, Kesaria is yet to be developed. “The boundary wall is only half done, (and) wild grass and trees have grown on the campus as well as on the  stupa,” says Inderjeet Kumar, a local resident. 

“Visitors throw garbage on the premises without much care. Even the security guards are not enough,” he adds. 

ASI-Patna officials refused to comment on the matter. 

The ASI has declared the stupa a protected monument of national importance. Notices near the entrance of the site announce that 200 metres around the stupa is a regulated zone, while the area in a 100-metre radius is a prohibited zone. 

Another board asks people not to climb the stupa, but to no avail. Vendors claim that visitors climb on the stupa to click photographs. “Sometimes the security persons warn them, but many a times they go unnoticed,” says Chotan.

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