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Archaeologists flag concern over buried Mauryan period assembly hall, demand immediate restoration

Patna: Archaeologists have expressed grave concern over the plight of an 80-pillar assembly hall, where emperor Ashoka is believed to have held meetings more than 2,000 years ago, calling for its immediate re-excavation from 20-feet beneath the soil, where it lay buried since two decades.

The hall, situated at Kumhrar area here, first came to light during excavations in 1912-13, and was allegedly buried by officials of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in 2004, due to frequent waterlogging and seepage.

The fresh demand for restoration of the Mauryan period assembly hall by archaeologists and historians comes amid the release of draft heritage bye-laws for the supposed site of the Palace of Ashoka at Kumhrar for conservation and periphery development.

The ASI, which is “responsible for protecting the Palace of Ashoka/Mauryan Palace, including the 80-pillar assembly hall, must re-excavate the ancient site at Kumhrar and bring it back to the surface”, said Bijoy Kumar Choudhary, Executive Director, Bihar Heritage Development Society (BHDS).

“The hall is regarded as the only evidence of the architectural activities of the Mauryan emperors in the entire Indian sub-continent. The authority concerned got the 80-pillar structure filled with sand and soil in 2004, citing perennial waterlogging. Since then, it has been completely buried underground and no efforts were made to bring it back to the surface,” he told PTI.

The ASI (Patna Circle) officials could not be contacted for comments.

O P Jaiswal, former professor in the Department of Ancient History and Archaeology, Patna University, said Kumhrar is the area of Patna where remains of the ancient city of Pataliputra were excavated.

The archaeological remains of the Mauryan period from 322–185 BC have been discovered at the site, and this includes ruins of the 80-pillared assembly hall, he said.

“We are not concerned about the draft bye-laws that has been released… We simply want immediate restoration of the hall by the ASI. I have personally seen the structure before it was buried in 2004. It was in this hall where emperor Asoka used to hold meetings,” Jaiswal said.

The draft heritage bye-laws were recently released by the National Monuments Authority (NMA) under Section 20 (E) of the Ancient Monuments & Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958 on the basis of field surveys.

(Published 29 October 2023, 09:40 IST)

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