Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik seems to appreciate art and heritage more than most mainstream politicians do. He realizes the importance of preserving great heritage sites, such as the 12th century Puri Jagannath Temple and the 11th century temple of Lord Lingaraj in Bhubaneswar. Both are well-known pilgrimage centres visited by lakhs of Hindu devotees every year. But they are also part of Odisha’s great cultural history that is the pride of not only Odias but also people across the country. Apart from their religious significance, they are also representative of a highly evolved architectural tradition. Their appeal thus is wide, drawing people from all faiths and beliefs.
A keen student of art and history, Patnaik has been taking significant steps for the preservation of these two historic temples of Odisha. While the surroundings of the world-famous Puri Jagannath Temple are being beautified as part of the ambitious Puri Heritage Corridor Project, developmental work has also been carried out in the vicinity of the Lingaraj Temple. But this great place of worship, which has become synonymous with the capital city, is all set to get a facelift with Patnaik announcing the formulation of a special act for its development. It is expected to follow the same pattern as the Puri project.
Under the leadership of its five-time Chief Minister, the Odisha government has also been focusing on the development of many other wonderful heritage sites such as the great Sun Temple at Konark. Although officially protected by the Archaeological Survey of India, the temple is monitored closely by the state. The Naveen Patnaik government has always been quick to point out any problems that crop up with regard to the preservation of either Konark or Puri or Lingaraj temples, all of which are also looked after by the ASI. This is important because all these sites are an invaluable part of the state’s cultural heritage and such monitoring by the state government also keeps the ASI officials on their toes.
The peace pagoda at Dhauli is another historic site that the state government never ignores. At the base of the Dhauli hill atop which the pagoda is located are the famous rock edicts of Ashoka the Great. Dhauli not only recalls the famous Kalinga War, but it is also symbolic of the transformation of one of India’s greatest emperors from a ruthless warrior into a benevolent monarch. As per popular saying, Chandashoka became Dharmashoka by embracing Buddhism and working tirelessly for its propagation across the world. Visited by thousands of tourists and Buddhist devotees, the rock edicts of Ashoka and the peace pagoda at Dhauli are a major attraction and rightly deserve the attention of the government.
The truth is that Odisha is a treasure house of art and culture. Old Bhubaneswar itself is full of many ancient temples whose architectural excellence still mesmerizes visitors. The Naveen Patnaik government has been doing its bit for their preservation, but the people of the state must also lend it a helping hand. The endeavour to protect and preserve our heritage can be far more successful when it turns into a people’s movement.