Bhubaneswar: Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage (Intach) has expressed concern over the existence of the historic Asura Vihara Gumphas near Choudwar, an ancient archeological site having three rock cut caves. The Gumphas have been handed over to a private company by the State government, pointed out the Intach.

The three caves, dating to the 1st century C.E are located at the Indrani hillock near the Indranipatana village near Choudwar. The caves are similar to the ones at Khandagiri and Udayagiri and belong to the same period. The three west facing caves are rectangular in plan and hewn out of an outcrop of laterite rock.

A team from Intach while conducting the survey of the Mahanadi Heritage Documentation Project, stumbled on this when they were prevented from approaching the site as it has been walled over by a private cement company.  Before being walled in, they were visible from the NH-42 connecting Katak with Talcher, just 300 metres away from the highway.

A.B.Tripathy, State convener of Intach is of the opinion that the caves should be retrieved from the company and the allotment of the site cancelled. The company should provide free access and open up the caves for the public and villagers. He stressed the need for a proper documentation and listing of the lesser known monuments spread all over the State. Many important sites lying in neglect need to be notified as protected monuments by the State Archaeology, and proper safety and security measures taken.

According to Anil Dhir, the project coordinator of Intach’s Mahanadi Heritage Project, these unique caves were made by Jain monks and were later used by Buddhist monks. They have been a landmark in the area for centuries and locals also conducted worship at the place.

The place has rich oral history and local folklore has it that the Choudwar region was the Virata kingdom during the Mahabharata era and was the abode of the Pandavas while in exile.  Locals believe that a  demon named  “Manda Khia Rakhyasa”, who lived in the caves,  had spread terror due to his demands of a cartload of Manda Pithas along with a  “Nara bali”  (human sacrifice) every day.

Bhima, the second of the Pandavas, had challenged the demon and slain him in a fierce duel at this spot. The locals held an annual festival at the spot for centuries, which has been discontinued since the last two years. The villagers had protested when the wall was being made, but they were arrested and thrown in jail.