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What Ashoka owes to this remote village in Mirzapur Jan 12th, 2020 from Times of India

What Ashoka owes to this remote village in Mirzapur

Nestled amid the Vindhya mountain range, a village in might be the holding the secret to the majestic glory of Sarnath’s famous Ashoka pillar.

Archaeologists have noted that Baragaon, located a top the Chunar hill, houses an ancient quarry that supplied ‘pattika’ (pillars) used to build the Ashoka Pillar in Sarnath and an 80-pillar hall in his palace.

Haunted by the bloodshed in the battle for Kalinga, Emperor Ashoka felt there was a need to define moral principles to create a more just society. The thought inspired him to commission Ashoka Pillars across the Mauryan territory. Barely five kilometres away from the famous Chunar Fort, Baragaon might have been the place from where stones for the Ashokan Pillars were supplied. “Baragaon, primarily a village of stone cutters, was the ancient quarry from where sections of sandstone were extracted, chiseled and transported to build the (Ashokan) pillars,” said Neeraj K Sinha, superintending archaeologist of Archaeological Survey of India’s (ASI) Sarnath Circle. “It is believed that Ashoka procured the famous Chunar sandstone from this quarry for his pillars including the Lion Capital in Sarnath. The stone blocks found in Baragaon bear ancient inscriptions which date back to the third century BC,” reads a UP tourism document on the village. Sinha added that the quarry also supplied pillars for the hypostyle assembly hall in Ashoka’s Kumrahar Palace in Patna .

“References suggest that Baragaon quarry supplied the 80 pillars which were used to build the assembly hall,” Sinha said. The quarry was a chance discovery by archaeologists PC Pant and Vidula Jayaswal from Banaras Hindu University’s department of ancient Indian history culture and archaeology in the early 1990s. In her books ‘From Stone Quarry to Sculpting Workshops’ and ‘The Buddhist Landscape of Varanasi’, Jayaswal wrote that she found rocks and heaps of debris around the sandstone beds during her visit to the site. “On account of appearance, local folk takes and the discovery of epigraphs, it was possible to identify these as abandoned quarries… The paleography of the inscribed blocks suggests that sandstone was being quarried from the hills of Chunar from Mauryan times up to the medieval period,” she wrote.The team found as many as 452 ancient quarries bearing marks of extraction of stone blocks, debris, undressed, half-dressed and completely dressed cylindrical blocks and records on the rocks in the form of count marks. Bearing inscriptions dating between 3rd century BCE and 13/14th century, the stones can be found lying inside and at the periphery of the quarries.

This little-known treasure might be on its way to oblivion, even before it got its due share of fame, thanks to government apathy. Anyone who visits the site today will get to see only a few rocks hidden behind bushes. The debris and under the earth cavities from where the stones were probably extracted from serve as a dumping ground. The land is owned by the state forest and is a popular hangout for those looking for some quiet. Local residents said some efforts were taken to acquire the site for restoration, but they were yet to see any of them yield results. “We submitted a proposal to get Baragaon enlisted as a centrally protected site in October 2018,” Sinha said. Sources, however, said that the proposal is stuck between culture and forest ministries.

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