India funds restoration of pagodas in Myanmar

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The Indian government is working on the restoration and conservation of pagodas in Myanmar that suffered damages due to a severe earthquake four years ago, officials said.

The project, fully funded by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), had commenced in January 2020, but had to be suspended after the coronavirus pandemic hit the world earlier this year.

After a brief disruption due to the pandemic followed by suspension of work owing to extreme weather conditions, the Indian government has restarted the restoration and conservation of pagodas in Myanmar, officials said.

Located in the ancient city of Bagan, which is a UNESCO World Heritage City, the Archeological Survey of India has taken up the renovation of 12 pagodas in the first phase.

Pagodas in Myanmar typically house Buddhist relics, including relics associated with Buddha.

Dozens of ancient structures dotting the plains of Bagan had suffered damages when a 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck central Myanmar in August 2016.

There are more than 2,200 pagodas, temples, monasteries and other historical structures built between 11th and 13th centuries in the spectacular plains of Bagan.

According to officials, during the India visit of Myanmar President Htin Kyaw, India had agreed to offer technical and financial help for the conservation and restoration of the damaged structures and paintings at the site.

“A Memorandum of Understanding was subsequently signed between India and Myanmar for the conservation of earthquake-damaged Pagodas in Bagan in May 2018. The ASI identified 12 pagodas to be renovated in the first phase at (an expenditure of) Rs 21 crore, which was funded by MEA,” an official said.

Due to extreme weather conditions, it becomes difficult for conservation experts and workers to carry out any restoration work in Bagan for a period of four months between June and September every year as greater variation in relative humidity affects masonry elements.

“The effective working condition at Bagan is from around October to May every year,” the official said.

The ASI had also taken up the conservation work of historical Ananda Temple, a prominent Buddhist pilgrimage centre and a masterpiece of Mon architecture built in the 12th century. While the structure had suffered damages in an earthquake in 1975, the restoration work was started in May 2012.

The conservation and restoration of the Ananda Temple was completed in 2018 at a cost of Rs 11.54 crore.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also visited and offered prayers at this historic temple during his trip to Myanmar in 2017.

Senior MEA officials said India has deep cultural ties with Southeast Asian countries and from time to time it carries out restoration work at temples overseas.

Several other overseas restoration and conversation works taken up by ASI include Angkor in Cambodia, Cham Monuments in Vietnam, Thiruketeeswaram Temple in Sri Lanka, Wat Phou Temple Complex in Laos, and Pashupatinath Temple in Nepal.

The MEA, as part of its diplomatic outreach, allocates funds for such projects and the Ministry of Culture implements them through ASI, which has the technical expertise for such works.

The MEA had also allocated about Rs 80 lakhs for the renovation of stone inscription temples and Zayat of King Bagyidaw and King Mindon at Bodh Gaya. The project was completed in 2018.

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