Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Save the sculptural splendour from sacrilege -- BR Haran

Save the sculptural splendour from sacrilege

B R HARAN | Mon, Tues, 29, 30 Sep, 2008

The innumerable temples in our country symbolise our cultural heritage and religious tradition. They stand tall and big as a symbolic representation of the timeless civilization of this great land and they also signify the generosity & spirit of those great kings & emperors who have built them. Each and very temple, small or big, has been standing for ages as a true testimony for the great history of this nation.

If we are still able to relish the timeless grandeur of our heritage and magnificence of our religion, despite the assault by foreign invaders for more than thousand years and despite their destruction of thousands of temples and in spite of their nefarious attempts to distort our glorious history, it is purely because of the blessings of the Gods & Goddesses residing in these temples, the noble qualities of those kings & emperors who built them and the benevolence of our ancestors who maintained these temples.

A visit to a temple will give a complete picture of the history of that particular place and we can understand the beauty of art, architecture, music, economy, administration, rule, law & order, people and their living style and everything prevailing then, based on the innumerable inscriptions inscribed on the walls, pillars, ceilings, staircases & even floors of the temple. Our ancient rulers, who built these splendid temples, were so thoughtful that they took so much of care to give even minute details in the form of inscriptions. Even while waging war with each other, they took care not to destroy temples and kill cattle & civilians and that is why even today, we are able to know our ‘true’ history, culture & civilization. Probably that could also be the reason for the foreign invaders to focus more on destroying our temples and distorting our history, so that, this nation could be de-Hinduised and their religions could be established.
Brihadisvarar Temple, Thanjavur.

Sri Brihadisvarar Temple, Thanjavur

Our temples and other structures stand witness to the different architectural styles of the various dynasties namely, the Gupthas, Mauryas, Rajputs, Marathas, Nayaks, Cheras, Cholas, Pandyas, Pallavas and many more. The Cholas of Thanjavur were great conquerors, who have extended their rule up to the Ganges in the north and Srilanka, Burma, Malayan Peninsula and Java & Sumatra Islands in the southeast, between the ninth and twelfth centuries. They have been great builders and constructed massive temples and other structures, which now serve as finest specimens of South-Indian architecture. One such wonder is theBrihadiswarar Temple in Thanjavur District of Tamilnadu

'Tower’ of Sri Brihadisvarar Temple

The Chola King Rajaraja(985-1012) built this Brihadiswarar Temple, also known as ‘Big Temple’ due to its sheer size, and also named it as ‘Rajarajeswaram’ after himself. He, along with family and other close members, made numerous endowments to this temple. The inscriptions inside the temple give a vivid explanation on those endowments together with the details of their value, interest on them, method of giving & receiving, regular donations for the customs & rituals, giving an overall picture of the system prevailing then. The Chola Grantha & Tamil inscriptions also give an elaborate idea on how the dance, music & fine arts were cultivated and served in the temple. The details on the customs & rituals including the chanting of Vedas & Devaram Hymns, serve as a great testimony of the Tamil-Hinus’ acceptance, reverence & appreciation of bothSanskrit & Tamil, considering both as ‘Divine’ languages. We can also understand from the inscriptions that a large section of people comprising dancers, musicians, drummers, choir groups, singers, sculptors, painters, carpenters, cooks, gardeners, flower vendors, Sanskrit & Tamil Pundits, Archagas, watchmen, accountants and a host of other officials and servants were all benefited by the temple.

Interesting Facts of Big Temple:

Experts and researchers have given certain interesting facts about the Big Temple: -

Rajaraja Chola constructed two long streets exclusively for the accommodation of more than 400 dancers, whose names and addresses have been recorded in the inscriptions.
All these dancers, accompanied by more than 100 musicians, performed and worshipped Bhagwan Shiva during the six poojas (Aaru kaala poojas) every day.
The temple is constructed of large blocks of granite and the stone constituting the ‘Sikhara’ (Peak) is said to weigh 80 tonnes, taken to the top by means of an inclined plane, which was believed to have had its base almost 6 kms away.
The two separate ‘Gopurams’ (Towers) at the entrance of the vast inner courtyard are carved with illustrations of Shivite stories such as‘Shiva-Parvathi marriage’, ‘Shiva saving Markandeya’ and ‘Arjuna getting Pasupatha weapon from Shiva’ etc, apart from two Dvara-palas.

The central shrine has a colossal Linga named after Rajaraja as‘Rajarajesvaramudayar’ and the huge monolithic ‘Nandhi’ (Rishaba) was installed by Sevappa Nayak.
The paintings on the walls and their colours are soft & subdued with firm lines and bright & true to life expressions, serving as the priceless document of Chola art, which has been interestingly a continuation ofPallava art, as evidenced by the commonalities in the paintings of Kancheepuram and Thanjavur temples.

Rajaraja Chola has documented his achievements in the name of ‘Mei Keerthi’ meaning ‘True Accomplishment’.

Rajaraja Chola was so magnanimous that he honoured the chief architect of the temple with the title ‘Rajaraja Perum Thachchan’.

The plinth, walls, roofs and every part of the temple has been carved with inscriptions, sculptures & paintings, which serve as great documentation and account of the glorious Chola period.

'Nandhi’ at Sri Brihadisvarar Temple

During the Islamic invasion of India, in the later stage, Malik Kafur had desecrated this temple when he invaded South India. He destroyed two tiers of the ‘Gopuram’, took some amount of Gold found on the ‘Vimana’ and vandalised many parts inside the temple. The French and the British have also used the massive ramparts of the temple as barracks of their armies. Later on the temple came under the control of the ‘Marathas’, as per the turn of history. Now, the temple, which comes under the administration of Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments Board of Tamilnadu government, is protected and maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India.

Archaeological Survey of India

Reckless renovation of the Temple

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), which falls under the Ministry of Culture, is responsible for the archaeological researches, protection and Maintenance of ancient monuments and archaeological sites and remains of national importance. Besides it regulates all archaeological activities in the country as per the provisions of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958. It also regulates Antiquities and Art Treasure Act, 1972. To achieve its objective, the ASI works in 24 Circles throughout the country. The organisation has a large work force of trained archaeologists, conservators, epigraphist, architects and scientists for conducting archaeological research projects through its Circles, Museums, Excavation Branches, Prehistory Branch, Epigraphy Branches, Science Branch, Horticulture Branch, Building Survey Project, Temple Survey Projects and Underwater Archaeology Wing.

It is almost one year since the ASI has started working in Thanjavur Big Temple in the name of ‘Renovation & Restoration’, which has become an issue of utmost concern for historians, research scholars, religious scholars and the local people. They feel that the great historical temple is at peril and that the timeless inscriptions, sculptures and paintings are under imminent threat.

Sri Brihadisvarar Temple, also known as the 'Thanjavur Big Temple' has been recognised by the UNESCO as a 'World Heritage Monument' and the Archaeological Survey of India has the responsibility of carefully protecting this monument.

The Big Temple is under the Administrative Control of HR & CE Board of Tamilnadu government and is managed jointly by the Hereditary Trustees (Hailing from the Maratha Rajavamsa) and the HR & CE Department's Executive Officer in the cadre of Assistant Commissioner. The temple is being renovated for the past one year and it seems the ASI is in a catch 22 situation.

Reliable sources, who are also experts, are of the opinion that the ASI has entangled itself in the matter without knowing its depth. They feel that the whole temple is a complex structure built as per the Agamas and Shilapa Shastras and for doing renovation of such a monument, a complete knowledge on the ancient unique engineering methods, high level geometry and complex trigonometry are needed. After seeing the present status of the temple, they are really concerned about the priceless inscriptions, sculptures and paintings. To understand the 'preciousness' of the inscriptions, it would be suffice to learn that, during the British period, E.Hultzch, Epigraphist to the government of Madras from 1886 to 1903, published his monumental three-volume book on the Brihadisvara Temple Inscriptions titled 'South Indian Inscriptions'.

But simply speaking, there is no necessity for the ASI to learn about E.Hultzch or the British History, but it would be enough for them to know what the relevant laws say about the protection of such heritage monuments. The fact is that the ASI doesn't seem to have the know-how regarding the renovation & restoration processes. Before looking into the damage done for the last one year, it would be sensible to understand the legal protection given to such magnificent heritage monuments.

As per the section 16 (i) of ‘Act-XXIV’ of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites & Remains Act, it is mandatory for the ASI to protect this World Heritage Archaeological Monument from misuse, pollution and desecration.

But a glance at the site of Thanjavur Temple gives a totally pathetic picture of desecration with broken pillars and stones placed haphazardly everywhere in a polluted atmosphere making the whole site as a place of defilement.

Subsection (ii) requires the Administrative Heads of the concerned District (Collector, etc) to monitor the 'Temple Renovation', even if ASI is the custodian of the notified monument, for the precise purpose of conserving the existing structure without altering any of its original features.

It is not known whether the Collector of Thanjavur has been really monitoring the renovation works, at least occasionally if not on a regular basis. It is also not known if the Collector is aware of the original features of the various architectures of the temple.

Subsection (iii)-a seeks the executive wing of the local ASI and the district level monitoring body to ensure that the members of the Maintenance Task Force are recruited only from the particular community, which has been offering worship traditionally.

Here, as it happens to be a Hindu Temple, it is the 'Hindus' who are the traditional worshippers and hence the ASI must have employed only Hindus as officers & workers constituting a task force. It is not known if the district level monitoring body has ensured this condition.

Section 18 confers implicitly the rights to access the monument on the respective traditional community for satisfying itself about the sustenance of the features of the monument.

This is a very important clause, which gives power even to the public (Hindus) to ascertain the sustenance of the original features of the monument, through proper legal procedures.

Section 30 (iii) permits the Judiciary to consider any damages caused to any sculpture or image or bas-relief or inscription or painting or such other ancient things, as a cognizable offence under the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). The Judiciary can also take suo motu action on such offences.

Here again, the Judiciary can take even suo motu action based on a media report or personal visit, apart from taking action on a written complaint or filed affidavit.
Section 32 permits awarding punishments of imprisonment up to 3 months and / or a fine of Rs 5000/-

Having understood the legal nitty-gritty, let us have a look at the present status of the Thanjavur Big Temple after one year of the so-called renovation works. A few photographs are enough to serve as classic examples for the pathetic display of recklessness and appalling attitude form the ASI.

Reckless renovation of the Temple

As evidenced by the appended photographs received from reliable sources, it is understood that the world heritage monument has been subjected to defacement and desecration, perhaps inadvertently, by the teams authorised by the ASI over a period of nearly one year (2007-08).
As sample, let us take two cases:

1.The important inscriptions made by Rajaraja Chola's General Krishnan Raman alias Mummudi Chola Brahmmaraya, contained in four main pillars of the 'Circumambulatory Corridor' have been lost.

2.The 'Kumudavari' (Lotus Motif) a very special and beautiful architectural feature in the 'Adhishtaanam' of the 'Mahaa Mandapam' has been cut by electric granite cutters.
The enormity of the loss can be confirmed by referring the immense accounts given in the 250-page special souvenir on Thanjavur Big Temple released by the state government in 1997, which contains articles contributed by internationally acclaimed experts.

Since thousands of people who throng this temple are mostly tourists coming in teams, they could not have observed and understood the huge loss of art & architecture and invaluable information contained in the inscriptions. Reliable sources have also informed that the workers have even attempted to paste the broken pillars and stones with araldite, obviously from instruction from higher ups, demonstrating the 'ASI's method of conservation after destruction'. The ASI became wary of the damages only recently and has tried its level best to cover up the infinite quantity of thousands of stones of great architectural value dumped in one place and covered with polythene sheets. As a section of the mainline English media and the local vernacular (Tamil) media reported the mediocre renovation works taking place in the Temple, the ASI held a press-meet during the third week of August, as a damage control exercise. Superintending Archaeologist, ASI, Chennai Circle, Sathyabama Badrinath denied the reports on the damage, and asserted that the old and dilapidated mouldings were removed and that they always try to restore only the original and rarely use new slabs. With regards to the 'Kumudavari' (Lotus Motif), she said that the ASI has sought a scientific report from the IIT and the moulding would be re-fixed after getting the report. She also asserted that the Maratha paintings of the 16th and 17th centuries were being preserved. Meanwhile in the month of August, 'UN Times' a newspaper based at the UN, has also published a report on the appalling works carried out by the ASI in the Thanjavur Big Temple in the name of renovation. Dr.S.Kalyanaraman, Director of Saraswathi Research Centre, who was deeply concerned with the callous approach of the ASI with regards to the renovation of the world heritage monument, shot off a letter to Ambika Soni, the Union Minister for Culture, to immediately take necessary actions to prevent further damage and desecration to the heritage monument in the name of renovation. In his letter he had drawn a parallel with the UPA government's attempted destruction of Rama Sethu and conveyed to her that he might approach the UNESCO in the absence of required response from her.

As there was no response from the Culture Ministry, Dr.Kalyanaraman floated an 'Online Petition' addressed to The Director, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, The World Heritage Centre, UNESCO, requesting for their immediate intervention to preserve and protect the World Heritage Monument, The Brihadisvarar Temple, Thanjavur. Those who want to sign the online petition may visit the URL

http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/tanjavurtemple/ and sign accordingly.

In this context, all the concerned people are entitled to collect the following details under the Right to Information Act:

1.Whether the details of planning and execution of year long work of the ASI was discussed with the Tamilnadu government and its HR & CE Department

2.Whether the prescribed norms of the 1958 Act were strictly followed and adhered to

3.Whether the persons employed belong to the traditionally worshipping community and no person non-tolerant towards Hindus, their faith and their institutions is employed

4.Whether the ritual of 'Bhaalaalayam' performed before commencing the renovation works particularly at the Vimaanam and the Mandapams inside and whether the regular worships have been allowed to lapse because of the renovation works.

The Tamilnadu government cannot brush aside the History of Chola Empire as ‘mythology’ like how it ignored the historicity of Ramayana and the existence of Rama Sethu. Being a government claiming to serve the interests of Tamil language, Tamil people and Tamilnadu, it must use its good offices with the central government and ensure the preservation of the sculptural splendour of Thanjavur Big Temple and its protection. The Tamil people are hopeful that the Chief Minister of Tamilnadu, being a Tamil scholar himself, would take up the matter with the central government in his personal capacity for the protection of the Great World Heritage Monument.


Thursday, September 04, 2008

ASI refuses NOC for Poompuhar harbour, accuses DMK Govt. of arm-twisting

ASI refuses NOC for Poompuhar harbour
Accuses DMK Government Of Arm-twisting
T S Sreenivasa Raghavan | TNN

Chennai: Even as the Ram Setu row continues to simmer, the DMK government is headed for another controversy, this one set in the backdrop of the historic Poompuhar town in Nagapattinam district.

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and state archaeology department have accused the government of armtwisting them into giving a ‘no objection’ certificate’ (NOC) for a Union government-funded Rs 40-crore fishing harbour at Poompuhar that could destroy the ruins of the ancient Chola port city, lying at a depth of eight metres under the sea.

Archaeologists have refused to issue NOC for the proposed project since “the site chosen has several on and offshore archaeological structures.”

The firm stand taken by the ASI/state archaeology officials could be attributed to the underwater images captured by National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) when it carried out a site scan immediately after the tsunami and reconnaissance survey in 2006. These exclusive images and video film are available with The Times of India.

Interestingly, fisheries commissioner Shambu Kallolikar in his March 19 letter to the state archaeology principal commissioner S Gurumurthy claimed monuments identified by NIOT were buried at a distance of four to five km from the shoreline and at a depth of more than 50 feet.

“They’re old. He’s not aware about recent surveys. The structures are less than half-a-kilometer and they lie at a depth of seven to 11 meters. The fisheries commissioner’s claim is based on villagers’ opinion, not scientific data,” archaeological sources said.

Shambu in his letter played to popular sentiments to justify the harbour site saying “it would protect the Poompuhar village from sea erosion.”

But, what upset ASI/state archaeology officials was the blunt comment by a top official of the fisheries department during a meeting in March. “He said it was more important to ensure livelihood to the living rather than protecting submerged temples and vihars constructed by dead people. We’re shocked,” sources said.

Former director of the state archaeology department Natana Kasinathan, who attended the meeting, said: “I made it clear. If the site had some archaeological structures, then the harbour has to be shelved.”

His opinion assumes significance since the five underwater surveys undertaken during his tenure between 1991 and 1997 had unearthed a shipwreck, lead ingots and six man-made structures at Poompuhar.

“No construction can happen in 200 to 300 meters of monuments of archaeological importance. It’s not possible to construct the harbour since several archaeological structures are strewn around the site,” sources said, adding the structures discovered by NIOT needed further studies. “They’re huge in size. They’re also covered with bio-fouling. Only when you remove the fouling, we will know if the structures are parts of Buddhist vihars, temples or a row of houses,” they said.

Shambu Kallolikar, when contacted, confessed the project was in a state of limbo. However, he denied charges of arm-twisting. “If they (archaeologists) think I am bulldozing them, they’re wrong. We are ready to alter the structural design if the harbour meddles with their monuments. But, they have no conclusive proof. So, we’re asking National Institute of Oceanography, Goa to do a survey. Also let me make it clear there’s no political pressure to push this project through.”