Friday, August 10, 2007

One day symposium on heritage temples

The one-day symposium conducted by R.E.A.C.H FOUNDATION on 05th August 2007, for the “Heritage Wardens” (Temple Cleaners @ Uzhavarapani Groups in Tamil),at the Tattvãloka Auditorium at Eldams Road, Teynampet, had an overwhelming representation and response, that people from far flung places like Thiruchendur, Thiruvannamalai, Tranquebar @ Tharangambadi, Kumbakonam, had come for this occasion.

First and foremost, a word about the hall. It symbolized more like a sanctum sanctorum of the Holiness. Jagadguru Shringeri Swamigal. This hall is run and maintained by the Shringeri Mutt. The cleanliness, their code of conduct (like removing and keeping foot wear only at the racks provided at the basement of the hall, where car parking also exists, switching of mobiles, not allowing food into the auditorium) was appreciated by many. The hall’s ambience was perfect, clean and compact. The seating, sound system and the provision for projection of PowerPoint presentations, all provided by this auditorium are commendable. No dangling wires, open tapes or bad patches anywhere! Also the interior done is at its best, making the whole atmosphere serene.

We need to mention a special thanks to Shri. T.R.Ramachandran for allowing us to use this auditorium free of cost and his team members who were well harmonized to carry forward the proceedings without any hiccups.

The programme started bit late than usual, as audience came in slowly. First the Kuthuvilakku (Traditional Oil Lamp made of Panchaloga) was lit by our Chief Guest Kalaimamani, Silai Meetta Semmal Shri. Dr. R.Nagaswamy, the pioneer in Archaeology who has many credits to his name, and the former Director of Tamilnadu State Archaeology. This was followed by lighting of the lamp, by T.S.Sridhar IAS, who is the secretary of Tamil Nadu Tourism Department, and then by Shri. Ramachandran the Trustee of Tattvãloka, Dr. T. Satyamurthy, the founder trustee of REACH FOUNDATION.

As it was the “Sani Peyarchi”, many quoted that as a reason for not attending this function. If only they had come across the hymns in Tamil which starts, as “ naal en seyyum , Kol en seyyum,” (meaning, the days, stars, or planets cannot do anything adverse to one, who holds the feet of Lord Muruga) as well as the one from KolaRu Thirupadigam, “ Gnaayiru, Thingal, Sevvai…(meaning, all these seven days are alike, when we only think of Lord Shiva). With these verses the compere Shri. Chandrasekaran started off the programme.

The first programme of the agenda was singing of the invocation and welcome song written by Kavi Yogi Shuddhanandha Bharti, by Shri. Sargurunadan, the Oduvar of Mylai Temple. His sweet voice rendered the song with such a strong flow and vibration, which set the tempo to the remaining part of the day. The Founder Trustee honoured him with a shawl.
Then came to Welcome Address by the founder Dr.T.Sathyamurthy. He said that after the inauguration of the web site as well as the on-line course for reading inscriptions launched by The Governor on 16th June, 2007, he was almost certain that this programme for the heritage wardens also should be conducted to achieve what REACH aims for. Many Government sanctions were made available for rebuilding heritage sites, but the problem was that, none had the right database which tells us about the number of temples which are in ruins, their location, the estimated funds requirement, etc. So, the main objective of this function was to collect database of temples, which needs attention.

He also stressed the need to have a common knowledge centre, to impart technical know how to all the rural folk who want to rebuild heritage sites/ temples. He lamented the use of cement at least for the vimana, which can be spared. He insisted that vimana made of traditional material like limestone at least doesn’t damage the Shiva lingam if it collapses, whereas the cement domes form a solid mass and falls straight to knock off the Deity itself!

He wanted all the district level pioneers doing temple cleaning to start the branches of REACH in their respective places, to spread the knowledge base.

Then spoke Shri. T.S Sridhar, IAS, who was very lavish in his praising the efforts of REACH. He said that unless the private-public partnership doesn’t happen, the lost temples couldn’t be brought back to glory. He said that not only Kerala is God’s own country, but also whole of India, is really God’s own country. He was inviting proposals from all public to recommend sites of tourist interest. He wanted the sites to be kept clean.

Shri. T.R. Ramachandran who was at the dais as the trustee of Tattvãloka, said that he was really happy to know that their auditorium was put to use for such great causes. He lauded and remembered the work of the Chief Guest, Shri. R.Nagaswamy, as he had contributed articles about temples, temple architecture, stone inscriptions, iconography, murals of Indian temples etc, as articles to their magazine, Tattvãloka, from Mumbai, for almost 7 full years! He said that he was happy to see his friend after a long time in the same dais.

To represent the Uzhavarapani groups, Shri. Komal V.Sekar addressed the gathering. His real life experiences of being an ordinary man to become a man possessed to undertake the daunting task of rebuilding, temples, his narratives and hardships, made the audience experience the journey as he tread in the past. He said that ignorance, being the key; many people depended on Sthapathis who were quacks and did not do justice to their work, nor recommend the right material which should be used for. He said he had seen before his eyes, Vimanams made of cement falling and damaging the deity. He also wanted to bring to attention the plight of the archakas who are living in great hardship, as the Government is turning a blind eye towards them. He suggested a novel model, of having common accounts like Shiva temples, account, Vishnu temple accounts, Amman temple accounts, so that all temple money got pooled to one account, thereby, the salaries and other maintenance expenses can be equally distributed to all temples, any given time.

Trustee H Chandrashekhar lauded the work of the foundation and said that he was happy to get associated with this noble cause.

Trustee Shri. Hariharan recalled his earlier days, when he was asked by the Maha periyava, the senior pontiff of Kanchi, Shri. Chandrasekarendra Saraswathi, to build a small temple for a Shiva Lingam at a roadside at Kanchi. Without uttering a word, he did that. Later when his father was stopped from being admitted to Cancer hospital, and was saved for next six years without a hitch, Hariharan said, he knew what divine power was, and to his surprise the Kanchi Maha Periyava named the Shiva Lingam as “Brahmanya Lingam”, his father name being Subramanian! He also remembered the old days, when he found only divine intervention made him take efforts to rebuild the Madipakkam Shiva temple. So, as a trustee, he said it was the divine call, even though he knew less of history, which got associated with REACH, to rebuild temples.

The highlight of the day was the effortless and eloquent address by Shri. Kalaimamani Dr. R.Nagaswamy. A doyen in archaeology, the man who brought out more Stone inscriptions, one who restored the Thirumalai Nayak Place in Madurai, the Thiruvannamalai temple to name a few, and the one who is called as “Silai Meetta Semmal” (the man who brought back our statues). The reason for the last adage is that, it was Dr. R.Nagaswamy, arguing in the London court to get back some stolen idols (Shiva puram if the writer remembers correctly). The judge who heard the argument hailed his deep knowledge in the subject and ordered immediate return of the statues to the Indian Government.

He said that unless the awareness of retaining the culture comes from within, we couldn’t restore heritage. He quoted an example of a rare vimana, he saw in Kumbakonam, where in the renovators were hells bent on finishing the carved brick made one, with cement. He pleaded with them to leave it as it is, as that would be the rarest of vimana where carving was done on bricks. But the damage was done. He quoted that in Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Lanka, Singapore and Malaysia, and even in far off Greece, Hindu culture prevailed and was nurtured. He quoted seeing a Coin of Greek King Agathocleus which was some 2700 years old, having the Greece king’s name on one side, but also having Lord Krishna’s image on one side and that of Balarama’s on the other side!

He also condemned the use of cement for patching up between stone inscriptions and walls. This was not needed as well as was spoiling the legibility of the inscriptions.

His PowerPoint presentation showed how he restored the Danish Fort in Tharangambadi, and how the new administrators of the fort had built new buildings near by the old ones. Also a water tank for Tsunami victims was built too close to the ancient Fort site. He said, any vibrations or digging in the vicinity of an ancient site, would damage the heritage building and such acts should be condemned and banned. The main focus was the uncared Masilamani Nathar Temple at Tharangambadi (Tranquebar). In spite of this ancient temple, being a rarest Shiva Temple in seashore, Government apathy and negligence had totally shattered this temple. The bund wall built to protect the nearby Fort also funneled the seawater to throw itself on the temple. Tsunami accelerated the problem and now the whole temple made of granite stone lies shattered. Shabby patch up work done by PWD, not withstanding, he called the experts to join hands in restoring this temple. A representative of Tharangambadi had come to the function and he agreed to the point that a joint committee of experts only can solve and rebuild the temple, and not simple civil departments of the Government

The climax of the day was the powerful PowerPoint of Shri. P.S. Sriraman, the ASI man, from Madras Museum. He was one of the key men who digitized and documented the fresco paintings in the Tanjore Brahadeeswara Temple, during the tenure of Dr.T.Sathyamurthy as the Chief in ASI.
He started the presentation by showing few ruined temples like those seen in Brahmadesam, Brahadesswara Temple in Tanjore as well as in Gangai Konda Cholapuram and the after effect of rebuilding, by using slides “Before” and “After”. This got a round of applause. He meticulously explained what one should not do:
Not to throw away the stones and bricks lying around,
Not to remove idols,
Not to allow plant and creepers grow,
Not to use acrylic paint or cement, etc.

He said using brain one could utilize 90% of the ruin material and re-use them to rebuild the temple. This needs careful planning and sorting of the available materials. He said more of public participation is necessary to restore temples as Government is always short of funds and skilled manpower. He quoted the example of Manjunatha Dharamasthala Temple Renovation Trust, which has a well-planned public-private participation. After identifying a temple, the get drawings and estimation made, get the written agreement of the locals allowing the trust to take over the temple site, visit frequently the site to inspect the work-in-progress and thereby see to that the temple is restored in the right manner with a transparent system prevailing throughout. Now the Karnataka Government had started giving their identified heritage sites to the Dharamasthala Trust for restoration!

He said REACH FOUNDATION is ready to give technical expertise to create plans, drawings, estimates, ideas to renovate the right way; what is needed is the public participation in collecting funds, or materials, use them in the righteous manner to enable the restored heritage temple be good for the next 1000 years!

The programme ended with the national anthem followed by a simple but tasty lunch comprising Sugar Pongal, Sambar Rice, Pappad and Curd Rice.

REACH FOUNDATION is planning to conduct such seminars and symposiums in each district, and create an awareness campaign among rural public. If the might of public support and the skill of these archaeologists join together, we are sure most temples will get restored and a renaissance of our Dharma will soon emerge.