Symposium for Heritage Wardens – Coimbatore 1st July 2012
Day 1 (30th June)
On Day 1 of the tour on 30th June 2012, a few members of the Reach Foundation along with the company of local temple savers group headed by members S.R.Krishnaswamy, Yuva Senthil visited two temples. The first stop is at Irugur Sri Neelakanteswara swami and Soundareswara swami temple. This 8th Century Siva temple complex houses two Siva temples and a newly annexed Vishnu temple. Many popular kings and local chieftains have renovated this complex including Cheran Veerasenan (835 A.D.), Uttama Cholan ( 1110 – 1117 A.D), Rajaraja Devan( 1120 A.D), Karikal Cholan( 1152 A.D), Kongu Veera Pandian( 1265 – 1285 A.D) and none other than Tipu Sulthan( 1782 – 1784 A.D). The Sivalingam here is said to be formed as a ‘Suyambu’ murthi. It is said that a small dent in the lingam is formed due to Kamadenu’s milk since it used to perform pooja by pouring it’s milk on the lingam.
This temple is currently being managed by Sivasri N. Ramasamy Sivacharya who is 61st generation managing trustee of this temple. Sri. I.R. Nagaeswarasivam who is the 62nd generation trustee of this temple gave us a tour of the temple, explained the history behind the temple. This temple is currently renovated by building a new Rajagopuram and some repair works being done. The Sivacharya after hearing some expert comments from REACH members have agreed to consult us before doing any demolition or renovation work done in this temple.
Later in the day, the team had visited a dilapidated 1200-year-old temple Sri Venkateswara Perumal thirukoil, which is in Parameswaran palayam, Devarajapuram. This temple is also called as “Kongu Tirupathi”. Kongu Cholas, Kongu Pandyas and Kongu Cheras had maintained this temple. Various natural calamities and the Muslim invasion has ravaged this temple very badly.
The team had explored the possibilities of renovating the outer corridor, which is currently built like a shed. The damaged columns which contain beautifully carved Dasavathara images and beams have been strewn outside the temple. The team felt that It could take up to a year as all the columns and beams have to be sorted out, measured first before the reconstruction could begin.
Day 2 of started with the ‘Symposium for the Heritage wardens’ of Coimbatore city.
The symposium inaugural address was by Dr. T. Satyamurthy, Archaeologist and Founder, REACH Foundation. Dr. T. Satyamurthy spoke about the importance of Temple for a town and the conservation methods that would carry the temple for ages further on. He also referred that with the infusion of funds, people were going for major repairs that were unwanted and adopting methodologies that were needless. The very conservation work could be done for a fraction of the amount being spent.
Referring to a case in Thandarai village, near Chengalpattu in Kancheepuram district, Mr. Satyamurthy said that the person tasked with protecting a Vishnu temple there had completely demolished the heritage structure and proposed to construct a new one for around Rs. 80 lakh. Luckily, the people there along with the contractor had not done much damage to the old, dilapidated Shiva temple there. The members of the Foundation were able to restore the temple to its glory for a fraction of the money that was proposed for the Vishnu temple.
“The aim of conservation should be to make the heritage structure or temple appear old but fresh.” This was the philosophy that underlined the conservation work in Thanjavur Periyakoil and a few other very old temples.
Mr. Satyamurthy also took on the argument that the ‘Agama Sastras’ (traditional Indian codes) did not allow people to innovate and that it curtailed artistic freedom. Such an argument was false because the code for sculpting applied only to the central deity. The sculptor was free to run riot with his imagination, which one could see in the hundreds of thousands of statues/figurines on the several layers of temple towers.
Ravi Sam, Chairman, AASAI, said that the committee the Chief Minister Jayalalithaa had promised to constitute to conserve should not just be made of bureaucrats but also archaeologists like Mr. Satyamurthy. He appealed to academics/school managements to constitute heritage clubs so as to create awareness among students and also parents.
Er. Rajendran, who runs an Architecture firm along with his son in Tanjavur specializes in renovating the old houses, mosques, temples using traditional methods, gave an excellent presentation showcasing his mastery on the subject. He also showed some pictures of beautiful old world Tanjavur houses, temple chariot resting places and an excellent chatram built by Nayaks which existed even until 10 years ago. He insisted on taking the heritage built over thousands of years to more generations to come.
All the heritage enthusiasts who attended the function have commented that they are enriched with the expertise the foundation has in the conservation and preservation of heritage monuments.
While returning from Coimbatore, the team had visited Avinasiappar and Perunkarunaidevi temple in Avinasi town. This is one of the Padal petra sthalam sung by Sundarar. The Sthala puram of this temple mentions about a child, which was swallowed by a Crocodile, was brought alive after 3 years as a 3-year-old boy by Sundarar. The sthambam in front of the temple narrates the story by an exquisite carving of a crocodile swallowing a boy.
On entering the temple, you see excellent carvings on the wooden doors and the impeccable craftsmanship in the stones, which are a delight to see. On the contrary, many of the temple inscriptions have been covered with “Swastika” markings, uncared devotees ruining it with markings in oil etc. Many beautiful carvings have been damaged by ruthless use of Sand blasting, paintings neglected or white washed. After having a nice prasadam with courtesy of the sivachariar, the team left the temple with a heavy heart.
Day 3(Aragalur and Koogaiyur)
Koogaiyur is a Village in Chinnasalem Taluk, Villupuram District located 13.6 km distance from its Taluk Main Town Chinnasalem. This town’s temple Swarnapuriswarar and Rajanarayana perumal temple complex which is filled with sculptural beauty, 4 musical pillars producing various sounds and loads of inscriptions. This temple is one of the Panchabootha sthalams on the banks of river Vasishta. Of course, the purpose of our visit is to enjoy the beauty of the temple and to familiarize the locals about the heritage conservation of such excellent monuments of ours. This temple is yet another temple in the verge of ruins due to years of neglect and improper maintenance without having the basic knowledge of conserving such heritage structure. The temple is kept in despair due to lack on popularity and access.
There is a dilapidated Siva temple in a small village Aragalur ("six moat place") is a village in Salem district. It is about 6 km from Thalaivasal and 70 km from Salem. Aragalur was the capital of Magadai mandalam ruled by the well-known Bana Chieftains around 1190-1260 CE. Aragalurudaiya Ponparappinan Rajarajadevan alias Magadesan was the greatest in this dynasty.
The temple known as Solesvaran Temple, gives the old name for the village as 'Thayinum nalla chozhiswaram'. The temple is constructed using Granite stones with no mortar. There are many inscriptions surrounding the Adhishtana. This would give loads of information about this place and the temple if deciphered. Not sure whether this is recorded anywhere in our government records. There is a Nandi in a separate Mandapa in front of the temple. There is another small temple for the goddess adjacent to the Solesvaran temple and the construction is similar to the main temple. Locals believe that this was constructed by/in honor of Kulothunga Chola III. The temple is covered with a lot of vegetation and is being used as a dump yard for the cattle and it’s feed. It was really painful to see the temple kept in such a pathetic condition. A water tank had been built in front of the temple by the local authorities blinding the view of the adjacent Devi shrine. This temple needs immediate attention. Most of the temple surroundings have been occupied by locals and not cared for its well being. With blood oozing out as tears, the team left the place heading to Chennai earlier than expected, due to an unusual visitor, the rain.