Wednesday, July 16, 2008
It braved the vagaries of nature for 500 years. But now, human hands are bringing down the massive mandapa situated in the famed Varadaraja Perumal temple at Kancheepuram, Tamil Nadu. Built by the Vijayanagar king Achyuthadevaraya around A.D. 1530, it was known for its few hundred pillars covered with beautiful carvings of dancers, musicians, floral motifs and gods. All these are now smashed to pieces with crowbars. The demolition, which began in April, has picked up pace with a bulldozer being pressed into action. Temple officials said it was “not a demolition but dismantling of the mandapa” to assemble it again to house vahanas (vehicles) of the deities. “A donor” was apparently financing “the project” to “dismantle and re-assemble” the mandapa so that the “vahanas can be displayed openly”. The temple comes under the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department of the Tamil Nadu government.
However, Dr. R. Nagaswamy, former Director of the Tamil Nadu Archaeology Department, called it “a thoughtless act of destruction and renovation”. The mandapa could have been cleaned easily, conserved and preserved.
“What is happening now is total destruction. They are not dismantling it. They are smashing it with a bulldozer,” he said. The temple was earlier subjected to a bout of vandalism when the murals of Vishnu, Lakshmi and other gods in the Hindu pantheon were whitewashed. The surviving paintings have faded or peeled away. They have not been preserved. This is the third instance of destruction of a heritage building in Tamil Nadu in the past few months. In April the demolition began of the 250-year-old Admiralty House at the Government Estate on Anna Salai, in the heart of Chennai, to make way for a Rs.200-crore Legislative Assembly-cum-Secretariat complex. A score of other buildings are also being demolished at the Government Estate. These demolitions are done at the instance of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) government in the State. Until Independence, the Admiralty House, or the Government House, functioned as the residence of Governors of Madras Presidency. In the second week of July the demolition began of the 184-year-old Collectorate building in Salem, about 400 km from Chennai. An imposing building with wide wooden staircases, tall pillars and big windows, it housed valuable antiques and plaques. On a writ petition filed by P. Dhamayanthi, joint general secretary of the Centre for the Protection of Civil Liberties, Salem, the First Bench of the Madras High Court, comprising Chief Justice A.K. Ganguly and Justice F.M. Ibrahim Kalifulla, said the building should not be demolished until the officials concerned passed a reasoned order on the representation to declare it a heritage building.
The origin of the Varadaraja Perumal temple at Kancheepuram goes back to about 1,200 years. Nagaswamy, who is also a scholar in Sanskrit, calls it “the most beautiful Vishnu temple at Kancheepuram”. The temple originally consisted of an image of Narasimha at the foot of a small rocky boulder. Later, a standing form of Vishnu was installed on top of the rock. It was then called Arulalar temple. The village was called Athiyur because there were a number of “athi” trees around. The temple began to gain prominence in the 11th century, during the period of the Cholas. Kulotunga Chola encased the rock and built a structural temple around the standing Vishnu circa A.D. 1100. The temple expanded with the construction of several shrines, prakaras (corridors) and gopurams. Vijayanagar emperor Krishnadevaraya built the present sanctum sanctorum, the vimana above it and covered it with gold sheet around A.D. 1525, said Nagaswamy. He also rebuilt the sanctum of Thayaar (Vishnu’s consort) and the vimana, and covered this vimana also with gold. Krishnadevaraya’s successor Achyuthadevaraya built the kalyana mandapa on the left side beyond the western entrance to the temple. This mandapa is known for its several hundred pillars with intricate carvings of horse-riders, dancers, musicians, and gods and goddesses.
On the right side, “as if to strike a balance”, he built another mandapa with a few hundred pillars, all hewn out of granite. This was used for conducting temple festivals in the past. Later, it was used as a goshala, or cow shed. It is this mandapa that is being pulled down now. It originally encased a central mandapa with carved pillars. This has already been demolished. Broken pillar-members, some of them numbered, lie in a heap. “The entire mandapa is in good condition…. The walls are in perfect alignment. It has survived for 500 years without tilting or developing cracks. Except that it has not been cleaned, it is in
The authorities of a temple in Kancheepuram are “dismantling” a 500-year-old structure, ostensibly to reassemble it.
good shape,” said Nagaswamy, adding that it could have been easily preserved without demolishing it. No technical report on the mandapa’s condition was prepared before the demolition began. Although some of the pillars that have been pulled down are numbered, it would be impossible to reassemble the mandapa because they are lying in a heap in different places and in broken pieces, he said. Temple officials claimed they would rebuild the mandapa with original pillars as a gallery to house the temple’s vahanas. They claimed they were using the bulldozer only to remove the lime mortar on the ceiling of the mandapa. They would replace the ancient lime mortar with cement mortar. However, the use of cement mortar would be a blatant violation of the canons of conservation, asserted archaeologists. •