25 March 2007

Sandblasting Ban

Further to a sandblasting posting early on this Blog, and to give more information about the previous process used for Temple renovation and cleaning at Arunachaleswarar Temple, the following is a history of the current sandblasting ban in affect in South Indian Temples.

In 2002, concerned at the incalculable damage done to priceless and ancient sculptures and the structural stability of various Temples, the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department placed a blanket ban on sandblasting which hitherto had been adopted to clean icons and walls. The Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department declared that finer aspects of sculptures and idols were getting damaged or flattened after sandblasting. In this respect they issued a directive as a sequel to objections raised by conservationists, historians and culture-lovers in the context of sandblasting work done at Meenakshi temple, Madurai.

Intended to remove oily substance or whitewash, sandblasting is a process of spraying sand at high air pressure on sculptures, walls and pillars. Though it gives a "clean look" immediately, delicate features of the sculptures such as face, nose or lip gradually become flattened. Inscriptions also get obliterated and sandblasting also wears out bas-relief sculptures and removes the skin of granite stones on walls, leading to cracks. The stability of a structure is affected through the process of sandblasting and leads to gaps between stones which encourages the growth of fungus and vegetation.

Serious sandblasting damage has already been observed at the Ramanathaswamy Temple, Rameswaram, the Vedapureeswarar Temple, Vedaranyam, the Parthasarathy Temple, Chennai and the Thyagarajaswamy Temple, Thiruvarur.

Experts have advised that expediency cannot be a decisive factor in dealing with historic monuments such as Temples. In this respect currently replacing sandblasting, is the use of diluted chemicals for cleaning sculptures. Besides using chemicals, traditional poulticing methods such as sandalwood paste and ‘vibhuthi’ for sculptures in interior parts of Temples and application of fermented rice-flower paste for the rest can be adopted, advise experts.

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