12 August 2017

UNESCO Report: Historic Tamil Nadu Temples Falling Into Decay


The below is an extract from an article appearing in the Tamil Nadu section of national newspapers outlining a UNESCO Report examining the condition of historic Temples in Tamil Nadu. 


Vintage photograph of Theertham at Arunachaleswarar Temple (notice the then allowed sight of devotees bathing in the Tank)


A UNESCO Report has stated that many historic Temples across Tamil Nadu—in the care of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department—are now in ruins.

UNESCO'S findings indicate that officials of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department have presided over inexperienced conservation efforts which have led to the "massacre" of ancient Temples and looked the other way when there have been gross violations of rules, leading to encroachment and destruction of ancient artifacts. In addition the Department in charge of the administration of these Shrines and their maintenance has done little to stem the tide and preserve the State's history.

Experts with UNESCO undertook a fact-finding mission under the direction of the Madras High Court and discovered, among other things, that idols and sculptures at one 1,000-year-old Temple were vulnerable to theft. They also found several unauthorised structures on Temple premises.

"The quality of conservation work at the Temples assessed during the mission varied to a large extent with some good examples, some mediocre works and some truly shocking scenes of demolition and massacre of historic Temples," the Report said.

A six member team visited 20 Temples in the State over a three-month period, focussing on the conservation methods that the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department employs at ancient Temples.

The team was shocked to find a VIP guesthouse with a toilet in the prakaram (compound) of the famed Sri Arunachaleswarar Temple at Tiruvannamalai.

The Report declared that, "During a UNESCO consultation held on June 1, the Shaiva Agama brought to light that the building of toilets and guesthouses inside a temple is a violation of the agamas [tradition]."

In connection with other historic Tamil Nadu Temples, a Temple at Thanjavur (which historians believed the Cholas built for the coronation of Rajendra Chola 1 in the 11th century) has been demolished. Artifacts were strewn around Naganathaswamy Temple in Manambadi village near Kumbakkonam, with no security for the priceless pieces. 

UNESCO has recommended that the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department limits itself to the simple performance of rituals and assigns  conservation work to a specialised agency or the Archaeology Department or reorganise its structure to include technical experts.

It summed up that "Work is strictly to be carried out under experts in the field and not by contractors without experience of conservation."

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