Seminar for temple cleaners called as “Uzhavarappani’ members, the heritage wardens on creating ‘awareness of how to repair, maintain and restore heritage temples’ held on 11th Jan 2009, in Kumbakonam, Tamilnadu.
During a short sojourn to Swamimalai, our P.R.O, Chandrasekaran just left all the planning and printing, proof reading and sending invitation to one man- Shri. Lakshmi Narayanan @ Vammanji @ Vasu. He took the challenge and called his friend, SBI Swaminathan to his help. With Komal Shekhar pouring in addresses and spreading the word, and within a 10 day span, the function was held there, successfully, for all to see.
Pavazham Marriage Hall at
Bakthapuri Street, Kumbakonam.
Seeing our serene motive and enthusiasm, the mandap owner had put around lots of digital banners of big temples to make it a lively back drop.
Members S.S. Mani, Natarajan, Rajan Ganesh, Chandrasekaran , along with new comers Jagdish, Krishnamurthy had one VIP guest coming all the way from Calcutta ASI, Dr. Tapan Bhattacharya. When Dr. Tapan spoke to Chandra our convener, he was told that the symposium would be fully in Tamil and Dr. Tapan would not be able to follow. But his enthusiasm to share his knowledge in Lime Mortar Technology made his senior allow Dr. Tapan to join us for this symposium!
The Chennai group of members, Rajan Ganesh, Chandrasekaran, Kalakkad SS Mani, Natarajan, Trustee P.N. Subramaniam and his wife Anu Subramaniam, along with new joinees Jagdish and Krishnamurthy were happy to have 2 ASI men with us. Mr. Sriraman the conservationist who is in-charge of the St.Geroge Fort Museum and Dr.Tapan Bhattacharya, who had come all the way from ASI, Calcutta, knowingly that this symposium would be for rural temple cleaners, and in Tamil. He wanted to bring down knowledge to their level and impart his lime mortar technology to these groups. We started off on 10th morning 7 AM, amidst fear of not getting the diesel for our van, due to the strike announced by the petroleum companies. We just surrendered our cause and the need to go to the symposium to the Lord and proceeded. By the time we reached Banrutti, the fuel problem got resolved and we re-filled our tanks.
En-route, we went to Thiru Adigai, the place where Thilakavadhi, the sister of Appar converted her brother into a Saivite. Appar was suffering from an incurable ailment. Thilagavadhi smeared the ashes of Thiruvadigai Shiva Temple on Appar’s forehead and the ailment just disappeared. This was also the place where Appar started the first Uzhavarappani – temple cleaning activity.
The temple walls at the entrance had beautiful sculptures of various dance poses and also a mysterious king’s statue, whose name none knew there! The front mandapa has some beautiful ceiling paintings made of natural colours. Huge mortar made sculptures decorate the periphery of the sanctum sanctorum but unfortunately thick coats of acrylic colours have spoilt their sheen. A separate blog will highlight this temple.
Then by noon, we went to the Great Gangai Konda Cholapuram, built by the Chola Emperor Rajendra Chola. Rajendra just tried to imitate his father’s another grand magnum opus temple, the Big temple, in Thanjavur, but rectified all mistakes which were done by making changes in the height of the tower and allowing large spaces around the temple tower inner walls, cleverly converging on to the top. The inner layers of each thala also were spacious and he had filled those, layer to layer enabling masons or visitors go above the central point of the sanctum above the moolavar at any higher pedestal. The daunting gigantic Dwarapalakas again showing the Vismaya mudras and again showing the snake -eat elephant-pressed under the toe of the dwarapalaka Rakshasa, showing the Lord inside. One can imagine what a huge figure the sculpturer of the King wanted to make of the Lord, just by showing his Dwarapalaka at the entrance!
Again, instead of the Stone Nandi we see in Thanjavur, here we see a massive lime mortar made nandi at the entrance as well as a Lion entrance through which it is learnt the Royal family get to the foot of the well nearby. This Lion shaped entrance is also a Lime stone marvel. Dr. Tapan Bhattacharya, who joined us, wondered on this massive lime stone figurines and said that this is the first time in his service he is seeing such a massive single piece sculpture proving the worth and strength of lime mortar! Worth his penny!
The Lord bigger in diameter (65 feet) was bedecked with best of garlands, being the Thiruvadirai day.
Also the sculptures seen around the temple peripheral walls make all go crazy and a icon lover go into raptures. We can feel the skin and dough inside the stone sculptures live alive all these 1000 years! Especially the Karthikeya, Ganesh, Ayyappa, Shiva, Parvathi panel, the Chandeswara Anugraha panel et al. I will reserve a separate blog just for GKC, otherwise I may loose focus on writing about the symposium. So let’s move on further towards Kumbakonam. By evening some one in the group wondered being Thiruvadirai, the auspicious day of the year for Lord Shiva, why we avoided going in the Chidambaram- Kumbakonam route! But the Lord satisfied our needs by making us visit the Thiruadigai temple, the Innamboor Shiva temple as well as the Thiruperambiyam temple. Another blog will again show you all the visits of these temples.
Entering Kumbakonam, we all had a sumptuous lunch at member Swaminathan’s house with Thiruvadirai Kazhi (a puuding made of rice flour and jaggery and ghee, steam- boiled to naught to get the best of taste) thus completing our best Thiruvadirai experience ever, one had had.
On the D-day, 11th of January, friend and temple restorer Lakshmi Narayanan (another devotee with the same name), who is already working on Nambarai temple restoration work, helped by joining us as early as 5 AM helping in getting the banners tied and stage arranged. He also started the programme with invocation sung in Tamil, some Devarams, and slokas in all Gods.
The reception was well handled by Jagdish, Krishnamurthy and Rajan Ganesh. Some of the books – all Siva sthalams which were sung by the Moovar and another book on Alwar Divya Kshetrams were bought by the visitors. Registration of new members, and data on old dilapidated temples in and around Kumbakonam were also recorded in separate note books.
After the invocation, Dr. T.Satyamurthy, REACH founder Trustee invited all members and gave a brief on how REACH is imparting knowledge to the rural folks and creating awareness on how to restore and maintain heritage temples. He also emphasized that if the old building materials were available, the cost also would be minimal, only involving skilled ASI trained workers to re-lay the stone structures. On making lime sculptures around the Vimana one has to study the period, the style and replace them with similarly looking ones.
The main speech was by Tamilnadu State archeology ex-chief, Dr. Nagasami, the man known for arguing in London courts to get back the famous stolen Shivapuram panchaloka Shiva statue to our country, which was stolen and was made available in a London museum! He also was instrumental in reviving epigraphy to a larger extent. He reminded his olden days, when he tried to build a small group of young volunteers from colleges and schools in this same city, Kumbakonam and tried to clean and maintain temples. He lamented that all efforts were put to no use that most temples lost their sheen due to negligence and carelessness, most sculptures and icons, inscriptions losing their way to heavy white washing and sand blasting. He lauded the constant effort of REACH on reaching the rural public, educating them on the importance of restoring our heritage.
The came Kudavoil Balasubramaniam, another archeologist retired from the State archaeology department, who is an authority in Chola history. He made a PowerPoint presentation on showcasing how the sculpturers of the Chola period mastered in remembering and mastering all the Tamil hymns sung by the Saivite Trio. (Appar, Sundarar, Sambhandar). The sculptures or inscriptions depicted in various temples high lighted by him clearly explain the stanzas of the hymns and the deep knowledge the makers had in Shivapuranam as well as in the life history of the Saivite trio. A rare inscription showing the entire Devaram song starting as ‘Mariyaar Karandendaiyem… .’ in Thiruvidavaai temple near Kumbakonam was seen on the peripheral wall of the sanctorum by Mr. Balasubramaniam years before. He rejoiced seeing that, and had made arrangements to mark around the stone to show the world that this rare stone be preserved. Unfortunately, those who renovated and did Kumbabhishekam had mismatched all the stones and this piece of history was lost for ever. He requested the restorers to at least appreciate the real methodology and the hard work the workers had put in those days, and not re-arrange the stones with which the temples were built.
Dr. Tapan’s simple method of explaining how lime is hundred times better than the exothermic natured cement was worth the show. He said that lime is recyclable and hence it breathes. During winter it absorbs moisture and breathes out the same as water vapour when the temperature picks up. A simple cycle depicting lime stone becoming calcium hydroxide after grinding and mixing with water and again hardening back to become Calcium Stone was well explained. That’s the reason the more seasoned Calcium mortar stood against time and weather than any modern cement.
He said that each lime mix had different ratios of water, sand content. He assured the audience that he would volunteer in any lime related restoration project and involve himself fully and see to that the heritage structures are restored to the best of his ability.
To read the “Lime cycle” theory, log in to our yahoo groups’ files section, (temple_cleaners)
Later Pest Control of India guys, coming unprepared could not show how temple rodents, bats and cockroaches could be driven away with their products L
Mr. Komal Shekhar spoke on behalf of the Uzhavarappani members and detailed the reluctance of many to go by the traditional methods, rather getting carried away by fancy sponsorship and materials, like acrylic paints, mosaic tiles and cement. He said he spreads the need of maintaining the traditional methods wherever he tires to initiate locals in rebuilding a heritage temple.
Mr. Umapathi sthapathy could not make it to the function and last but least SBi Swaminathan made the vote of thanks but also made some comments which wee not in good taste to the audience. Any way for the hard work he and Mr. Vammanji had put in, we at REACH forgot what unsavoury things Mr. Swaminathan spoke about.
Sundhar Bharadwaj our trustee, took all the pains to escort Dr. Nagasami from Chennai and back and made a flash visit, amidst his busy schedules.
All still remember the best food catering from Sholapuram (rather the correct way to spell is Cholapuram Sundaram) services. Their Kalkandu Rice, Sambhar Rice, Thayir Sadam, Chips et all, still brings out the hunger pangs out, whenever we think of it! We also succeeded in taking back parcels for those who returned to Chennai by van. We are fortunate that when we went back, Dr. Satyamurthy accompanied us and we saw the Manambadi temple enroute to Chennai. The status of this temple is seen here. We wish we restore this temple as our next project, if the Lord shows the way…
Some news item which appeared in the local vernacular papers, informing about the symposium, a day before!