Tirunelveli Heritage Symposium 2011 – Reach Foundation: Conserve our Rich Heritage!!
The symposium on dos and don’ts of temple cleaning and conservation, restoration, to educate and create an awareness among the temple cleaners (Uzavarappani members) from various parts in and around Tirunelveli was conducted on 27th March 2011, in Tirunelveli, Tamilnadu.
The venue was Sri Sringeri Sharadha Kalyana Mandapam, at Sivapuram Street near the Tirunelveli Railway Station. This Mandap, run and maintained by the Sringeri Mutt had a good ambience and the facilities were good. The Mandapa’s Dharmadigari, Shri. Nataraja Iyer and Shri. Kasi Viswanathan the coordinator from the Mutt charged us a very nominal fee for electricity and cleaning, informed to all the media men and had sent invitations for their members to utilize this opportunity to know more on temple conservation. They had also put a huge digital banner for this occasion.
REACH members hailing from this region popularly called as Tirunelveli Seemai in Tamil, Shri. Kalakkad S.S. Mani and Shri. R.Ramsundar @ Chandru (who also showed us his ancestral house in Kallidaikurichi) were the coordinators for planning and executing this function with precision and élan.
25th night we had the right starter to unfold more interesting things to come. Trustee P.N. Subramanian and his wife, Mrs. Anu Subramanian were relaxing in their home misreading the return ticket time and hardly had 20 minutes to reach the station. Quick brain storming made us tell them they better reach Tambaram, as the train would be there in half an hour’s time, after leaving Egmore. As luck would have it, or call God’s golden hand (like Maradona’s Golden hand in the football world cup match) somebody had pulled the emergency chain in the compartment to make a running couple join their kid who was in the train! So, the train started from Egmore some 7 minutes late, which was good enough for our leading pairs of this story to catch up in Tambaram!
The driver of Mr. PNS was more confident and he drove like the auto rickshaw driver seen in the James bond Advertisement in Manila driving an auto rickshaw through mad crowds!
PNS was praying that his new car does not incur a huge bill for that race driving and other experienced members who own cars assured Toyota makes would never wear down that badly and he can cherish his moment of thrill and suspense and not worry about the car! Anu was feeling like she enacted an unbelievable climax scene and never thought she could make it to the D-day!
26th March, Saturday morning we reached Tirunelveli junction and were accommodated at the Kalyana Mandapam itself. We had planned for a one day heritage trip to cover both important temples as well as some dilapidated temples which need care.
We first went to Chermadevi, (as spelt by history enthusiast Muhammad Ali, a retired teacher who is spending his life on such temples and their history, a native of this small hamlet). There is Bhaktavatsala Temple, well maintained by the ASI, belonging to Chola (Rajendra -1, 1012- 1041), patronized by later Pandyas as well as the Vijayanagara and Nayaks as well. We spent some time analyzing the structures and epigraphs in the temple. As usual Epigraphist Ramachandran was at his best reading out some rare epigraphs for us. The deity, standing alone is a rarity and had the sure marks of a late Nayaka sculpture, but locals say the sculpture would have been replaced later. The standing Vishnu has a serpent hood above his head. The Maha Mandapa has a safe room on its floor, and members Chandra, Ramsundar, Ramnath and Gopalan braved to go in and come out. Epigraphist Ramachandran, as ever, young in mind, also went in. The height of the safe room was hardly 2.5 feet and the width by length some 8 x 6 feet. As people keep telling that there is a tunnel leading to another temple or city, which is mostly untrue, normally such rooms were made to save the jewels and main deities from invaders, which were nothing but ancient locker rooms!
Dr. T. Satyamurthy reminded his earlier days, when he and K.K. Ramamurthy used to walk a long path and struggle through the ruins of this temple to locate parts and pieces, for restoring them. Today it is remains a temple worth the visit and has all the typical ASI trademark, spick and span. While coming from Tirunelveli to Chermadevi, another temple just opposite to the location of this Bhaktavatsala temple, a Vishnu temple stands out for showing as an example, of HOW NOT TO RENOVATE A TEMPLE! Funded by some local corporate, the renovators were using all materials that are taboo for heritage stuff, like acrylic paints, heavy cementing and finally a gory look. We did not have hearts to go into the temple, fearing we may get into fist fights with those who were renovating. So much for the passion of our REACH members on preserving heritage with all its original ingredients!
After this visit, we went to Ramasamy Temple located in Chermadevi itself, which Mr. Muhammad Ali was talking about. Liberally coated with white wash and renovated some years ago with loads of heavy cemented brick bats and weather course, this temple needs immediate cleaning and then documenting. The ceilings of the Mahamandapa have all the scenes of Ramayana sculpted in granite and those were also not spared, with white wash! There is a single pillar with Rama, Seetha and Hanuman sculpted within itself. The front fascia of the temple dwara also has some interesting sculptures like calf and cow, frog, snake etc. Wonder why these were carved atop at such vintage point!
By noon, we proceeded to Thirupudaimarudur which stands majestically besides the river Tamirabarani. Photographs inside the temple were strictly not allowed, which makes enthusiasts not get an opportunity to share the beauty of this temple in full through internet. But the seven tiered Gopuram has plenty of mural paintings which have many interesting paintings starting from mythology till recording the trading of various countrymen through Indian seas. The colours, the shades used to show different races, men, their clothing and style is mind boggling.
Among the wooden carvings seen in this tower, one may miss out the famous mysterious siddha if one does not see the miniatures carved atop carefully. Men, animals, gods and apsaras all in one go need more than a day to understand and assimilate the beauty into our minds.
The noon lunch was ready at the spacious guest house of retired Chief Justice Shri. Ratnavel Pandian, the first REACH Heritage awardee, who hails from this village. Tress of all shades and fruits abandoned painted storks nurtured and bred here are a sight to see. We had hands full of Gooseberries picked from the farm house.
After this we went to Kallidaikurichi to see the streets were the shooting of the anniyan song, “Andan kakka kondai kari”, in which the first house belongs to the family of our member Ram Sundar.
Then we proceeded to Adichanallur where remains to get excavated further to unearth the sites enormity of size and civilization, once existed. The site predominantly was a burial sites, which had three tire of burial done. After Alexander Rhea in 1906 it was our founder T.Satyamurthy who excavated this site during his service with the ASI, to find out many remnants of bye-gone civilization. The dates are similar to that of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa. He and Mr. Ramachandran lamented that the huge site, across the road also needs to be unearthed and also some 54 other sites in and around this region to expose fully the antiquity of this region. Unfortunately neither the central nor the state archaeology departments force the Government to fund for such projects of international importance. Just before leaving the site, we saw the upper rim of a buried pot, but due to paucity of time, we had to rush further. One day may be one group of REACH members would excavate this site!
Then we went to Sri Venkatachalapathy Temple at Krishnapuram, known for its famous pillar sculptures. Sad part, the watchman acted very peculiar, opposing us taking snaps of the famous pillar sculptures, but we were wondering how come the photos are very much available in the internet!
The mythology the watchman was pouring out was mostly fictious and had nothing in tune with the real facts from the figures. After persuaded efforts and giving him our credentials and contacts, including the HR&CE commissioner himself, he relented and allowed us to photograph.
The front Mandapa also has some beautiful sculptures of Rathi, Manmatha and warriors. Sand blasting done recently had its own loss, as well as thick oil was smeared on the sculptures to mask the ill-effects the sand blasting.
The night was spent by few members by arranging chairs, tying banners and a fortunate few who had their forty winks intact!
There was a press note on Saturday 26th March in the vernacular Tamil Dinamalar, detailing about proposed heritage wardens’ meet.
Again the in the morning, few went to the Nellaiappar temple and few served around to make last minute arrangements. Heritage wardens started to turn up as early as 8 a.m.
The reception and registration was taken by the Tirunelveli conveners. Registration of new members and data on old dilapidated temples in and around the district were also recorded in separate papers.
After lightening the kuthivilaku by the chief guests, the meeting started off with an invocation by Shri. Senthilandavan Ayya, a senior Uzavarappani member from Nagercoil.
Dr. T.Satyamurthy, REACH founder welcomed all members on behalf of REACH 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. He mentioned Tirunelveli as Purna Bhoomi and hence close to his heart.
The Nellai Chapter of REACH was opened officially by Sri Nambirajan in presence of other chief guests.
Sri Nambirajan, the Superintendant, of ASI Trichur Circle, also a native of Tirunelveli district was the Chief Guest. He shared his experiences in conservation by presenting a PowerPoint and also extended his help in giving consultation for those who sought his office’s help in technical expertise. The representatives of Sringeri Mutt, Shri. Natarajan and Shri. Kasi Viswanathan also addressed the gathering. They reminded us that the Sashtiabhdapoorthi of the Sringeri Seer, Shri. Bharathi Theertha Swamigal is being celebrated all across the globe and it was a coincidence and the almighty’s wishes that they had to collaborate with REACH to start the Tirunelveli Chapter to attend to dilapidated temples and monuments.
Shri. Kasi Viswanathan assured all his help and said that he had a list of temples in need, almost some 7000 temples, and was interested in sharing the data with REACH. He also had identified Sthapathis from local areas who work adhering to the Sastras and old architectural practice, and also at an affordable cost.
There was power point presentation by Shri J. Chandrasekaran, the secretary and P.R.O of REACH on the start and the current growth of REACH. He said it was a coincidence that the first Heritage wardens’ symposium was also conducted at Tatvaloka, again another body of the Sringeri Mutt, Teynampet, Chennai. His PowerPoint showed how negligence and official apathy spoilt the very basics of heritage conservation.
Shri Ramachandran, REACH historian and epigraphist, an authority on epigraphs insisted on how inscriptions depicted in various temples highlighted by him clearly explain the stanzas of the history and the deep knowledge the makers had in as well as in the temple history. 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 Padmanabhan, reminisced how at the instance of Dr T Satyamurthy, had started an information centre in Nagercoil. He lamented that the Pandya history is not well projected compared to the other famed Cholas and Pallavas.
Mr. Aravind Neelakanthan the editor of tamilhindu.com and the author of a twelve year researched book on fault line of Aryan Invasion, spoke how temples centric town planning were done and his powerpoint was bedecked with ancient texts and sketches.
Mohammad Ali of Chermadevi spoke of his interest in Hindu temples and their art and architecture marvels. Sri K.K. Ramamurthy Ex ASI Tirunelveli region shared his experiences
Sri Naveethakrishnan, an Uzavarappani enthusiast, from the village Eral cautioned the propaganda done by other religious heads and insisted the importance to prevent conversion to evolve a temple centric activity in all villages.
Shri. Kalakkad Chandrasekaran shared is experiences and invited Uzavarappani members to further do cleaning of their huge temple.
Sri Nellai Nedumaran could not make it to the function but had sponsored for the food expenses of this event.
In his concluding address, Dr T Satyamurthy on behalf of REACH thanked everybody who had made arrangements for the meeting, the participants and the guests of the function. He wished every member collect the data of all dilapidated heritage structures in this region and start working on them to enable us find out how best we can find solutions to renovate them. Shri. Durai, the member of Tamil Heritage Foundation, having their deep presence in the net, as a Google group called Mintamil, observed the proceedings along his enthusiastic wife. When we talked to them later, they revealed that this meeting opened their eyes in many fronts, and would surely chip in, being a civil contractor, on temple conservation more actively in days to come. He was the one to report on Manimurthiswaram Ganesh temple, as soon as we were back to our places!
Sri S.S. Mani of Kalakkad made the vote of thanks thanking everybody for their participation
After lunch, most members attended the live reporting on the dilapidated conditions, the reasons and the methods to renovate duly explained by K.K. Ramamurthy, Shri. Dhandapani, Shri. Nambirajan, all from ASI, Trichur, as well as by Dr. T. Satyamurthy himself.
The return on the same night by train to Chennai also had its share of climax! Mrs. Satyamurthy had not brought her ID card, but the Ticket examiner was generous enough to glance at passport of hers, got through the email of her daughter. Ramnath and SS Mani punched their laptops and wireless net cards to get the same in their emails, thanks to the frantic call of Dr T Satyamurthy to his daughter in US! Communication is the key to development and we saw that in real life experience! Did someone say 2G? We just heard it as 3 cheers, when the Ticket examiner agreed and walked away!
The photos taken by PRO Chandra, of the 26th heritage trip are here to see.
The photos of the function are here to see, courtesy Kallidaikurichi, “oye” Shri. Ramsundar@ Chandru