It breaks one’s heart

To see news items like this. This is not the first time nor is it the only kind of damage that is being done to our temples in the name of renovation; the news report itself goes on to add

Over the past several years, similar mural masterpieces have been whitewashed at the Meenakshi temple in Madurai, the Arunachaleswarar temple at Tiruvannamalai, the Vishnu temple at Tiruvellarai near Tiruchi, and Siva temples at Patteeswaram near Kumbakonam, Tiruppulivanam in Kancheepuram district and Vedaranyam, all administered by the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department of the Tamil Nadu government.

Similar vandalism has been witnessed at other temples in the State, including the Varadarajaswamy temple in Kancheepuram, the Lakshmi Narasimhar temple at Sevilimedu, and the Sanjeeva Rayar temple at Iyengarkulam, both near Kancheepuram.

The latest round of effacement that has been revealed took place about six months ago in the name of renovation, and it is still under way. Sculptures on pillars and inscriptions have also been “cleaned” by sand-blasting: it involves training sand on them at high pressure. This is in violation of a Government Order that bans sand-blasting in temples as it damages sculptures and inscriptions. A sign-board at the temple says Rs. 8,16,000 will be needed for “sand-blasting (chemical wash)” for the renovation.

There are several factors that lead to this kind of scenario; for example, the news report notes that the Executive Officer during whose tenure the murals were whitewashed claims that he never gave permission:

P. Krishnan, during whose tenure as temple Executive Officer the murals were whitewashed, said he never gave permission for such work.

If the EO did not giver permission, who carried out the work and who paid for it?

I remember visiting Sri Villiputtur once and seeing the deities in the Garbagraha painted in garish colours which completely spoilt the visit for me.

I have also lamented elsewhere in this blog about the lack of Bhaskara Thondaiman-ish attitude towards our temples — an attitude of paying as much importance to history and historical information as to sthala puranas; I am not sure anybody who ordered white washing in the Mannarkovil temple had any inkling of what he/she is erasing.

And, of course, the final factor is the culture itself; temples are no longer the vibrant spots of socio-cultural interaction they used to be. Nobody cares about the sculptures or the murals. It is all a business transaction between the gods and the devotees: depending on your current needs, you visit the concerned temple, and make your bargain with the gods and their agents in human form — I remember being disgusted in the Dhanvantri Sannidhi of Sri Rangam temple where an elderly person was making discreet enquiries to all the devotees about their ailments (you see — nobody goes to Dhanvantri sannidhi who is good health is the implicit assumption) and recommending an ayurvedic pharmacy nearby to them all.

As long as our culture treats temples and worshipping another business spot and business transaction respectively, as long as we, as the inheritors of the culture, do not pay enough attention to the details of what we are inheriting, and, as long as the temples are run by EOs appointed by government whose main concern is certainly not maintaining the sanctity and preserving the art forms in the temples, this will not be the last news item of this sort — K T Gandhirajan will keep visiting every nook and corner of Tamilnadu and keep seeing things of this sort to report in the Hindu.


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