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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XIX No. 9, august 16-31, 2009
Officialdom begins to look at
State’s heritage
By The Editor

A special Madras Week

When I was invited the other day by the State’s Departments of Tourism and Archaeology to a whole-day seminar on protecting ancient monuments for posterity, I went to it wondering how much more tourism was getting ready to swamp heritage. But I was in for a pleasant surprise. For once, officialdom – and there was a host of Secretaries present from the Chief Secretary down – appeared to be in agreement with a number of aspects of the heritage issue that this journal has been campaigning for for nearly a decade. They agreed that a Heritage Act was vital, that conservation was a specialised field and that special training, perhaps a separate training school, was necessary, and, most important of all, it was essential to make schoolchildren conscious of their heritage.

Note the missing right hand of this beautiful idol that has been vandalized. This picture featured, most appropriately, on both sides of the invitation to the workshop on ‘Protecting monuments

They did not go so far as to say that we need to bring back the Humanities to our schools or, as this journal has been advocating, that History, Geography, Environmental Studies and Civics should be separate studies taught for at least seven years, and that these should focus first on the child’s district, then the State, before looking further afield. But they did think that Collectors and representatives of the Archaeological and Tourism Departments could work with schools and make them aware of the heritage around them and elsewhere in the State.

Another welcome sign at the seminar was the willingness to encourage private-public partnerships in conservation and restoration projects. But there is a need to recognise that, in such arrangements, the private sector is to be considered a partner and not a milch cow. One instance that this journal knows of is the restoration of the Uni­versity of Ma­dras’s Senate House, where the private sector that contributed substantial funding towards its restoration was unceremoniously ignored once the building was ready for use. The deterioration of the building thereafter is there for all to see.

That various departments have over the years done their best, despite the limitations imposed by lack of funds and trained staff, to conserve or restore several ancient monuments was apparent from the numerous pictorial presentations made, ranging from the work at the Tirumala Nayak Palace and Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai to the continuous efforts to combat the elements in Mamallapuram. Some of the work would meet purists’ standards, much of it would not. But there is no gainsaying the effort. Nowadays, it was stated, there was “no dearth of funds”. Further, it was stated, a decision had been made to set up a major training programme for conservationists and restorers ranging from engineers to artisans. Certainly the various schemes and governmental promises indicated showed that funds were available, but their wise use would be possible only if trained personnel were in place and realistic systems of rates too were agreed to for such work. With one major architectural educational institution virtually giving the go-by to the heritage and conservation course it once offered, the question will always remain whether commitment to train conservators and restorers will remain steadfast.

But, while waiting for the three necessities to ensure preservation of our heritage – namely an Act, training of personnel, and creating awareness, particularly from school age – the immediate outcome of the seminar is likely to be two-fold:

1.  A sustained campaign against vandalism, supplemented by a better protective force; and

2.  A series of follow-up seminars to sensitise the staff of the departments most concerned with heritage sites, monuments and artefacts.

From the point of view of Madras Musings, a first step has been taken with the realisation or appreciation of the three ­basic necessities for heritage conservation and a frank admission of several things that have gone wrong in the past. We look forward to that first step being the beginning of a successful journey.

A fact file

• There are 38,465 temples in Tamil Nadu under the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Board and of them nearly 1000 are major temples. Apart from repairing or restoring as many of them as possible, bringing water back to their tanks – as has been done in the Marundeeswarar Temple tank in Tiruvanmiyur – is one of the deparment’s focuses.

• There are about 25,000 stone inscriptions in Tamil Nadu and the State Archaeological Department has already copied about 22,000 of them and ‘translated’ them into current Tamil. The work on the rest will be completed this year. Publication of the original together with the ‘translation’ has been going on ¬simultaneously.

• The Conservation Manual prepared by Sir John Marshall in 1923 is still, with very few changes, the Bible of Indian conservators. (EDITOR: With new technologies available, many felt this needed to be revised or done afresh, but others felt that the wisdom it offers is still valid.) • The Brihadiswara Temple at Gangaikondacholapuram is ¬being restored by the Archaeological Survey of India. Many of the stones of its old gopuram, which had collapsed, had been used in British times for the restoration of the Grand Anaicut.

• The protective walls of the Mamallapuram Shore Temple were built in 1905-06, 1939-40 and in the 1980s. The first was integrated with the temple and on either side of it, the second was built in the sea but it did not dwarf the monument, while the third was another seawall but one which dwarfs the monument. Ugly as the third may look, it saved the temple from the fury of the tsunami.

• Under the Urban Renewal Scheme, Ripon Building and the Town Hall (Victoria Public Hall) are to be restored, the 1892 Victoria City Hall in Coimbatore has been restored, two mandapams on the banks of the Kaveri in Trichy the Amma Mandapam built it 1849 by Rani Mangammal and the Sevanthi Mandapam have been restored, and the four Chithrai Streets surrounding the Meenakshiamman Temple in Madurai have been cleaned up and pedestrianised.

(EDITOR: While pedestrianisation has made movement easier, completely tiling the walkway, introducing golf carts and virtually putting a stop to the hustle and bustle of the area have cost the temple surrounds their traditional ambience. Here is a case of good intentions going astray due to lack of sensitivity and not appreciating heritage. This is to a degree true of the other efforts under this programme, but then the argument is that some effort is better than none. Oldtimers who feel no conservation is better than insensitive restoration certainly will not agree.)

• The Tamil Nadu Archaeological Department is in the process of restoring the Tirumala Nayak Palace in Madurai and getting it ready for another sound and light show, while it also plans to get work underway on the Tranquebar Fort.

– ED.

In this issue

Officialdom looks...
Down memory...
Arch Bridges...
Madras Week..
Memories of Kilpauk...
Karpagambal Mess...
Thiruvalluvar's shrine...
New Cricket stadium...
Chennais first ...
Historic Residences..
Other stories

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