Sumanti Sen is an English Literature graduate who believes "there's just one kind of folks. Folks.".
India is known to have a rich cultural heritage, with a harmonious and tuneful blend of philosophy, religion and art at its centre.
The Indian heritage has always been a major attraction of the country. Built brick by brick over centuries, they are not just tourist attractions but also the country’s pride.
However, along with several other monuments, Hindu structures have been vandalised, looted and neglected for years now. Acres of temple lands have been taken over by encroachers. People do not think twice before scribbling their names on the walls for marking their presence. Very little has been done to preserve the remnants of our past.
In the larger discourse around Hindu pride and Hindutva, preservation of Hindu heritage sites often misses a spot.
Among prominent examples of neglect is Mahabalipuram’s Shore Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors who come looking serenity, end up being disappointed by the garbage, stream of vehicles that clogs the area and the noise pollution. The town has lost its heritage site status.
On either side of the road leading to the Shore Temple, scores of shops have sprouted. “The entire Mahabalipuram town is an eye sore,” says S. Swaminathan, author of ‘Mahabalipuram: Unfinished Poetry in Stone’.
Several other monuments along the Tiruchi – Thnajavur national highway that was used as a significant route during the Chola period goes unnoticed.
The Chola-built rock-cut temple dedicated to Sri Erumbeeswarar in Tiruverambur has been decaying without maintenance. It is, however, under the maintenance of Archaeological Survey of India. The ceiling of the temple has become weak and a large part of the inner ‘prakaram’ has developed several cracks due to water seepage. A tank dedicated to the temple has remained polluted. The historical significance of the temple goes unnoticed.
Another famous Hindu heritage site that has fallen prey to years of ignorance is the Rameshwara temple in Tamil Nadu that houses fallen pillars and damaged sculptures which have become a resting place for people. Several historical temples also lie neglected in Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh.
In 2019, this harrowing video of some men vandalising a heritage site in Hampi went viral. Four men who were on a visit to Ballari, were caught on tape, vandalising the pillars. After a huge uproar and a police complaint by The Archaeological Survey of India, the men were arrested. They allegedly told the police that they were unaware that Hampi was a national heritage site.
Among other incidents that highlight the plight of the temples, is the theft reported from the Shree Vajreshwari Yogini temple. Built in 1739, the Vajreshwari Yogini temple was looted by armed robbers to the tune of Rs 7 lakh this year. The temple is visited daily by thousands of devotees from across the country. However, a historical monument like this too remains unprotected.
In another incident reported at the Tripur Sundri temple, thieves stole 70 grams gold and 4 kilograms silver jewellery this year.
A large share of land belonging to another historic temple in Kadapa city- Palakondrayudu, was allegedly encroached by the locals.
A lot needs to be done to preserve these ancient structures. While scores of people who put on blinkers and go about their daily rituals, Sri Dharmasthala Manjunatheshwara Dharmothana Trust (SDMDT), in Karnataka, is set to complete the restoration of 250 ancient temples. It has already executed 175 projects with the state government’s help, under a public-private partnership (PPP) model of conservation launched in 2001-02, as reported by The Hindu.
Besides this, an additional 15 monuments that are spread across nine districts in the State of Karnataka have also been identified for restoration by the SDMDT. Among the 15 temples that have been identified, three each in Chikkamagaluru, Mysuru and Tumakuru, and one each in Belagavi, Chamarajanagar, Dakshina Kannada, Hassan, Shivamogga and Uttara Kannada. In Karnataka alone, there are 30,000 unprotected monuments, in addition to 780 protected monuments under the control of the Archaeology Department.
India needs more such NGOs and pressure groups to restore and preserve our heritage.
While religious occasions are celebrated with pomp and fervour in India, the structures that represent the religious identity are often ignored. As citizens of the country, it becomes our duty to do our bit to preserve these monuments.
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