REACH Foundation, an NGO, behind this massive conservation effort
The change that has come over the 1,200-year old Kailasanathar temple at Uttaramerur, about 90 km from Chennai, is unbelievable. The temple, which was in total ruins, with dense vegetation growing over its vimana (the tower above the sanctum) and collapsed mantapas, looks as good as new today. The vimana has been restored to its original beauty, its broken stucco figurines re-created, the foundation's granite stones re-stitched and the fallen mantapas re-erected. REACH Foundation, a non-governmental organisation, was behind this massive restoration and conservation effort.
“There were many challenges in this restoration and conservation work,” said T. Satyamurthy, founder of the Foundation and former Superintending Archaeologist, Archaeological Survey of India, who led the efforts. He said: “We overcame the challenges. The vimana has been conserved and restored, using as much as possible international techniques. The front mantapa, which had completely collapsed, stands majestically again. The arthamantapa has been re-assembled. The entire structure has been water-tightened. Not a drop of water can enter it now.”
The restoration process, which began on June 3, 2008, yielded a bonanza. Six inscriptions, one of Aditya Chola, (regnal years 871 - 907 CE), three of Rajendra Chola (regnal years 1012-1044 CE), one belonging to the Vijayanagara king Krishnadevaraya (early 16th century CE) and another of the late Vijayanagara period were found. A beautiful sculpture of a young bull (Nandi) and bas reliefs of Tamil Saivite saints Sundarar, Tirugnana Sambandar and Appar were among the other discoveries. Ballustraded steps of the Pallava period were excavated. (The Hindu, June 1 and November 20, 2008).
This Kailasanathar temple was built by the Pallava king Dantivarman towards the end of the 8th century CE. It was “a Mahaprasada,” that is, “a great temple.”
The sanctum sanctorum was built with two walls -inner and outer running around it, with an intervening space, called the sandhara type. The vimana rose over the inner wall. Thus the inner wall bore the entire weight of the vimana which was built of bricks. A solid shikara crowned the vimana. With dense vegetation including a tree growing over the vimana, its bricks had cracked on three sides. On the northern side, the crack was three-foot wide.
The cracks had dislodged the vimana's beautiful stucco figurines, which had fallen. The plinth's granite slabs had moved from their positions. Dr. Satyamurthy said, “The cracks in the vimana posed a major problem.
The challenge was whether to keep the plinth as it is or reconstruct it completely by dismantling its stone members and re-assembling them. We were not sure whether the plinth will bear the weight of the vimana.” The staff and students of the Civil Engineering Department of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Madras, stitched the plinth's granite slabs with mild steel. They tested a few slabs by providing the same stress on them as the vimana would have. They found that the stitching would bear the vimana's weight.
The front mantapa, built by the Vijayanagara rulers, had collapsed because it had no proper footing. In re-erecting it, all its old members were used. “This was a redeeming feature,” said P.N. Subramanian, trustee, REACH Foundation.
V. Venkatakrishnan, agriculturist from Uttraramerur, provided the finance for the restoration by selling his land. Although the peepul tree, which had grown over the vimana, had damaged it, it had its own use. A woman devotee bought it and transplanted it in an ashram's premises.
“We successfully restored the brick vimana by using lime plaster which was accepted by it. If we had used cement, it would have rejected it,” explained Dr. Satyamurthy.