The Garhwa Fort — a Gupta period temple relics complex near Allahabad — is set to be restructured by the ASI

It was in the late 18th century that Raja Baghel Raja Vikramaditya of Bara — a tehsil in the Trans-Yamuna region of Uttar Pradesh’s Allahabad district —decided to secure a set of temple ruins at Garhwa. The Raja fortified it with a square enclosure and parapets, which with their fortress-like loopholes bore a military presence. This possibly gave it its present name, Garhwa Fort, though historians have dubbed it a misnomer arguing that the walls of the enclosure were not high enough for defensive purposes.

The complex houses some of the oldest remains of the Gupta period, including architectural relics of temples and tanks, and antiquities dating back to the 5th-6th century. As part of its conservation plan, the Archaeological Survey of India is on course to restructure the ‘Fort’ into its original shape. The vestiges, including those of pillars and valuable inscriptions of the age of Chandragupta, enclosed within will also be reorganised.

The Fort, extensively spread over a two-km periphery, is flanked by four bastions. Two fine tanks on the east and a temple with a pillared hall that bears a strong resemblance to the Greek pantheon on the west are its other visible attractions.

Its prized possession though is an 11th-12th century figure representing all 10 avatars of Lord Vishnu. Photography of the “Dus Avatar” is prohibited out of fear that photographs might be used as samples to rob and trade the idols outside India, where they are of much greater antique value.

The conservation is estimated to cost Rs. 15 lakh. A special variety of sandstone, brought from the neighbouring district of Chitrakoot, is employed to maintain the original composition. Ashlar stone slabs, lime, surkhi and coarse sand (from Banda district) are the other key materials.

Diwakar Singh, senior conservation assistant for the ASI in Allahabad sub-circle, informs how a typical process of conservation is initiated by estimating the position of the structure. Seepages, if any, need to be stopped, first from the roof and then from the foundation. The walls are also water-tightened and filled with mortar, if required.

However, “making the labourers do what you want” has been the most testing aspect yet. “It's difficult to train them — who have no previous architectural experience — to do what you want. Especially with structures of such historical importance where minute details are so valuable, special care and technique is involved. Even after training them for 15-20 days, it is possible we may not record any work.”

Though an offbeat area near the Uttar Pradesh-Madhya Pradesh border, the location of the structure has historical and archaeological importance. Professor D.P. Dube of Allahabad University’s History Department, relates the site to the route Lord Ram followed to Chitkrakoot during his years of exile. Barely 15 years ago, Dr. Dube recalls, the site was in the middle of a dense jungle infested with dreaded dacoits. “The roads were inaccessible. Now with a pitched road, it has become much more friendly.”

This is why the ASI hopes to open the Fort to visitors after its completion. That could also to a degree open new livelihood avenues for a section of the economically depressed population in the region.