Kirtinarayana temple, at Talakkad near Mysore, the Hoysala marvel.

While vandalism by the invading Mughal kings reduced the heritage structures of Hampi to ruins, ecological disaster - mounting sand dunes – had buried and inflicted extensive damage to many temples of Talakkad near Mysore in Karnataka.

To save a few, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has undertaken a daunting task of restoring the heritage structure of Kirtinarayana temple at Talakad near Mysore in Karnataka.

Among the four temples of Pataleeswara, Maraleswara, Vaidyeswara and Kirtinarayana, that have been excavated from the sand dunes of Talakkad, Vaidyeswara and Kirtinarayana temples are protected by the ASI as national monuments. While the Vaidyeswara temple is almost intact, Kritinarayana temple is under the ruins and being restored by the ASI.

Dr. M. Nambirajan, superintending archaeologist, ASI, Bangalore, told The Hindu that the restoration and conservation of the temple were being undertaken by the ASI at a cost of Rs. 7 crore.

The ASI took over the Vaidyeswarar and Kirtinarayana temples in 1951. Till 1985 the ASI was engaged in strengthening of beams.

Century), Rashtrakutas, Cholas, Hoysalas, Vijayanagar, Wodeyars of Mysore, Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan. During the Vijayanagara dynasty there was an attempt to build a barricade and increase the height of the enclosure wall of the Kirtinarayana temple.

The Kirtinarayana temple, built in 1117 A.D., by the Hoysala king, Vishnuvardhan to celebrate his victory over the Cholas in the battle of Talakkad, is a single granite vimana structure with an open mantapa. The sanctum with open hall is mounted on a platform shaped like a star, a typical Hoysala architecture.

The shrine has garba griha (sanctum), antara, maha mandapa and mukha mandapa on three sides at north, south and east. The vimana, which collapsed, is a typical dravida structure and fully mortar. The rest of the temple is an all-stone marvel.

“When the ASI undertook the conservation work of the temple, it was buried under heaps of sand dunes, about 3,840 cubic metre of sand, weighing over 6,000 tonnes,” Dr. Nambirajan said.

“The ASI has been carrying out conservation work since 1959-60. The work includes arresting the leakage of the temple roof, clearing sand dunes, restoration of mahadwara mantapa, repairs to stucco works on sikhara and mahadwara, clearing of debris to expose the buried structures,” he said.

Dismantled structure

In 1998 the dilapidated mahadwara (entrance) was dismantled and completely reset in 2001-02. “From 2003-04 we documented and carefully dismantled the temple structure. The architectural elements were systematically arranged in the courtyard for reassembling,” he said. In 2013, the original idol of the presiding deity, Kritinarayana was removed and preserved in an enclosure inside the temple.

The restored mahadwara of the temple now stands with ornate pillars and ceiling, decorated with floral designs. “As part of the restoration, the ASI undertook documentation study of foundation issues and soil samples, digital technical data for reconstruction of the whole monument like mapping, taking drill cores to study the nature of filling of the foundation. We carried out excavation to identify and earlier structural activity below the foundation and in the neighbourhood,” Dr. Nambirajan said.

The dismantled pillars and panels have been numbered and kept on the courtyard of the temple. The restoration work, he said, would take another year to complete.

The ASI documentation study revealed that the subsidence of the soil was due to rise in the water table. The immense load of sand dunes which buried the whole monument with greater concentration towards the sanctum had caused heavy damage to many architectural elements owing to its sheer weight and thrust.

The Vaidyeswarar temple, a vesara shrine which is under the ASI control, is intact where worship and rituals are going on.

It is a monumental effort by the ASI as the conservation work is done by brick to restore the heritage shrine to its original shape through dedicated documenting and numbering of stones.