Through his talks about his work at Bateshwar temples, former ASI Director K. K. Muhammed is spreading awareness about the site plagued by illegal mining
K. K. Muhammed's job, in the capacity of Director (North), Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is over. But he still has a lot of work to do,even after retirement. Pursuing academic work on history and archaeology, that he loves so much, he is also spreading the word through his talks. Recently at Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), he presented a talk “Dacoits, illegal mining and temple conservation in Chambal Valley”.
Muhammed's 24 year long career in the ASI has been eventful but his work on the Bateshwar temples in Madhya Pradesh, was particularly special. And now he is spending some time talking about the challenging task of rescuing the 1300-year-old temple firstly from the dreaded dacoits of Chambal and then the mining mafia. And don't forget, these were not his main challenges. His primary job was to restore the magnificent temple to its old glory, a task monumental because the structure was in ruins.
“The objective of these talks is that there are 200 temples out of which only 80 temples have been completed. Forty are half done so there is still lot of work left to be done. The mining is going on there. So, we need to maintain the momentum of our work, our commitment towards the cause,” says Muhammed. He keeps going back to his favourite site and informs us that one SP was killed at that site and while he was working there, once the collector and the SP were shot at but escaped. He reveals these facts to the guests at his presentations to keep them engaged.
How it happened
It's interesting how he convinced the dacoits to leave the temple premises and allow for restoration work to happen. Without any security, Muhammed had to negotiate directly with the dacoits and one day when he walked into the temple, he found somebody smoking a bidi. Muhammed didn’t know that the smoker was the infamous dacoit Nirbhay Singh Gujjar . When he found out, he engaged him in a discussion. “I told him that these precious idols would have also vanished like so many if he had not been around. And then I told him of his lineage, which he had no idea about— that he belonged to the Pratihara dynasty that had once ruled that region.”
That’s how the man, all of five feet two inches, won over the dacoits. The next obstacle was the mining mafia. The mining work, going on in the surrounding area was, and still is, causing great harm to this priceless piece of heritage. He shot off letters to the concerned agencies but nothing moved. And then he wrote to then RSS Chief, K. S. Sudershan and “Within 24 hours, things started to happen. I always realised that Government officials have limitations but I kept on working despite those. Writing to Sudershan ji went against me and there was talk of initiating some kind of action against me but finally, we could move ahead with the work,” recalls Muhammed who worked at the site from 2004 to 2008.
Not sharing details about his itinerary and reaching the site via different routes every time he went there, was how he kept himself safe. But there were incidents of his team members being roughed up by the mining mafia.