Cracks are present in the Rajagopuram of the Ranganathaswamy Temple at Srirangam, but there is nothing to alarm concludes the inspection report submitted by the Department of Civil Engineering, IIT Madras to the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) department.
However, the report recommends that the structure should be monitored for a period of time and new data on the cracks obtained before decisions to strengthen the structure are taken. While the earlier expert committees had recommended that a radius of 5 m to 10 m around the Rajagopuram be cleared of `light structures and encroachments’, the present report suggests that this distance has to be increased in relation to the height of the gopuram (tower over the entrance).
Sources inform that the HR&CE has listed about 40 temple gopurams that are more than five storeys in height for structural review. However, the government order issued on June 15, pertains only to the study `structural distress’ in the Srirangam and Rameswaram gopurams by a technical committee. The IIT Madras is part of this committee.
The 236 feet tall Srirangam Rajagopuram is constructed on top of a stone base that is about 300 years old. The new construction commenced in May 1979 and was completed in March 1987. Cracks in the Rajagopuram were first observed during the final stages of construction in 1984.
Expert committees were constituted in 1986, 1987 and 1996 to study this issue. Widths of the various cracks and their verticality were taken at different points of time, but the measurements have not been updated in the last ten years. Even though the cracks on the gopuram appear stabilised, it is necessary to compare their present dimensions with the earlier studies feel some of the experts.
The inspection report suggests that new tools such as Ground Penetration Radar (GPR) should be used to survey and inspect the foundation of the Rajagopuram so that problems such as the washout of subsoil due to leakages and lateral movement of foundation blocks, if any, can be detected. This assumes significance since experts are of the opinion that structural failures such as the one witnessed at Kalahasti temple could have been prevented if good engineering practices were applied to repair the heritage structures.
The report emphasises that it is of utmost urgency to deploy a trained team of professionals within HR&CE to asses the safety of temple structures and retrofit them where necessary. The department also has to put in place a documentation process and develop a field manual for inspection, it adds.