Artisans from Mamallapuram with long experience in restoring heritage sites work on the edifice built in honour of a gallant Dane, writes T.S. Atul Swaminathan

Chennai will be their temporary home for a couple of months. Based in Mamallapuram, these artisans, who originally hail from Pudukkottai district, are here to restore the battered Kaj Schmidt memorial on Elliot’s Beach.

K. Rajendran, asariyar (head), has been associated with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) since 1985. He is part of the six-member team working on restoring the edifice erected as a tribute to the Danish shipping executive, who lost his life while saving two drowning girls.

Rajendran, who has six apprentices under him, says he has had an eventful journey with the ASI.

“This has been my family’s traditional profession. I started in 1983, when I accompanied my father R. Karrupiah and his brothers to Rathna Chettiar Lord Ganesha Temple, Namma Kottai, Alangudi, to build a 26- Kalmandapam.”

In 1985, while working on the restoration of a wedding hall in Kudumiyanmalai, Pudukkottai, P. Vasudevan, Senior Conservation Assistant, ASI, Thanjavur, spotted him. “He invited me to restore the ceiling in a Lord Siva Temple at Kolathur, Keeranur. This is how my professional stint with ASI started,” he adds.

“I was enlisted by the Department to work on the flooring at Vellore Jalakandeswarar Temple, Kailasanathar Temple, Uthiramerur, Lord Sivan Temple in Thirumuruganpoondi, to carry out restoration work at four ‘Rajagopurams’ in Brihadeeswarar Temple, Thanjavur, and one in Gangaikonda Chozhapuram Sivan Temple”

After a brief interval, he re-associated with the ASI and constructed the ‘Kalyani Kulam Mandapam’ in Duvavasi, Belgaum, did flooring work in Chamundeshwari Temple, Mysore, and carried out compound benching and grilling work at Pancha Rathas of Mahabalipuram, and alteration work at the Hall of Thousand Pillars in Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple.

“My profession keeps me busy. I am always travelling from one place to another. Though happy with my work, I feel sad that I am unable to spend much time with my family,” Rajendran says. On the ongoing work at the Schmidt Memorial, he says: “At present, wall alteration work is going on and a wall of one-and-a-half metres around the memorial is being constructed for the safety of the structure. It is good that the monument has been fenced to avoid public access. The edifice was built without a stone foundation. It is a brick, and lime mortar structure. A crack has developed from the top to the base of the structure.”

An official of the Public Works Department stated that every stage of the restoration work needed to be properly analysed before execution . The restoration work, which is in accordance with ASI guidelines, is not a time-bound programme.

Social activists Kamakshi Subramaniam and Dr. T. D. Babu, who have played a pivotal role in bringing the issue to the fore, say: “We are happy that the restoration work has begun. Many people didn’t know about the structure and what it stood for. The 82nd death anniversary celebrations of Schmidt on December 30 last year set the ball rolling for the restoration process. We sensitised people and the corporation by conducting awareness campaigns through newspapers. We will be keeping a close tab on the work.”

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