In the wake of recent opposition by a section of people against Archaeological Survey of India's move to bring the Sthalasayana Perumal Temple in Mamallapuram under its protection, archaeological experts say that there are several examples of ASI-protected temples in the State where conservation and worship co-exist.
The Vaikunta Perumal Temple and Kanchi Kailasanatha Temple in Kancheepuram, both of which are historically important, belonging to the Pallava Period, are under the ASI's protection. These temples are not only well-maintained and worshipped, but also free of commercial establishments in its vicinity.
An equally important example is the grand 11 century Brihadisvara temple in Thanjavur which is a fine example of Chola architecture in the State.
“The Brihadisvara temple in Thanjavur, and the Vaikunta Perumal Temple and Kanchi Kailasanatha Temple in Kancheepuram, came under the protection of the ASI in the 1920s and no restrictions were put on worship and religious activities,” says T. Sathyamurthy, former superintending archaeologist, ASI.
Citing examples such as the Dhenupurisvara Temple in Madambakkam which came under ASI protection in 1996, and Nityakalyanasvami Temple at Tiruvidanthai, which is one of the earliest Pallava temples, he said there are several such examples across the State where worship has not been affected.
However, not all attempts by ASI to declare a temple-in-worship as a monument has met with success or acceptance.
For example, in 2002, when ASI wanted to notify the Arunachaleswarar temple in Tiruvannamalai as a monument and protect it, not only was the move met with huge public protest, but also faced opposition from the State government, leading to withdrawal of the notification.
But experts think that the Tiruvannamalai and Mamallapuram situations are not comparable.
In the case of Tiruvannamalai, it is a large temple complex under worship for a long time, while at Mamallpuram, it is a small stand-alone temple in the close vicinity of a monument enclave.
The dispute against the protection of Sthalasayana Perumal Temple is unfortunate, says Mr. Satyamurthy. “Arjuna's Penance, which is an ASI-protected monument is located right next to the temple. So, not much is going to change both in terms of the ‘300-metre' parameter and access to the temple.”
At Mamallapuram, a World Heritage Site, much is left to be desired. R. Nagaswamy, former director of archaeology, Tamil Nadu, says, “There needs to be an integrated, scientific approach to protect the world heritage site. The Sthalasayana Perumal Temple is an extremely important monument and has to be protected. In other important archaeological sites such as Angkor Wat in Cambodia, no unregulated commercial activity is allowed in the immediate vicinity and Cambodia is not a particularly affluent country.”