Skilled Panruti labourers break from tradition, carry on after dusk, until 3 a.m.

As the deadline for the restoration of Ripon Buildings draws near, the Chennai Corporation is leaving no stone unturned to complete the work on time.

Sculptors engaged at the work site have discounted some aspects of their spiritual obligation in the race against time to restore the heritage symbol of local administration in the country.

The Chennai Corporation, this week, started using floodlights at Ripon Buildings to carry out the work at night. Traditionally, the group of sculptors restoring the building do not work at night. After a ritual at dawn, they start work at 8 a.m. and finish by sunset.

A few months ago, the civic body sought the services of a team of 20 sculptors from Panruti to expedite the restoration work.

The number of sculptors at work touched 67 after the new members joined the team and the work gained momentum. This was the largest group of sculptors carrying out restoration work at Ripon Buildings at any point of time.

Unlike other construction labourers, most of the sculptors shouldering the responsibility of restoring the civic body’s headquarters have been strictly following key aspects of their tradition.

“We used to avoid working at night and remain clean in the spiritual sense. We also have to bathe before the daily rituals and strictly stop work before dusk,” said one of the sculptors.

“Many of these aspects are strictly followed in temple architecture. Now, we work through the night, until 3 a.m., under artificial conditions, to complete the work soon,” he said.

Last week, a group of sculptors had to return to Panruti for urgent restoration of a place of worship they have been maintaining traditionally. As a result, the remaining sculptors had to resort to working at night to finish the restoration on time.

The civic body is unable to find more sculptors as artisans from other areas do not have the skill to work on lime structures. Earlier, a different group of sculptors had developed severe skin allergy and quit.

The restoration project, funded by Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), has been delayed by a few months because of the lack of skilled labour.

In addition to the sculptors, a number of construction labourers too are at work, restoring the Indo-Saracenic structure for the centenary celebrations of Ripon Buildings this year.

The sculptors have been able to restore a chunk of the façade but more than 50 percent of the exterior of the building is yet to be completed.

Ripon Buildings is the first heritage building in the country to have received funds under JNNURM.

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