A crack that developed in Sri Kalahasteeswaraswamy temple tower 25 years ago was not attended to

The elegant-looking Srikalahasteeswaraswamy rajagopuram is now a heap of rubble. A thin crack that developed 25 years ago eventually worsened into a deep vertical fissure right on its face and ended up in the collapse of the exquisite gopuram on Wednesday night.

The irony is that the magnificent 15th century tower, built by Vijayanagara King Sri Krishnadevaraya in commemoration of his visit to the shrine after triumphing over his rivals, collapsed even as the emperor's 500th coronation ceremony is being celebrated by the governments of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka with pomp.

A bronze statue of Krishnadevaraya recently unveiled in front of the gopuram, however, stands unscathed.

The authorities concerned, despite their inertia during the last 25 years in taking up repairs to the tower, were quick to see imminent danger when a team of experts from IIT-Chennai warned that a strong wind was enough to bring down the dilapidated structure.

They declared an area of 150 ft radius around the precarious structure as a ‘danger zone' and shifted all residents and shop-keepers to safer places. This move averted what would have been a major disaster, given the flurry of activity that normally goes on around the site.

A day after the 136-ft tall tower caved in, two Andhra Pradesh Ministers, the Tirupati MP, the Srikalahasti MLA, and the Commissioner Endowments, made a bee-line to the scene to take stock of the situation and arrange for restoration work.

Earthmovers have been pressed into service to remove the debris.

Sources said that barring damage to four or five nearby houses, including a portion of the State Bank of India branch, there are no reports of destruction.

Endowments Commissioner J.S.V. Prasad denied that there was complacency on the part of the department and asserted that a new rajagopuram would be put in place by December, 2011. He said a committee of engineers, sthapathis and officials would soon land at the site to work out the modalities of erecting the new tower.

Since the main entry to the shrine remains blocked following the collapse of the tower, authorities have opened the western gopuram doors for pilgrims.

Opposition parties, especially the BJP, held a dharna here wearing black badges in protest against the “callous attitude” of the authorities towards the 500-year-old heritage structure.

They demanded the sacking of all the officials concerned in the chain of command.