Two panels comprising experts constituted by State government

Scenes from the Ramayana and other legends, as captured in the now-damaged mural paintings on the entrance tower of the 1,200-year-old Suseendram temple in Kanyakumari district, may again captivate the minds of heritage and art lovers soon, with the government going ahead with its first-ever project of chemical conservation of paintings.

Last week, two committees, both comprising specialists in the field of chemical conservation, were constituted by the State government. While one committee will provide advice and carry out supervision of the proposed project, the other will handle the execution. Essentially, the panels consist of experts, serving and retired, belonging to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Initially, they will function for two years. The project will be funded by the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department, under whose control comes the Suseendram temple.   

In May this year, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa announced that the government would take up the restoration project without disturbing the original character of the paintings.

[For the last one year, the ASI has been carrying out chemical conservation of the Nayak paintings at the Big Temple, Thanjavur, says  G. Maheshwari, ASI superintending archaeologist].

With the formality of the committees’ formation having gone through, the stage is now set for the submission of detailed estimates by R. Veeraraghavan, former deputy superintending archaeological chemist in the ASI, whose services have been tapped by the State government.  The former ASI official, who is a member in both committees, says the preparation of the estimates is underway and he will present them to the HR&CE department in two weeks.

Asked about the time framework for the execution of the project, Mr Veeraraghavan replies that it will take at least a year. The execution depends upon the quality of people who are going to be engaged. As the restoration of the paintings is a specialised and unique work, it has to be done carefully.

As for the cause behind the damage to the paintings, an official in charge of the temple says that the tiers, on whose walls the paintings have been drawn, were open to the public till about 30 years ago. It was then that many paintings were vandalised.

A report prepared by Mr Veeraraghavan, who visited the temple in July this year, also points to the damage caused by moisture on the painted plaster, causing white deposits. 

The report calls for a thorough study by a group of civil engineers to find out the source.  

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