Residents fear takeover will result in restrictions in construction in their area
Stiff opposition by residents has made the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to drop plans to declare the Pallava era Sri Sthalasayana Perumal temple at the world heritage site in Mamallapuram, 60 km south of Chennai, as a protected monument for conservation of rare architecture and inscriptions in the temple that dated from Pallavas to Vijayanagara eras.
The decision, ASI sources said, has been taken by the Ministry of Culture based on the reports by the Directorate General of Archaeology and ASI at New Delhi due to strong opposition from the residents in Mamallapuram and repeated representations by the elected representatives from the Kancheepuram district, including local MP, P.Vishwanathan, to the ministry of culture against the ASI proposal.
“We have decided to drop the plan of takeover of the temple considering various factors including local opposition. We will get a formal communication from the headquarters soon,” said a senior ASI official.
Tracing the origin of efforts taken to conserve the temple, it was in 1974, the ASI suggested strict regulation around the Sthalasayana Perumal temple since it was closer to the famous Arjuna Penance sculpture and the other cave temples after the state government announced a grand plan to create a new town in Mamallapuram. Since then, many proposals for conservation of the temple have come up but nothing was materialized.
On May 20 in 2012, ASI issued a public notice requesting objections if any to the Union government's proposal to declare the ancient temple as a monument of national importance under section 4 of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958. Subsequently, a series of events including hoisting black flags in houses and shops were organised by an action committee comprising residents, traders and political parties.
“We are not against conservation of our heritage. Restrictions imposed around protected monuments here have crippled our lives. We are against such restrictions and not against conservation,” said Mamallapuram town panchayat’s chairman, M. Kothandapani.
Residents feared that takeover by ASI will stop them from worshipping at the temple.
More importantly, they fear the move will be followed by more restrictions in terms of repairs and new construction works of their buildings around the temple area.
Fears of the residents, who live for centuries, has become real after the enactment of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Site and Remains Amendment Act, 2010, that bans any construction or repair work of existing structures within 100 metres of a monument.
Interestingly, as most of the monuments are located within the 100 metres, the Act prohibits any construction and repair works in Mamallapuram.
At present, Brihadeeswarar temple in Thanjavur, Airavateswara temple near Kumbakonam, monuments in Mamallapuram and Gangaikonda Cholapuram temple at Jayakondam are world heritage sites in the state.
In Tamil Nadu, ASI has 248 monuments and 163 archaeological sites. At Mamallapuram, ASI maintains 32 monuments including Arjuna's penance and shore temple. But the ancient Perumal temple do not come under ASI purview and maintained by the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department of the state government since independence.
Built during eight century by Pallavas, the Sthalasayana Perumal temple has some of the most ancient sculptures in Mamallapuram. It is a small temple with two major shrines for Lord Sthalasayana Perumal and Nilamangai Thayaar. The temple is the birth place of Bhoothathazhwar, the 2nd Azhwar (Vaishanvaite saint).
During Chola periord, the temple was renovated by Chola king Vikrama Chola, in 1120AD as the structure got corroded due to salt laden by sea breeze.
Later, large tracts of land were allotted to mobilise revenue for the maintenance of the temple Telugu Cholas, Pandian kingdom, Samburayans and Vijayanagara rulers.