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Restoration of 1,200-year-old temple to begin soon

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Uncovering an era: ‘Bhoomi puja’ for the restoration and conservation of this 1,200-year old Kailasanatha temple at Uttaramerur, 90 km from Chennai, is to take place on June 2.
Uncovering an era: ‘Bhoomi puja’ for the restoration and conservation of this 1,200-year old Kailasanatha temple at Uttaramerur, 90 km from Chennai, is to take place on June 2.

T.S. Subramanian

REACH Foundation to conserve Kailasanatha temple at Uttaramerur in Kancheepuram district

The temple has inscriptions of Chola kings and Nayaka rulers

It has three storeys with sanctum sanctorums on all floors

CHENNAI: Restoration and conservation of a 1,200-year old Siva temple called Kailasanatha temple built by the Pallava king Dantivarman at Uttaramerur in Tamil Nadu’s Kancheepuram district is all set to begin.

The “bhoomi puja” for the restoration will be done on June 3. The beautiful temple, which has inscriptions in Tamil of the Chola kings Raja Raja Chola and his son Rajendra Chola, the Vijayanagara king Krishnadevaraya and the Nayaka rulers Bommu Nayaka and Krishnama Nayaka, is in ruins today. A non-governmental organisation called REACH Foundation will undertake the restoration.

The challenge

T. Satyamurthy, a founder of REACH Foundation and B. Narasimhaiah, its consultant, visited the temple on Saturday (May 31) and held discussions on how to go about the restoration. “The challenge is to make the temple stand for a long time with its original splendour,” they said. Both retired as Superintending Archaeologists, Archaeological Survey of India. The restoration would be done with the cooperation of local residents, who were enthusiastic about it.

The Kailasanatha temple was built towards the end of the 8th century. While its base was made of granite slabs, the temple proper and its vimana were built with bricks. It has three storeys with sanctum sanctorums on the ground, first and second floors. But only the sanctum sanctorum on the ground floor has a beautiful Sivalinga now, which is still being worshipped.

R. Nagaswamy, former Director, Tamil Nadu Department of Archaeology, who has written a book called Uttaramerur in both Tamil and English, calls this “a great temple, a Mahaprasada,” as “seen from the construction technique.” The book has been published by Tamil Arts Academy, Chennai. According to Dr. Nagaswamy, the main temple is built with two walls, the inner and outer, with an intervening space (technically called ‘sandhara’) over which rises the vimana superstructure. “The Chola records call this temple ‘Sri Kailayam Udaiya Mahadeva’ and refer to the gift of lands for puja, food offering (naivedya) and burning perpetual lamps,” he says. There is also an inscription of Krishnadevaraya.

This temple, thus suffused with history, presents a pathetic picture now. Dense vegetation over the vimana has dislocated its brick structure. Beautiful stucco figures, which adorned the vimana, are no longer there. Granite slabs of the base have moved from their position. The vegetation’s deep roots have sprung long cracks in the brick walls around the sanctum sanctorum. On the northern side, the crack is three-foot wide. The front mantapa, made of granite slabs and built by the Chola kings, has totally collapsed.

Dr. Satyamurthy said: “To save this temple from further collapse and preserve it, the cracks have to be stitched with the same type of bricks. Besides, the lower portion of the brick structure should be made to stand on granite slabs. The vimana, built of bricks, will be made to stand on granite slabs. These new granite slabs will bear the weight of the vimana and also distribute its weight uniformly. In short, it is transplantation of the vimana in situ.”

Dr. Narasimhaiah said it was easier to conserve temples built of stones than those built of bricks. “If vegetation has dislocated the stones, they can be dismantled and re-assembled. But bricks become brittle. So you have to stitch the joints and cracks, and ensure that the roots do not remain in the brick work,” he explained. The collapsed front mantapa would be re-assembled.

Uttaramerur is also known for its Sundara Varadaraja Perumal temple built by the Pallava and Chola kings, and Krishnadevaraya. It has sanctum sanctorums in three tiers of standing, sitting and reclining Vishnu.

Uttaramerur is the only village with a written constitution, inscribed on the granite slab-walls of the village assembly.

Dr. Nagaswamy says: “This inscription, dated around 920 A.D. in the reign of Parantaka Chola, is an outstanding document in the history of India. It gives astonishing details about the constitution of wards, the qualification of candidates standing for elections, the disqualification [norms], the mode of election, the constitution of committees with elected members, the functions of committees, the power to remove the wrong-doer, etc.”


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