“In the last couple of decades, valuable inscriptions have been lost and sculptures being damaged”

At a time when preservation of historic monuments has become a hot topic, a voice is stressing the need to adopt a professional approach in this regard.

R. Nagaswamy, former director of the Archaeological Department tells B. Kolappan how invaluable and unique ancient monuments were defaced due to the careless attitude of the authorities.

“The murals, frescos, sculptures and other structures were made by highly sensitive artistes. They cannot be touched by crude workmanship,” warns R. Nagaswamy, an authority on ancient South Indian temples.

The longest serving director of the Archaeological department (from 1966 to 1988), he conducted excavations in historical sites, which included Korkai, the 2,000-year-old port town of the Pandyas at the mouth of the river Thamiraparani and Panchalam Kurichi, the palace remains of Veera Pandya Kattabomman.

When it comes to south Indian culture, there is hardly any subject that has missed a detailed and in-depth study by the 80-year-old Dr.Nagaswamy, who is also a Sanskrit scholar.

He appreciates the efforts of the Tamil Nadu government, particularly that of Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Minister K.R. Periyakaruppan and School Education Minister Thangam Thennarasu, to preserve the historical monuments. At the same time, he is also concerned about the “tendency to alter or crude restoration”.

“In the last couple of decades, many valuable inscriptions have been lost, sculptures have been damaged and removed. There has been sand-blasting and reconstruction with cement in place of the ancient stone structures,” said Dr. Nagaswamy, the author of a two volume study “Facets Of South Indian Art And Architecture.”

According to him, modern scientific technology can help in conservation and preservation, but simple preparations are mandatory before going ahead with the task.

“Let us make detailed documents, measured drawings, photographic data collections,” he said. These methods were being followed in developed countries such as the United Kingdom and France.

They have science laboratories dealing exclusively with brick structures, murals, frescos, woodworks and paper arts.

He says that in special cases the government should publish in newspapers what is proposed to be done about a structure or temple.

“We can invite suggestions from appropriate quarters and not from pedestrians. These valuable suggestions could be incorporated in the preservation methods,” he says.

Dr. Nagaswamy, who was instrumental in preserving the murals in Chidambaram temple, argues that one of the most important aspects of preservation was fixing responsibility.

Disciplinary action

“The officer in-charge of the work should be held responsible if destruction is caused to the historical monuments. Disciplinary action should be initiated against him. Otherwise destruction will continue,” he says, adding that there should be no scope for unilateral decisions on conservation methods for ancient monuments.

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