Heritage enthusiasts have opposed digging the ground for the construction of a new building near the Big Temple, Thanjavur, and want the ongoing work near the heritage structure to be halted immediately. They said the civic authorities, under the smart city project, are constructing a mall and a parking lot near the moat of the temple which may cause danger to the base of the heritage structure.
Workers have been digging in the old Thiruvalluvar theatre complex which is near Big Temple. But as per the norms and guidance for the preservation of heritage buildings in India, it is mandatory to get permission from the Archaeological Department which was not done in this case, said heritage enthusiasts.
S.Udhaya Shankar, president of Great Cholas Historical Research Group, said, ‘after digging up the earth, we could see basements over red granite rocks. This might be the outer fort wall of the moat built during the reign of Cholas. So immediate action needs to be taken to stop the work which may overshadow our rich heritage. Proper research of the area should be done by the Archaeological Department.
The Great Cholas Historical research group has sent mail to Collector and ASI officials to take immediate action.
G.Deivanayagam, former professor and founder of Department of Architecture, Tamil University, said, ‘the digging was done by heavy machinery. The entire Thanjavur fort area is a heritage zone. So there should not be any new construction. Preservation and restoration is only allowed. The building work may even affect the Big Temple as its balance may be affected by digging deep near the temple. Proper awareness should be created among all involved in the work. A ‘smart city’ need not stand on the ruins of our rich heritage which is the main identity of Thanjavur.’
M.Rajendran, retired IAS officer and historian, said a rare variety of red granite stones were used for the basement of the temple. That should not be damaged by the digging. As per regulations of archaeological authority, no digging or construction is allowed within a 100 metre distance from any heritage structure. For instance, an arch commemorating the diamond jubilee of Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly was planned to be constructed close to the entrance of Fort St George, but it was later relocated beyond the prohibited zone. Moreover, the Big Temple is one of ancient monuments declared by UNESCO and it is a non-combat zone even if there is war."
A senior official of ASI said notice has been issued to the Commissioner of Thanjavur Municipal Corporation asking to stop the work.
While conceding that the heritage of Thanjavur needs to be preserved, a section of local residents, however, said infrastructure development was also important as much of the economic activity revolves around tourism potential of the town.
As far as remodelling of Thiruvalluvar Theatre Complex was concerned, the proposed parking lot and the mall would definitely reduce the pressure on the tourists vehicle parking lot that exists right opposite to the UNESCO structure and help relocate roadside vendors occupying the platforms in the vicinity of the Big Temple complex, they said.
N.T.Balasundaram, a businessman, observed that it would be apt to insist on compliance of ASI regulations instead of opposing the project totally.
Since the footfall at the Big Temple had increased considerably even during the weekdays after the recent consecration, V.Jeevakumar, a social activist, said that shifting of four-wheeler parking to a different site not far away from the Big Temple would ease the traffic congestion on the temple road.
(With inputs from V.Venkatasubramanian)