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Walling off the sea to save Sunderbans temple in West Bengal

Geotube shield to save 2,300 metres of the coast along the Kapil Muni shrine.

August 24, 2019 11:48 pm | Updated 11:48 pm IST - Sagar Island (Sunderbans)

Closing in:  The temple is facing the threat of submersion in the next few years.

Closing in: The temple is facing the threat of submersion in the next few years.

The Kapil Muni temple on Sagar Island in the Sunderbans, where a large number of devotees gather every year during the Gangasagar fair, is facing the threat of rising seas and will be submerged in the next few years.

Bankim Hazra, the local MLA and Gangasagar Bakkhali Development Authority (GBDA) chairperson, is campaigning to save the temple located 400 metres from the sea.

“The sea is advancing at the rate of 15 metres a year. If the trend continues, there will be a need to relocate the temple,” Mr. Hazra said, to a group of journalists at a media workshop on climate change in the Bay of Bengal region, organised by The Third Pole and the Earth Journalism Network. The West Bengal government is taking steps to prevent further erosion of the coast.

“The Finance Department has given in principle approval for the construction of sea walls using offshore submerged geotubes (sand-like material filled into geo-textile tube). The cost is ₹77 crore. The design is being made by IIT-Madras and the project will be implemented by Macktintosh Burn,” he said.

GBDA officials said the work would be completed in two phases. The project involves a comprehensive plan for “beach protection and coastal erosion protection for 2,300 metres along the stretch of the Kapil Muni temple and the Gangasagar mela ground”.

This is not the first time that the temple is facing the problem of rising seas. It is believed that the existing temple is the seventh at the site, after six structures built earlier went into the sea. According to legend, King Bhagirath, after a long penance, brought the Ganga down from the Himalayas to liberate his ancestors, who were burnt to ashes in front of the Kapil Muni temple on Sagar Island. It is also believed that the temple is located at the point where the river meets the sea.

‘Fourth temple’

According to Mr. Hazra this was most likely the fourth temple. “ Human habitation in Sagar started in 1811, and according to records available, this might be the fourth temple,” he said.

Mr. Hazra also pointed out that the existing temple was built in 1973. According to the West Bengal Tourism Department, the deity in the temple, a stone block considered to be a representation of Sage Kapil, was installed in 1437 by Swami Ramanand.

( The writer was in

Sagar Island as part

of a trip arranged by

The Third Pole )

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