ASI `won't interfere' with temple administration

Chennai Nov.7. With protests piling up against its proposed takeover of the Arunachaleswara temple at Tiruvannamalai, the Archaeological Survey of India today clarified that it would only "conserve and preserve" the 1000-year-old Chola period shrine for future generations and not interfere with its administration.

"We will not interfere with the religious administration or levy any fee on devotees for temple upkeep. Our primary duty is to preserve the grandeur of the shrine for posterity," the ASI superintending archaeologist, K.T. Narasimhan, said here today.

The ASI had "preserved" as many as 410 ancient structures and sites in Tamil Nadu including the Brahadeeswarar temple at Thanjavur and the St. Mary's church at the Secretariat here, but the State Government did not raise any objection in the past to any of these being brought under "our purview".

However, now the country's oldest government body drew flak from Tiruvannamalai traders and the State Government as well, after it issued a preliminary notification declaring the temple "a monument of national importance". Addressing the apprehensions of traders and the Government, which has decided to take the battle against the "takeover" to the Madras High Court, Mr. Narasimhan assured them that the "status quo will be maintained".

On the trade fears that shops outside the temple would be cleared, he said that under the Archaeological Monuments and Archaeological Sites Act, the area within a 100-metre radius of a notified monument would be declared a prohibited area, where fresh constructions and mining would be barred. "But, the existing structures within the 100 metres will not be disturbed and only new constructions will not be allowed."

The 200 metres beyond the "prohibited areas" would be classified as a regulated area, where new constructions would be allowed only after clearance from the ASI Director-General. "This is to ensure that structures do not come up haphazardly, obstructing the facade of the temple to public view." And, no restriction on the movements of devotees or conduct of rituals would be imposed.

The temple authorities should inform the ASI when they put up pandals on the premises during any festival.

As for the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment department's apprehension that the ASI would lay hands on "hundial collections", which run to crores, the senior archaeologist insisted that the ASI would not "touch" the temple's property or its revenue. "We will only take up auctioning of the footwear storage place and the parking lot outside the temple so that no new constructions come up." The revenue from the auctioning would go to the Finance department and could be pumped back for the upkeep of the temple.

At the Brahadeeswarar temple, the hundial collections for the HR and CE actually went up after the ASI had notified it as a "monument of national importance," Mr. Narasimhan said. And, there was no water-logging on the shrine premises as an underground drain had been detected and desilted.

"The ASI task is to preserve and conserve without changing the colour and core of any monument, which is not less than 100 years old, for the future generations and nothing else," he asserted.

Recommended for you