|(Top) The four pillars that used to support the mandapam, which was dismantled; a bulldozer makes its way past the Vishnu temple at Srirangam. Telegraph pictures
Chennai, Oct. 4: A dilapidated overhead structure of the Vishnu temple in Srirangam, where Lord Ram’s father Dashrath is believed to have worshipped, has been dismantled to ensure the safety of over 500 schoolchildren who walk under it everyday.
The mandapam, a covered platform of sorts held up by four pillars, abuts the unfinished eastern gate of the temple to Lord Ranganathswamy. The pillars were found to have developed big cracks a few days ago.
Tiruchirapalli district collector Ashish Vachchani said over phone that the first reaction of officials who inspected it was to have it repaired. But on second thoughts they decided to dismantle it as cementing the cracks in the pillars would pose a hazard for passers-by.
“Our first priority was to have it repaired… (But on expert advice, we decided) to dismantle the mandapam structure block by block, without damaging any of the sculptural figures and motifs on it,” he said.
Vachchani said the temple authorities had even tried to get the eastern gate road blocked to traffic to save the structure.
He said local residents had told him when he visited the temple along with officials of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Departments about the large numbers of students who take the road every day.
“It was this unseemly prospect that terrified me and I was myself scared to stand underneath the mandapam,” Vachchani said.
“Hence, to prevent any imminent mishap, we decided to dismantle it.”
Vachchani made it clear that the mandapam had not been “demolished” but “carefully deconstructed” to ensure that nobody’s sentiments were hurt.
“I spoke to the government in Chennai first and nobody had any objections to it, while the parents of Srirangam are happy that it has been done as a timely, precautionary measure.”
The temple, on Unesco’s list of world heritage sites, is the only one in India that has seven huge rectangular enclosures around the sanctum. There are gopurams (temple gates) at vantage points in each of these enclosures, with the four main ones being in the outermost seventh one.
Of the four outermost gates, only the south-facing one has been completed. This is a majestic 235-foot structure called the “raja gopuram” and is the tallest temple tower in Asia.
The gopurams in the west, east and north are unfinished structures, where only the base has been constructed. Temple historians said these are called “raya-gopurams” and could not be completed by the Nayak kings because of the French occupation of Tiruchirapalli from 1751-58.
The southern gate was completed with the help of public donations during M.G. Ramachandran’s time. The temple tower was built on the initiative of the Ahobila Mutt, a Vaishnavite institution.