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Kedar sees light in calamity
- Chance to decode inscriptions for age clues

New Delhi, Aug. 21: The flash floods in Uttarakhand that left in their wake a trail of death might yet play their part in unravelling a birth.

The Archaeological Survey of India, which has been assigned the task of restoring the rain-damaged Kedarnath temple, will for the first time get a chance to peek into what archaeologists believe could be Gupta-era inscriptions inside the shrine complex.

ASI sources said the inscriptions — in the Brahmi script and briefly mentioned in historian and travel writer Rahul Sankrityayan’s book Himalayan Parichay but not deciphered yet — could help reveal when the temple to Shiva first came up at the site.

The existing temple is believed to have been constructed in the 11th century and renovated twice — in the 12th and 18th centuries.

But an ASI source said the inscriptions, once decoded, could push back the temple’s origin by several centuries — possibly to the 5th or 6th century AD, when the Gupta dynasty was still in power.

“The inscriptions should be in Sanskrit and could tell us the exact date when the temple was first constructed and who ordered its construction,” ASI additional director-general B.R. Mani told The Telegraph.

The 11th century — when the existing temple is believed to have been built — is mentioned as the date in inscriptions found in Udaipur in Vidisha district of Madhya Pradesh.

According to the inscriptions, the temple was built by Tribhuvan Narayan, a ruler from the Parmar dynasty of Malwa.

But that could change if the inscriptions that Sankrityayan (1893-1963) mentions in his book turn out to be from the Gupta era.

ASI sources said Sankrityayan has not mentioned where the inscriptions are within the shrine. It could take a long time to reach the inscriptions, Mani warned, as they are buried beneath soot and dust that have piled up over the years.

Kumarpal Charitra, a 12th-century text, mentions that the Solanki king Kumar Pal constructed an additional portion in the 12th century.

In the 18th century, the temple saw more additions as the Shaivite queen, Ahilya Bai Holkar of the Maratha dynasty, renovated it.

The ASI has, however, decided it is not yet safe to sift through the mountain shrine devastated by the mid-June flash floods that turned vast swathes into a slushy, swirling mass of mud and rocks, killing hundreds of pilgrims and residents.

“We have asked the Geological Survey of India to carry out a study on the structural strength of the temple. Once the reports come in, only then it is advisable to remove the debris,” Mani said.

For now, the ASI will focus on removing the soot from the temple walls and carry out other investigations.

The Kedarnath temple committee has announced that worship at the shrine, situated at a height of over 11,000ft, will resume on Naag Panchami on September 11.

However, it could be at least another year before pilgrimage to the shrine is possible. The 14km stretch between Kedarnath and Gaurikund still remains inaccessible.

Although the ASI has been given the job of restoring the shrine, there are no plans yet to bring the temple under its protection. When the BJP-led NDA was in power, the government had proposed bringing the temple complex under ASI protection.

The plan had to be abandoned as the temple committee, which owns the Kedarnath and the Badrinath shrines, refused to give permission.

The owner’s permission is essential before any structure can be brought under ASI protection.