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Konark slacker slur on ASI

- Heritage activists question commitment of central agency
File picture of conservation work being carried out on the Konark temple by ASI

Bhubaneswar, Nov. 2: A group of heritage campaigners has decided to seek the culture ministry’s intervention in expediting conservation of the 13th century Sun Temple in Konark and questioned the Archaeological Survey of India’s attempts to maintain the world heritage site.

The campaigners, who are members of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach)-Odisha, alleged that the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) lacked a sense of urgency to address the basic problems of the temple.

When excavated in the early 20th century, the main temple had been destroyed. The jagmohan was filled with sand between 1903 and 1908 to prevent the structure from collapsing, said convenor of Intach-Odisha and retired IPS officer A.B. Tripathy.

“The ASI took over the temple in 1939 but was yet to decide on digging out the sand without which the extent of damage cannot be studied,” he said.

He said the findings of several experts and technical committees suggested that the jagmohan foundation was strong and the sand must be dug out to initiate measures for its protection.

“Over the years, the sand level has gone down by nearly 15 feet, but the structure is safe. In March 2010, an international seminar was held in Konark where renowned Italian architect Giorgio Croci supported the idea of removing sand from the jagmohan. A steering committee was constituted to examine various issues related to the temple and submit reports within nine months. But nothing has materialised so far. The state government is also silent as it considers Konark temple to be the ASI’s baby,” said Tripathy.

Intach members also raised objections to the ASI replacing the damaged sculptured stones with plain ones.

“They argued that this was in accord with their guidelines and those of Unesco. Where were these sacrosanct norms during the massive restoration and conservation work at Humayun tomb, a world heritage site in Delhi, carried out by the Aga Khan Trust of Culture under its aegis?” asked Tripathy.

They said several other issues plagued the temple and referred to it as a blatant example of “authoritarian callousness” on part of the ASI. “Every monsoon, it is waterlogged and documentation is not being properly pursued. We wonder if the ASI is sufficiently equipped to take care of this world heritage site. But it is clear that they are not serious about their job. The conservation work must be handed over to a more competent authority,” said convenor of Intach-Bhubaneswar Hariharan Balakrishnan.

The heritage campaigners alleged that ASI officials also avoided workshops and meetings on temple preservation with voluntary organisations such as Konark Suraksha Samiti (Konark) and Kalinga Heritage Preservation Trust (Cuttack). “Our communications to the ASI director general has not been responded to or even acknowledged. So, we have decided to attract the attention of the Union culture minister, the state’s chief minister and MPs on this,” said Tripathy.

Superintending archaeologist of Bhubaneswar circle Bhuvan Vikrama said Intach had no right to judge the ASI’s work without sufficient technical expertise. “No one is capable of commenting on the evacuation of sand from the jagmohan without studying the structure from various angles. The work has been entrusted to certain expert agencies and our future course of action will depend on their technical reports,” he said.

As far as replacing carved stones with plain ones was concerned, Vikrama said it was being done following prescribed guidelines. “How can we recreate 13th century artwork? It is not a geometrical design that can be replicated. We are committed to protect the temple and have never avoided any meetings on the temple issue,” he said.

Eminent structural engineer G.C. Mitra, who is associated with the ASI, said the option of “industrial videoscopy” to probe the interiors of the jagmohan was being explored. “We have sought the expert opinion of Central Building Research Institute in this regard. It will take around six to eight months for them to examine the possibility and suggest appropriate steps,” said Mitra.