Students of the Assembly of God Church School, Park Street, spent November 19 learning about ways to clean, restore and preserve tombs and then spent some time sketching the tombstones and ornate graves at the South Park Street Cemetery.
The visit by students of Classes IX-XII was part of a World Heritage Week initiative taken by the Reach Foundation, in collaboration with the Christian Burial Board.
Reach, a Chennai-based organisation, working towards the preservation of cultural heritage, has undertaken the restoration of 25 of the 1,600 tombs at the South Park Street Cemetery. Two tombs were cleaned and restored on November 19 by archaeological engineers and conservation architects, as the students looked on.
S.K. Ghosal, archaeologist and ex-ASI official, briefs the students on the architectural designs of the tombs
The students were given a demonstration of how the tombs are cleaned. Tapan Bhattacharjee, an archaeological engineer, showed them how moss is cleaned and cracks are filled up on tombstones without damaging the original material.
“Restoration is not only about renewing the structure we are working on. It is also about preventing damage. As archaeological engineers, we have to make sure we guide our masons well. It is different working on old architecture than something new,” Bhattacharjee said.
Surajit Maiti, principal co-ordinator of Reach and former director (science) of the Archaeological Survey of India, briefed the curious audience about the chemicals used in the restoration procedure.
Surajit Maiti, principal coordinator of Reach and former director (science) of the Archaeological Survey of India, talks about the cleaning process and preservation chemicals
“Restoration is divided into two parts — primitive and curative. We will use a couple of chemicals to clean, preserve and prevent damage to the tombstone. The chemicals used for cleaning won’t cause corrosion, but will only remove the moss. For marble, we are using Multani soil. This will clean the marble plaque, but not damage it,” Maiti said.
Following the demonstration, the students were taken on a guided tour of the non-church cemetery by Ranajoy Bose, executive member of the Christian Burial Board. The students visited the tombs of Charles ‘Hindoo’ Stuart, William Jones and Henry Derozio.
Students and teachers of Assembly of God Church School with officials of Reach Foundation and the Christian Burial Board in front of the tomb of Chares ‘Hindoo’ Stuart
Speaking on the importance of celebrating World Heritage Week with students, Bose said, “South Park Street Cemetery is considered as one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world. This cemetery holds great importance in our history. Students should be made aware of this rich heritage, so they can come forward and conserve places like this. They will have to educate the generations to come.”
S.K. Ghosal, archaeologist, ex-ASI official, and Kalyani Roy, practising conservation architect, briefed the students on the architectural designs of the tombs.
The students were then handed out drawing sheets and they sketched some of the tombs and graves.
Students sketching at the cemetery
Srinjana Das, Class IX, isolated herself from her peers and drew a tomb with motifs. “I really like the calmness of the place. It smells of history and there is greenery all around. It was an interesting day for me. I didn’t know such a beautiful place was situated opposite our school,” she said.
Class XII student Rooprekha Banerjee was happy to have joined the walk. “I was in two minds whether to come here. But I would’ve certainly regretted it if I didn’t. It was interesting to see the restoration work on these tombs. I loved the little history behind the three tombs we visited today. I would love to know more about the people who rest here,” she said.