Restoring flooring, repairing cracks, cleaning tiles that are over a century old, sprucing up the stained fresco in the sanctum sanctorum — the Kalighat temple is undergoing renovation.
Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani spoke of the temple renovation during his speech at the Bengal Global Business Summit on Tuesday.
“Reliance Foundation has taken up an ambitious project to renovate and restore the famous Kalighat Temple.... We are in the process of repairing the entire temple complex, including the centuries-old heritage structures,” Ambani said.
On Wednesday, The Telegraph spoke with the conservation architect executing the project.
The nearly 10ft-deep Kundo Pukur, a water tank, has been cleaned. The tank is regarded as a holy site.
Rajesh Shukla, the consultant architect executing the renovation, said the tank had about 4ft of muck that had to be removed.
“We have installed aerators and a fountain to aerate the water so that the water quality remains good. We have also used 25mm-thick granite stones to do the flooring around the water tank,” he said.
Shukla said that when they took over the renovation, the floors in the open spaces between temples were made of various materials. Some were of marbles of different colours, some were of bricks.
“We have used one material and of one colour,” he said.
The inner side of the boundary wall surrounding the water tank has been plastered with terracotta tiles. Images of the Mahavidyas have been created on the tiles.
The use of terracotta tiles and granite stones has drawn criticism. Partha Ranjan Das, a conservation architect and member of the West Bengal Heritage Commission, said the use of granite stone for flooring was not necessary.
“The surroundings of Kundo Pukur had bricks. Granite stones have been used for restoration. This was not necessary. Also, the inner side of the wall around Kundo Pukur has been plastered with terracotta tiles. The presence of terracotta tiles at the Kalighat temple is not known,” he said.
“We, from the commission, have always told them not to improve the place but restore. Restoration and improvement are different.”
Shukla, however, said that when they were handed the project, boundary walls that were 4.5m high had already been built. Their surfaces were only plastered and were not looking in tune with the place, he said.
The renovation of the temple complex was being done by the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) till the state government and the civic body decided to hand the project to Reliance.
The KMC is still involved in the renovation of the area outside the temple complex. It is also building a 430m-long skywalk that will connect SP Mukherjee Road with the temple.
Besides Kundo Pukur, the renovation includes strengthening and restoration of the temple buildings.
Apart from the main temple, the complex has a Jora Shib Mandir, another Shiva temple, a Radha Gobinda temple and few other structures. Some of them are in a bad state.
An assessment of the temples was done by Dipesh Majumdar, an assistant professor in Jadavpur University’s construction engineering department, the architecture firm Sthapotto and another architecture firm.
Kalyani Roy, the owner of Sthapotto, said she found terracotta figures on the aatchala of the main temple, but many of those were damaged by “mindless” painting. “Our advice was to remove the paint wherever possible and restore the other places,” she said.
Shukla said there will be no renovation in the sanctum sanctorum.
“We will only clean the tiles, the silverware and a fresco which is located at 21.5m from the ground,” he said. The work is likely to be finished by February.