Activists and temple experts say that shoddy work by some contractors is damaging the art and sculpture in some of the most valuable temples in the state.

TN govt is spending a lot of money renovating temples but are the contractors harming templesImage: Damaged sculpture at Ramaswamy Temple, courtesy Arvind Venkitraman,
news Temple Conservation Monday, September 28, 2015 - 12:56

In a move which has been widely welcomed by many in the state, the Tamil Nadu government recently announced allotment of considerable amount of funding to renovate hundreds of temples across Tamil Nadu. The ‘temple state’ has some of the oldest and most magnificent temples of the world with unique architecture. But activists and temple experts say that shoddy work by some contractors is damaging the art and sculpture in some of the most valuable temples in the state.

Just recently, the Jayalalithaa government has sanctioned Rs.50,000 each for renovation work for 1,004 temples. The government has spent Rs. 13.18 crore in the past four years for works in 2,636 temples. In many temples, Kumbabhishekam, a ritual which is conducted to re-energize the powers of the deity and usually conducted after renovations, was also done.

Even though the government says that it has identified 23 temples in which the renovation work will be done without affecting its aesthetics, the damage has already been done in a few.

Earlier this year, during the repair and renovation work at the Nageshwaran temple in Kumbakonam, a group of art students found that it led to damage of rare art and sculptures in the temple. You can see pictures of the temple’s sculpture being damaged here. It was alleged that the work was being carried out without any technical supervision.


Renovation work at Ramaswamy temple

Just last month, the Madras High Court, while hearing a petition on the condition of temples in the state, came down heavily on the government for not taking care of the monuments.

Arvind Venkatraman, a heritage activist who has been observing the temple renovation work in Tamil Nadu, says that the Hindu Religious Endowments and Charity board of the TN government is not doing its job properly. “There is no wing in HR and CE who knows how to maintain temples. There is no specialization in this field and they simply go and deface,” says Arvind, adding that no proper records are maintained over the renovation works.

He points out to several other instances where important sculptures have been destroyed.

At the Sarangapani Temple in Kumbakonam, there are panels describing various dance karnas (postures), and there are text beneath each posture identifying them. While renovation work was going on, the contractors have applied cement over the texts, destroying it beyond repair. 

Thiruvottriyur temple also had many important inscriptions dating from the age of Pallavas, they were too lost during the renovations last year.

In Ramaswamy temple in Kumbakonam, the water blasting has lead to the erosion of finer details in many of the scultupres. Further, the use of heavy equipment has meant that the temple stones have been damaged us be sheer wear and tear during the renovations.  You can see the damage being done to the temple’s wall through water blasting here.



In the petition which was filed in the Madras High Court, the petitioner Srikumar had asked for a stay order of all civil works in temples and monuments until a conservation-manual is finalized.

The petitioner claims that the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) needs time to examine the report. Moreover, only a very small fraction of temples are under their jurisdiction of ASI, though they have experts in their teams. Srikumar says that the State Government is not even consulting them for the purpose of renovation of the temples.

Arvind says that the state government does have the access to experts. “IIT Madras has a set of people who know how to carry out the renovations in a manner which does not destroy the temples, but the TN government is not taking their help,” says Arvind, adding that the government must first understand that there are scientific techniques available for the renovations.