Brihadeeswar temple `kumbabishekam’ 2020 Thanjavur - ASI used scaffolding over modern machinery to avoid damages

Thanjavur Big temple, Tamil Nadu.

 Above image: Fire service personnel reaching the top of Big Temple tower using a Bronto Skylift vehicle.

When dealing with old heritage structures and their conservation or renovation  extra caution has to be taken particularly with respect to historical old temples. Use of modern technique and machinery may be a good proposition but  the work must be done by trained men.  Restoration or conservation with poor vision will have  disastrous  consequences and this will end up in the loss of heritage structure. More than a decade ago we lost the heritage value of the following temples near Chennai. Reason; Irresponsible use of sand-blasting equipment by the workers. 

Inscriptions of Emperor Raja Raja Chola (regnal years 985-1014 A.D) and his  son, Rajendra Chola (regnal years 1012-1044 A.D.), were found the Shiva temple- Ramanatheeswara temple - 1300 years old at Porur, near Chennai. Because of sand-blasting and negligence on the part of HR & CE valuable inscriptions and a Chola-era mandapam were lost in the name of modernization. 

Like wise in the Prasanna Venkatachalapathy temple at Thiruparkadal of Kaveripakkam on the Chennai-Bangalore highway  many parts of the temple, inscriptions on the wall were lost due to sand-blasting. The twin temples of Thiruparkadal-Prasanna Venkatachalapathy lost their historical value on account of a few people who lacked professional ethics and integrity. They destroyed the properties owned by the natives of Tamil 

Considering the above two incidents and many others happening across the state, I personally believe ASI and the 2020 consecration organizers of the big temple  acted with precaution, focusing more on the spiritual and aesthetics aspects. Hence, they shunned modern machines!!

Built between 1003 and 1010 CE by the great Rajaraja Chola, a, ASI great Hindu king and Shiva Bhakta,  the  Brihadeeswar temple is a UNESCO recognized living Chola temple. Other temples included in this category are the Gangaikonda Cholapuram temple built by Rajendra Chola I in the 11th CE and  Airavatesvara  temple  built by Rajaraja Chola II in the 12 CE  near Kumbakonam. 

Made entirely of hard rocks mined 40 to 50 km from here, the big temple at Thanjavur  has the tallest tower - gopura and dome entirely  made  of  hard rocks with a 60 ton cupola atop the Shikara and the second largest  monolithic bull in India. 

Prior to the major event -`kumbabishekam’ on 05 February 2020 a simple but serious controversy arose over the heavy iron scaffolding put up near the 216 foot tall tower to transport the kalasam back and forth and to conduct the rituals stop the tower by the priests. 

The crux of the problem was the scaffolding had been put up there for a long time and  this invited criticism from a group of rationalists and others.  Their contention was heavy scaffolding (weight  5 tons) would weaken the 1000 plus year old granite tower that weighs 70000 tons. The organizers and the ASI were criticized for keeping the iron scaffolding for more than a month near the tower. 

Another glitch is in case the heavy iron pipes are not properly set in place and if they get loosened and fall on the ornate outer tower imagine what will happen to the nicely carved stone images. Certainly the ASI and organizers  would have taken extra care and precaution to avoid such mishaps and set the scaffolding carefully  up to the top.  

During the last week of December 2019  organizers had a plan to dismantle the 12 foot tall metal kalasam that had to be gold-plated as part of consecration work that had not been done for a long time. The iron scaffolding was fixed to bring the kalasam down and then take  it back to the top after gold-platting, and  apart, provisions had to be made for the temple priests to do conduct  final rituals safely atop the tower. 

Though latest techniques and machines are available to work on the very tall  buildings, the ASI, in particular, was not amused about the modern technology available for the consecration work. This being a heritage building they were more interested in preserving the heritage value of this great living monument than using the latest technology to  carry out the work.  

A section of devotees, was in surprise when thy saw Bronto Skylift vehicle stationed on the temple premises by the Fire and Rescue Service in view of the consecration ceremony  and to handle an emergency situation near the top of the tower.  The  Fire Service at the temple carried out a testing exercise  with the help of   technologically advanced rescue vehicle. 

Many people wished that sky-lift could have been used to bring down the Kalasa and later to reinstall it. This way they could have saved time and the risk of damaging the figures on the exterior of the temple. 

The other tall Hindu temples in south India or any other place could use the advanced rescue vehicle  in case they carry out conservation work at atop the tall towers - gopuras. But, before that, they have to weigh the pros and cons when dealing  structures older than 1000 years.