Thiruvalluvar in Temple Gopuram Sculpture

HISTORIC: The Thiruvalluvar sculpture found in Kalikambal temple

Shivaji sculpture found on city temple tower

B Sivakumar | TNN

Chennai: It was the collapse of the temple tower at Srikalahasti in Andhra Pradesh that spurred experts to inspect the rajagopurams (towers) characteristic of Chennais temples.What they discovered were not cracks or fissures but rare sculptures including one of the Maratha king Shivaji,which embellish the intricate carvings on these structures.
While climbing up the tiers of different temple towers across the city,we stumbled upon rare idols whose existence was unknown, said an expert.
After the Srikalahasti temple tower collapsed in May,it was reported that the 236-feet-tall rajagopuram in Srirangam too had a crack.A team from Chennai,consisting of officers from the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment (HR&CE ) department,IIT professors,highway department officials and sthapathis (sculptors),then rushed to Srirangam to conduct an inspection.Soon afterwards,the team also visited other temples across Chennai and its suburbs to check the strength of these towers,which usually grace the entrance to the shrines.
We noticed a sculpture of Tamil poet Tiruvalluvar sitting cross-legged,with some palm leaves in his hand,at the Kalikambal temple in Broadway.Another sculpture depicting the marriage of Shiva and Parvathi was found at the Karneeswarar temple in Saidapet, said an official.The Kalikambal temple also has a rare painting and a sculpture showing Goddess Kali blessing Chhatrapati Shivaji. It is said that Shivaji visited the temple in the year 1677 and offered prayers.
Historical records indicate that Shivajis army came down south up to Kancheepuram,then under the sway of the Nawab of Arcot,who owed allegiance to the British.Legend has it that he visited the temple after he heard that the presiding deity was Kali,his favourite goddess.A long line of Maratha kings,who were descendants of Shivaji,later controlled the Thanjavur region for nearly two centuries.
Surveys of gopurams in the Parthasarathy temple in Triplicane and the Kandha Kottam temple in Park Town have also thrown up rare sculptures.The inspection revealed that the towers of all big temples in the city and suburbs under HR&CE control are stable.The towers in the city have been built with lime and mortar or brick and cement.They are strong and there is no worry about their stability, the official said.In the case of Srikalahasti temple,the tower was built with sand and was bound to collapse,he added.

Collapse Of Srikalahasti Tower Shifts Focus To Safety Of City Temple Gopurams

Chennai: Many private temples coming up across the city and its suburbs neither conform to the agama sastras (rules governing design of temples) nor follow the aesthetics of temple architecture,say experts.Periodical maintenance of temples would go a long way in protecting the monuments across the state,says Prof A R Santhakumar,a consultant for the Centre For Disaster Mitigation,Anna University and an expert involved in protecting temple monuments.
The ancient temple towers across the state weaken due to the changing soil characteristics of the area.Temple rituals and water discharge in the process and lack of drainage contribute to the weakening of soil in different areas, said Santhakumar.If the soil is clayey and when there is water,the soil will swell and then shrink after the water evaporates.Such vagaries can weaken the towers and only proper drainage systems will protect the towers and also the temples,he said.
Prof Santhakumar,who helps the HR&CE in maintenance of temples,said the age-old towers are largely safe even now due to use of quality materials and the type of architecture.Citing an example of repairing a mandapam in the Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple a few years back,Santhakumar said: We did not use any chemicals or any modern methods of construction to repair the crack noticed in one of the mandapams of the temple.We opened the mandapam by removing stones and then replaced it after repair.We went to the quarry which had similar stones and cut out according to the shape and replaced it with the repaired one.It is an art to repair the old temples without disfiguring its originality.The Madurai temple,arguably the oldest in the state,is safe and the towers are strong.
Repairing of old temples requires special skills and in the name of repairs,the weight of temple towers should not be increased.Stones too weaken due to fatigue.Cracks can be detected like tumours in humans.We use ultrasound technology to ascertain the cracks in temple towers without breaking the structure.With this we can ascertain the depth of a crack and also its location, Santhakumar said.He says a separate course on temple architecture should be introduced as civil engineering cannot be used to repair ancient structures.
With regard to testing a buildings strength,experts use simulation technology like the one used in computers.For example,to measure the strength of a temple mandapam to hold about a lakh people,Santhakumar and his team used stones and steel and measured the capacity of the mandapam in Madurai temple after doing a similar simulation in the computer.It is possible to ascertain the strength of the mandapam through this.If our calculations differ from the readings,it is definite that the structure has some problem, he said.

SURPRISE FIND: Shivajis statue found on the gopuram of the Kalikambal temple

HOLY ABODE: A sculpture depicting the Shiva-Parvathi marriage on one of the tiers of the Karneeswarar temple in Saidapet

The highest temple tower in the state is in Srirangam.It’s height is 236ft with 13 tiers.Other major temple gopurams across the state include that of the Srivilliputhur Andal temple,Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple,Kancheepuram Varadaraja Perumal and Ekambareswarar temples


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