Friday, August 26, 2016

Standardised Procedure for implementation ,the urgent need

Can the Temple be saved?
A controversy is brewing on who is responsible for the mindless destruction of historic temples in the name of renovation. After hearing the plea , the Supreme Court is reported to make it mandatory to obtain permission before commencing the renovation work. The blame game starts instantly. HR &CE dept says the temples located in interior places do not follow the prescribed practices and the villagers take decision on their own by demolishing the old structure. On the other hand the villagers strike back saying the concerned officers never turn up to supervise the work.

By and large the work is taken up after getting consent from the executive officer of the temple. The problem starts only when the officer fails to ensure that the norms are followed. For example, there is a circular from HR & CE , banning the use of mosaic tiles inside the sanctum. It further insisted to remove the tiles even if they are already fixed. The question now arises as to whether the HR & CE has ensured the implementation of the circular fully! Have they conducted audits of the renovated temples?

 Nobody would prefer demolition of old structures as they know very well that it involves huge money and the new one can never reproduce the old glory. They are driven to such a stage by the negligence of the authorities for several decades. The penniless villagers remain  silent spectators even if the structure is embedded with vegetation and the long roots penetrate from top to bottom.

A learned scholar who has served the Archaeology dept is reported to have told that the presence of vegetation should not pose a problem that leads to destruction. We never expect such a statement from him who has widely travelled and possess good knowledge of our Heritage.

Penetrated roots breaking the wall
 Some photographs published here clearly show the roots uprooting the neglected vimanams and walls of the temples. Having remained silent for several decades, one can no longer watch the roof falling on the Main deity inside the sanctum.  In such cases, the demolition work is already done by the plants and the failure to notice the growth on time  can not be passed on to the villagers. When they seek permission from the concerned dept., the action plan should be drafted by the officer and given to the renovation committee members. Moreover it is highly important that he should closely watch the work at every stage. Violations, if any, should be stopped at that stage itself.

Numbered stones dismantled and restored in a Temple
There is a debate on dismantling and demolishing. Dismantling a structure is supposed to be carried out consciously by taking photographs of the original structure, numbering every stone and reassembling them in their original places. Careful pointing work is done to prevent the emergence of wild growth of plants in the gaps. This arrangement also prevents the inscriptions getting shuffled. Photos taken before and after undertaking such a work are given here for better understanding.
The above procedure can not be adopted if the entire structure, aged several centuries are built entirely with bricks where lime is used to bind them. It makes the deep rooted plants to pull it down easily. The bricks get crumbled if any attempt is made to rebuild the damaged portion. It is more dangerous to leave the vimanam which stands on the supporting wall which is already plagued by the extensive damage caused by the trees.

Unless the root is fully removed, there is no point in cutting a part of the tree whose root is hidden deep  as the half - hearted work will not solve the problem completely and the plant will start growing from the gap vigorously after the next rain . Villagers have made many attempts to kill the trees by spraying tree- killing chemicals but could not succeed. Hence , demolition is forced on them as they are not guided properly.

Chemically treated plant after a week 
 Recently an attempt was made to inject a chemical into the deep rooted trees that emerge from vimanams and walls. This exercise was found successful as the chemical simply killed the plant entirely within a week. Then it became easy to remove the plant from the root level without affecting the structure. However, it becomes imperative to close the gaps so that there is absolutely no possibility of the plant to grow again from the same place.The cost saved in this manner is really tremendous. At the same time it gives great satisfaction of restoring the old beauty without any alteration.

Plants fully removed after the process
HR & CE and ASI should look for development work done in this field and rewrite the standard procedure. More importantly, they should bear the moral responsibility to see the system in place which can give scope for easy implementation.  

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Plight of Elephants

There can not be a second opinion that the elephant is more associated with Hindu religion. Elephant headed Ganesa is one of the principal deities of worship. Manuscripts on elephant behaviour and treatment  are there. Thiruvanaikkaval , Anai malai,Thiruvadanai and Hasthigiri(Kanchipuram) are some of the places named after the elephant. Ever since the conflict began between Man and elephant, the wild animal is poached/captured and tamed to obey the orders.  The emperors formed squadrons of elephants to fight their enemies. A Chola King who fought the enemy by sitting on the back of his elephant and died ultimately is called "Yanai mel thunjia Devar".

Artisans have been fond of sculpting the figures of elephant in wood,metal and stone. The ten day temple festivals in Tamil Nadu include " Yanai Vahanam" , the deity seated on top of an elephant made of wood and taken in procession.

When Man found that the tamed elephant can do lot of work for him, he started to captivate them. They were used to drag long and heavy woods. Later, the temples were used to carry granite from far away places for the purpose of building temples. The wonderful Temple at Thanjavur is constructed fully with granite stones that had to come from quite a long distance. It is said that an inclined plane had to be built from a place called Vallam,some 3 km away from the temple to supply stones on elephant's back!

With the advent of modern transportation, elephants were spared from doing this job. In some major temples they were used to carry river water everyday to the temple and participate in festivals. Otherwise they are simply tied and left in a room with restricted movement. Not all Temples conduct gajapuja every day. On the other hand, the mahouts make them beg and receive money from the devotees. Strictly speaking, there is no need for an elephant to be present in the temple except at those places where,according to  the legend  the animal is said to have worshipped the deity.  

Both front and hind legs chained
It is estimated that as many as 28000 elephants are there in India of which some 3000 are captivated. Kerala alone possess 500 of them. Because of the maltreatment, 218 people are reported to have been killed in Kerala between 1998 and 2010, most of them were mahouts. Elephants gifted to the Temples have to be housed without restricting the animals too much. About 60 elephants that belong to Guruvayur Temple are there in an eleven acre land , 3 km away from the temple. Though Mahouts are deputed to take care of them, it is felt that the available area is inadequate to house 60 elephants.
In Kerala, the temple elephants are used to carry the idols in a procession after  the pujas. The Mahouts take advantage of the situation and receive money from the devotees. The poor animal has to undergo loud noises of Chenda and fireworks, long parades, flames held nearby, transportation in vehicles , walk on tarred roads under the scorching sun ,cruelty and work load. The mahouts carry a stick with a hook to beat the animal to obey his orders. Any resistance will result into chaining both front and hind legs  for a very long time. Lack of proper food,water and sleep make life miserable for the elephants. Pre matured deaths of captivated elephants  in the age group of say 40- 50 are reported.

Gone into the truck
The studies reveal that the elephant population has reduced by 50% in the last three decades. It is because of greedy poachers who hunt them for ivory. The Asian Elephant is listed by IUCN as "endangered" At the same time one should appreciate the efforts of Tamilnadu Govt to send the Temple elephants for rejuvenation camps. But the way the animals are loaded into the trucks appears to be cruel. Moreover the jumbos have to undergo a very long journey inside the vehicle which will certainly make them tired.

Encroachment of jungle areas by greedy farmers is also another reason why many elephant deaths are reported. They are killed mercilessly in electrical traps. Recently an elephant from the nearby forest was tranquillised and loaded into a truck with the help of a trained elephant as it "encroached"  into agricultural fields. While doing so it died because of injuries. Railway tracks that pass through jungle areas and ghat sections become the death traps for elephants.

Elephant lovers of many countries try to rescue the elephants from captivity by bringing them to their care centres , treat them with the help of veterinary doctors, nourish them and provide them enough space for movement.  Such an initiative has been made by Tree Foundation, an organisation who have set up their Elephant Care facility near Marakkanam on Chennai- Pondichery road. At the moment it houses three elephants brought from Sri Kamakshi Temple,Kanchipuram for better treatment . The chained legs were attended by doctors and they are reported to recover fast. Upon strengthening the base, the organisation plans to bring some more elephants from the temples for better care. But the question before us is: " Can the treated / healthy animals be released in wild sometime later to provide space for new arrivals?"  

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Art is no more for Art's sake?

MET Museum,New York City
"Art is for Art's sake"goes a saying. When Art is dedicated to God, it becomes "Art for God's Sake".  There is a marked distinction between these two. The former is purely imaginary and in the later,  the imagination is within the boundary. The basic material used may be stone/metal/paper /canvas /wood or anything. Once it receives "Godly touch" we are permitted to admire, worship the art embedded in it. The rotten idea of stealing and selling to  a museum and dealers was cultivated by the rich countries in the last  five or six decades. There was a time when the idols/panels were not under threat from anybody. There was absolutely no necessity to safeguard these treasures day and night like a fortress as people showed lot of respect to them. The mean minded rich have corrupted the minds of innocent people by buying them for money. As a result the innocence has vanished at the cost of greedy behaviour.

Lord Nataraja ,MET Museum,New York
The Museums across the World indirectly encourage this illegal trade by buying the antiques and display them as their rich possession. Visitors to MET Museum New York can find many priceless art pieces of India  and one really do not know why the Governments of India and U.S.A do not object to this and arrange to send them back to their original places. It clearly shows that the Museums are allowed to exhibit them and make money through entry fee.

The Media is also to be blamed for keeping a blind eye on this issue and publish articles which in no way can prevent the thefts. On the contrary their presentation seems to be anchored on sensational news for  describing the theft in detail. When we raise a point to the editor of the newspaper, we seldom get any reply. It is same in the case of New York times also when the paper reported the theft of Indian idols. We give below the copy of the letter sent to the editor:
                                                              *****************
The Editor,
The New York Times,
New York City.
Sub: Investigative Journalism

Journalism in true sense is all about presenting News as it should be. It includes aggregating, writing, editing and presenting facts or events with an attempt to minimize analysis or interpretation. We have no doubt that you work on this principle with a mission of printing " All the News That's fit to print". For a Newspaper, holding such a noble mission to inform the facts to the readers, it so happens sometimes that some correspondents act over smart , forgetting the mission for which their Newspaper stands for. The attempt to present in a sensational way maligns the credibility of the paper whatever its intentions may be. Its social responsibility is thus eroded by this act and leaves a poor shadow on the editor.

My observation as NYT's failure to edit the correspondent's 'sensational' report that appeared in your paper dated 23rd July,2015 explains the above point. While reporting on the smuggling racket that involved numerous antiques from India, he has given a caption that appears to invite/educate more people towards the crime. Thinking that he has put on efforts to investigate the crime fully, he has given step wise process of how the crime was carried out by giving a ' flow diagram'. Moreover, the heading, '  How to smuggle a Saint out of India ' itself is irking. ( " How the Saint was stolen out of India" could have been the caption for his article.) For what purpose the common man is informed about the modalities adopted to smuggle out the icon from the temple?  What is the need for the reader to know about the price for which it is sold? Assuming that the fraud was exposed, it has taken more than nine years to come to limelight. Who is responsible for the failure to identify the culprits and punish them according to the law of the land?  Giving such a long rope merely encourages more criminals in this field. The ideal investigative journalism should look for answers instead of just pointing fingers based on Police report. When the journalism takes such a diversion, the entire story need not be narrated in order to make it sensational. The Press can simply report about the theft and leave the rest for investigation under the guidance of Law to avoid new entrants in the illegal Trade.
Sekar Venkataraman
24th July,2015
                                                                        *****************
With the advent of Social sites on the Net, people have started sharing the photos of ancient temples. While doing so, some of them upload as many as 200 photos of each temple which includes the pictures of the Murthis. Our appeal against this practice has fallen into deaf ears! They still defend their action by saying that they enjoy the art involved and want others also to enjoy. The problem arises only when it reaches the wrong/ anti social hands. The anti social elements even damage the idols and carvings .

The latest capture of many stolen idols in Chennai should be a pointer to them. As long as there is no fool proof security to the sites, sharing the pictures will only help  to accelerate the process. While the Police is doing a good job in capturing the culprits, it should be noted that such captures are negligible  when compared to the number of stolen items 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Temples as Guardians of Environment

'' Seven billion dreams; One Planet; Consume with care'' is the slogan selected for World Environment Day, 2015. WED is celebrated annually across the world on 5th June. The celebrations at Milan Expo(Italy) will have the theme of' resource efficiency and sustainable consumption and production'.The theme, '"Feeding the planet,-Energy for life'" gives special focus on ideas,solutions and Technology to help ensure healthy safe and sufficient food for all while respecting the planet and its capacity.

New Delhi,Patna,Gwalior are some of the cities in India that are coming under the top ten polluted cities of the world. The alarming situation is due to vehicular and industrial emissions. Hence the air we breathe and the water we drink are posing health hazards.The sudden rise in temperature has caused more than 2000 deaths in Andhra Pradesh alone.

It is a pity that people talk about environment care only on June 5th. It has become more or less a ritual. Even industries do it to bring the activity into their records. Who is there for the sustainable activity that can happen throughout the year? Why can't they call it as environment year instead of Environment Day?

The Government initiates by calling for people's involvement. It wants to promote the activity by bringing famous personalities from different fields. For cleanliness drive it brought cine actors and for WED it brings sports persons. More than the people who assemble at the function (only) to see their favourites, Media are crazy to take videos and show them on the screen. The personalities thus become infamous as they seldom show their involvement on their own. They can adopt a village and plant saplings and maintain them. It appears that they do n't do it as the silent, unselfish activity will not be noticed and bring publicity for them.

We request the Government not to depend too much on the famous persons as the net result is zero on the next day. There will not be anybody to water the plants. Instead, the village panchayats may be asked to involve school children and the local people and plant the saplings at places where watering will be done without fail. Recently we read about a lady  who cleared a choked canal and made water to flow into the agricultural lands in Tamil Nadu.There are gems who gift saplings to their relatives and friends on their birth days. The Government can encourage such people and award them liberally which will inspire others.

Village Temples were engaged in sustaining the ground water table from ancient times. Tanks were dug close to the Temples which harvested rain water during monsoon. Many trees and flowering plants were grown inside the Temple premises. The Government can come forward to announce a rolling cup/ awards for the best maintained Temple tanks and Temple gardens. Will they hear the suggestion?  

Monday, June 1, 2015

Breathing for India ??

The Sunday supplement dated 31st May,2015 of The New York Times  carried a shocking report on the threat faced by children in New Delhi. The NYT reporter who has spent three years in Delhi, himself faced the agony caused by air pollution in the National Capital of India.  The guys who simply jump from earth to heaven on seeing BBC's presentation of poverty in India and doing nothing should read this first.

Mr Gardiner Harris ,the Washington correspondent of the newspaper has narrated his personal suffering during his stay in Delhi. He describes the traffic in Delhi as " the World's most chaotic" and the journey at night as " the most frightening " when road signs remain    " largely ornamental"  According to him, " nearly half of Delhi's children have permanent lung damage." Without knowing the danger ahead of them,people burn some toxic material and an astringent cloud  spreads in the neighbourhood. It affects not only children but adults as well. They suffer " near constant headaches, sore throats,coughs and fatigue. It results into full- blown asthma in many children.

Mr Harris says further: " In some places in Delhi, the levels of fine particles that cause the most lung damage ,called PM 2.5 , routinely exceed 1000 in winter in part because some trash and other small fires are so common , according to scientists. In Beijing, P.M.2.5 levels that exceed 500 make international headlines. Here, levels twice that high are largely ignored."  He adds: " For much of the year , the Yamuna water would have almost no flow though Delhi, if not for raw sewage. Add in the packs of stray dogs, monkeys and cattle even in urban areas, and fresh excretions are nearly ubiquitous. Insects alight on these excretions and then on people or their food,sickening them. Most piped water here is contaminated. Poor sanitation may be a crucial reason nearly half of India's children are stunted." There is no wonder why the author's 8 year old child was a victim of asthma.

Many people assume that their job is over when they talk length and breadth on different types of Pollution on Environment Day. While it is generally felt that the discipline should come from top, the long wait for such an initiative has proved to be a gimmick which does nothing for the people. On the other hand no concrete steps have been provided to stop/slow the migration of people to Urban areas . The move to keep the surroundings clean was launched by the Government with the Prime Minister himself leading from the front. The brand ambassadors from film industry stood in front of the cameras for publicity and vanished later.  Therefore it is better to  revise the path of discipline as the one that can flow from the bottom to top. To be more precise, it can be demonstrated from village level where the pollution is not much. Once we achieve pollution free air,water and good sanitation in villages, others will follow suit. Let there be no famous personalities or politicians and the entire movement must be left to the people. In such a situation, people will realise the importance of a pollution free life, discuss among themselves and then find a workable solution.

While writing about the attitude of abandoning villages and rural temples, we have expressed our desire to call the retired persons to go back to their native villages. When every facility is made available now,there can not be any hesitation in going back to villages and lead a peaceful life. By remaining in Metros, it gives more pain to the swelling population which already faces poor accommodation,transport,polluted air and water.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Role of Museums as Guardians of Heritage & Culture

International Museum Day 2015 is celebrated today the 18th day of May.  The Museum Day was established by International Council of Museums ( ICOM) in 1977 with the purpose of enhancing interest among Public about the role of Museums in the development of society.  Over 35000 Museums of about 145 countries participated in this event in 2014. The theme of this year is              ” Museums for a sustainable society." The President of ICOM,Prof.Dr Hanz-Matin Hinz  says :           “ Museums must be able to guarantee their role in safeguarding the cultural heritage, given the increasing precariousness of ecosystems, situations of political instability, and the associated natural and man- made challenges  that may arise. “

A dictionary defines the meaning of the word museum as ‘ a  building or institution dedicated to the acquisition, conservation, study,  exhibition and educational interpretation of objects having scientific, historical, cultural or artistic value.’  The Geneva convention of ICOM held at Austria, Vienna in 2007 defines a museum as ‘ a non-profit permanent institution in the service of society and its development open to the public , which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purpose of education , study and enjoyment.’

ICOM offers training in Museum management, disaster preparedness and response.  Its international training centre is at Palace Museum, Beijing, China.  It has got network with many museums of the world and organises a symposium every year. It is planned as Tasmania this year. It publishes red list of endangered objects of Heritage value and has helped to get back the stolen objects from many countries and restored to their original places.

Having said that, we have few points to ask at this juncture in connection with World Museum Day. While appreciating the efforts of the International Council in raising awareness among the public, it should also be admitted that many more preventive steps are to be taken to stop the illegal trade of cultural and religious goods.  It may require strengthening of International Law and   start addressing the issue at the root level. How safe and secured are our ancient places of worship is the first question. What action has been taken by the   respective Governments and the International body to stop the illicit trade by anti- social elements?  Have anybody advised the media to stop giving the international value of the stolen items? Did they tell them not to give details such as how the theft was made and the modes operandi  of the Police. 

The annual symposium may even call for the participation of representatives of the Ministry of Art & Culture from different countries and Police force   inclusive of   Interpol. Thirdly, the art lovers should stop circulating the pictures of antique items in social networks which may give clues to the wrong doers. The arrested culprits must face more severe punishment than now.


While the definition of a Museum reserves the right to acquire and exhibit, many stolen items take asylum in Museums in the name of donation.  Is it ethical to smuggle an antique item and sell it to a Museum which in turn describes it as a gift!! Therefore it is suggested that the Museum must immediately alert the Interpol on receiving an offer from the seller. This will stop the illicit trade to some extent.  Hence the use of the definition helps the Museum to continue showing its antique items without realising the affinity of people towards them. The objects stolen from places of worship should not come under this definition. It will be great if Museums, the custodians of Heritage take relevant steps to give back those stolen antiques to the respective countries.  

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Calling the NRIs

A House 15 km outside the Town
Happiness is derived from the comfort of life. Living standards determine the way of life besides the earning potential and other expectations. In a recent study, Switzerland is termed as the happiest nation in the world. Swiss have shown the world how to be the leader and keep its people happy. It is now left to other nations to learn the best practices from them and move ahead.

Among various issues faced by India, the huge population and its impact on urban life is the matter of concern. People slowly start deserting their villages in search of green pastures. The sudden spurt in Urban population has caused many challenges including housing, sanitation and Transport. It is highly difficult to expand a city which has already reached the saturation point. Yet the Government is trying all possible ways to meet the challenges posed for the next decade. Smart Cities are planned adjourning major cities to accommodate more entrants to cities. Now it is time to think more about smart villages.
The thought of converting the villages into ‘”smart’” ones should have occurred and implemented long back to prevent the exodus of people. The existing people are like ‘” cat on the wall ‘” who seriously think of leaving the villages and migrate to metros where their children live. Since the agriculture is monsoon specific, more failures frustrate the agriculturists to look for lucrative ways. Agricultural sites are being converted into housing colonies. This dangerous trend has to be checked immediately and alternate solutions are to be implemented to create confidence in the minds of the villagers.

It is a known fact that most of the villages have improved in the last few decades due to the availability of infrastructure, technology and transport. The only missing thing is the absence of earning ways that match the standard of urban population. If the location is wholly dependent on agriculture, more agro based industries may provide employment to them. It is nice to see good educational institutions coming close to the villages and provide transport to pick the children right in front of their houses. If the gap between urban and rural lives is narrowed, people will love to live in their villages.

Good housing was the concern of the past. Gated communities are coming up some 15 km away from the towns and independent houses are built to meet the requirement of the customers. Good access to the nearby town is available to enable the occupants to spend their valuable time. Alternately, one may prefer going back to the native place and live a comfortable life. Lot of community services can be extended by owning a property there. A good backyard can be converted into a good garden with flowering plants and a part can also become a grove of many trees. To possess a cow adds value to the life as it is a step towards self-sufficiency. Going for a Gobar gas plant provides cooking gas round the clock. Thus the village life provides ample ways to think innovatively.

We come across friends who work abroad remembering the roots and bringing their families to their native places. It is a proud moment for them to show the family members the place where they lived and the school where they studied. They create a passion in the minds of their wards to visit the native place and stay for a week or ten days. Unfortunately, they do not have the ancestral home now as the same had been sold early when the previous generation migrated to Urban areas. It is therefore necessary for the NRIs to look for a house of their taste and buy them. By doing so, they provide a breather to the village which is on the verge of becoming a no man’s land.

The return of the NRIs can turn the events of the village magnificently. The village Temples will regain the glory of the past and the cultural festivals can be restarted. Sustainable growth of the village can be planned with the help of like minded people and these steps will bear fruits in the long run.