Tension is brewing between heritage activists and the State government over the demolition of an 800-year-old Siva temple, built by the Kongu Cholas at Tholur village in Namakkal district.
The temple is under the control of the State Government’s Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department. Heritage activists allege that a bulldozer was used to smash the temple to pieces. While the HR and CE officials blame the Tholur villagers for demolishing the temple without informing them, heritage activists allege that “the HR&CE Department kept quiet when the temple was being demolished.” The destruction took place despite the fact that the structure was a “living temple” with people offering prayers every day.
The Choliswarar temple at Tholur is located on the Namakkal-Mohanur Road. Its sanctum has an ardha mantapa and a mukha mantapa , and a pillared N andi mantapa . There are shrines for Ganesa, Amman and Chandikesa. It has a beautiful Chandikesa sculpture. A 16th century Tamil inscription on an ardha mantapa pillar records the grant of oil and cotton to the temple to light lamps. There is another inscription in a mukha mantapa pillar.
R. Nagaswamy, former Director, Tamil Nadu Archaeology Department, estimated that the temple, built by the Kongu Cholas, was “minimum 800 years old.” The Kongu Cholas formed a branch of the imperial Cholas and the former ruled the Kongu region comprising the present-day Coimbatore, and part of Salem and Namakkal districts in the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries C.E.
On May 25, 2015, K. Moortheeswari, now Superintending Archaeologist, Archaeologist Survey of India (ASI), inspected the Choliswarar temple for “making archaeological recommendations related to its renovation/restoration work”. She was a member of a committee set up by the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) during its earlier tenure (2011-2016) for making recommendations when the temples, under the control of the HR&CE Deparment, were restored or renovated for
After inspecting the temple with Ms. Selvi, HR&CE Inspector Ms. Moortheeswari sent a report to the Tamil Nadu government that “plenty of vegetation is seen all round the main shrine” and that the veneering stones on its outer walls “are disturbed and dislocated all round due to the strong, solid roots of the trees on the terrace.” Seepage marks were seen on the inner walls of the sanctum, ardha manatapa and mukha mantapa . A mukha mantapa pillar had been broken and provided with support.
Ms. Moortheeswari, therefore, recommended that the temple must be conserved immediately and its foundation checked since the walls were out of plumb and had cracked in many places. The temple should be given a strong foundation. “Reconstruction is inevitable,” she said.
“The whole temple should be carefully documented and dismantled. Numbers should be given to the stone members,” she added. After dismantling, the temple could be re-set with most of the old stones which were in good condition.
But subsequently, the temple complex was demolished. The sanctum with its vimana and
mantapas were smashed to pieces. Architectural members were sundered apart. The shrines were taken out.
An angry Dr. Nagaswamy argued that a temple should not be dismantled just because vegetation had grown over it and its walls were out of plumb. “A temple should be dismantled only when there is a big danger of its falling,” he said. There were hundreds of temples overgrown with vegetation. Should all of them be dismantled, he asked. “The HR&CE Department kept quiet when the temple was demolished,” Dr. Nagaswamy alleged.
Ms. Moortheeswari, when contacted, said she had only recommended that the temple be “dismantled” and “reset.” She argued that “There is a big difference between dismantling and demolition. I had clearly said that the temple should be documented, dismantled, the dismantled members numbered and then reconstructed.”
The temple’s fit person (thakkar) R. Santhi , an HR&CE employee, blamed the Tholur villagers for the demolition. “We had prepared an estimate for restoring the temple. But the villagers demolished the temple without informing us,” she said. Asked why she did not stop it, Ms. Santhi said “the village is in the interior, and if we had known about the demolition, we could have stopped it.” She had complained to the Mohanur police station and an FIR has been filed.