In an act of inexcusable sacrilege, the beautiful thirteenth century Adinarayana Perumal Temple, Pazhaverkadu (Pulicat), was bulldozed and destroyed by the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments department (HR&CE), on June 13, 2013. The ruination took place in the name of temple renovation, leaving devotees shattered, and reduced to tears. Since there was no advance information regarding the proposed razing of the temple, no preventive steps were possible in time.
Adinarayana Perumal Temple, Pazhaverkadu, is one of the rarest architectures in south India. It is a marvel of laterite blocks, and is famous for its Ramayana miniature sculptures. The vimana (tower) was made using limestone. Now it is completely demolished.
Devotees from Chennai and neighbouring districts who visited the temple on hearing the news learnt that the temple had fallen into disrepair owning to local village disputes, and had been closed for over twenty years. Though it was the responsibility of the HR&CE department to protect the temple, it did not perform its duty. HR&CE charges hundreds of crores as administration charges.
The temple has been in a dilapidated condition for long. To rescue it from oblivion, local residents and volunteers managed to get help from the Reach Foundation, a heritage conservation NGO, in 2006. The local fishermen community contributed labour and the Ramakrishna Mission which runs the local evening school provided boarding and lodging to the activists. The village youth toiled day and night to clear the vegetative growth that was literally strangulating the temple; they removed as many as 300 snakes from the premises. This was a stupendous task, but they successfully cleaned up the area and reopened the temple (see links below).
The Adinarayana Perumal Temple, Pazhaverkadu, owns two acres of land in Thaangalperumpalam village, which is insufficient for its maintenance expenses. The HR&CE department, which neglected the temple when it had shut down due to poor maintenance, promptly took over the temple administration after local residents and Reach Foundation restored it in 2012. But it has still not prepared any registration documents for the temple as per the HR&CE Act. Nor has action been taken to collect the temple income.
It bears stating that the 13th Finance Commission sanctioned about Rs 250cr to the HR&CE department to protect heritage structures (temples) in Tamil Nadu. This is HR&CE took over the temple and allotted around Rs 52lakh for its renovation.
Thus, a Vijayanagar era heritage temple – restored by citizen activism – was destroyed by contractors and officials of the HR&CE department in the guise of renovation! All that was now needed was to proceed to restore – scientifically – the damaged portions of the temple; but it was not to be.
HR&CE proceeded in typical ham-handed fashion. Keeping experts of the State archaeological department and Archaeological Survey of India in the dark, HR&CE, which has already destroyed nearly one thousand temples over the past few years, in the name of renovation, repeated its sin once again. The temple was handed over to the PWD officer, though this department and its staff have zero knowledge about heritage structures and Agama Sastra.
What happened on June 13 is truly shocking. The department permitted the contractor-renovator to use earth mover vehicles (bulldozers) to demolish the temple structures. This is completely unlawful activity, but the officer supposed to supervise the temple renovation did nothing to protect the heritage structure and stop the nonsense.
Now, the majesty and warm dignity of the ancient structure has made way for a vimana made of cement and iron. The department was supposed to strengthen the foundation before constructing the vimana, but simply demolished it and began started constructing a new one with alien materials like cement and chemicals. The mandatory permission from the State or Central archaeological departments for activity in a heritage building was brushed aside. In all, the several vimanas, temple structures, and the magnificent doorway stand demolished.
Pazhaverkadu gets its name from the abundant vela trees in the area. The Dutch called it Pulicat as they could not pronounce the local name. Many trades and communities thrived here over the centuries, including the British, Dutch and Chinese. According to a 16th century stone inscription over the entrance of the Devi shrine, Pazharverkadu was also known as Pralaya Kaveri and Mallapatnam.
The Adinarayana Perumal Temple was been built by Balavandakulu, a Telugu, as per the Telugu inscription found at the Thayar shrine in the complex. The entrance to the temple is striking, and even though the gopuram is missing, the main entrance with the walls on either side looks like the entrance to a fort!
At some stage, the temple came to be called mini-Angkor Vat, because it is an ancient Vishnu temple; has intricately carved Ramayana scenes on its roof cross-beams, close to the ceilings, the figures not taller than 8 inches; and the roots of trees encircle the temple like a big asura trying to gobble the temple to assuage his hunger! Pipal trees played havoc with the temple, ruining the stone ceilings and making the pillars fall apart.
The original temple was a magnificent structure, typical of the great temples of south India. At the entrance is a small mandap with Garuda facing the main shrine; inside are exquisite murtis of Rama, Lakshmana and Sita. The Rama image is broken, with the bow and arrow missing. There was once a separate sannidhi for Rama to the right of the main sannidhi, which has now collapsed.
The mandap leading to the temple has beautiful carvings of dancers and the dasavatara. On one pillar has a relief of a monkey eating a jackfruit; above is a panel of four monkeys juxtaposed to look like a single monkey. There are rich carvings of mermaids, man-beasts, man with several heads.
The Adi Narayana Perumal deity is flanked by Sridevi and Bhudevi. The utsavars had been removed to a newly built Varadaraja temple for safety. The Lord in this temple is seen in standing posture, with sankh and chakra in his upper hands. His lower right hand is Abhaya hasta and the lower left hand rests on His thigh.
Outside the sannidhi are a small set of beautiful images, whose lower right hand is Varada hasta and whose lower left hand rests on the thigh. He too is flanked by Sridevi and Bhudevi.
The Thayar and Andal Shrines are separate on either side of the main mandap. The bali peetam is a beautifully carved structure, with steps leading to the top of the bali peetam from all four sides.
By all accounts, the temple was popular with the villagers and till 1988 a priest used to come from Ponneri and Laksharchnais, Navaratri puja and other pujas were conducted regularly. The last samprokshanam was in 1979.
Pazhaverkadu is also home to an ancient Shiva temple whose deity is called Samaya Eswaraswamy and Anandavalli, which too falls under the HR&CE Trust. This too is in ruins, but is restorable. There is a Subramanya swami temple, 150 year old, built by some Chettiars in the vicinity, and another 10th century Chola era temple in the nearby “Koviladi” island.
Pazhaverkadu lies between Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, hence people from both States flock there. It is a tourist attraction due to the nearby sea, boating, a bird sanctuary, Dutch cemetery and remains of Dutch era, and the Samaya Isvarar Temple which also partly built of Laterite.
Now, the intricate stone work and carvings, particularly the majestic archway, have given way to smooth cement, courtesy the ‘renovation’ by a department more concerned with spending budget money than in preserving a heritage structure. The contractor, with iconoclastic zeal, poured hard cement over the laterite blocks with the carvings of gods and literally effaced them! Experts feel that cement should not have been used in the work at all, and the lime mortar would have been more appropriate in the conservation work as it has more ‘air’ content.
This is now the HR&CE is ruining temples all over Tamil Nadu. This is the best reason why the department should be disbanded and temples returned to the local communities.
References and links
1] Latest pictures of temple:
First published in click here to read.