Ancient temples destroyed by State Archaeology in Koraput, alleges historian

Bhubaneswar: Several ancient temples have been demolished by the state Archaeology Department in the name of renovation, alleged historian, researcher and the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) chief Anil Dhir today.

Vishnu Temple at Gorahandi and Jain Temple at Phupugam of Koraput are about 45 kms away from the district headquarters. The two shrines are lying in a deserted and ruined condition amidst farmlands.

The temples were previously brought to the notice of the district administration for ensuring proper conservation. The 6th Century CE Vishnu Temple belonged to the period when Nala Dynasty held sway in the region and was probably built by the Nalas of Pushkari. It was a small temple of the early Kalingan order with a Rekha Vimana.

A team from Intach, Odisha had gone to the site on February 26 and observed that the old temple has been completely dismantled and its stone blocks scattered here and there in the agricultural field. The team of Intach members from the State and Koraput Chapter comprised Sanjib Hota, Deepak Nayak, Anil Dhir, Bikram Nayak and Ajit Patro.

Shockingly, the entire ancient structure has been dismantled and the old stone blocks were chiseled and polished for use in making a new structure. All the carvings and embellishments of the earlier temple had been totally destroyed.

A half-finished square structure that bore no resemblance to the earlier temple was seen. The ancient Chaturbhuja Vishnu image had been removed from the old temple and kept in the open. Except for the two carved doorjambs, the entire decorative motifs have been destroyed.

The lintel section of the doorjamb with a prominent Gajalaxmi motif is now lying abandoned at the site. Many of the old stone blocks have been taken away by the villagers.

Similarly, the Jain Temple of Phupugam, which is just three km away from the Vishnu Temple too, has a half-finished renovation. This temple is also an early Kalingan order temple which can be dated back to the 6th-7th Century CE.

The Jain Tirthankar idols are being worshipped as Narayan Mahaprabhu by local villagers for centuries. Here too, the original structure has been dismantled and the stone blocks are lying in disarray. The newer structure has been half completed with the idols lying in the open.

The temple premises had a single un-deciphered stone inscription panel which is missing now.

The manner in which both these early-era temples have been destroyed in the name of restoration has dismayed the team.

According to Deepak Nayak, the conservation work has been done in an unscientific manner by semi-skilled persons. It seems that no archaeological expert must have visited the place. The dismantling of two of the earliest stone temples is a cultural genocide.

In fact, Nayak lamented bringing attention to these forgotten structures, which had survived for more than 14 centuries only to be destroyed in the name of preserving them.

Sanjib Hota, following his visit to the site, has prepared a report and is about to write to the authorities concerned for the callous manner in which the restoration has been done.

Anil Dhir said that no sane archaeologist or heritage expert would demolish the old structures and make a new one at the place. Both the old temples were in a restorable state and could have been conserved in their original form without causing any damage.

In fact, the old temples should have been left intact and the newer structures built alongside where the idols could have been secured.

Ajit Patro said that Intach’s Koraput Chapter is soon going to launch a project to document the entire heritage of the district. The rich Jain monuments and early period heritage structures have not been properly listed till date.

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