The Jagannath temple repair and conservation

By Dr Siddhartha Sahu*

The Jagannath temple in Puri was originally said to have been built by King Indradyumna in ancient times. Time and invaders took their toll. The temple had to be rebuilt by King Jajati Kesari on the advise of Adi Shankaracharya. In a hurry to install the Brahma Padartha retrieved in Sonepur, Jajati Kesari was said to have used poor quality Khondolite stone. The temple hastily built by Jajati Kesari fell into disrepair subsequently. A few hundred years later King Ananta Varman Chodaganga decided to completely rebuild the dilapidated temple. The task of building the Jagannath temple as we see it today, was so difficult that it was finally completed by Chodaganga Dev’s grandson King Anangibhima Deva.

Puri is by the seashore. Stones in the temple are held together by iron clamps. The salty sea winds make the iron clamps rust. This causes loosening of stones and damage to the temple structure. To protect the temple from the effects of sea winds,  the Gajapati kings plastered the temple with lime. Repeated plastering over the years made the lime coat 45 centimeters thick.

Since the 1960s, stones frequently started falling from the Jagannath temple. In the year 1972, severe water leakage was noticed in the temple. Large cracks also developed in the lime plaster. Alarmed at the state of the temple, the Odisha government handed over maintenance to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).

The Archaeological survey of India took up the massive job of removing plaster from the shikhara of the Jagannath temple. When plaster was removed, many stones on the shikhara were found missing. They were replaced. The rusted iron clamps were replaced. The Amlaka was found to be badly damaged and was restored. To protect the temple from sea winds, it was chemically treated and coated with a polymer layer. While the plaster removal was necessary, in the process many beautiful sculptures embedded in the plaster were lost.

The Jagamohan at risk of collapsing was restored by 2018. The recent Cyclone Fani in 2019 caused damage that had to be repaired. The temple conservation has also drawn criticism from many experts. Many scholars are concerned about the loss of sculptures that were embedded in the lime plaster. Devotees still mourn the loss of the dasavatar sculpture and the sakhi sculptures on Singhadwar.

The temple has numerous mutilated sculptures. Hindu temples are considered divine entities. Any mutilated sculpture is believed to violate the sanctity of the temple. The scriptures advise prompt replacement of mutilated sculptures. The Archaeological Survey of India replaces sculpted stones with plain stones. Mutilated sculptures are not restored by the ASI. It is part of their restoration policy. However, if the sculptures of Jaya and Vijaya at Singhadwar, damaged by Cyclone Fani could be replaced, other sculptures merit restoration too.

Just how fragile the sculptures can be was revealed by an incident in April this year. The idol of Hiranyakashipu fell of from the Ugra Nrusingha idol in the western corner of the temple. The legs of Hiranyakashipu were badly damaged, The Archaeological Survey of India is working on restoring the idol.

While Lord Jagannath owns several stone quarries, it is unfortunate that the Archaeological Survey of India citing scarcity of khondolite stones had to suspend critical repairs this month. Water seepage and damage in the Mahalakshmi temple has attracted attention too. One hopes the decision to repair all the Parshwa temples of the Jagannath temple complex can be completed sooner than the estimated 5 year plan.

Precious pattachitra wall paintings have also been neglected in various parts of the temple. The High Court in 2019 hauled up the Archaeological Survey of India for slow and poor quality restoration. The natamandap restoration needs urgent attention. The temple restoration needs more dedicated experts and adequate monetary assistance. This will ensure the Jagannath temple lasts for many more centuries to come.


The author is an orthopedic surgeon. He can be reached at [email protected]


DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of Sambad English.

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