Wednesday, February 8

Conservationists push for Unesco heritage tag for terra cotta temples

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Lack of renovation and neglect at the local level: these are the two biggest threats to hundreds of terra cotta temples in Gangetic Bengal. At some of the temples, the arched entrances had been damaged and the detailed carvings of terra cotta panels “plained” or given a fresh coat of paint by local masons during repairs, resulting in the loss of the tangible heritage forever, rued Amit Guha and Sourav Niyogi of Bengal Heritage Foundation who conserved the tomb of Dwarkanath Tagore and unveiled his bust at Kensal Green Cemetery in London.

“These temples are not only architecturally rich but also represent the region’s culture, closely associated with contemporary movements in religion, literature and art as well as political, social and economic development of those times. They must be recognized as a Unescolisted World Heritage Site. Terra cotta cluster tourism should be conceptualized and promoted because local people tend to become more aware of the heritage when outsiders start visiting the place,” said Guha, who has been visiting Bankura, Birbhum, Murshidabad and Burdwan for his research on these temples. Guha and Niyogi spoke at a session on Bengal’s heritage at Indian Museum on Friday afternoon.

Terra cotta is a type of unglazed and brownish-red fire clay, which is used to create anything, from sculptures to temples. Numerous temples of different shapes and sizes were built with intricate terra cotta carvings between 15th and 19th century. They were commissioned by local rulers, zamindars and landlords. The sutradhars (architects) would move from one place to another and settle for years till the construction of a temple was complete.

“These sutradhars were artisans with great expertise. Before leaving, they would hand over a document to the patron on how to maintain it. With time, those documents were lost, leading to lack of renovation in future,” Guha said.

Indian Statistical Institute has also built a Bishnupur Heritage Database, which has images of different temples of Bishnupur, one of the well-known heritage sites in the country. The database is developed to support research on the digital preservation of the historical sites. “All of us want to do something for Kolkata and Bengal, which are rich in tangible and intangible heritage. It is our constant effort to collaborate with various organisations, communities and individuals to come up with ideas to protect our heritage monuments and culture,” said Rajesh Purohit, director of Indian Museum.

Source: Times of India

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