Tamil Temple Towns: Conservation and Contestation

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: Welsh School of Architecture (ARCHI)

Abstract

The project arises from pressing issues of contested heritage in the great, living temple complexes at the heart of rapidly growing cities in Tamil Nadu. It examines two distinct temple cities of Tamil Nadu, Madurai and Kumbakonam, to address current concerns over the ways in which some functioning temples are being restored. Such concerns have recently led to court cases, and the involvement of UNESCO in an attempt to find ways to create appropriate conservation guidelines acceptable to different stakeholders. These must take into account the prescriptions of ancient Sanskrit ritual and architectural treatises, still much revered though not sufficiently understood. The project therefore aims to provide an authoritative body of research to inform inclusive and sustainable guidelines for heritage conservation and management in the temple cities. It will provide a well-researched history of the architecture, urban settings, and phases of renewal of the representative temple structures, and articulate the different narratives and perceptions about these sites. The nature of recent restorations will be ascertained and evaluated. Sanskrit texts will be studied for an overview of their relevant instructions, and to show how their theoretical concepts relate to the actual practice of temple design and conservation. Digital models will be created to encapsulate the research findings, to provide data for architectural analysis, and as a tool to elicit and express the multiple viewpoints of the community and stakeholders. The findings, as a basis for the future guidelines, will be presented in a report, which will appear on the project website along with the models. Other outcomes will include a special issue of a peer-reviewed journal.

Planned Impact

The project arises from pressing issues in the great, living temple complexes at the heart of rapidly growing cities in Tamil Nadu. These are at once historic architectural treasures, thriving places of worship, ritual and festivals, centres for varied branches of culture, and hubs for the economy, tourism and pilgrimage. Alarmed by a spate of insensitive restorations, court cases brought by devotees in the Madras High Court led to its instructed UNESCO in 2016 to evaluate the conservation activity taking place with view to establishing appropriate guidelines. The overall aim of the project is to inform such guidelines, in order to achieve the desired impact on conservation practices in temple complexes throughout the state. The project therefore aims to have impact beyond academia by providing an authoritative body of research to inform inclusive and sustainable guidelines for heritage conservation and management in the temple cities. The stakeholders that are envisaged as benefitting from the research project include official bodies and institutions, including UNESCO, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the state of Tamil Nadu's Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments department. The project and its dissemination will bring professional conservation architects and heritage practitioners into dialogue with traditional ritual and architecture experts (sthapatis and acharyas) in order to develop culturally-sensitive principles and practices for the conservation of the great temples of south India.
 
Title Digital scans of heritage contexts 
Description The following have been completed: Terrestrial laser scan of overall setting of Meenakshi temple, Madurai, and partial scan of the Pudhu Mandapa Terrestrial laser scan of Nageswara temple, Kumbakonam Terrestrial laser scan of interior of Airavateshvara temple, Darasuram, together with exterior scan using photogrammetry and drone. These digital models are intended to be used in the remainder of the project for architectural analysis, showing chronological development, mapping ritual activities, consultation with stakeholders, illustrating proposals. They will be made available online. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Yet to be shown. 
 
Description Internship with DRONAH to work on Jirnodhara 
Organisation DRONAH Foundation
Country India 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Supervision of intern
Collaborator Contribution Joyce Yung (young conservation architect from Hong Kong) was taken on by project partner DRONAH to do archival research at the French Institute of Pondicherri. Among her contributions was identification of a relevant 16th-century Sanskrit text, the Jir?oddharadasakam, which is being translated by team member Libbie Mills and will be of use for the conservation guidelines being prepared by DRONAH. Joyce Yung was supervised via email by Mills and Hardy as well as at DRONAH.
Impact Architecture Architectural History Architectural Conservation Sanskrit
Start Year 2018
 
Description Project partners (already collaborators for previous project on Ajmer) 
Organisation DRONAH Foundation
Country India 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The collaboration is continuing with the Tamil Temple Towns project. The information given in this section currently applies to the earlier Ajmer project: Adam Hardy (PI) was responsible for management and coordination of the team, and carried out research into the architectural history of the Ajmer region. Dr. Oriel Prizeman (Co-Investigator) created and developed digital scans at Ajmer, and liaised with the team in India over their use as a tool for further investigation.
Collaborator Contribution Dr Shikha Jain (Co-Investigator) directed the research team based with DRONAH, co-ordinate the workshop organisation, and set up a programme for dissemination to statutory bodies and community groups, as well as further workshops. SPA Bhopal, coordinated by Prof. Ajay Khare (Co-Investigator), carried out documentation of the urban fabric of Ajmer and Pushkar, and of medieval temple remains.
Impact These are the outcomes of the project.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Project partners (already collaborators for previous project on Ajmer) 
Organisation School of Planning and Architecture, Bhopal
Country India 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The collaboration is continuing with the Tamil Temple Towns project. The information given in this section currently applies to the earlier Ajmer project: Adam Hardy (PI) was responsible for management and coordination of the team, and carried out research into the architectural history of the Ajmer region. Dr. Oriel Prizeman (Co-Investigator) created and developed digital scans at Ajmer, and liaised with the team in India over their use as a tool for further investigation.
Collaborator Contribution Dr Shikha Jain (Co-Investigator) directed the research team based with DRONAH, co-ordinate the workshop organisation, and set up a programme for dissemination to statutory bodies and community groups, as well as further workshops. SPA Bhopal, coordinated by Prof. Ajay Khare (Co-Investigator), carried out documentation of the urban fabric of Ajmer and Pushkar, and of medieval temple remains.
Impact These are the outcomes of the project.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Visit to Madurai and Chennai 16-23 July 2019, 
Organisation Polytechnic University of Milan
Country Italy 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Dr Luigi Barazzetti from Politecnico di Milano organised and paid to visit the Pudhu Mandapam in Madurai and the IIT Madras with Dr Oriel Prizeman in order to further develop low cost 3d acquisition tools for the project
Collaborator Contribution Dr Barazzetti has used 360 imaging to increase the capacity for rapid mapping
Impact Presentation at IIT Madras as noted in Engagement. Paper in preparation
Start Year 2019
 
Description Jeernodharana and Temple Conservation: Texts and Practice (Public workshop held at IIT, Chennai, 20 Feb. 2019) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The theme was one identified as a key issue for the conservation controversy that initially led to the involvement of UNESCO (Delhi), and was the starting point for the project.
The workshop had been planned in the project proposal. Team members Hardy, Branfoot, Prizeman, Jain, Khare, Mills and Rao presented their research, along with representatives from the Archaeological Survey of India, and the Hindu Charitable and Religious Endowments department (who are working on a conservation manual). Others associated with those organisations attended and took part in the discussions on potential guidelines, along with heritage enthusiasts and conservation activists from the general public.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Talk on Digital Documentation for Cultural Heritage with Dr Luigi Barazzetti of Politecnico di Milano at IIT Madras 23.7.19 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact During an additional visit to develop further digital models for the Pudhu Mandapam in Madurai, Co-I Oriel Prizeman with Dr Luigi Barrazzetti of Politecnico di Milano gave a talk at IIT Madras to the MArch Conservation students
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.scribd.com/presentation/428647270/5-star-synopsis