Friday, May 12, 2017

Thiru Vellarai Raja Gopuram

7 Tier 125 Feet Raja Gopuram to come up in Thiru Vellarai Divya Desam in 2-3 years
When constructed, this complete 'Lime Mortar' Tower will rank amongst the tallest Temple Towers in Tamil Nadu
Petitioner Ramesh says there can be no Raja Gopuram unless the HR & CE Act and GO 171 are amended
The Towers at the main entry point of two prominent and ancient Divya Desams near Trichy had been left as Mottai Gopuram and remained as such till the 1980s when a decision was taken to construct a world beating Raja Gopuram at the Southern entrance to the Ranganathaswamy temple in Srirangam, that now stands tall at 236 feet.

The other one, the Pundarikakshan temple at Thiruvellarai Divya Desam (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2016/10/thiru-vellarai-divya-desam.html) dates back to a period when 3700 Vaishnavite families lived in the town. For reasons, unrecorded, the Raja Gopuram at the Northern entrance remained unfinished.

A few years ago, the then CM of Tamil Nadu (Late Ms. J. Jayalalitha) announced in the assembly plans to construct a Raja Gopuram at Thiruvellarai.  

The hereditary priests of the temple are all excited that their temple too would get a Raja Gopuram similar to the one at Srirangam as one of the priests guides me up the dark and steep steps into the inside of the battered Raja Gopuram that is also home to several bats. From the inside of the current structure, he turns South and points to the towering Raja Gopuram at Srirangam with the Rock Fort temple in its background and is optimistic that one day Thiruvellarai too would have a towering temple tower that the residents would be proud of.

Some of the ground work had started at the Divya Desam but the Madras High Court order restraining renovation in temples meant the work came to a grinding middle of last year.

Subsequently, with the High Court directing the appointment of a Panel to decide on the merits of renovation in temples, Thiru Vellarai seemed to get a life line with the Panel issuing an order to strengthen the existing structure at the Northern Entrance based on the technical reports.

Agama Objection to a Northern Raja Gopuram
The Vaikanasa Agama expert too had raised objection on the construction of a Raja Gopuram on the ‘Northern Side’ but the temple authorities through the Pancharatna Agama experts pointed out and clarified that their agama does not impose any such restrictions.

Northern Entrance shut, Eastern Entrance Opened
The Northern entrance which has for long been the preferred entrance to the temple has now been closed and the eastern side of the temple has been completely revamped and the entrance there reopened after several decades. 
The strengthening of the existing structure, it is being claimed, is being done through the best of modern technology. In fact a small model gopuram using these materials has been built and placed near the Northern entrance. This process of strengthening which began a few months ago is likely to take another few months. Over 30 cracks had developed in the structure and these are being rectified.

Once the existing structure is strengthened, the authorities will seek a formal approval from the panel for the construction of the Raja Gopuram. The authorities see this as a mere formality and are confident of securing the approval from the panel as they say they have followed the directions of the panel.

The construction of the 'Lime Mortar' Raja Gopuram, the authorities say, is expected to commence later this year and the plan is to complete the 7 Tier, 125 feet plus towering structure in 2-3 years.

When complete, the Raja Gopuram will rank amongst the top five tallest towers in the Divya Desam list and thus in a matter of three decades Mottai Gopurams in two ancient temple towns near Trichy would have seen towering Raja Gopurams!!!


While the temple authorities are thus confident of going ahead with the construction of the Raja Gopuram after following the due processes as laid down by the court appointed panel, TR Ramesh, President, Temple Worshippers Society, who has petitioned many a case at the Madras High Court relating to alterations to temple structure is of the opinion that this will not stand the test of law ‘There is no Executive Officer for the Srirangam temple as the Position of the EO expired on 16th July 1966 (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2017/01/hr-ce-irregularities.html). Thereafter no EO has been appointed to the Srirangam temple. Consequently, there can be no EO for the Thiruvellarai temple (as this is a sub- temple of Srirangam Ranganathaswamy temple). As a result, the initiatives taken under the EO’s order is Void Abinitio, in law.’
Quoting the Government Order 171 (a copy of which is available with prtraveller) passed by the Tamil Nadu Government in 2013, Ramesh says that that particular GO categorically states that any construction in a heritage site must be done in accordance with the principle of conservation of monuments laid down in the Venice Charter of 1966, Article 4 and Article 6 of which state that ‘it is essential to the conservation of monuments that they be maintained on a permanent basis’ and that ‘Conservation of a monument implies preserving a setting which is not out of scale. Wherever the traditional setting exists, it must be kept. No new construction, demolition or modification which would alter the relations of mass and colour must be allowed.’

Based on these, Ramesh says that it is clear there can no new construction or modification at the Thiruvellarai temple and that the proposed construction is impossible as long as Section 116 of HR and CE Act (One can only do preservation and maintenance of heritage structures) and GO 171 are not amended.

While petitioner Ramesh now sports a new look (as compared to the one in January of this year), it looks like the temple will not have it easy on having its own new look anytime in the near future, given his determination to take them on based on the rules governing alteration relating to heritage structures!!!

Varadaraja Acharya, a descendent of Engal Azhvaan and a resident of Thiru Vellarai for several decades is devotion personified. Sitting in a far corner of the temple in a devotional posture, he says 'it is all up to Lord Pundarikakshan to decide what is good for the devotees and that if he wills, the towering Raja Gopuram will come up.'
One will have to wait and watch as to the direction in which this story unfolds in the coming months. 

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