Friday, November 17, 2017

Venu Srinivasan Srirangam Temple Restoration

The biggest restoration exercise of the Ranganathaswamy temple in Srirangam in 200 years gets them the UNESCO award

Leader Venu Srinivasan’s Srirangam restoration exercise is a ‘Role Model’ for any large temple restoration 

The path of service to man and God is littered with stones, thorns, scorpions and other painful creatures. Our Gurus tell us that we should put our faith in Him and proceed purposefully without looking on either side, fixated only on the goal. With Swami's grace, I have tried to do so - Venu Srinivasan on the Restoration and Developmental initiatives at the Srirangam Temple
Having seen the temple from close quarters as a devotee from the mid 1970s and even more closely as a writer from the middle of last decade, it is truly befitting for the Ranganathaswamy temple in Srirangam to receive the UNESCO award for ‘Cultural Heritage Conservation’ for the temple has been truly revived to its glorious past. The grandeur of the restoration has to be seen to be believed.

This award also comes as a fitting reward for the Chairman, Board of Trustees (CBT) Venu Srinivasan in his 25th year of association with temple restoration activities that he had begun way back in 1992-93 with the Rama temple in Padai Veedu, near Vellore.  

The story goes that this inaugural project of initiating a complete transformation of Padai Veenu from ruins to a thriving village led the Collector of Tirunelveli to engage with Venu Srinivasan and initiate in him the thought of reviving Nava Tirupathi, a region that was in dire straits with a large majority of the people there living in poverty and fighting for everyday survival.

The Nava Tirupathi Call in the mid 90s
It was closer to home for Venu and this opportunity to be involved with developmental work relating to those temples excited him. But even he would not have had an inkling then of what he was to achieve in Nava Tirupathi. He had always seen that region as a set of 11 temples (including Srivaramangai – Nanguneri and Thiru Kurungudi) and not 9!!! And he got cracking on a project that now 2 decades later easily ranks as one of the biggest transformational exercises undertaken in Tamil Nadu (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2017/02/erettai-tirupathi-transformation.html).

That entire region now bears no resemblance to what one saw in the early 1990s – deserted, absolutely no ‘outside’ devotees, priests with no income and wearing the same dhoti through the year and there was no ‘other economy’.
While Venu set about getting the dilapidated temples back in shape, he also focused on another important aspect – the rehabilitation of the society. It is now vibrant with the villages especially in and around Erettai Tirupathi thriving with economic activity of Self Help Groups that Venu Srinivasan had kicked off. 

The Bhattars in all the temples in that region have been receiving a monthly amount for the last 20 years that Venu Srinivasan very devotionally calls ‘Sambhavanai’ giving it a very sacred feel for the performing Bhattar. Hence each month this amount is handed to the Bhattar at his Sannidhi as a ‘devotional presentation’. After the restoration of the temples in Nava Tirupathi, devotees have been thronging the region in large numbers contributing to a far better livelihood for the priests. Most of the festivals have been revived and the Brahmotsavams in each of these temples is now celebrated in a grand manner.

Venu Srinivasan takes back a big learning from the restoration exercise of Nava Tirupathi. He says that the Nava Tirupathi restoration initiative taught him a very important and fundamental principle of how temple restoration activities had to go hand in hand with social rehabilitation. 

TN CM’s mandate to Venu
For long after his involvement in Nava Tirupathi, he was focused on restoration work south of the Vaigai until one day, a few years ago he got a call that truly stunned him.  The former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Late Mrs. J Jayalalitha was on a mission to restore the Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangam to its ancient glory. She had heard of the outstanding work Venu Srinivasan had undertaken in Nava Tirupathi. And as he picked the call from her office, he was told that the then CM was keen to have him lead the restoration exercise at the Srirangam Temple. And the mandate to him as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees was to make this the biggest and the best restoration the temple has seen in the last 200 years.

He had a humongous task lying ahead of him. There were big challenges in Srirangam. Over the last century, far too many new constructions had come up (for a variety of reasons). Many of the sub shrines had remained locked for decades. Sacred pathways had been blocked with the growth of huge bushes. Toilets had been built in different corners of the temple.
Huge quantities of Mud, to the height of 10 feet, had gathered around the sub shrines and the base structures of these shrines had gone under.  The path way from Chakrathazhvaar Sannidhi to the Thayar Sannidhi through the Nandavanam remained closed for decades (except for Namperumal’s trip on the occasion of Panguni Uthiram and during Vasanthotsavam). The centuries old Granary on the Western side was seen in a completely dilapidated condition. Sesharayar Mandapam at the Eastern entrance, opposite the 1000 Pillar Mandapam too lay under the mud. Every sub shrine posed a unique challenge of its own.

Added to these were the human conflicts. Expert opinions with multiple views came from all corners, free and at great speed!!! And being a living structure, especially one where upwards of 40000 devotees turn up on festive days and over the weekend, one had to ensure that they were put to the least inconvenience.

He remained unfazed to one of the biggest challenging exercises he had undertaken in his life. One has to have forbearance in public places, especially in temples and if one is not prepared for bricks, mud and stones, one cannot do public service is a strong message he has had for himself ever since he began engaging in temple restoration activities.

Venu falls full length at the feet of Service Personnel!!!
There were times during this restoration process when Venu Srinivasan fell full length at the feet of opposing parties in full public view for the sake of bringing the temple back to its ancient architectural glory, such was his devotional commitment to the Lord of Srirangam. The securing of the Sri Pandaram was one such effort.

Venu Srinivasan is grateful for the restoration experience he had had at Nava Tirupathi. That came in quite handy in managing and tackling a number of the challenges he faced during this huge exercise in Srirangam. Crediting his entire team, he says it was a massive collective effort and the speed of implementation was quite unbelievable.

Architectural beauty had to be maintained and ASI norms had to be applied ‘Every bit of activity went through this filter to bring it as close to antiquity as possible’ says Venu Srinivasan.

His experience as the chief of a corporate auto major too has clearly helped in this large scale restoration of the Srirangam temple. He believes that administrative principles applicable to organizations are relevant to this as well. Principles of Quality, Management, House Keeping, Time Keeping, Punctuality, Processes and Systems were applied in every aspect of this huge exercise.

The Revival
60000 tonnes of debris was removed during this period giving one an indication of the enormity of the task that he had undertaken. 
The 40+ sub shrines are now fully functional. The historic path way to the 1000 pillar mandapam from the Thayar Sannidhi through Periya Vachan Pillai Sannidhi is now open giving the devotees a glimpse of the architectural beauty of the 1000 Pillar Mandapam. 

The steps of Sesharayar Mandapam are now visible for the first time in decades. The restoration of the granary should delight any devotee who had seen its state a few years ago. 
Anyone who had visited the Sri Pandaram over the decades would have seen it as their favourite ‘prasadam’ stall. The removal of these temporary constructions that had come up in recent times led to the revealing of the ancient architecture of this 100 pillar zone.

The most remarkable piece of restoration took place at the Southern entrance of the temple. The removal of thick mud led to the revealing of the ancient base structures of a few of the sub shrines. It has now become a popular photo zone with the Raja Gopuram in the background.

It is unlikely that anyone else, other than Venu Srinivasan, could have pulled off such a huge restoration activity in this record time of 18 months. Among others, he credits Joint Commissioner Pon Jayaraman, who anchored the initiative within the temple, for making this restoration happen so smoothly.

Having completed the restoration end of 2015, he put in place strong processes that would help in the cleanliness of the temple right through the year. One finds a lot of green inside the temple and almost no dust within the huge temple complex. It was no wonder then that within 12hours of the Vaikunta Ekadasi festival this January, there was not a drop of garbage seen anywhere inside the huge temple complex, despite the presence of a couple of lakhs of devotees on that day.

In their praise, UNESCO’s Jury consisting of 9 international conservation experts stated that the conservation of temple has revived the extensive religious complex at the core of Srirangam temple town. ‘The project has revealed the original fabric of the shrines, water bodies and landscape within the temple’s four inner enclosures, which were once obscured under layers of inappropriate modern additions and tons of debris. Employing traditional construction materials and techniques, the restoration work was carried out in an authentic manner by local craftspeople in accordance with ancient building principles and rites.’ 
To him the feedback from the devotees is the biggest blessing that he could receive for his engagement in this exercise. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman visited the temple in February 2016, just 3 months after the completion of the restoration and was truly stunned at what she saw and how different it was back from her college days in the 1970s. She commended Venu Srinivasan for his efforts and called it a 'Great Public Service' to get such a large temple back to its ancient architectural glory. 
For all his untiring hard work, Venu Srinivasan looks back at this entire experience with a lot of humility, typical of the TVS family ‘I have been appointed as a servant of the devotees.  And I have tried to carry out my duty to the best of my ability and as sincerely as possible. Ultimate satisfaction comes from the fact that devotees have found the temple clean and neat and have gone back happy after the darshan.’

He says that the UNESCO award for the Srirangam Temple is a matter of great pride for Tamil Nadu ‘It vindicates processes that were followed in the restoration bringing it back to its old glory’.



"The path of service to man and God is littered with stones, thorns, scorpions and other painful creatures. Our Gurus tell us that we should put our faith in Him and proceed purposefully without looking on either side, fixated only on the goal. With Swami's grace, I have tried to do so" says Venu Srinivasan on the Restoration and Developmental initiatives at the Srirangam Temple

UNESCO’s Jury hoped that the temple would share the restoration lessons to encourage other heritage conservation efforts not just in India but also throughout the Asia Pacific region. And that was ultimate commendation for this truly large initiative that has now become a global role model for all other such temple restoration exercises.

( A version of the UNESCO award story featured today in The Hindu Friday Review)

10 comments:

markiv said...

Namaskaram, Thank you for writing such an inspiring article. Ramanujar , Thayar and Perumal's kataksham may always be on Is Venu Srinivasan, he would be feeling a great sense of fulfilment with this kainkaryam. Hope each one uf get such opportunities
however small may be the kainkaryam. Adiiyen !

venkatesan said...

Great job and service to the Lord and the public, indeed! Nice write up.
As Usual, Only Venu Srinivasan could do it.
Rightly Late CM chose him for this -True to Kural -இதனை இவன் முடிக்கும் என்றாய்ந்து அதனை அவன் கண் விடல்..

Unknown said...

Simply great service (achievement).
He will do many more things.
Whatever happens I pray GOD all-ways be with him.

Unknown said...

Venu sir very very important temple tamil nadu.. Great job and service to the lord and the public.. A

Anonymous said...

This also shows how the crooked anti Hindu groups will go to any extent to discourage, throw mud at people who are doing this out of dedication to the community as well as the religion. Every thing related to the hindu temple, religious activities should be left to the people who have immense faith in the religion and out of the hindu hating pseudo atheist political organizations. Only those who swear by the Hindu religious beliefs should be allowed to take part and the activities can be made as non remunerative.

Rangarajan S said...

I admire Venu's contribution to Srirangam Temple ! But having seen the more difficult and commendable work at Nava Thiruppathi, SRGM is nothing.. in a lighter vein, SRGM had a foundation,admn structure , vast no of committed devotees who are staying in.... Navathirupathy temples had none of these..Iyengar locals had vacated and temples were in ruins..no Deekshithar Parijarakars in reqd strength and age...it was a pathetic sight when I visited in 1985 and what a difference in 2005 and 2010 ! Even today I hear. He had posted an Accounts Manager to administer the maintan ance ...day to day...that is the need of the hour for 1000s of Perumal and Eswaran Koils in TN ! To hell with HR&CE ....Long live Venu Srinivasan !

Anonymous said...

Splendid work done by him and we wish him Lord Perumal should give him long life.

Balaji said...

He his very great person to do.he has done excellent work on the temple renovation of Srirangam tempel.3 cheers to shir.veenu srinivasan ji.long live.

Unknown said...

DHARMA RAMA AND ALL OTHERS achieved.TRUTH alone TRIUMPH.

R Rangarajan said...

Great work done, which was need of an hour, Ranga Mannar will protect dharma from all evil firce.