TIRUCHY: Srirangam Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple has a special place in the Vaishnavite tradition and beliefs.
Over the centuries, several dynasties have enriched the heritage of Srirangam temple by contributing in the form of art on temple ceilings and walls. As the purpose of the intricate murals sporadically found in the temple is to educate the generations to come, about the practices of the past, the present state of murals in Thaayar shrine is most unlikely to serve the purpose.
Around 50 per cent of the 400-year-old murals, believed to have beeen painted during the period of Nayaka rulers of the Vijayanagar Empire, have already faded away. Archaeological enthusiasts have requested the Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments (HR&CE)and Archaeology departments to refurbish the remaining but fading murals.
The work around the sanctorum of Ranganayaki shrine, likely to have been painted during the reign of Vijayanagar Empire, can be spotted on the ceilings and as well as the left walls of Serthi, Vasantha and Oonjal Mandapams.
According to H Sudarshan, a representative of Tamil Nadu Heritage Forum in Srirangam, the murals depict the Bhagavatham, one of the 18 greatest Hindu texts, and deal with various Vaishnavite beliefs, including incarnations of Lord Vishnu.
Besides the literature, even the daily rituals of the temple and the grand receptions given to Vijayanagara kings and the Nayaks have been painted as murals using natural dyes.
However, lack of maintenance over the years have distorted half the murals, including the ones on Gajendra Moksha and Churning of the Ocean of Milk for elixir.
“If the murals are preserved properly, we can get to know about the clothes, jewels, weapons, and the traditions of our forefathers. Decades down the lane, even an iota of these murals will be revered as treasure, provided we take measures now to preserve them,” Sudarshan told Express.
The murals found near Thayaar shrine were not the lone paintings of the Vijayanagar era. Similar centuries-old murals on the daily rituals of Srirangam temple, and even the donations received by the temple, can be seen depicted on the ceiling of Ranga Ranga Gopuram, Ramanujar shrine and Yaana Vahana Mandapam. These are also fading, and in dire need of restoration.
Since photography is strictly prohibited in a few of the areas, archaeology enthusiasts said at least photography should be allowed as it would be useful when it comes to restoration of paintings in the traditional manner.
“These murals were made using tempera technique, where the dye extracted from vegetables and plants would be applied over an outline made of glue. If not maintained well, the dye would fade. But the glue would be intact. These murals have not been touched for over three decades now,” said K Sridaran, a retired Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) deputy director.
Apart from the natural process that erodes the murals, including seepage of rainwater, devotees play a substantial role in the destruction as they light up the oil lamps beneath the paintings. Experts said the smoke of oil lamps would damage the murals.
Archaeologists said the murals at Kailasanathar Temple in Kancheepuram and Brihadeeswarar Temple in Thanjavur were refurbished in the recent past by the ASI chemical branch.
When contacted, official sources in the HR&CE said, “Temple authorities are technically and financially prepared to do the refurbishment works. Even HR&CE has constituted a separate committee to look after the centuries-old murals, but we have a few legal constraints in beginning the renovation. It will be undertaken at the earliest.”