The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) pushed back against allegations that it may have deliberately replaced some of the stone sculptures on the surface of Odisha’s Sun Temple at Konark with plain stone slabs.
The ASI put out tweets late Monday night. The first one stated: The tweet regarding the replacement of sculptures with plain stones is false and misleading. The 2 images shown in the tweet are from different locations. The image with sculptures is from Natya Mandapa while the plain stones images are from the plinth of Jagmohana (the main temple).
Sources in ASI said the reaction came in response to a tweet by an individual, who put up two pictures of the outer walls of Konark, one with intricate sculptures and the other showing plain stones. The picture of sculptures was labelled “Konark then”, while the picture of plain stones was labelled as “Konark now”.
INTACH state project coordinator Anil Dhir, who has done extensive research on the Sun Temple, supported ASI stating, “Yes, they are correct. The picture of the sculpture portion is not a previous version of the picture showing plain stones”.
The two tweeted pictures were accompanied with the words: “Kalapahad’s soul must be satisfied today. We did it. We fulfilled his dream of breaking Konark.
The tweet regarding replacement of sculptures with plain stones is false and misleading. The 2 images shown in the tweet are from different locations. The image with sculptures is from Natya Mandapa while the plain stones images are from the plinth of Jagmohana (the main temple). pic.twitter.com/FcT2Hih60k
— Archaeological Survey of India (@ASIGoI) February 10, 2020
As per historians, Kalapahad was a Muslim general who allegedly attacked Puri’s Shree Jagannath Temple and also tried to demolish the Sun Temple. The tweet went viral Monday evening, with multiple platform users questioning why ASI had installed plain stones.
Explaining its position, the ASI’ second tweet also stated: “The plain stonework shown in the image was done in the mid-1980s. ASI used plain stone only wherein there was no evidence left & as per ASI’s the then archaeological policy only such portions were filled with plain stones. ASI would like to confirm that no sculpture has been replaced.”
ASI members cited Clause 4.11 of the ASI guideline, National Policy for Conservation of the ancient monuments, archaeological sites and Remains, which states: Replacement may only be undertaken to prevent further deterioration, the formation of faults or decay of other portions of the structure. This aspect may be borne in mind while replacing a structural or an architectural member. Missing or damaged sculptures, idols, wall paintings, inscriptions, etc., should not be replaced or attempted to be completed.
Clause 3.08 of the same document also lays down the principle for conservation as: Interventions such as restoration, consolidation, reproduction and retrofitting carried out within a monument should, as far as possible, be clearly discernible as a later alteration/repair/restoration, etc., to be able to clearly identify them from the original fabric of the structure.
In 2018, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had written to Union Minister for Culture, Mahesh Sharma, highlighting alleged irregularities in the Archaeological Survey of India’s restoration of Konark Temple, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.
Citing a regional news report, Patnaik had written, “40% of the artistic stone carvings of the existing Konark Sun Temple have been replaced by the ASI with plain stones”. Calling the findings a matter of “concern and worry”, the CM had stated that the temple carvings symbolise “Odia pride”.
Principal Secretary of Odia Language Literature and Culture Department, Manoranjan Panigrahi, told Express, “There was a follow-up meeting to the letter. Odisha’s Tourism Minister had met ASI officials, who had flatly denied that they had replaced existing sculptures with plain stones”.
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