The dispute between the Odisha government and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) over restoration work on the Sun Temple at Konark has dragged in Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi. The 13th century Sun Temple, conceived as a gigantic solar chariot with 12 pairs of ornamented wheels dragged by seven horses, is in the eye of a storm over allegations that the stone carvings on the outer surface are being replaced with plain blocks of stones, causing irreplaceable loss to the uniqueness of the temple. The state government plans to take up the matter with the ASI Director General and set up an expert committee to look into the matter.
On Saturday, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik wrote 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.
Patnaik wrote that as per a regional news report “40% of the artistic stone carvings of the existing Konark Sun Temple have been replaced by the ASI with plain stones”. The CM added that the report is a matter of “concern and worry”, stating that the temple carvings symbolise “Odia pride” and are “embellished with sophisticated and refined iconographical depictions of contemporary life and activities”.
Sources in Bhubaneswar’s ASI circle told The Indian Express they were prepared to state that no restoration rules had been violated, if asked for an explanation by the Culture Ministry. According to ASI, UNESCO guidelines on restoration of World Heritage Sites mandate that when an original stone carving is lost, it cannot be replicated. Odisha’s Tourism Minister Ashok Panda on Tuesday alleged that the ASI had previously violated restoration guidelines while working on Humayun’s Tomb.
“In relation to stones that are being replaced, if the Act was bent for Humayun’s Tomb, why not for us (Konark)?” asked Panda. Panda’s charge has found support among a section of historians and conservationists.
Anil Dhir, who has researched on the Sun Temple extensively, told The Indian Express that “rules were bent for Humayun’s Tomb and carvings were replicated because Aga Khan Foundation lobbied for it”.
While the foundation was not available for comment, its India chapter website mentions “the (conservation) plan (on Humayun’s Tomb Complex) was implemented by master craftsmen using traditional tools, craft techniques and building materials”. However, Dhir said replicating original representations could cost the Sun Temple its heritage tag.
“As a signatory of UNESCO conventions, it is mandated that ASI cannot replicate original representations (carvings). The understanding is that as monuments deteriorate, if one keeps on replicating then nothing original will remain”.
Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) State Convenor Ameya Bhushan Tripathy said: “This is a very sensitive matter for the people of Odisha The ASI DG will be invited after December 15 to settle this matter, while we prepare a paper on this subject”.
Dhir also alleged that ASI has disregarded various expert committee suggestions over decades for chemical restorative work, removal of surrounding sand and introduction of endoscopic video cameras to assess the interior of the temple. He also alleged that the stones used in restoration do not match the quality of the original stone blocks, which are still available in the Pathar Bhua Canal nearby.
Commenting on the Konark restoration, Superintending Archaeologist (ASI) Arun Mallick said, “ASI has not taken any stones (carvings). Whatever stones were missing, the gaps were filled using stones available in the area”.