CTC Emperors Trip to restore a historic place

Friday, June 29, 2012

CTC Emperors Trip to restore a historic place

Write-up from Chandra

The visit to historic Gingee Fort for sight-seeing on 5th May 2012 and to Devanoor Temple on 5th-6th May for clearing debris strewn around the dilapidated temple and its ruins was memorable. As we stood at the foot of the impressive and steep monolithic rock outcrop with the fort at the hilltop, the long history that went before the hill came to our mind. Starting from the jains who used to live around the hill from before the Christian era and the Pallavas, the Cholas, the Hoysalas, the Vijayanagar Kings, the Nayaks (Mahrattas), the Mughals, the French and the British who followed them in the region till now came before our mind. The Gingee Fort is always however identified with the heroic Raja Tesing, a Rajput Satrap of the Mughals from Bundelkhand, who rebelled and was killed in battle with the Mughals heroically leaving his Rani to commit Suttee. The ruins of the fort with the handiwork of several dynasties of Hindu, Mughal and foreign rulers showed us the tempo- rariness of all power. The visit to the hill top fort and back in excruciating heat was however followed by a heavenly dip in a spacious country well followed by a heavy lunch.

On reaching the Devanoor temple, we learnt that our temple work has to be postponed to the next day as that day being Chitra Pournami, the local villagers will be assembling for their pongal ceremony and after evening puja will have a night-long utsavam, to which all of us were invited. After visiting the temple sanctum with a large Siva Lingam, we retired to a nearby school for rest from the hot afternoon sun. In the evening a few of us visited the temple again to see the puja ceremony in progress and returned for dinner and retiring for sleep under the open sky on the school playground. The temple work started in right earnest from 6:30 am the next day morning onwards with all the team-members lending hand in loosening the debris with crobars, picks and showels and transferring the loosened debris in metal basins along a human chain to be thrown beyond the area of ruins, so that the space around the temple can be cleared of all debris for future repair, reconstruction and renovation work by experts. After a late breakfast the work ended around noon and the team retired for a quick bath. 

The team then separated into two groups after exchanging farewells, one group of 5 members which came by car and the other comprising eight members i.e. motor bike riders and their pillion-mates. The car group left at 1:30 am and with lunch on the way reached Chennai around 5:30pm while the other group waited for the afternoon heat to subside somewhat and then started in the late afternoon reaching Chennai at night. The team with the youngest member Abdul being about 17-18  yrs old and the oldest member, myself, 64 yrs old, was a very enthusiastic and enjoyable one with able leadership of Mano and Ankit with the treasury handled professionally by Sandhya. 

All in all, the team had a hectic though enjoyable trip hankering for another one soon. 

Digging up the Past  --- Write up from Sandhiya 

“In the end, our society will be defined not only by what we create, but what we refuse to destroy.”   — John Sawhill, CEO – The Nature Conservancy

Long long ago, very long ago, a King built a fort on top of a hill. Then he went about building more peripheral structures and among them, some temples too. Another King who ruled in the neighborhood got very annoyed at the progress that his neighbor was making. So he called his Army for support, took over all of his neighbors’ territory and destroyed the structures he thought were too good to exist on Earth.One such structure, destroyed by a jealous invader, is the Devanur (Devanoor) Temple, located about 20kms away from Gingee (Tamil Nadu). Once upon a time, it stood as testimony to the sculpting skills of the Tamil artisans, but today, the Devanur Temple lies in ruins, buried under the accumulated dirt, sand, muck and vegetation of several centuries.

CTC and a few other organizations have taken it upon themselves to restore the buried beauty of this ancient structure. And that sets the stage for my fun-filled sun-grilled weekend 5th May 2012, 3:30AM, I call up my organizer only to hear that one of the cars we were supposed to drive got its windscreen smashed by a rogue coconut. Damage control ensued (we weren’t about to give up because of a coconut!!) and a substitute car was found promptly J Our trip began an hour late.We had 2 organizers – Ankit (who rode an Enfield Thunderbird) and Manoharan (on his “Definitely Male” Pulsar). Obviously, I left the car to plead with Ankit to give me a ride all the way :) And he did :)The sunny ride ended as we entered Gingee. The first half of the day was allotted exclusively for FUN. After a sumptuous breakfast at Vasanth Bhavan, we set out to see the “Raja Fort”. We climbed up and up the winding path, randomly clicking pictures of the fort walls, birds-eye view of the temple, quadrangle at the foothills, crumbling inner structures and the monkeys that accompanied us (both real Monkeys and our co-trekkers).

Water was in short supply but organizer Mano had thoughtfully brought some Oranges (safely stashed in his backpack to protect it from monkeys). After exploring the fort to our heart's content, we came back down with renewed gusto at the thought of drinking actual water :)
Post fort visit, we jumped into a local well (aka pump-set) which had water used by farmers for field irrigation. Next time someone asks you to “Go-jump-in-a-well”, say “Thank-you” and accept the invite. Wells are really worth swimming in :)Lunch was at Vasanth Bhavan again – Full meals or Tiffin based on your belly-capacity. :) After lunch, we set out to Devanur which is about an hour's ride away.

On arriving at the Temple where we were supposed to continue the restoration work, we were pleasantly surprised to see twinkle-lights and blaring loud-speakers – along with a hundred or more people. As fate may have it, we had landed at the temple on the night of “Chitra Pournami” - an auspicious day for the resident deity of the temple. The local village folk had gathered in the temple (although it was dilapidated) to cook pongal, biriyani etc.. and have a festival of sorts. In the midst of all this celebration, we felt we might look like exhibitionists if we started our digging/restoration work. So we decided to come back early next morning when the population had left.
One small detail caught our attention and caused us great grief here. The local villagers – although well meaning – seemed to suffer from the same disease as the city-bred Indians - The disease of dumping garbage anywhere except the dustbins. Their festive celebrations and cooking processes left a visible trail of plastic covers, masala wrappers, newspapers, plastic water bottles etc.. all within the premises of the very structure we were trying to clean up. Some even dumped the excess Biriyani and food under the trees. Pity they don't understand that Cleanliness (within and without) takes you closer to the creator than anything else.

So back to our story, since the festivities ruined our restoration plans, we came to a nearby school premises and decided to camp there for the night. To kill time in the evening, we played Cricket and Football :) I even got bike-riding lessons from the generous organizer Ankit – on his gleaming red Enfield. Oh boy – If I could relive those moments, I really would :) And although I don't play football, I contributed my bit by kicking the ball out of the boundary occasionally :)

After games, it was time for a refreshing bath again – in a pump set installed in the fields behind the school. Then we went out in search of food, found a local dhaba-sort-place, ate piping hot Dosas and brought back some for those keeping guard at our camp site (the school).
We made a Camp fire – or at least we tried. Finding sufficient dry wood in the middle of sugarcane fields is not an easy task and all we found were some thorn bushes. So the fire we started was Gone-in-60-seconds. But big deal :) We had maximum fun clicking pictures around it in a hurry before it went puuufffttt.. :) It was a warm night and we were happy when the fire died down – who wants more heat in summer??
We slept.Next morning, it was time for work. Some bothered to shower in the pump set again – others figured they were gonna get dirty anyway – so why bother? (I fall in the latter category 

After having some Tea and biscuits in a local shop, we filled up our water cans and set out to the temple. Work started.Digging up a buried temple is no easy task. Hands that felt the world through keyboards and touch-screens took a while to get accustomed to the spades, crowbars and bonds. The sun was shining down on us full steam. To make the task easier, we formed a human chain from the source of digging to the point of dumping the dug-out-rubble and played “passing the parcel” for the next 6 hours.Rotation was important – one person can't keep digging all the time and one person can't just pass filled/empty bonds for 6 hours. So with periodic replacement in ranks, we ensured that nobody got exhausted too soon or remained underused.

Not all fingers are the same size and similarly, different people in the group had different stamina levels. While the experienced and strong among us managed to move heavy stones, the smaller folk and women handled lighter loads. But the bottom-line was that everyone performed admirably to the best of their abilities. The only goal in our mind was the desire to restore a Historical structure and make it look as beautiful as it once did. And we were doing it, brick-by-brick, pillar-by-pillar, standing side-by-side.Chatting, joking and general comments kept the air lively and jovial. Regular supply of Tang, water and electral kept us hydrated. We were careful not to break/deface any of the carved stones we unearthed. Seeing our effort, some local villagers joined in. Then a small group from “Sulekha” also joined. With more hands to help, work moved fast :)

Mid morning, just as we were busily moving rubble, we had a special visitor :)A huge Scorpion, pitch Black in color with massive pouches of venom came rushing out of its hiding hole while we were digging. Some of us had never seen such a majestically scary creature. For the village bred people though, it was a common sight. After playing around with it for a while, we finally set it free in a far-away corner of the temple.
Brunch was served at 11:00AM :)
The menu : Idli, Sambar, Chutney, Poori, Potato Masala
The hard day's work had left us ravenous in hunger. We ate like we had never seen food before :)

Post lunch, work resumed. After clearing out a pretty long section of the structure's wall, we decided to call it a day at 1:00PM. The substitute car had to be returned to its owner early – so we set back to the school to shower and pack. The car left early, but the bike riders hung around a while for the sun's heat to abate. That was not likely to happen. So we left eventually, driving in the blazing sun, doing an average 80kmph in the deserted village roads. We made occasional stops for refreshments (Panam nongu, mangoes, juice etc), and reached the city by 7.
We were 12 in number from CTC, joined by 10 more from the village and Sulekha group. Together, we cleared up just one segment of the massive structure. Our contribution was negligible considering the size of work remaining. But we did contribute our little bit towards restoring history.  

There is a load more to do. If you guys feel the desire to help restore a historical place, if you wish to dabble in a bit of archeological work of if you just want to spend time with new people having fun and working, do volunteer for the next visit to Devanur. You'll have new respect for masons and labourers, and even more respect for the artisans who carved the stones. But more than anything else, you would have contributed towards preserving our country's history – for the very thing we pride ourselves on is buried beneath the rubble of our own negligence.

“In the end, our society will be defined not only by what we create, but what we refuse to destroy.”   — John Sawhill, CEO – The Nature Conservancy

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