Destroyed 6th-century heritage site, says INTACH on 2 Koraput temples in Odisha
According to the official, the Vishnu temple at Gorahandi dates back to the 6th-8th century, the period when the region of the undivided Koraput district was under the sway of the Nala Dynasty and just three km from Gorahandi had an ancient Jain temple of the early Kalinga dynasty
The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) has alleged that two heritage temples including a 6th-century Vishnu temple in Odisha’s Koraput district have been destroyed.
INTACH state project coordinator Anil Dhir, who, along with other members, visited the Vishnu temple at Gorahandi and the Jain temple at Phupugam of Koraput district on Sunday, said the old temples were completely dismantled and their stone blocks scattered all over the agricultural field.
According to the official, the Vishnu temple at Gorahandi dates back to the 6th-8th century, when the region of the undivided Koraput district was under the sway of the Nala Dynasty and just three km from Gorahandi which had an ancient Jain temple.
Dhir and his team of heritage enthusiasts, who learnt about these temples a year ago, said they alerted the state archaeology department. However, during Sunday’s visit to the sites, they found both temples dismantled.
“We found at both places the entire ancient structures had been dismantled, and the old stone blocks being chiselled and polished to make a new structure,” said Dhir, who visited the site with former IAS officer and INTACH member, Sanjib Hota, Ajit Patro, Deepak Nayak and Bikram Kumar Nayak.
He said that all the carvings and embellishments of the earlier temples were totally destroyed and the ancient images of Chaturbhuja Vishnu and Jain Tirthankara were also removed.
“Except for the carved door jambs, the entire decorative motifs have been destroyed,” Dhir added.
Koraput district culture officer Preeti Sudha Juna, however, insisted that the department wasn’t to be blamed. “I am hearing about it for the first time,” she said.
District collector Abdal m Akhtar said he was not aware of such temples in the area. “Had I been informed about it, I could have done something…. Many times local people also do it as they worship idols kept in such monuments,” he said.
INTACH said it had flagged the need to preserve the temples to the administration and wondered if it led to their destruction. “We feel guilty about highlighting their neglect. They had stood the test of time for nearly 16-17 centuries and our activism resulted in them being totally destroyed,” INTACH member Deepak Nayak said.
Nayak said the conservation work was done in an unscientific manner by semi-skilled persons. “It seems that no archaeological expert visited the place. The dismantling of two of the earliest stone temples is a cultural genocide. The job of state archaeology was to conserve, preserve and restore the ancient temple, not to reconstruct it,” he said.
Dhir lamented that no professional archaeologist or heritage expert would demolish the old structures and make a new one in its place, adding that both the old temples were in a restorable state and could have been conserved in their original form without causing any damage.
“Little can be done now. The ancient images of both temples are now kept in the open, vulnerable to theft. There is no clue when the half-finished work will be completed. The best would have been to keep the old temples intact and make new ones where the images could have been secured,” he said.