ASI to resume restoration of Bateshwar temple complex in Chambal
Six years after the restoration work on the 1200-year-old Bateshwar temple complex in the dense forest area of Chambal region of Madhya Pradesh stopped because of illegal mining activities, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has decided to restart the restoration project ‘very soon’.
The decision has been taken after the Prime Minister’s Office intervened in the matter on the complaints of the Gujjar community across the country that the temple complex is in dire need of restoration.
Spread across 25 acres, it was declared a ‘protected monument’ by the ASI in 1924. But the restoration of the complex which houses about 200 sandstone temples could not be started till 2004 due to the fear of dacoit gangs in the area.
In an unusual turn of events, a former ASI official roped in dreaded dacoit Nirbhay Singh Gujjar in 2004 to start the restoration work for the first time.
“When I saw Nirbhay Gujjar for the first time in 2004, he was smoking a bidi on the stairs of the temple complex. I didn’t recognise him and admonished him for bringing disrespect to a holy place,” noted archaeologist KK Muhammed who was in-charge of the Bhopal Circle of ASI, remembers.
Muhammed’s associates, who had accompanied him to the site, told him that it was actually a dreaded dacoit whom he had scolded.
“I somehow handled the situation and requested Gujjar to help us restore the temple. I told him that the complex was constructed by his forefathers of Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty between 9th to 11th century,” added Muhammed, who was transferred from Bhopal to Delhi in 2010. He retired in 2012.
ASI officials say that Nirbhay Gujjar and his gang provided much help for the restoration work until the dacoit was killed in 2005 in an encounter with the police. In another couple of years, all the dacoits were either eliminated or surrendered.
Although the area became free of dacoits, the temple complex came under threat from the illegal mining and the associated use of dynamite.
“When dynamite is used in mines, it creates earthquake like vibrations and damage the temple,” says a senior official of the ASI requesting anonymity.
Out of the 200 temples, 80 were restored by 2012. People familiar with the restoration work alleged that mining lobby put pressure on the local administration to go soft on them which derailed the restoration work. The mining is for building materials.
Muhammed, who in his recently release book, ‘Main Hoon Bhartiya’ has also alleged that powerful mining lobby did not allow temple restoration work to on go and he himself made several attempts to get the mining work stopped.
A few months ago some locals and villagers of Gujjar community started a nationwide signature campaign for the temple complex’s restoration and then petitioned the Prime Minister’s office. The PMO forwarded it to the Union ministry of culture which asked ASI to look into it.
In a latest communication dates May 3, the ASI has informed the petitioners that in the financial year of 2018-19, arrangement has been made to start the restoration work of the temple complex.
A senior ASI official who requested anonymity, said, “We can’t use all our resources on one temple as with limited money we have to do the conservation work of other monuments as well. So we have devised a phase-wise restoration plan under which we will start the restoration work very soon.”