By Dr. K. Javeed Nayeem, MD
Over the past two weeks I have written about interesting history of the two centuries-old Lushington Bridge across the River Cauvery at Shivanasamudra and how it is now being restored in a most sloppy and disgraceful way. Unless some of us who happen to be heritage-conscious citizens, step in quickly and stop the work that is already going on there, we will end up having the worst example of how any ancient structure or monument should not be handled in the name of saving it.
To do this we may have to nudge our leaders awake from their state of complete insensitivity to the wrong that is happening right under their noses with public funds…….. before it is too late! Dismayed as I am with this matter I have another cause to feel anxious about now. There was a report in the press recently that the almost equally old and structurally very similar Wellesley Bridge that spans the very same Cauvery River at Srirangapatna is also likely to be repaired and strengthened by our State Government to preserve it for posterity as a monument of some historical significance.
Yes this very quaint edifice is in much need of some repair and restoration considering the fact that it is in much danger, more because of man’s neglect than nature’s fury in the form of the annual flood waters that it has to face and withstand year after year.
Now you may ask me why I am dismayed over this proposal to repair it when on the contrary I should have felt elated about it. The reason for my anxiety is that when I have seen how inappropriately the restoration work is being done on the Lushington Bridge right now, I have a gut feeling that we may soon see the same ineptitude being replicated on the Wellesley Bridge too!
The most notable and unfortunate thing here is that although a great many monuments in and around Srirangapatna are under the protection of the Archaeological Survey of India, the Wellesley Bridge is not. Its repair work can therefore end up getting entrusted to any ordinary civil contractor who can pull the right strings and perhaps push some wads of currency notes across to the right people in power and bag the contract for the repair work.
Since there will be no knowledgeable agency to oversee this work and ensure that it is done without altering the antique character of the ancient bridge, we are very likely to end up seeing a mockery of what it once was. If this has to be prevented citizens should step in and prevail upon the State Government either to entrust this bridge also to the Archaeological Survey of India like the rest of the other monuments close to it or at least get the restoration work done under its direct supervision.
Getting some special attention by some capable and qualified agencies for this work may no doubt be a little expensive. But I’m sure that if we approach some of our major industrial and IT giants that are thriving in our State, they may be more than willing to not only sponsor its restoration but also take over its regular upkeep itself under their CSR work. And while we are talking about the repair and restoration of the two bridges across the Cauvery we can also ensure that the now defunct but very imposing rail-cum-road bridge that spans the Kapila River near Nanjangud too not only gets a facelift but also the bonus of continued maintenance through a similar arrangement.
Thankfully, there’s no dearth of large industrial establishments around it who may be more than willing to take this responsibility if approached by our Government. While talking of botched up restorations, albeit with some very good intentions, I can think of no other example than of the shifting of the ancient Sri Venugopalaswamy Temple that was for more than eight decades submerged in its backwaters after the Krishna Raja Sagar Dam was built.
Thanks to the sponsorship of the industrial house of the Khodays, this relocation was accomplished successfully. But while most people may feel happy about it I can only feel more than a little disappointed with the end result of this massive operation. I used to see and admire the crumbling but cute temple every time I used to visit the environs of the place with my fascination for exploring ancient ruins. On more than one occasion I also visited the site to see how its relocation work was going on and initially I was very pleased that every stone that had a place in the outer ornamentation of the temple, was being meticulously numbered and its position photographed before being moved.
I naturally thought that all these stones would be just as meticulously reassembled at the new location. But when I saw the end result I found that all the old stones too had been uniformly polished to match the new stones, giving the entire edifice the look of a newly built structure. While some people may feel happy that a long lost temple has now been preserved for all time to come, I beg to differ. For me, the quaint look of the temple has vanished completely, destroying its once inherent beauty and charm, for all time to come! This is a loss not all can understand. What the mind does not know, the eye simply does not see!
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