Stones tell a story

By Nanditta chibber
Published: Monday 31 March 2008

Stones tell a story

The Bateshwar temple ruins, near Malanpur industrial area in Morena district were a hideout for generations of dacoits. Though the archaeological survey notified it as a protected site in 1920, there was no restoration work before January 2005 because all attempts by the archaeological survey to take possession of the site was met with stiff opposition. But according to Muhammed, "The presence of dacoit gangs was actually a boon because artifacts were preserved within the temple complex."

Archaeological survey officials recall that dacoits would keep vigil while restoration work was underway. Once in a while, a few dacoits also pitched in with labour. The presence of Gujjar's gang around the temple complex area kept the mining mafia at bay. But this was till November 2006 when the Uttar Pradesh Special Task Force killed Gujjar.

Illegal sandstone mining began soon after--according to a state government estimate the illegal mining business was approximately Rs 1,000 crore. Blasts from explosives used for mining sandstone quarries caused massive vibrations, damaging the newly restructured temples.

The Archaeological Survey of India had estimated 100 odd temples in the complex, but there could be as many as 400 temples in the debris

A worried Muhammed wrote to Madhya Pradesh's minister for tourism, Yashodharaje Scindia who immediately ordered mining activities to stop. But Scindia was soon elected as Member of Parliament and had to give up her post as the state tourism minister. The mining mafia resumed its activities again.

Muhammed made repeated requests to various officials of the state government and the district administration. He wrote several letters to Laxmikant Sharma, minister of state for mineral resources, Akash Tripathi, Morena district's collector, Abha Asthana, secretary, state department of tourism and culture and again to Scindia requesting them to take action against the mining mafia who was using all its muscle power and money power to intimidate archaeological survey workers. But all this came to little avail. Restoration work on the Bateshwar temples was stalled for most of 2007.

In desperation, Muhammed asked the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (rss) chief K C Sudarshan to intervene. He explained how the archaeological survey was making efforts to restore the ancient temples and that even dacoits had pitched in the endeavour. "I tried my best to get the issue sorted out at all possible levels before approaching the rss chief. I thought the organization would take interest in protecting the ancient Hindu temples."

The request to the rss chief had the desired result the state government stopped illegal mining in the area. The archaeological survey had also sent a detailed note of the events at Bateshwar since restoration work started in January 2005 to its headquarters in Delhi and the information was passed on to Ambika Soni, Union minister for tourism.
Fitting the jigsaw  
Local lore has it that the Bateshwar temple was once called the Bhooteshwar temple. According to the Archaeological Survey of India, most of the temples are dedicated to Shiva and date to the 8th century AD. The Bateshwar ruins are spread over a square kilometre near the Chambal River.

The archaeological survey has two theories about the destruction of the complex. Some archaeologists in the organization say that an earthquake destroyed the complex. Others say that the Chambal river changed course and submerged a part of the Bateshwar temple complex. The archaeological survey has, however, no hard evidence to prove either theory.

When the organization began restoration in January 2005, experts there estimated that there were 108 temples in the complex but as they cleared the area, it struck the archaeologists that there could be as many as 300-400 temples.

"Restoring each temple was like solving a complex jigsaw puzzle," says Muhammed. "We had to build them from scratch, since we did not have any map or drawing of the original complex," he adds.

The key for the archaeological survey team was to find stones that would fit into a particular structure. It was a tedious process. But archaeologists say that chances of stones from one temple fitting another are remote.
Soni wrote a letter to Shivraj Singh Chauhan, chief minister, Madhya Pradesh, saying "you know about the Bateshwar temples and the illegal mining damaging the temple complex. Even though, the Madhya Pradesh government including the secretary, collector and the police were informed, no action was taken to stop mining. Though Yashodhraje stopped illegal mining for some time, it has started again. There have been complaints of use of muscle power by the mining mafia against the archaeological survey."

Mining stopped, but the Madhya Pradesh chief minister was very displeased with Muhammed for writing to the rss chief. He was also peeved at being chastised by the union minister for tourism. There were even plans to suspend Muhammed. But sources say they have been shelved.

Twenty five temples have been restored at the Bateshwar complex. The effort cost the government Rs 40 lakh. The archaeological survey now intends to restore 108 more temples at the site but faces a fund crunch. The union tourism ministry has allotted Rs 2 crore for improving infrastructure in the area. Muhammed has written to the ministry to sanction another 1 crore from special tourism funds.

Archaeological survey officials estimate that it will take another five years before the project is completed. Muhammed has visualized an important temple tourist spot on the Delhi-Agra-Gwalior tourist map, once the ancient temples are restored.

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