Restorers cover up cracks at Shore temple

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The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has begun restoration of Shore Temple at Mamallapuram, about 60 km south of Chennai, after the Pallava-era temple was hit by huge waves and inundated on June 19. 

The Shore Temple [Credit: Wiki Commons]

Archaeologists said restoration was required as cracks had appeared on the monument, which dates back to 7th century AD. Salt content in the sea water led to formation of cracks in the granite structure and they were being sealed using paper pulp as it absorbs salt from the structure and prevents it from becoming brittle. 

Generally, ASI undertakes restoration of an monument only once in five years, but the damage to the temple was so severe that archaeologists undertook the work on a war-footing. Restoration of Shore temple was last done in 2010. The onslaught of more than 12-feet-high waves last month and salt-laden winds over the years had weakened the 45-foot-tall temple, experts said. 

Of the 32 monuments that got the world heritage tag in Mamallapuram in 1983, the Shore Temple is the only structure located close to the sea. “The problem of corrosion is a recurring one, especially for monuments close to the sea. Water seeps in through small cracks in the structure. Soon, the cracks widen and ultimately the structure is weakened. So, we have to repair it immediately,” said sources in ASI (Chennai circle). 

At present, archaeologists are desalinating the lower portions of the ‘keel vimana’, compound wall, ‘chinna vimana’ and areas around the basement as they were under sea water for almost a week. The presence of salt particles (absorbed from the sea water) will be high in the lower portion of the temple. 

Salt particles are extracted from the structure using a wet blotting paper. The paper is then soaked in distilled water and crushed in a wet cloth. The crushed paper is again soaked in distilled water and made into a pulp, taken to the site and applied on the structure. Before the application, ASI workers clean the temple with distilled water to remove algae and dust. Distilled water is used because the salt in groundwater adds to the salt on the monument. The applied pulp is left to dry for five days before being peeled off and tested in ASI labs in Chennai to identify how much salt has been extracted. 

The structure is also tested for salinity and wetness. It is labour-intensive and takes more than two weeks to desalinate a small patch. After desalination, a silicon-based water repellent chemical coating is applied to ensure the monument does not absorb water. 

Of the 440 monuments maintained by ASI in Tamil Nadu, there are more than 200 monuments in Kancheepuram, including the 32 sites in Mamallapuram. 

Author: D. Madhavan | Source: The Times of India [July 09, 2012]

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