Expert’s heart bleeds for lost monuments

Chennai: “Instead of celebrating World Heritage Day (18 April), we are put to shame on this day for not preserving our ancient monuments and plundering them,” says Dr R Nagaswamy, former Director of Archaeology, Government of Tamilnadu.

Nagaswamy, an archaeologist, epigraphist and a historian headed the then newly-formed Tamilnadu Archaeology Department. He is well-known for his work on temple inscriptions. He was also instrumental in starting the annual Chidambaram Natyanjali festival in 1980.

Nagaswamy defines the word heritage as something that has transformed from the early to the modern times and has become a part of our lives. He says sadly, “Unfortunately in Tamilnadu, 1,000-year-old temples are being destroyed, altered and mutilated. Excellent sculptures are being thrown out. What has been our heritage has been destroyed in more than 200 temples.”

He says very poor archaeological approach has caused immense damage to our ancient structures and he urges the officials to put an end to this. He also mentions about the Madras High Court order that said the government should not do anything to old temples and monuments unless it thought any delay would result in the collapse of the ancient structure itself. Nagaswamy was a part of the committee that visited several temples in the State and submitted reports to the court.

On speaking of ways to reverse the apathy, Nagaswamy says that scientific approach is needed while dealing with ancient monuments. No excuse can be accepted for alteration of these structures in the name of repair.

“More planning must be involved by which less money can be spent while taking care of our heritage structures,” he says. He suggests that scientific labs and institutions must train scientists on preserving such buildings.

Nagaswamy, who was instrumental in restoring the Thirumalai Nayak Mahal in Madurai, says that “Unless the public, along with the Central and State governments, rise up to protect and preserve our heritage, the current situation will deteriorate.”


HIGGINBOTHAMS – This is the oldest book store in our city and was formed in 1844 by Abel Joshua Higginbothams. It is an Indian company that was started by the British under their rule. Even today, the structure remains almost the same with workers taking good care of it.

KARL SCHMIDT MEMORIAL – Located on Elliot’s beach, this architectural landmark was built in 1930 commemorating a European sailor who drowned trying to save the life of a girl. It stands without a stone foundation and was built using bricks. This and the sea water have caused the structure to deteriorate.

LIC – This building serves as a landmark for Chennai. This 15-storey skyscraper, inaugurated in 1959, was the first-of-its-kind in the city.

ST THOMAS MOUNT CHURCH – The ancient church on top of St Thomas Mount served as the lighthouse for Portuguese and Armenian ships and vessels in the Bay of Bengal in the 16th and 17th centuries. From then till today, devotees throng this church.

SANTHOME BASILLICA – It was built in the early 16th century over the tomb if St Thomas, one of the 12 apostles of Jesus and in 1893 it was rebuilt as a church.

MADRAS HIGH COURT – The present High Court building was inaugurated in 12 July 1892. The building has a unique Indo-Saracenic architecture. The old lighthouse housed within the court campus is poorly maintained and its restoration works are being undertaken.

MADRAS MUSEUM – It was started in 1851 and is the second oldest museum in India. The museum complex consists of six buildings and 46 galleries.

THOUSAND LIGHTS MOSQUE – It was built by Nawab Umdat-ul-Umra in 1810. Thousand lights are needed to illuminate this mosque and hence the name.


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