Conservation Problems, Remedial Measures at Jagannath Temple, Puri


Jan 21, JAGANNATHA PURI, ORISSA (SUN) — The state of Orissa is a great repository of art and architecture. These historical edifices or cultural wealth have hoary antiquity datable from 3rd century B.C. to 16th/17th century A.D. Since these monuments are diverse in nature, the conservation problems too vary from one to the other.

One of the outstanding monuments of Orissa is the Jagannath Temple, Puri, located near the seashore. The stupendous Vaishnava Temple is dedicated to the trinity viz, Jagannath, Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra, but popularly it is known as the Jagannath Temple. The Temple is thought to have been constructed by Ananta Varman Chodaganga Deva, the illustrious king of the Ganga Dynasty in 12th century A.D. Presently, this temple is a centrally protected monument under Archeological Survey of India, Bhubaneswar Circle, since 1975, and they are responsible for its upkeep, maintenance and preservation, etc.

The edifice is not only the grandest but also a soaring surviving shrine of Orissa (approximately 66m high). This gigantic structure, along with other subsidiary shrines, were covered with coats of heavy lime plaster many times, thereby obscuring the beauty of pristine carvings of the monument. This heavy plastering was applied to the monument for the purpose of protecting it from saline breeze or salt-laden wind from the sea, which caused the condition of the monuments to be precarious and made the structures vulnerable to damage. The plaster of lime coat had became spongy and porous, so that it developed profuse leaks.

The entire Temple complex, being in the proximity of the sea, had suffered extensive erosion and corrosion. Co-mingled with these factors, lime plaster applied over the structures over the years caused it to lose its inherent strength and during the rainy season water penetration became more invasive to the entire fabric of the structure. This wet condition had accelerated the rusting of iron clamps and dowels and increased their volumes, thus resulting in cracks and structural damage to the stones. Monuments in one part of the structure may have also affected the other integrated parts of the structure, gradually creating tension throughout. The pressure exerted by the heavy weight of lime plaster has added to the structural damage and has weakened the stone underneath.

In addition to these problems, it may be reiterated that other deleterious factors are caused by the monument's being in such close proximity to the sea, and almost in the heavy rainfall zone of the Orissa coast. Consequently, the monument is susceptible to heavy penetration of rain water into its body fabric.

As observed from a study of the temple complex, perhaps the most ingenious and least understood form of decay in the stone is that caused by the migration and crystallization of soluble salts. The progression of salt migration depends on the cycles of wet and dry phases. Since the Temple had been covered with plaster many years after construction, the salt encrusted stones had not been removed before plastering and subsequently the applied coat of lime plaster itself might have been contaminated with salt. Thus the double action of salt on stone as well as on plaster continued to migrate as long as moisture is present. Accordingly, the salts themselves change the chemical balance of the stone they inhabit by absorbing moisture and accelerating the decay of the structure.

So with a view to examining the weakness and consolidation of the shrines of this monumental complex, an expert committee was constituted under the Chairmanship of Sri M.N. Deshpande, the-then Director General of the Archeological Survey of India in 1973. Subsequently, they undertook conservation of the Jagannatha temple in 1975, with the main objective to strengthen and consolidate this grand edifice by adopting conservation measures as per archeological norms, and to remove the unnecessary huge load of dead plaster which is no larger serving the purpose for which it was intended.

The deplastering and simultaneous conservation work which started from 1975 ended in 1992. The thickness of the lime plaster over the sanctum sanctorum was a maximum 45 cms. The same coat of lime plaster was also applied to other subsidiary shrines of the complex. Other important shrines having the plaster were Lakshmi Temple, Narasimha Temple, Surya Temple, Vimala Temple, Ganesha Temple, etc. Apart from the deplastering of the main sanctum of Jagannath Temple, the shrines mentioned above were prioritized for deplastaring and subsequent consolidation one after another. The removal of plaster was carried out by the traditional method of breaking the plaster from the wall with the help of chisel and wooden hammer. To protect the architectural beauty and fine carvings, due precautions were taken. Before reaching very close to the stone surface, hammering was stopped and the rest of the plaster was removed by hard pressure via the chisel.

The deplastered surface of the Jagannath Temple has brought to light a rich sculptural and architectural wealth similar to those of other temples of the Kalingan order. A most noteworthy discovery were the 24 forms of Vishnu carved on either side of pilasters of the Parsva devatas shrines, being represented standing on lotuses, each with 4 arms equipped with attributes, viz. sankha (conch), chakra (disc), gada (mace) and padma (lotus).

Side by side with the deplastering and conservation of Jagannath Temple, similar operations were undertaken in Narasimha, Surya, Ganesha and Vimala temples in the complex.

The conservation measures after removal of the lime plaster were carried out in 2 stages: (i) Structural Conservation and (ii) Chemical preservation.

(i) Structural Conservation: The techniques involved in structural conservation start from resetting of the old stones by means of proper documentation of large stone members. The small architectural pieces were reset using cement, lime and sand mortar in the ratio of 1:1:3. To reset the bigger ones, non-corroding stainless steel dowels/clamps were used. Finally the consolidation of core masonry was done with epoxy mortar and all cracks were stitched thereby. Renewal of the missing and worn out stones were done by obtaining new khondalite stone from the Tapang quarry. They were cut, dressed and finished into shape to be fixed properly in place. Epoxy resin was used in the resetting process of stone members. Again, replacement of the deteriorated portion of stones were done, while architectural originality was maintained as far as possible. The old rusted iron dowels/clamps responsible for cracks and damage to the stone members were replaced by stainless dowels wherever possible.

Hard grouting, gravity grouting as per requirement, were executed in order to fill the vertical cracks and voids with a mixture of Portland cement and water. After that, pointing with epoxy putty was followed. Corbell stones were to be anchored with stainless steel rods by drilling 1.5 to 2 metre holes and sealing with epoxy pointing. To arrest further falling of corbell stones in Garbhagriha, it was decided to provide a second line of defense by resting a stainless steel truss or space frame below the corbells.

(ii) Chemical preservation: After removal of the lime plaster, the exposed surface had mainly hardened from lime accretion. The lime accretions were removed by a 2% dilute acetic acid followed by careful paper pulp treatment for desalination on stones. In order to prevent biological growth on the stone surface, 2% zinc silica fluoride solution was applied. Again with the recommendation of an expert committee, one coat of 2% methyl Methacrylate solution in toluene was applied to slow down the weathering of the exposed stone surface, which would have a life of at least one decade.

To sum up, the responsibility of the Archeological Survey of India is not over. It has been closely maintaining as well as executing conservation works of Lord Jagannath Temple as and when required. The works of conservation are ongoing, since some of the problems are perpetual in nature.

For additional information, please contact the Archeological Survey of India Executive Branch, Bhubaneswar, Orissa.


G.C. Chauley, 1993: Conservation of Lord Jagannath Temple A.S.I., Bhubaneswar

P.K. Dikshit 1993: Conservation of Orissan Monuments Dissertation submitted for P.G. Dip. in Archeology, New Delhi (unpublished)

G.C. Chauley, 2001: "Marg", conserving the Temple of Lord Jagannath

Rakesh Kumar & R.K. Sarma, 1992: Conservating the Deul of Lord Jagannath Temple Puri (Orissa): A Case Study.

R.K. Mishra (Ed.), 1996: "Orissa Review" Navakalevar Issue, Bhubaneswar.


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