India More Concerned About Conserving Temples Than Tigers, Elephants

Editor’s Note: What does it say about a society and religion when it disregards the magnificent creations of god, mother nature or whatever term you prefer, in favor of saving the misguided concrete creations of humans? 

Temples Or Tigers More Important To India’s Heritage, Future

It is a battle between heritage and tiger conservation. For now, the tiger seems to be winning. As the district administrations in Theni in Tamil Nadu and Idukki in Kerala prepare themselves for the annual Chitra Pournami festival at Mangaladevi Temple, where Kannagi, a cultural icon on both sides, is worshipped once a year, the demand for restoring the temple complex to its original glory has once again surfaced.

While the locals have been asking the Tamil Nadu government to take over the maintenance of the temple complex, officials on this side of the border are non-committal as the temple, now in ruins, is accessed through the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala.

On the Tamil Nadu side in Western Ghats, there are two trekking routes at present, for about six km through the reserved forests and there are no motorable roads. “There is a possibility for a motorable road from Paliyankudi hamlet. If there is a road, we need not get permission from Kerala. Theni district authorities are not taking steps to lay the road,” says K.T. Gandhi Rajan, an art historian.

“There was a proposal for a road some time ago but shelved subsequently,” says an official in Theni district administration, hinting that the road ahead for obtaining sanction through the reserve forests could be long.

“It used to be a week-long festival. Now it has been restricted to one day,” says Mr. Rajan. Based on interactions with tribals in Gudalur forest division of Theni district, he says the temple complex has been deteriorating fast in the past two decades or so. “Damage caused is attributed to the constant movement of elephant herds. But, elephants infest the area for centuries,” he says.

The locals share his sentiment. “The Kannagi temple has seen decay in the past two decades. Tamil Nadu government should make efforts to restore the temple to its original state. The temple is culturally significant to the Tamils,” says N. Ramakrishnan, DMK MLA from Cumbum, the closest town.

On Monday, the Collectors of Theni in Tamil Nadu and Idukki in Kerala sat together in Thekkadi and discussed the elaborate arrangements for the annual pilgrimage that falls on May 14Forest officials of the Periyar Tiger Reserve say it is an annual festival held for one day. “As the temple falls in the core tiger habitat, any initiative to restore or renovate the structure has to go through the due process of obtaining permission from State Board for Wildlife and National Board for Wildlife,” says a Forest officer.

According to a Government of Kerala (DPR) website, the Department of Archaeology had declared the Mangaladevi Temple as a protected monument in 1983. Located in Kumili village of Idukki district, the temple facing the Cumbum Valley of Tamil Nadu consists of four shrines of different sizes and orientation, the website reads dating the temple complex to 8-9 century A.D. The Director of Archaeology, Kerala, could not be reached over phone.


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