The Gopuram temple

The Gopuram of the 500-year-old Srisailam temple, nestled in the thick green hills of Nallamala forests, collapsed in the early hours of Wednesday. Battered by incessant rains for the past couple of days, the top portion of the Gopuram caved in at around 2.20 am. There was no loss of life as there were no pilgrims at the time when the 100-ft tall structure collapsed.

The Gopuram on the northern side, believed to have been built by King Shivaji, served as one of the main entrances to the Sri Bhraramba Mallikharjuna Swamy temple. It developed cracks showing stress and the wood used in it had decayed long back. The state government last carried out repairs to the heritage structure almost 50 years back in 1965.

An experts’ committee, which was set up in 2010 to examine the condition of 40 heritage structures and ancient temples in the state after the collapse of the rajagopuram of Srikalahasti temple, had recommended immediate repair of the Shivaji Gopuram. The expert’s panel of architects, after examining all the four Gopuram at the temple, found out that Shivaji Gopuram was the weakest. Though the temple authorities had performed a puja in 2011 for dismantling the Gopuram and constructing a new one in its place, the works could not be undertaken due to objections raised by the archaeology wing.

According to the committee report, cracks had developed on the external and internal surface of the brick Gopuram, while the wooden panelling was totally damaged. The internal plaster was also damaged. No repair works had been taken up all these years other than the cement plastering in 1965. Experts said the old structure withstood the vagaries of weather due to the strong stone structural base on which it stood.

“The collapse of the Gopuram was inevitable as it was soaked in rain for the past three days. If it rains further, even the stone base would meet the same fate,” Chandrasekhar, a Telugu University lecturer in archaeology, pointed out.

The endowments officials said the dismantling works were taken up some time back after Telugu film producer, Nellore-based devotee Alturi Adinarayana Reddy volunteered to meet the cost of the new Gopuram along with the Dwajasthambhum at a cost of Rs 4 crore. But the department of archaeology and museums wrote to the endowments officials in September this year, urging them not to dismantle the structure.

“We had temporarily stalled the works in view of the letter,” endowments commissioner Balaramaiah said.

“We are facing problems in dismantling some other Gopuram which are in a precarious condition as some organizations or individuals have approached courts against such a move,” he added. Sources said patrons of Chilukuri Balaji temple had also forwarded a letter to the government not to take up dismantling works.

Though the Srisailam temple does not come under the purview of the archaeology department, temple board chairman Koteswara Rao said they could not go ahead with the dismantling works because of the letter.

“Since half of the structure has crumbled, we will dismantle the entire Gopuram and build a new structure retaining its old look,” he said.

Endowments secretary Chitra Ramachandran said many dilapidated temples were in dire need of repairs. “Efforts are on to refurbish the Srisailam temple also,” she added.

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