On Ancient Temples, Mosques, Highways and Airports..
..and why some days I get really angry. Have you ever read something sometime that almost forces you to put pen to paper? Something so outrageous that you drop everything and get yourself on the keyboard to express your anguish and rage? Something so unbelievable that you check and double-check to make sure you have your facts right? It happened to me today – in fact just a few minutes earlier (thanks to Radha-ji for alerting me to this). I don’t know how many of you read this bit of *news* today, “Highway work poses a threat to ancient temple” (emphasis added)?:
The ancient Panangatteeswarar temple at Panayapuram, 12 km from here, is facing the threat of being pulled down to facilitate the work on National Highway 45 linking Vikkiravandi with Thanjavur. The National Highways Authority of India has placed border stones and painted markings on the compound wall of the temple, dating back to the Chola period. Built about 1,500 to 2,000 years ago by Rajendra Chola I, the temple finds a place in the hymns of Thirugnanasambandar. King Shibi Chakkravarthi (who offered his flesh to save a dove) had offered worship here.
The structure bears testimony to the architectural marvel of the Chola Kings and artisans. On the first day of the Tamil month Chithirai (April 14), sunrays fall on the presiding deity (Shiva Lingam) and, later, on Goddess Sathyambigai. The temple administration claims if the NHAI goes ahead with the work, the sanctum sanctorum of the presiding deity Panangateeswarar and His consort Puravammai or Sathyambigai will have to be demolished. A palm tree, which is the ‘sthala vriksha’ (panai maram in Tamil and hence the name Panayapuram), will have to be uprooted.
When contacted, NHAI Project Director D. Athipathi told…(that the) road alignment could always be reviewed but it was for the higher officials to take a call.
Executive Officer of the temple, A. Balaguru, has written to the NHAI conveying the sentiments of the residents of the nearby Panayapuram, Pappanapattu, Kappiyampuliyur, Mundiayampakkam and Thuravi villages, who have offered to donate their lands to facilitate re-alignment of the highway. He has also detailed the illustrious history of the temple. The residents of the villages have also made a joint representation before District Collector V. Sampath urging him to protect the temple.
Without even going into the argument(s) about whether the road can or cannot be diverted and is it really necessary to uproot a structure that has existed in that place since millenia, let me share with you a few links of a somewhat related case...(emphasis added, throughout)
From Safety prod for mosque in flight path (dt May ’10):
The Airports Authority of India has written to the state government to shift a mosque from the edge of Calcutta airport’s runway as it poses a “safety and security” threat…
Calcutta airport officials have been urging the state government since 1986 to shift the mosque. “It (shifting of the mosque) is a sensitive issue..” said Vinod Kumar, the district magistrate of North 24-Parganas. In 2005, unable to relocate the mosque, the authorities increased the length of the secondary runway by 440m towards the northern end.
…The mosque’s authorities have reiterated that they would not agree to a shift.
Here is another one: Kolkata airport: Map redrawn, land to be acquired, high-rises trimmed to save mosque (from Jun ’08)
…So an ancient mosque on a tiny patch of 1,200 square feet of land right next to a runway has forced a redrawing of the entire Rs 2,000-crore map to upgrade Kolkata airport. An extra 25,000 square metres has to be acquired, crores have to be spent on building a detour and several high-rise buildings have to be compensated because they have to knock off their top floors in line with the new plan.
…The Kolkata airport has two runways: the main runway, 3,627m, that carries bulk of the air traffic, and a shorter one, 2,399 m, which is inadequate to service large aircraft, and so needs to be extended by another 440 m to the north. But this is exactly where the 117-year old Bankra mosque — where on an average 30 people offer prayers each day under tight security — lies, less than 100 feet from the north end of the shorter runway, Also, the walls of the mosque cannot withstand vibrations caused by aircraft landing or taking off.
“We have tried to negotiate with the masjid committee numerous times. We have also tried to give them land outside the port and offered to create a replica of the masjid elsewhere but to no avail,” says SPS Bakshi, Director (Projects), Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport. Result: the Airports Authority of India has decided to extend the runway towards the southern side. “This means we have to lease out more than 25,000 square metres of land to the state government for the diversion..AAI will spend Rs 2 crore and the state government will provide Rs 3 crore.
Then there is the issue of a new taxiway that needs to be constructed joining the northern end of both the runways…taxiway will intersect with the barb-wired path leading to the mosque. This poses a security threat and to circumvent it, a new path leading to the mosque has to be constructed. This, in all probability, will be a subway and will mean an extra Rs 20 crore, say officials.
…Says Abid Ali, a senior influential member of the committee that runs the mosque, “Thirty years ago the civil aviation department of India had evicted us from our land and relocated us at Bankra on the understanding that the mosque will never be demolished. We cannot let the mosque be destroyed.”
Even better, the mosque is actually on AAI land!
Amitava Nandi, CPM Member of Parliament, Dum Dum, passes the buck to the Centre. “The mosque is on AAI’s land and the Centre should speak to the Imam in New Delhi to shift the structure to a different area. As of now the Centre is not taking any initiative about this. What can the state do?” he asks.
That’s not all. Aviation regulations have height restrictions for buildings within 10 km of the runway. The extension of the runway to the south to keep the mosque intact means that multi-storeyed buildings that were permitted in the adjacent Rajarhat area, will now need to lose some of their top floors. “This will require us to pay compensation amounting to crores, we are working this out,” said a senior AAI official.
The latest report (from Jun ’10) I have on this suggests that the Mosque will not to be relocated..
And so I am forced (once again) to ask: In “secular” India, is there one law for Hindus and another for minorities? Does the government only understand the language of agitational politics and confrontation? Can Hindu sentiments be trampled at will? and how long does this continue?
By the way, I could not find any references to this news from any other source(s). It would therefore be of great help if someone can confirm this information. Can someone also confirm whether this matter has been reported in the Tamizh media or in any other native language newspapers/channels?
If anyone has any contacts. relatives, friends from Villupuram or nrearby areas, can you please (a) ask them to confirm this news, if possible (b) if it is true, ask them how can we help prevent the demolition of this ancient sacred place? Thanks
Pl also read: Is it a bird? Is it a plane? NO, it is an “illegal religious structure”*. Please share this with friends from Tamil Nadu so I can get to the bottom of the matter..
P.S: Notice how the 117 year old mosque is slyle called “ancient” in the Jun ’08 (ExpressIndia report). Image courtesy: The Hindu