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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

March 24th, 2012 Posted by | Politics of Minority Appeasement | 21 comments


  1. A comment frm Sh Shankarraman on The Hindu website mentions that the temple..is one of the 275 Thevara padal petra sthalams of Lord Shiva

    Comment by B Shantanu | March 24, 2012

  2. An aged Roman senator, sometime before the decline of the Roman Empire had remarked that a civilisation is not brought down by an enemy at the gates but when it forgets what it has stood for ever since the beginning….

    Comment by Amitabh Soni | March 24, 2012

  3. This is really very sad. Lot of ancient temples are being demolished, the news may not appear, in our city Dhule, Maharashtra, we have seen many temples, which had great faith are demolished. That was really painful to see. At one place, when the temple was completely away from the road, still it’s destroyed and the place is kept now only a space.

    Comment by Mohini Puranik | March 24, 2012

  4. FTI should offer its strong opposition to this proposal through all means. Property rights are sacrosanct, and such property is not just an ordinary one. This blatant disregard for property rights is a terrible disrespect of Indians by this socialist Indian government.

    Comment by Sanjeev Sabhlok | March 25, 2012

  5. This land of the great rishis, saints and sadhaka has been invaded with no resistance whatsoever. We believe in ‘vasudhevkutumbukam’ Hence we must not raise such communal questions in a secular state. Even if they rape your sanskriti, lie/lay down and enjoy/watch.

    Jai Ho

    Comment by LK Kandpal | March 25, 2012

  6. This is afterall a Hindu temple…not Qutub Minar…or a mosque.
    For a interesting talk by Subramanian Swamy on this phenomenon see this video from 36m55s to 41m.0s . Manmohan Singh had absolutely no problems in sanctioning 500 crores EXTRA and a ONE YEAR DELAY in Delhi Metro …just to prevent 3 tombs from being exposed to the risk of a crack..despite professional tests proving the contrary


    See newsitem below, where Qutub Minar was handled with velvet gloves and how the administration bends over backwards.

    Sreedharan to meet ASI to sort out Qutab Metro route

    New Delhi, Jan 12Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) managing director E Sreedharan will meet officials of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) shortly to discuss the controversial Metro rail route to Gurgaon via Qutab Minar.

    According to DMRC officials, it will propose some re-alignment in the proposed route, which would not harm the aesthetics of the monument.

    DMRC had earlier planned the line as 300 metres from the monument. After objections from the ASI, DMRC is working on realignment of the line, this time 600 metres away.

    Since there is no clarity on alignment, the extension beyond Qutab Minar has not been passed yet. The ambitious phase of the Metro will cover 53.2 km and cost an investment of Rs 8,188 crore with a track cost of Rs 6,984 crore.

    If DMRC ceases to evoke any positive response from the ASI, there is also another plan in place, suggested by the urban development ministry. The suggested route is from IIT to Andheria Modh, preferably via Malviya Nagar or Saket, as these residential areas would mean more passengers for the Metro.

    DMRC conducted a joint inspection of the IIT-Qutub Minar stretch ASI earlier this month and also proposed a route diversion, with the rail going underground near the Qutab.

    DMRC officials said that going underground is not at all financially viable.


    Comment by chengappa R | March 26, 2012

  7. It might be helpful to frame the question of a common standard of preservation, and accommodation of ancient structures of historic, architectural, cultural, legendary, and reverential significance in development projects as just that rather than always approaching it as Hindu sentiment versus minorities – at large, i.e. if the idea is not to continually leverage such matters for confrontational politics and misgivings.

    Not all minorities pray in a mosques, neither is the Hindu sentiment a monolith. The so called ‘secular’ response still might want to shuffle around with an eye on voting block, but from as far as I can tell in commonly celebrating festivals of Hindu origin in social contact with muslim and other minorities’ diaspora in the south, they are not interested in militancy just to be contrary but for being pushed in a corner in the face of confrontational politics.

    If the above brings a citation of history on Ram Janm Bhoomi, and Babari Masjid, would very much like to know whether the belief is that Lord Ram was born on that exact tract of land that was occupied by the Babri Masjid for one would think all of Ayodhya in it splendor would not have fitted in on that one property, which as is said contained a temple on which the Masjid was built. I have not read the Ramayan in Sanskrit, but Ramacharit Manas speaks to the birth of the Lord in pictorial detail as having taken place not in a temple but royal palace.

    Seriously, it is past time to move on to finding constructive solutions as opposed to the all consuming absorption with Hindu sentiments vs minorities, in this idea of both being some kind of a monolith.

    Comment by RA | March 26, 2012

  8. Till we (Hindus) get our act together, we cannot do anything. Make your vote count and vote for only those who support hinduism and that will change the game. Minorities make sure they get want they want because they know their game unlike us who don’t even think that we are Hindus.

    Comment by Shyam Reddy | March 26, 2012

  9. I am absolutely outraged after reading this. Would they tear down the temple if they were afraid of losing votes? Minority appeasement has just gone too far.

    Comment by CC | March 26, 2012

  10. I have heard that in Saudi Arabia and in other islamic gulf countries, hundreds of mosques have been shifted from highway projects and other projects sites, without a murmur of protest. But in secular India a 1000 year old temple can be destroyed (not even caring for its historical value, if not religious), but not a mosque. I understand from my muslim friends that the relocation of a mosque is a routine matter in many secular and islamic countries and it is because normally no strict religious significance is attached to the place of namaaz. Ofcourse, historic significance is entirely a different matter.

    Comment by L V Nagarajan | March 27, 2012

  11. I hope I will not be accused of partiality because I am belong to that district and that Sect. Yet, is there some obligation on me to sacrifice this holy spot in the name of ‘development’? It does not make sense.
    As others here have pointed out, Islamic law, like Hindu law, permits relocation of places of worship for the greater good. In this instance, the greater good is served by preserving not destroying this holy place.

    We have a crazy situation in T.N where people who use their Ministerial or official status to jump queues at Temples nevertheless proclaim those same Temples, that same Religion, as the source of all evil.

    The biggest problem is that elitists and power-hungry people think that Religion, like everything else, only exists for them to buy and sell it.

    Comment by vivek | March 28, 2012

  12. Dear All: Thanks for sharing your thoughts and comments..I am maxed out at work at present but hope to respond over the weekend…

    Comment by B Shantanu | March 29, 2012

  13. Friends, Spread this word around. Only by active protests can we stop this insensitive behaviour of the authorities. Only by getting together can we protest.


    Comment by Suresh S | April 6, 2012

  14. More on this…From Road that may erase history by T. S. SUBRAMANIAN
    …A 1,300-year old Siva temple, celebrated in the verses of Saivite saint Tirugnana Sambandar and boasting of inscriptions belonging to the Chola kings, is facing demolition by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI). The Tirupuravar Panankateesvarar temple is situated in Panaiyapuram village, two km from Vikkiravandi in Villupuram district of Tamil Nadu. The Pennaiyar flows near Panaiyapuram. The temple is also called Paravaipuram.

    The NHAI has placed stones outside the temple to signify the portions that will be lost to the highway’s widening. If this plan goes through, the temple’s sanctum sanctorum for Panankateesvarar, the adjacent shrine for the goddess Satyambikai and much of the temple premises including other shrines, will be demolished. This has shocked and angered about 4,000 Panaiyapuram villagers and residents of Pappanapattu, Mundiyambakkam, Kappiyampuliyur and Thuravi villages. They met the Villupuram District Collector, V. Sampath, and submitted a petitionto him.

    R. Nagaswamy, former Director, Tamil Nadu Archaeology Department, said that the 1,300-year old temple was visited by the Tamil Savite saint Tirugnana Sambandar, who lived in the seventh century CE, and had sung verses celebrating the deity, a Sivalinga. The Sivalinga is called Panankateesvarar because the area abounds with palmyra trees.

    The temple has a number of inscriptions belonging to Rajendra Chola I (regnal years 1012 CE to 1043 CE), his son, Rajendra Chola II, Adhi Rajendra, Kulotunga I, Jatavarman Sundara Pandya I and Vikrama Pandya among others.

    Rajendra Chola’s inscription called the deity Nethrodharaka Swami (meaning, the main deity will cure eye ailments). The inscription recorded the gift of land and money for worship and making offerings in the temple. It spoke about Rajendra Chola’s conquest of Kadaram. (The present-day Kedda in Malaysia was called Kadaram and it belonged to Sri Vijaya kingdom). It revealed that the Chola emperor rebuilt the main temple between 1025 CE and 1040 CE, pointed out Dr. Nagaswamy.

    “Another important aspect of the village is that it is also named Paravaipuram,” he said. Paravai was the consort of Tamil Saivite saint Sundarar, who lived in the eighth century CE. Paravai belonged to a family of dancing girls and she is worshipped even today, along with Sundarar, in Siva temples. Rajendra Chola I also had a personal assistant called Paravai, who was an ‘anukki.’ This Paravai was named after Sundarar’s consort. (Female personal assistants, who were trusted by the kings, were called anukki and anukkan were their male counterparts). Paravai built the Thyagaraja temple at Tiruvarur in Tamil Nadu and covered the vimana with gold, said Dr. Nagaswamy .

    S. Ganesa Gurukkal, the temple priest, was emphatic that the villagers would take all steps needed to save the temple. “We went to Chennai and gave a petition to the NHAI officials,” he said.

    Wonder why this temple has not already been declared a protected site by ASI?

    Comment by B Shantanu | April 8, 2012

  15. Courtesy Sh @asraghunath via twitter
    Note how illegal construction appears to be led by MLA and how CM has washed her hands off this (“..agency can take action *if* it feels fit”!).
    In particular, pl note how Delhi Metro plans to shift the location of its upcoming station 50 mtrs away. Quite a contrast from the Panangatteeswarar temple mentioned in the post above

    Comment by B Shantanu | July 19, 2012

  16. Read this link to see how ancient Islamic heritage sites have been demolished/destroyed in Saudi Arabia for development: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Destruction_of_early_Islamic_heritage_sites

    Comment by B Shantanu | October 19, 2012

  17. Following on from above: Medina: Saudis take a bulldozer to Islam’s history; Some extracts:
    Three of the world’s oldest mosques are about to be destroyed as Saudi Arabia embarks on a multi-billion-pound expansion of Islam’s second holiest site.

    But concerns have been raised that the development will see key historic sites bulldozed. Anger is already growing at the kingdom’s apparent disdain for preserving the historical and archaeological heritage of the country’s holiest city, Mecca. Most of the expansion of Masjid an-Nabawi will take place to the west of the existing mosque, which holds the tombs of Islam’s founder and two of his closest companions, Abu Bakr and Umar.

    Just outside the western walls of the current compound are mosques dedicated to Abu Bakr and Umar, as well as the Masjid Ghamama, built to mark the spot where the Prophet is thought to have given his first prayers for the Eid festival. The Saudis have announced no plans to preserve or move the three mosques, which have existed since the seventh century and are covered by Ottoman-era structures, or to commission archaeological digs before they are pulled down

    Heritage campaigners and many locals have looked on aghast as the historic sections of Mecca and Medina have been bulldozed to make way for gleaming shopping malls, luxury hotels and enormous skyscrapers. The Washington-based Gulf Institute estimates that 95 per cent of the 1,000-year-old buildings in the two cities have been destroyed in the past 20 years.

    In Mecca, the Masjid al-Haram, the holiest site in Islam and a place where all Muslims are supposed to be equal, is now overshadowed by the Jabal Omar complex, a development of skyscraper apartments, hotels and an enormous clock tower. To build it, the Saudi authorities destroyed the Ottoman era Ajyad Fortress and the hill it stood on. Other historic sites lost include the Prophet’s birthplace – now a library – and the house of his first wife, Khadijah, which was replaced with a public toilet block.

    Ten years ago, a mosque which belonged to the Prophet’s grandson was dynamited. Pictures of the demolition that were secretly taken and smuggled out of the kingdom showed the religious police celebrating as the building collapsed.

    “Muslim silence over the destruction of Mecca and Medina is both disastrous and hypocritical,” says Dr Alawi. “The recent movie about the Prophet Mohamed caused worldwide protests… and yet the destruction of the Prophet’s birthplace, where he prayed and founded Islam has been allowed to continue without any criticism.”

    Comment by B Shantanu | October 28, 2012

  18. From NHAI spares 1,300-year-old temple, 22 Jan ’13:
    The NHAI has now decided “to restrict the proposed ROW [right of way] width to avoid acquisition of the ancient temple near Panaiyapuram village by restricting the extent of land acquisition up to the existing compound wall of the temple on the LHS [left hand side] of the temple portion only.” The NHAI has stated this in a letter, dated October 6, 2012, to the Competent Authority and the Special District Revenue Officer (LA), National Highways-45C, Villupuram. In an earlier communication also, dated September 20, 2012, the NHAI said the “four-laning of NH-45C will be accommodated between the existing compound wall of the temple and the existing Veeranam pipeline on the other side.” When contacted, an NHAI official said: “The temple will not be touched.”

    The NHAI’s decision has delighted the villagers. R.P. Pugazhendi, ex-president, Panaiyapuram panchayat, called the decision “the will of God.” Residents of Panaiyapuram and other villagers, he said, “forgot their caste and class and fought together to save the historic temple.”

    He added: “We will host the NHAI and the State government officials a reception. We will honour them by giving them shawls and turbans. We will erect a hoarding, expressing our gratitude to them, at the highway intersection, where the roads branch off to Chennai, Puducherry, Thanjavur and Villupuram.”

    R.P. Athiyaman, who belongs to Panaiyapuram but lives in Chennai, praised the NHAI officials for respecting “our sense of history and sentiments.”

    R. Nagaswamy, former Director of the Tamil Nadu State Department of Archaeology, said the Saivite saint Tirugnana Sambandar, who lived in the seventh century CE, had sung verses praising the temple’s Sivalinga. Rajendra Chola-I’s inscription called the deity Nethroddharaka Swami (i.e., the deity will cure eye ailments).

    Rajendra Chola I rebuilt the Panaiyapuram temple in honour of his woman personal assistant (“anukki” in Tamil) called Paravai and the town around the temple was called Paravaipuram.

    The inscriptions of Rajendra Chola II (regnal years 1052 CE to 1064 CE), Adhi Rajendra (1068 CE to 1071 CE) and Kulotunga Chola I (1070 CE to 1122 CE) mention the gift of paddy, land and gold coins to the temple.

    Comment by B Shantanu | January 22, 2013

  19. Placing this here for the record: The photos Saudi Arabia doesn’t want seen – and proof Islam’s most holy relics are being demolished in Mecca: Archaeologists fear billion-pound development has led to destruction of key historical sites by JEROME TAYLOR, 15th March 2013

    Comment by B Shantanu | March 17, 2013

  20. Sad and shocking. HR&CE razes Vijayanagar era temple by Gomathi Chetty, 20 Jun 2013:
    In an act of inexcusable sacrilege, the beautiful thirteenth century Adinarayana Perumal Temple, Pazhaverkadu (Pulicat), was bulldozed and destroyed by the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments department (HR&CE), on June 13, 2013. The ruination took place in the name of temple renovation, leaving devotees shattered, and reduced to tears. Since there was no advance information regarding the proposed razing of the temple, no preventive steps were possible in time.

    Adinarayana Perumal Temple, Pazhaverkadu, is one of the rarest architectures in south India. It is a marvel of laterite blocks, and is famous for its Ramayana miniature sculptures. The vimana (tower) was made using limestone. Now it is completely demolished….

    Comment by B Shantanu | June 20, 2013

  21. While on temples and NHAI, Naganathaswamy temple is now a protected monument by B. ARAVIND KUMAR, June 12, 2014..
    …The State government has ensured the protection of 1,000-year old Naganathaswamy temple near Kumbakonam in Thanjavur district that was facing demolition a year ago by declaring it a protected monument.

    On May 16, The Hindu carried a report that the temple was facing the threat of demolition for expansion of a road under the Thanjavur–Vikkkiravandi four-way project of the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI).

    Comment by B Shantanu | June 12, 2014

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