(We are re-running another article by M.K. Binodini translated into English from Manipuri by Pradip Phanjoubam. In this one, the writer expresses her outrage at the insensitive manner ancient monuments in Manipur were being renovated in Manipur)
On my way to Govindaji Temple yesterday, I set my eyes on a brand new edifice, (yes, almost with fresh coats of cement plaster and freshly washed in pale brick colour), popping up awkwardly into the sky near the Arts & Culture Complex. It looked so familiar, yet I could not recognize it for quite a while. Then in a flash, things fell in place and I had the shock of my life. The monument was none other than the century old Thangal Temple. It appeared it had undergone a renovation, but in such an unimaginative manner that its original character was completely altered. The dignity and grandeur of age with which it once proudly gazed upon onlookers had been destroyed so utterly and cruelly. It was sacrilege and it hurt. Excruciatingly.
As the stab of pain subsided, the emotion that replaced the hurt was plain anger. Who is this idiot who has so tastelessly and disrespectfully converted this priceless signature of one of our best known forefathers on an important page of our history the into pop art? My whole being rebelled against this immense insensitivity to beauty that only age can give.
Unlike Delhi, Agra and Aurangabad, Manipur cannot boast of too many architectural relics from the hoary past. The few that we have are the Govindaji Temple and Brinamchandra Temple inside the Kangla, the Vishnu Temple at Bishenpur, the architectural remains at Canchipur and the tomb of Gambhir Singh Maharaj etc. These are our heritage and national treasures which we are duty bound to zealously safeguard for posterity. Repair and renovation of such monuments must have to be done with utmost care. It is a job for professionals not only specialized but sensitized to the aesthetics of old monuments, and in constant consultation with experts in the field of archeology and conservation. It is not the same as constructing culverts and municipality drains and hence definitely not a job for PWD contractors and section officers. It is obvious the Thangal Temple suffered such a treatment.
A closer scrutiny revealed that the temple had been cement plastered and a fresh coat of pain applied, apparently to give in a new look. Visible all over is the familiar, loud statement of style and identity our nouveau rich most of whose wealth say nothing of enterprise of sweat. What a pity indeed.
In more sensitive states, there would have been a hue and cry by now at the rape of such a priceless monument. But Alas!! Not in Manipur. Thangal General’s descendants are still around and live in the Brahmapur locality. They have not reacted as yet. If they do, all must rally behind them. If they do not, the people must still campaign to have the government undo the atrocious facelift the temple has been given. Let us make our protest known before all our monuments and relics come to be disfigured in like manner. What is coming to Manipur? It is still fresh in everybody’s memory what hurt was caused to our society by the bulldozing of the Chinga Hillock to make way for a supermarket at Singjamei. Yet, we are still allowing other priceless landmarks to be defaced. The British Administration too had a plan to level the Chinga Hillock but it was opposed tooth and nail by the Amaibas and Amaibis and royal pundits on the plea that the hillock was the sacred abode of Chinga Lairembi. It is ironic that unlike our own politicians, the British cared enough not to hurt the sentiment of the people and dropped the plan, quite unlike our own politicians and leaders.
The same story of mismanagement of monuments is repeated in the case of the Leimapokpa Keirungba Mandir inside the MSRTC compound. The repair work on this monument is even more appalling. The exterior of the temple is cement plastered and washed in brick-red lime. The inside is painted deep-blue and the sanctum sanctorum is decorated with pictures of numerous gods of the Hindu pantheons – even a portrait of Sai Baba. A large portrait of Durga is conspicuously fixed on the wall. Appraently, there had been a Durga Puja recently there. This is most atrocious and outrageous because under the rules of the Archeological Survey of India, ASI, such protected monuments cannot be converted into a place of worship and no idol or portrait can be installed therin. Such instructions had been flouted with impunity. Seen from a distance, the monument does not look line an ancient monument, rather with its loud colour schemes and Ravi Verma pictures of Hindu gods, it resembles a middleclass home in Bihar. I wonder if the superintendent of archeology, government of Manipur ever has visited the place to attempt a personal appreciation of the “restoration” work.
I am reminded of the incident in which the monument was saved from the hammer of an auctioneer about 40 years from today. The then government had decided to demolish the monument and sell the real estate it stands on for a princely sum of Rs 50. Nobody had raised an objection except for one Leimapokpam Guni Singh of Yaiskul, a descendant of Leimapokpam Keirungba. He was a lone one-man army fighting against the mighty juggernaught of the government machinery. He raised a public hue and cry soly because the monument once belonged to his forefathers, but for him Manipur would have lost another monument. But this monument is now being defaced so terribly.
The government today is employing the service of Prof. Nalini Thakur of the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi to restore and develop a conceptual plan for the sacred Kangla Fort. I wonder why her mission cannot be extended to the restoration effort of all other historical monuments in the state, instead of leaving these priceless relics at the hands of insensitive bureaucrats and technocrats cannot even, or have the commitment to do the jobs they are trained to do well.
Editor, Imphal Review of Arts and Politics and author