Documentation of Endangered Temple Art of Tamil Nadu (EAP896)

Aims and objectives

The rich cultural heritage of temple art in India is rapidly deteriorating because of vandalism, weather conditions, practices such as burning camphor for ritual purposes, etc. A systematic digital documentation is needed in order to preserve this art in digital form, which, in turn, will be used by scientists to carry out research, by the general public to discover this unique heritage, and by temple authorities and government bodies to better conserve and preserve these art works. The rich mural heritage is to be protected in order to keep a legacy of the past history. Digitising them in a detailed manner is the only way to preserve and conserve them for the future.

The drawing lines found on the temple walls represent abstract forms painted several centuries ago. In the evolution of human cognitive expressions, painting is a significant milestone. The paintings are essentially made up of lines and colours and the figures that are represented are mostly mythical. The Vishnudahrmottara, the foremost work on Indian arts and aesthetics has an exclusive section on paintings, which underlines its historical significance. The French Institute of Pondicherry has been engaged in documenting temple related objects for more than five decades. The documentation helps scholars all over the world to carry out their research.

In Tamil Nadu, there are nearly 40 temples that have exquisite murals of the Pallava, the Chola, the Nayak and the Maratha periods. In addition to the art found in those temples, a few palaces such as Ramalinga Vilas at Ramanathapuram and the Bodinayakkanur of Theni district have murals. The masterpiece art works of various temples in Tamil Nadu have been wiped out wholly or partially. Some notable examples are the Meenakshi temple in Madurai, the Arunachalesvarar temple at Tiruvannamalai, the Pundarikaksha (Thamarai Kannan) Vishnu temple at Tiruvellarai near Tiruchchirapalli (Trichy), Rajagopalasvami Kulasekara Alvar temple at Mannarkovil in Tirunelveli district and Dhenupuriswara Siva temple at Pattisvaram near Kumbakonam, Vyakrapurisvara Siva temple, Tiruppulivanam in Kanchipuram district and Vedaranyesvarar Siva temple in Vedaranyam. Many of these art works which date from the 2nd to the 19th century have been wiped out wholly or partially. The project aims to digitize murals that are in a vulnerable condition in nine temples and one palace in south India. They are i) Avudaiyarkovil ii) Kumbakonam iii) Kurichi - Vishnupati iv) Natham - Kovilpatti v) Pattisvaram vi) Tiruvaiyaru vii) Tiruvannamalai viii) Tittakkudi ix) Uttarakosamangai and x) Bodinayakkanur.

If it is not documented at this juncture, after a period of time, these art works may partially or fully disappear as has happened already in many of the above said temples. Digitizing these murals at the earliest is of prime importance as it will be a record of mythical stories for the future generations.