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Re: Painted gopurams...

From: Mani Varadarajan (
Date: Fri Aug 13 1999 - 15:21:08 PDT

Dear Anand,

You wrote:
> The meaning of heritage
> and the concept of 'leaving alone' any historical or
> archeological monuments are predominantly a product of
> recent (and mostly a western) approach.

Your point is very well taken, and I am certainly
not suggesting that we leave our temples alone as
static monuments of a bygone era.  One of the best
things about temples in India is that they are still
*alive*, teeming with devotees, flower-sellers, etc.,
all of whom leave their mark on the place ("kambamE kaavEri").
In contrast, when I visited the magnificent churches of
Florence, Paris, and Rome, I found them to be more
museums than active places of worship.  People would go
primarily to admire the artistry,  and what few devout
there were (mostly senior citizens) would go to mass
at an appointed time and then leave. (St. Peter's in Rome
is of course an exception).

At the same time, we should be careful in making wholesale
changes to a structure, without regard to history and
artistic value.  Judging from the responses on our List,
it seems that brightly painted gopurams have a history in
Tamil Nadu, and that many people today like them.  If this
truly is the case, or if they have some other unmentioned merit,
I'm not one to oppose them. But I do think that we should think
very cautiously before succumbing to the temporary whims of
an ever-changing society, which in the process can destroy
the age-old atmosphere of some of our holy sites.