Conserving living religious heritage: maintaining continuity and embracing change –
the Hindu Temples of Tanjore, Srirangam and Tirupati in India
Dr. Ioannis Poulios, Department of “Cultural Heritage Management and New Technologies”, University of Western Greece
Rajarajeshvaram, Tanjavur (Photo - Archana Verma)
The paper deals with the main challenges involved in the conservation of living religious heritage. The challenge of maintaining the continuity of the religious tradition is considered first. To this end the development as well as the main principles and practices of conservation at an international level are reviewed. Emphasis is on the concept of discontinuity imposed by conservation between the monuments, considered to belong to the past, and the people of the present.
The challenge of embracing the change/evolution of the religious tradition is then taken on board. To this end three examples, in the same country, with the same religion and under a uniform administrative and management system at a national level, yet with a different conservation status are presented and reviewed: The Tanjore Temple is designated at a national (as well as international) level, the Srirangam Temple is designated at a state level, while the Tirupati Temple is a non-designated site. Emphasis is on the difficulty of conservation to embrace changes in the function, the operation and management, the caring, and the space of the sites.
Finally, a new conservation approach is proposed for the conservation of living religious heritage.
The aim of the paper is to suggest a new way, based on specific criteria, of understanding and conserving living religious heritage.
1. Conserving living religious heritage: the main challenges
Living religious sites are those that have retained their religious tradition throughout time (since their creation to date). The continuity of their religious tradition is rooted in the continuity of their religious function, through the performance of the rituals, and is reflected in the following: the continuity of the religious community’s connection with the sites, seen in terms of the community’s physical presence in the sites and also the community’s primary role in the operation of the sites; the continuity of the process of the caring of the sites by the religious community, seen in terms of the ownership status, the management mechanisms and the maintenance practices of the sites – the community’s caring of the Temples is often referred to as “traditional” (so as to differentiate from the modern scientific-based conservation principles and practices); and the continuity of the process of the definition and arrangement of the space of the sites, in accordance with their religious function. The living religious tradition is changing/evolving over the course of time, due to the changing wider social, political and economic circumstances.This evolution helps living religious sites continue to be relevant to the contemporary life of the community and survive. This evolution can be identified primarily in terms of the function of the sites, and is reflected in the religious community’s connection with the sites, the process of the caring of the sites, and the process of the definition and arrangement of the space of the sites (see above). Therefore, the concept of a living religious site is linked to the concepts of continuity and change/evolution (see Poulios 2008; Poulios 2010; Wijesuriya 2005; Stovel 2005).
A number of living religious sites have been recognized for their heritage significance and protected through the development of heritage management systems at a national and increasingly at an international level. The main challenge in the conservation of living religious heritage, besides protecting its heritage significance, is to sustain its living tradition, i.e. maintain the continuity and embrace the change/evolution of the tradition.
2. Conserving living religious heritage: maintaining continuity
The discipline of heritage conservation, as it was originally formed largely within a Western European world and was then transformed in other parts of the world, creates discontinuity between the monuments, considered to belong to the past, and the people and the social and cultural processes of the present, and is mostly based on sites that have lost their original function (Ucko 1994:261–63; Walderhaug Saetersdal 2000; Jones 2006:122; Matero 2004:69). This discontinuity defines the fundamental objective of conservation: the preservation of the physical heritage of the past from loss and depletion in the present. This discontinuity defines the main principles of conservation as well, such as the emphasis on the past and its tangible remains / the fabric, the notion that authenticity of heritage is non-“renewable” and the care for future generations. This discontinuity also defines the main practices of conservation regarding the fabric of heritage, practices such as those included in the Athens and Venice Charters (League of Nations 1931 and ICOMOS 1964 respectively). It is this discontinuity that gives heritage authorities (mostly state-appointed), manned by conservation experts / professionals, a dominant role in the conservation and management process of heritage, while defining at the same time the boundaries of their intervention (Sullivan 2004:50).
This discontinuity created by conservation contradicts the continuity of the tradition of living religious heritage. The emphasis of conservation on sites that have lost their original function runs counter to the continuity of the religious function of the sites. The attachment of conservation to the (tangible) fabric seems to be against the emphasis on the (intangible) association of the religious community with its site. The interest of conservation in the preservation of the non-“renewable” physical heritage in its “original” condition for the sake of the future generations seem to be against the need of the religious community to further define, arrange and change the space of its site in its own interest. The concept of the dominant role of the heritage authorities in the conservation and management process of heritage runs counter to the primary importance of the religious community in the operation and management of its site. Therefore, it appears to be inherently difficult for the discipline of conservation to maintain the continuity of living religious heritage.
3. Conserving living religious heritage: embracing change
3.1. The Hindu Temples of Tanjore, Srirangam and Tirupati in India: presentation
The Tanjore Temple and the Srirangam Temple are in the state of Tamil Nadu, while the Tirupati Temple is in the state of Andhra Pradesh. The Tirupati Temple and the Srirangam Temple are devoted to Vishnu, while the Tanjore Temple is devoted to Shiva.
These Temples, in the same country and with the same religion, are under a uniform administrative and management system, which could be described as follows (Act 1959, cited in ASI 1979). The system of heritage protection in India, applying to all sites whether in use or not, lies at a federal and at a state level. At a federal/central government level the responsibility belongs to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), within the Department of Culture, Ministry of Tourism and Culture, while at a state level the responsibility is under State Departments of Archaeology (SDA). ASI is responsible for those monuments and sites designated as National Heritage sites (including those recommended for inscription in the UNESCO World Heritage List), while SDAs are responsible for those monuments and sites designated at a state level. State Departments of Archaeology are also regulated by ASI.
Religious historic sites of India that are still in use fall also under another administrative system (on the basis of the religion to which they belong), which lies at a state and at a local level. In this context, Hindu Temples that are still in use are managed by the State Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HRCE) at a state level and by the Temple Board at a local level, which (Board) consists mainly of members of the local community. The State HRCE has the ultimate responsibility for the administrative control and the overall operation of the Temples, while the local Temple Board of Trustees is responsible for the practical issues of the every-day operation of the Temples, with a focus on the caring for the needs of the local community. The Temples are owned by the Hereditary Trustee, who is an influential member of the local community.
The power in the operation and management of Hindu Temples still in use is in theory officially in the hands of the State HRCE. The State HRCE appoints the head and most of the members of the Temple Board and supervises the everyday operation of the Temples by the Temple Board, and defines the role and the responsibilities of the Hereditary Trustee. In practice, however, much depends on the power of each particular Temple Board and its internal power-relations, as affected by the interactions between the state government and the local government.
Therefore, in Hindu Temples still in use that are designated for their historic significance, the responsibility for the protection of the archaeological material is under ASI or SDA, while the responsibility for the overall operation and management of the temples is under the State HRCE and the Temple Board. These two responsibilities, though originally differentiated, may sometimes become interlinked, overriding and even conflicting.
The Brihadisvara Temple at Thanjavur/Tanjore
The Temple consists of a main temple and several other temples and shrines in a spacious courtyard, enclosed by two walls (Pichard 1995:23–25). The history of the Temple is as follows: It was originally a royal temple, ‘deliberately created by an act of royal policy as a royal/ceremonial centre’ of the royal palace, at the end of the Tenth-beginning of the Eleventh Century (Pichard 1995:113). The palace was centred around the Temple, and the city was centred around the palace (Pichard 1995:113; ASI 2003:25). In the Eleventh Century a new royal capital was founded and a new royal palace was constructed, and subsequently the majority of royal and temple officials and servants and also of part of the population were removed from the old capital to the new one (Pichard 1995:15). As a consequence, the Temple ceased to function as a royal temple, thus losing a most significant part of its original importance and reputation, but continued to function as a temple in use by the remaining local community of Thanjavur. In the Sixteenth Century Thanjavur became the royal capital again. A new royal palace was built, and a new city was centred around the new palace. The Temple became the royal temple again, with the construction of new buildings in it. With the abandonment of the royal system and the establishment of a new capital of the state in the Nineteenth Century, the Temple lost its royal character for good, but remained in use by the remaining local population of the city. In the Twentieth Century the Temple was declared a heritage site, initially at national level (in 1922) and later at international level as well (with its inscription in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1987), under the protection of ASI. Therefore, the Tanjore Temple was originally built as a royal temple, functioning as the centre of the royal palace and the royal capital. Over the course of time it became a temple in use by the local community (a local temple), then a royal temple in a royal city of a different form and structure, centred around a new royal palace (in fact, a new royal city), and now anationaland a world heritage site.
Today the Temple operates mainly as a heritage site. It is also an active religious as well as social and cultural centre for the local community. It is increasingly becoming a tourist attraction for non-Hindu visitors as well (ASI 2003:258), since it is among the Temples in South India that are open to non-Hindus and foreigners.
The ultimate power over the operation and management of the site is clearly in the hands of ASI (ASI 2003:271). ASI clearly concentrates on the preservation of the fabric of the site, strictly assessing the effect of religious rituals upon the fabric and strictly forbidding the access to areas under increased protection (allowing access to priests and the local community only in specific occasions). The local Temple Board has limited power, and is mainly dealing with the organisation of the social and cultural activities for the local community, always under the supervision of the State HRCE and ultimately ASI. The priests, consisting mostly of members of the local community, have even less power, and are responsible exclusively for the performance of the religious rituals.
The Temple of Srirangam
The Temple, situated on a village close to the city of Trichy, has a main temple in the centre, surrounded by seven wall enclosures with altogether twenty one towers. The first wall enclosure is dominated by the main temple. The following wall enclosures (second to fifth) include secondary temples as well as kitchen and storehouse premises, mostly for the needs of the pilgrims. The last two enclosures (sixth and seventh) include residences of the priests and also residences and shops of the local people (Srirangam Temple n.d.; Aruniappan 1987:5–19).
The Temple is a self-manifested shrine (i.e. a shrine believed to be located on one of the sacred spots of Hinduism, and not created by a human act, e.g. an act of royal policy, like the Tanjore Temple). Originally it was a small shrine, which developed over the course of time in a major one, mainly due to the consistent support from the royal families, court nobles and wealthy merchants. The Temple was built in the already existing urban settlement of Trichy and developed separately from the city, yet with strong links to each other (Aruniappan 1987:19–24; Rao 1961) (see figures 1 and 2).
The Temple has several phases of construction. Originally the Temple consisted of strictly religious buildings, following the strict rules of the Agamas texts of Paramesvara-Samhita. Over the course of time, however, due to the active participation of the local community in the operation of the Temple, various types of buildings were added that would not always comply with the Agamas texts (pers. comm. Sri Vaishnava Sri; pers. comm. E. Sivanagi Reddy): members of the royal families added temples and shrines of their own choice; priests were given some temporary space to use, which over time became permanent; and powerful local administrative officers, under the allowance of the Temple Board, built residences there, which were later purchased by members of the local community and were converted into shops.
Today the Temple operates as an active religious, social and economic centre for the local community and a significant pilgrimage centre for Hindu devotees (mainly from South India, but also from the north and the NRIs), managed by the Temple Board under the supervision of the State HRCE. It also operates as a heritage site designated at state level, under the protection of SDA. The responsibility of SDA covers the temples and the wall enclosures but not the local houses and shops, which are under the ownership of members of the local community.
The power in the operation and management of the Temple is in theory officially in the State HRCE and SDA. In practice, however, the Temple Board has an increased role in the life of the Tmeple, operating under a significant influence from the local government. As a consequence, the power in the decision-making process lies in the Temple Board, which is influenced by the state government on the one hand and the local government on the other. The power conflicts between the various communities involved in the operation of the Temple become apparent in the following issues: First, the Temple Board, under the influence of the State HRCE, and with the support of SDA, is currently trying to remove the local shops and houses from the Temple, and thus gain control over the entire site. But the local shop- and house- owners are resisting, enjoying the support of the local government and partly of the Temple Board itself: the local owners have strong personal and financial links with the local government; the local government tends to use the local owners as a means to influence the operation of the Temple; and some members of the Temple Board that come from the local community seem to support the local owners. The issue is still open and has been directed to the courts (pers. comm. Sri Vaishnava Sri). Second, the Temple Board, under the State HRCE, and with the support of the local administration and community, is continuing the maintenance and caring for the buildings within the Temple enclosures against the regulations of SDA. Thus the most recent tower of the wall enclosures was built in the 1980s, and some of the shrines were white-washed and part of the wall paintings was repainted in the early 2000s (pers. comm. Sri Vaishnava Sri).
The Srirangam Temple: shops within the outer enclosures of the Temple (author’s photo, June 2005)
The Srirangam Temple: shops and houses outside the Temple (author’s photo, June 2005)
These two figures illustrate the complex relationship, in terms of spatial arrangement and use, between the Temple and its surrounding settlement, with the one intervening into the other.
The Tirumala Temple atTirupati
The Temple is the core of a village situated on the Tirupati hills, above the town of Tirupati. The village consists of several temples and numerous smaller shrines, and a great variety of facilities for the devotees, including inns, restaurants, a visitor centre, hospitals and shops (Tirumala Temple n.d. a; Viraraghava Charya 1953; Tirumala Temple n.d. b; Viraraghava Charya 1953:vol. 1, maps 1 and 2) (see figure 3).
The Temple is a self-manifested shrine (i.e. believed to be located on one of the sacred spots of Hinduism). It was originally a small shrine, located in an area where there was no existing urban settlement. It gradually developed in a major shrine, with the constant support from the royal families, court nobles and wealthy merchants, attaining immense recognition and fame in the Eighteenth and the Nineteenth Century to present, and today it has become one of the most important international Hindu pilgrimage centres (Ramesan 1981:vi; 82; Viraraghava Charya 1953:vol. 1, 35–55). As a result of its growing recognition and fame, the Temple has undergone major construction works with the continuous additions of new buildings, giving existence and development to the nearby city of Tirupati (Satyanarayana 2003:35–49; Viraraghava Charya 1953:vol. 1, 56–71).
As a Hindu Temple in use the Tirumala Temple was supposed to be placed under the control of the State HRCE (see above). But the Tirumala Temple was considered too important and powerful to ‘equate… with all the minor and small temples’ in India (Ramesan 1981:569), and was thus given a special management status: The Temple is managed exclusively by its Temple Board (Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams/TTD), appointed and controlled directly by the state government. The Temple Board is responsible for the caring for the temples, the caring for the huge number of the pilgrims, the exploitation of the Temple’s property, and the conduction of philanthropic activity ‘in furtherance of the propagation of Hindu Religion and Culture’ (Ramesan 1981, 569) (Tirumala Temple n.d. a; pers. comm. Y.G.V. Babu; pers. comm. E. Sivanagi Reddy). The priests give their silent approval to the decisions taken by the Temple Board, and are responsible exclusively for the performance of the rituals, and still under the constant control of the Temple Board (pers. comm. E. Sivanagi Reddy).
The arrangement of the space of the Temple is defined primarily by the need for the caring of the visitors (see figure 4). Specifically, in the 1990s local shops within the Temple enclosure and local houses in proximityto the Temple were removed to allow space for the construction of new temples and pilgrim facilities (pers. comm. R. Satyanarayana; pers. comm. M. N. Rajesh). Furthermore, in the early 2000s a Fifteenth-Century thousand-pillar temple was ‘ironically … pulled down by the temple administrations for the inconvenience it causes to the functioning of the temple’ (Satyanarayana 2003:38). The thousand-pillar temple is now in the process of being reconstructed in a different location (pers. comm. R. Satyanarayana; pers. comm. M. N. Rajesh)
The Tirumala Temple: the Temple and its surrounding settlement (author’s photo, June 2005)
The Tirumala Temple: internal view (author’s photo, June 2005)
This figure could give an indication of the extensive construction activity taking place in the Temple.
3.2. The Hindu Temples of Tanjore, Srirangam and Tirupati in India: review
These Hindu Temples, in the same country and under a uniform system of operation and management (see above), retain their living religious tradition. The continuity of their religious tradition is rooted in the continuity of the performance of the rituals in the Temples, in accordance with the original religious rules governing the practice of religion and rituals as well as the construction and operation of Hindu Temples (eg. the Agamas) (ASI 2003:262; 8). The continuity of the religious tradition is reflected in the following: the continuity of the local community’s connection with the Temples, expressed through their participation in social and cultural activities of the site originally associated with the religious function of the Temples (ASI 2003:242; 263); the primary importance of the local community, recognised ‘as devotees’, in the operation of the Temples (ASI 2003:280; 258); the continuity of the process of the community’s caring of the Temples, seen in terms of the ownership status, the management mechanisms, as well as the maintenance practices that are based on the continual renewal of the decayed material (ASI 2003, 262–63); and the continuity of the process of the definition and arrangement of the space of the Temples, in accordance with the function of heritage, resulting to their overall homogeneity and integrity (ASI 2003:21–27); the close relationship of the Temples with their surrounding urban settlement in terms of spatial arrangement, with the temple forming the centre around which the surrounding environment is developed and is thus called ‘temple town’ (ASI 2003:262–64).
What differentiates the three Temples is the way the religious tradition has changed/evolved over the course of time, due to the changing wider social, political and economic circumstances.This evolution can be identified primarily in terms of the function of the Temples. As discussed above,the Tanjore Temple started as a royal temple; after the royal capital was moved, it became a temple in use by the local community; and today it is primarily a national (and world) heritage site. Thus, the religious tradition of the Temple was briefly interrupted, then (re)established in a different way, and now ‘stabilised’ in a state that conforms to the original religious rules. The Srirangam Temple was initially a small shrine which increased in importance for the local community; it was then used for commercial and residential purposes that developed separately from its religious function. Thus, the religious tradition of the Temple developed beyond the original religious rules. The Tirupati Temple was initially a small shrine which developed into a major international pilgrimage centre. The religious tradition of the Temple has been continually enhanced, in accordance with the original religious rules but rather seeing hardly any boundaries in its enhancement. Therefore, the main complexities in the operation and management of the Temples are linked to the interruptions in the religious tradition over time in the case of the Tanjore Temple, the alterations in the religious tradition in the Srirangam Temple, and the enhancement of the religious tradition in the Tirupati Temple.
The evolution of the religious tradition over time is reflected in the power of the community’s connection with the Temples. In the Tanjore Temple, as a result of the interruptions in the religious tradition of the Temple, the power of the local community’s connection with the Temple has been affected over time and has become very limited today, with the ultimate power being in the hands of the heritage authorities (the Government of India through ASI). In the Srirangam Temple, because of the interventions of the local community in the operation of the Temple over time, today the power of the local community over the Temple is significant, while the power of the heritage authorities is relatively less significant. In the Tirupati Temple, as a result of the continually increasing importance of the Temple over time, today the Temple Board has the ultimate control over the Temple.
The evolution of the religious tradition is also reflected in the ownership status as well as the management mechanisms of the Temples. In the Tanjore Temple, the community’s connection with the Temple is not clearly recognized/established in a formal, legal way. The community’s (traditional) management system is still valid, but is ‘stabilized’ in a state that conforms to the original religious rules, and is mostly integrated in the modern management system established and supervised by the heritage authorities (the Government of India through ASI). In the Srirangam Temple, the community has officially recognized power over the Temple: it is even holding official titles of ownership for the houses and shops within the Temple enclosures. The operation of the Temple seems unlikely to conform to the original religious rules due to the constant interventions of state and local government officials to the Temple Board and the subsequent internal conflicts within the Temple Board. In the Tirupati Temple, the strengthening of the religious and pilgrimage character of the Temple over time led to the official change of the ownership and management status of the Temple: the Temple Board is now officially recognized as the primary and rather exclusive management body of the Temple.
The evolution of the religious tradition is also reflected in the process of definition and arrangement of the space of the Temples. With regard to the external space to the Temples (i.e. the relationship between the Temples with their surrounding settlements), the Tanjore Temple was originally the core of the surrounding settlement, defining the space of the settlement. With the transferring of the royal capital, the Temple ceased to be the core of the settlement and started to be affected by the spatial changes in the settlement. Later, with the re-establishment of the royal capital in the city and the erection of a new palace (in fact, the development of a new city), the Temple was affected by the spatial changes in the settlement. Today, with the establishment of the National and World Heritage status and the recognition of a buffer zone around the site, the site is clearly separated from the settlement, and the spatial relationship between the site and the settlement ceased. The Tirupati Temple has defined the space in the surrounding settlement, giving existence and development to it. The Srirangam Temple and the surrounding settlement are in a two-way interactive relationship: residences and shops of the surrounding settlement have found their way into the Temple enclosures, while the wall enclosures of the Temple have been expanding towards/within the city.
As far as the internal space of the Temples (within the Temples) is concerned, when the Tanjore Temple ceased to be a royal temple and became a local one, the spatial changes in accordance with the religious function of the Temple were considerably restricted; when it was declared a national (and world) heritage site, the changes ceased. The condition of the site is now ‘stabilized’ in a state that conforms to the original religious rules and the original state of space. In the Srirangam Temple the space is in a process of continuous change yet outside the boundaries of the religious rules and with little respect to the original state of space, as indicated by the erection of residences and shops within the Temple enclosures. In the Tirupati Temple the space is in continuous development within the boundaries of the original religious rules but without respect to the original state of space.
It should be noted that, within this process of the changes in the spatial arrangement of the Temples, the buildings that are less likely to be affected are those directly associated with the function of the Temples, i.e. the temples (where gods are believed to reside and where the rituals take place). The buildings that are of a secondary role and importance, such as kitchen facilities, are more likely to be affected and replaced. This is evident in the Srirangam Temple, where the continuous changes in the operation and the spatial arrangement of the Temple over time have not affected the core, inner wall enclosures (the ones with the temples) but only the outer ones (the ones with the secondary buildings). This is also evident in the Tirupati Temple, where the continuous growth of the Temple and the subsequent rearrangement of space over time seem to have affected all the buildings apart from the main temples.
The evolution of the religious tradition is also reflected in the condition of the fabric of the Temples. In the Tanjore Temple the fabric is very well preserved, and ‘stabilized’ in its original condition, with reference to the modern scientific-based conservation principles and practices as applied by ASI. In the Srirangam Temple the changes in the fabric caused by the Temple Board often alter the original state of fabric, against the regulations of SDA, as illustrated by the recent white-washing and repainting in the shrines. In the Tirupati Temple the continuous changes of the fabric caused by the Temple Board have significantly and irreversibly altered the original state of fabric, without any reference to the modern scientific-based conservation principles and practices, as clearly illustrated by the recent demolition of the Fifteenth-Century thousand-pillar temple.
These differences between the three Temples in terms of the state of the original space and fabric could be seen as reflected in the different official status of recognition of the historic significance of the sites. The Tanjore Temple is designated at a national (as well as international) level, the Srirangam Temple is designated at a state level, while the Tirupati Temple is a non-designated site.
Therefore, as a consequence of the different way in which the religious tradition has evolved, the Tanjore Temple, where the religious tradition has been suppressed over time, operates today under the responsibility of the Government of India (through ASI), with reference to the modern scientific-based principles and practices and with an emphasis on the preservation of its original space and fabric. The community has lost its power over the Temple and does not create significant complexities to the operation and management of the sites: it is consulted and even encouraged to participate in the management of the sites by the heritage authorities, and its management systems are respected and to some extent incorporated within the modern management systems. As a result, the site can be embraced within the national and even the World Heritage system. The Srirangam Temple is a site used and managed mostly by the local community, while the Tirupati Temple is a major international religious and pilgrimage site managed by its Temple Board. In the Srirangam Temple and the Tirupati Temple, where the religious tradition has been maintained and even enhanced (in the case of the Tirupati Temple) over time, the power of the communities create several complexities to the operation and management of the sites, with negative implications for the original condition of the space and fabric of the sites. As a result, these sites are unlikely to be embraced within the national and especially within the World Heritage system.
It seems that if the religious tradition in a Temple is suppressed over time, then the associated religious community’s interest, role as well as power in the operation and conservation of the Temple becomes less important, while the heritage authorities’ interest, role as well as power in the operation and conservation of the Temple (and also in ‘educating’ the community about the significance of the Temple) becomes increasingly important, and thus the Temple is more likely to be within the existing heritage systems. On the contrary, if the religious tradition in a Temple is maintained or enhanced over time, then the associated religious community’s interest, role as well as power in the operation and conservation of the Temple remains important, with relatively little space left to the heritage authorities, and thus the Temple is less likely to be embraced within the heritage systems.
4. Conserving living religious heritage: towards a new conservation approach
For the conservation of living religious heritage, and especially for those sites whose power of religious tradition has been maintained or enhanced over the course of time (as in the case of the Srirangam Temple and the Tirupati Temple: see above), a new conservation approach is suggested: a living heritage approach. A living heritage approach concentrates on the original connection of a particular community (in the case of living religious heritage: the religious community) with heritage: continuity. In the context of continuity, the past, the present, and the future are unified into an ongoing present, and thus the present is seen as the continuation of the past into the future. Thus, the starting point, as well as the focal point in the conservation and management process, is the present and the present community’s connection with heritage (Wijesuriya 2005; Poulios 2008). The primary aim of conservation, according to a living heritage approach, is to maintain the continuity of the (present) community’s connection with heritage. The protection of the physical heritage is placed within the maintenance of continuity. Conservation also aims at embracing change/evolution, always within continuity, and thus ensuring the relevance of heritage to the present community.
In the context of maintaining continuity as well as embracing change/evolution, specific criteria apply: function, community’s connection with heritage, the caring of heritage by the community, and the process of definition and arrangement of space. The criteria differentiate and prioritize between the differing communities’ associations with heritage as well as the communities’ roles in the definition and also in the conservation and management of heritage: the particular (religious) community is given the primary role, while the heritage authorities and the broader community are given a supplementary role. The management systems and maintenance practices of the community are recognized and accepted as the primary ones, while the modern scientific-based conservation systems and techniques are recognized mostly as supplementary to those of the community. Therefore, this particular (religious) community continues the process of the creation of living heritage, with the constant support of the heritage authorities and the broader community, on the basis of the original function of heritage.
The particular conservation approach was applied in the restoration of the Temple of the Tooth Relic in the World Heritage city of Kandy in Sri Lanka (Wijesuriya 2000). The Temple was constructed in the Seventeenth Century to house the Tooth Relic, which is considered one of the most venerated objects of worship in the Buddhist world. Today the Temple is the most sacred Buddhist site and the most important heritage site in Sri Lanka, and one of the most significant international Buddhist pilgrimage centers. The most important event in the recent history of the Temple was its significant destruction as a result of a terrorist bomb attack in 1997. The restoration of the Temple became a national task of the highest importance and urgency (Wijesuriya 2000:100). Despite the participation of all main groups in the restoration project, it was made clear from the very beginning that any decision taken would be subjected to the approval of the religious fraternities and the lay guardian (i.e. the officer) of the Temple.
In this context, the first priority of the restoration project, as firmly stated by the religious fraternities and the lay guardian and accepted by the heritage authorities, was the revival of the function of the Temple as a place of worship. In this line, the restoration solutions clearly favored the living (religious) function of the Temple at the expense of the protection of its heritage significance, and generally run counter to conservation principles and practices (Wijesuriya 2000:104–107). For example, the badly damaged stone carvings at the main entrance of the Temple were not left in their deteriorated state “as evidence for the future generations to see the damage incurred by terrorists” or were not “minimally restored [with the use of original material] and left in situ”, as suggested by the heritage authorities, but restored “as a whole” with replicas (Wijesuriya 2000:104–107).
This paper is in part based on material from my PhD thesis on “Living Sites: The Past in the Present — The Monastic Site of Meteora, Greece: Towards a New Approach to Conservation” at University College London, UK, carried out under the supervision of Tim Schadla-Hall, Tim Williams, and Peter Ucko, to whom I am grateful.
The material for this paper was mostly gathered during a field trip in India in June 2005. I am deeply indebted tomy friend Krishna Vamsi Chintapalli and his family for giving me the opportunity to visit India, and to the family of Srinivas Chintapalli for their warmest hospitality. There were a lot of people who helped me during this trip, from whom I would particularly thank the following: A. Verma, E. Sivanagi Reddy, M. N. Rajesh, K.M. Kamesan, Sri Vaishnava Sri, R. Subrahmanyam, Y.G.V. Babu and R. Satyanarayana for sharing their knowledge in the operation and management of living religious heritage in India, with an emphasis on the Brihadisvara Temple at Tanjore, the Srirangam Temple and the Tirumala Temple at Tirupati. I would like to specially thank R. Ray and A.R. Ramanathan for discussing with me the complexities of the management of living World Heritage Sites in India with a focus on the Brihadisvara Temple at Tanjore, and also for their hospitality; and to R. Champakalakshmi, who helped me refine some key areas of my research. This field trip was completed thanks to a scholarship from the Greek State Scholarships Foundation (IKY) and thanks to a grant from the A. G. Leventis Foundation. I take the opportunity to thank these funding bodies for their contribution.
This paper also uses material from the Living Heritage Sites Programme at the ‘International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property’ (ICCROM), where I worked as a heritage consultant under the supervision of Gamini Wijesuriya, to whom I am also grateful. I would like to thank ICCROM for allowing me access to this material, and also for approving its dissemination.
The views expressed in this paper are my own.
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Personal comments (pers. comm.)
M. N. Rajesh
E. Sivanagi Reddy
Sri Vaishnava Sri
Note on the contributor
Ioannis Poulios undertook his PhD on heritage conservation and management at University College London, and attended MBA courses on business strategy and management at London Business School. Ioannis collaborates as a heritage consultant with the “International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property” (ICCROM), and is a Lecturer in the Faculty of Cultural Heritage Management and New Technologies, University of Western Greece.