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Calls for new ASI circle in Tiruchy getting louder

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Most protected national monuments and archaeological sites are situated in the central districts of Tamil Nadu. And that’s the reason why historians and archaeologists want to form the new ASI circle at Tiruchy.

At present, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Chennai Circle, is the only body in the state that protects, maintains and explores the ancient monuments and sites across Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. There are 251 monuments and 160 sites under the Chennai Circle, which has 10 sub-circles, and most are situated in the central districts.

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For instance, Pudukkottai district has 86 monuments and 23 sites. Why? KR Rajendran, an archaeological enthusiast, says, “The rulers of Pudukkottai princely state, particularly Marthanda Bhairava Thondaiman, were interested in explorations. They set up a museum at Pudukkottai in 1910, which is the second oldest in the state after the one in Chennai.

The Pudukkottai kings protected the monuments and after Independence, the central government took over.” Also, Pudukkottai is located on the borders of Chola and Pandiya Kingdoms, which have historically significant monuments. “Moreover, Jainism thrived until the 13th Century in Pudukkotai. Hence, the idols of Jain Tirthankaras, images, inscriptions, temples and stone beds, can be seen in the district,” he adds.

Historians claim that most of these monuments are not maintained properly. “Many sites do not have guards. And in the past 50 years, the ASI Chennai Circle has barely added any new monuments to the list; not just from Pudukkottai but also from other districts,” rues Rajendran.

Era Komagan, coordinator of Gangaikonda Cholapuram Development Council, points to the list of monuments on the Chennai Circle website. “Beyond Madurai and Theni, there’s not a single monument listed from the southern districts, because there aren’t many explorations done there. Moreover, Mamallapuram, Thanjavur, Gangaikondacholapuram and Darasuram are the only four World Heritage Sites in Tamil Nadu. Except for Mamallapuram, the remaining three places are situated in the central districts. That’s why we want a separate circle of ASI,” he explains.

Komagan has also submitted a petition to the union minister for culture, Mahesh Sharma. He adds, “Due to the vast jurisdiction, administrative inconvenience and financial burden, Chennai circle functions at a snail’s pace. If Tiruchy circle is created, ASI activities will get new impetus.”

Drawing comparison between the ASI activities in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, an official in the Chennai Circle, points out: “Over 410 monuments and sites fall under the Chennai Circle whereas Bengaluru Circle has 132 monuments. Plus, Karnataka has two ASI circles — Bengaluru and Dharwad — and one mini-circle at Hampi. But TN has only one.”

How are funds allocated? “For 2017-18, the Chennai Circle was given `5 crore, whereas the three circles in Karanataka got larger amount. So Karnataka explores more and adds to its lists of monuments, while we suffer from lack of funds and human resources.”

To ease funds crunch, history buffs like Manikandan from Pudukottai have a few ideas. “Cultural and heritage tourism are on rise. We can monetize the trend here if ASI can coordinate with the tourism department in every district. Hop on, Hop off bus tours can be arranged. Even if such initiatives are implemented, ASI definitely needs two circles — Chennai and Tiruchy,” he avers.


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