Chennai: Social media is full of vintage images of South Indian temples, but have you ever had the chance to see drawings of these places of worship before photography? In a year from now, people may be able to see such invisible designs on digital platforms, which are now not available in the public domain.
This was an effort by the British to document the art and sculpture of temples on the Indian subcontinent over 120 years ago. The drawings are the oldest picture documents recorded during the colonial period, decades before the temples were photographed by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the custodian of monuments centrally protected for this purpose. Now, more than a century later, a proposal is underway to make the images of the scale drawings public.
K Amarnath Ramakrishna, ASI Superintendent Archaeologist, who is leading the Southern Region Temple Study Project, said approval has been sought for the digitization process.
“There are plans to digitize the drawings. Once the green light is given, it will take about a year to complete the whole process. We will publish these drawings on digital platforms,” he told TOI.
The treasure includes popular temples in southern Vindhyas, from Maharashtra to Tamil Nadu. It includes Brihadeeswarar Temple in Thanjavur, Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple in Madurai, and Pallava Monuments in Mamallapuram.
The Southern Region Temples Study Project, a wing of ASI, based in Chennai, is working on a proposal to keep around 1,000 of these scale drawings through digitization. Each temple had been recreated in several dimensions by special designers using scale drawings, some dating back to the 1880s. For example, the Brihadeeshwarar temple in Thanjavur has at least 25 different drawings in various sizes and angles, capturing almost every architectural detail of the structure.
Likewise, several drawings of the Meenakshi Sundareswarar temple in Madurai give an almost photographic impression of the structure.
The wooden doors and the carvings of the thousand-pillar mandapam of the temple are masterpieces of precision and complexity.
Some of them are large designs measuring 84x118cm. The sketches are a record of every minute detail about the heritage structures, including its height.