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Kalahasthi temple tower collapses

Last updated: 27 May, 2010
R Akhileshwari and M R Venkatesh, Hyderabad/Chennai, May 26, DHNS: 1:23 IST

Yawning crack across seven tiers of the ancient shrine; area declared danger zone

The ''gopuram'' of the centuries- old Siva temple at Srikalahasti in Chittoor district built by Srikrishnadevaraya collapsed on Wednesday night. A massive tragedy was averted as the temple authorities had evacuated people from the shrine precincts anticipating the collapse of the gopuram.

The authorities had also barred the entry of devotees into the shrine.

A 150-metre radius around the temple was declared a “red” or danger zone by the authorities as pieces of debris had begun to fall from a crack that was noticed more than ten years ago. The crack had widened dangerously after the recent torrential rain and Laila cyclone which lashed Andhra Pradesh last week. The 135-metre-high structure, consisting of seven storeys, collapsed around 8.30 pm on Wednesday.

No casualties have been reported. However, it is feared that some security personnel posted at the temple might have been buried under the debris. Two women are reported to be missing. According to temple officials, a few hundred monkeys that had made the temple their home might have been killed.

Even as the Endowments Department and the Andhra Pradesh Government came under severe criticism for neglecting the temple, the state government ordered a high-level inquiry into the “gopuram” collapse. Endowments Minister Gade Venkat Reddy dismissed allegations of neglect by the temple authorities in repairing the crumbling structure. In fact, he said, the timely action of the temple authorities and the government in evacuating people from the area had averted a major tragedy.

He ruled out action against any officials concerned. He also declined to resign as demanded by some organisations. Reddy pointed out that a team of Archaeology Department visited the temple on Tuesday to study the crack that had developed in the “gopuram” and had taken the advice of a team of experts from Indian Institute of Technology Madras on repairing the structure.

Kailash of the South

The huge crack in the Srikalahasthi temple was noticed recently. People had seen pieces of stone falling from the gopuram’s first and second tiers in the last few days, after Laila cyclone passed through the area, which is believed to have widened the crack. The first and second storeys of the tower were built with granite and the remaining five with bricks and lime mortar.

Temple Executive Officer E Ramachandramurthy told Deccan Herald over the phone that as a precautionary measure all people living near the precincts of the gopuram were evacuated on Tuesday itself.

The temple, revered as “Kailash of the South,” is considered one of the “Panchabootha Sthalams” in South India. The presiding deity is Vayulingeshwara, Lord Shiva symbolising air—one of the five basic elements of nature.

The other four major Shiva temples symbolising the other four elements are in Tiruvannamalai (“Tejo Lingam” or fire), Chidambaram (“Akasha Lingam” or ether), Thiruvanaikkaval (“Appu Lingam” or water)and Kancheepuram (“Prithvi Lingam” or earth), all in Tamil Nadu.

Older inner structure

Situated on the banks of the Swarnamukhi river in Andhra’s Chittoor district, Srikalahasthi is a compound name of “Sri” meaning spider, “kala” (serpent) and “hasthi” (elephant) and is known so as Lord Shiva is believed to have liberated all three of them there. The old inner shrine is said to date back to the third century BC. Thousands of pilgrims visit the temple every day and recently for the Rahu-Ketu Parihara Poojas. Former Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalitha visited it last week.

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