Monarch statue stands firm

No human casualties in ancient Shiva temple collapse, say officials

Monarch statue stands firm

Emperor Krishnadevaraya’s statue stands rock-solid amid the temple ruins.

The late emperor had built the tower to commemorate his triumphant march to the town in AD 1516.   

Just behind the statue, what is barely visible now is part of the granite base that once supported the eye-catching super-structure. Amid local people’s protest  against the government’s apathy in letting such a splendid tower fall, the debris is being cleared now.

The temple’s Executive Officer E Ramachandranmurthy told Deccan Herald over phone on Thursday afternoon that no human casualties were reported. “A few houses and small shops close to the tower have alone flattened under its crumbling impact,” he explained.

“Until all the debris including the mud is removed, we can’t say how many tiers of the ‘Raja Gopuram’ have actually caved in, though outwardly nothing of the super-structure is seen,” Murthy said.

Several eyewitnesses, quoted in some local television channels, said they heard a big bang on Wednesday night. One of them said the ‘gopuram’ seen with a long crack right up to its top “suddenly descended with a big noise, throwing up a lot of dust.”  

“I had a ‘darshan’ of the ‘Raja Gopuram’ on Wednesday night and by the time I reached the nearby market, I heard a crashing sound,” recalled Selva, another pilgrim.

However, ‘pujas’ in the temple have not been affected as pilgrims “can take the other entrance at the rear,” said an official at the district headquarters. Officials from the district administration are camping in the area.

Ramachandramurthy conceded that the temple tower was weakening over the years. Despite some remedial steps in the past, one particularly worrisome crack was seen some five years ago, he noted.

“But it rapidly and dangerously widened last week after the cyclone ‘Laila’ hit the state”, he said.

After a team of experts inspected the site on Tuesday and issued a warning, a 150 metre-wide “danger zone” was clamped around the ‘gopuram’ and the area was cordoned off. However, what has intrigued experts led by S Narasimhamurthy, retired Professor of Structural Engineering, IIT-Madras, is the crack “developing into a deep vertical fissure all along the face of the seven-stories tower,” sources said.

The team was to take a decision on May 29, but the structure collapsed much earlier than they expected.

They again visited the site on Thursday, but the officials declined to comment on what they felt.  

Monkeys feared dead

 There may be some bad news for animal lovers as scores of monkeys are feared to have been crushed to death in the temple tower collapse at Srikalahsathi on Wednesday night.

The huge mound of debris at the crash site has thrown no signs of primates  buried under it till Thursday afternoon.  

“Unless we actually see dead monkeys we cannot say anything though lots of monkeys usually keep roaming about ‘gopurams’ of temples,” Ramakrishna, Chittoor District Superintendent of Police, said.

Reiterating that there was no human casualties at the crash site, the police official said they had advised the authorities to include technical people from the Archaeological Survey of India while clearing the debris as it would help to detect and conserve any precious artifact they might come across.

Ramakrishna also said digging the earth for a shopping complex close to the ‘Raja Gopuram’ or drilling some deep bore-wells few years back could not have triggered the first serious crack on the super-structure, as suspected among a section of the public.

“There are any number of places likes Madurai, which have very tall temple towers and close to which shopping areas have come up,” he reasoned, adding, structural engineers will have to study the issues in depth including the type of materials used in its construction. 

It is still not clear whether the temple tower had a lightening rod or detector atop it. “I do not know,” said Ramakrishna though acknowledging that they are a must for all tall temple towers as a minimal protective shield. 

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