- Why Kedarnath Temple Survived Floods
Published on: June 23, 2013 - 23:44
Gives scientific explanation..
More in: Opinion
BY NANDKUMAR M KAMAT
SEVERAL years ago, Goa’s leading Gandhian NGO, the Peaceful Society, Madkai had invited two stalwarts of the environmental movement and vanguards of famous ‘Chipko’ movement in Uttarakhand to Goa at different times to interact with people. While listening to lectures of Dr Chandiprasad Bhat and Sunderlal Bahuguna we learnt the importance of conservation of forests and hill slopes and eco-sensitive watersheds.
Both the environmentalists did everything to stop deforestation in sub-Himalayan region. They were carrying their message to Goa – do not convert unstable hill slopes into concrete jungles, do not destroy the watersheds of the rivers, protect the forests covering the hill slopes and conserve the trees everywhere. Their predictions have now proved correct. But it is too late for India and Indians to learn any lessons.
Challenge of climate change
India would survive the challenge of climate change only if traditional wisdom is combined with ecological sensitivity and appropriate, locally suitable modern technology in architecture and civil engineering. The evidence comes from miraculous survival of a manmade structure – the Kedarnath temple.
Surrounded by mud, dead bodies and debris- the temple stands as a symbol, a tribute to India’s traditional architectural and civil engineering wisdom. The temple is contemporaneous with the Mahadev temple at Tamdi Surla built by Goa Kadamba queen Kamaladevi Permadi.
The design and architectural principles used in construction of both Tamdi Surla temple and Kedarnath temple are similar. From choice of location to erection of platform and building material- the elements of maintenance and durability were built in the design principles.
Heavy polished stone slabs were welded to slabs without any mortar and ‘man-woman’ type joints were used to integrate the superstructure. The Archaeological Survey of India has damaged the “L” shaped interlocking drainage channels of the rooftop monolithic slabs of Tamdi Surla temple in the name of restoration activity.
Kedarnath temple survived the force of floods because of a strong stone plinth specifically built in the steep valley area to withstand the vagaries of the climate. Global climate change has finally shown what it can do to India’s ancient locations of pilgrimage. The destruction by landslides and mudflow took a heavy toll on modern buildings, many built illegally without any concern for local environment but the thousand years old Kedarnath temple survived.
The survival of Kedarnath temple also showed that India would need new ideas in architecture which should stand up to the challenges of changing weather and severe natural calamities. These floods would remind Goans of floods faced by Canacona flash floods of October 2009. It was illegal mining, quarrying, deforestation due to slash burning (kumeri), landslides and siltation in the channel which had caused heavy mudflow in Canacona.
The five centuries Vaishnavaite monastery of Partagal on the banks of Talpona river had narrowly escaped permanent damage. On June 17, 2013 Uttarakhand received more than 340 centimeters of rainfall. This was 375 per cent more than the benchmark of 6.6 centimeters rainfall during a normal monsoon. This caused heavy floods in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Western Nepal. Dehra Dun, capital of Uttarakhand, experiences its wettest June day for over five decades. Heavy rainfall for four consecutive days as well as melting of the snow aggravated the floods. Landslides, caused due to the floods, damaged several houses and structures, killing those who were trapped.
Fury of floods
Many villages and settlements such as Gaurikund and the market town of Ram Bada, a transition point to Kedarnath, faced the fury of the floods. The market town of Sonprayag (Guptprayag) suffered heavy damage and loss of lives. Kedarnath is a popular shaktipeethha – an important temple for Saivaite pilgrimage circuit. It is one of the holiest Hindu temples dedicated to the Lord Shiva located on the Garhwal Himalayan range near the Mandakini river in Kedarnath.
The extreme weather conditions make the temple accessible only between the end of April to November. To reach the temple, pilgrims have to trek 14 kilometres uphill from Gaurikund. The temple is also one of the four major sites in India’s Chota Char Dham pilgrimage of Northern Himalayas. Though the Kedarnath temple itself has not been damaged, its base was inundated with water, mud and boulders from the landslide causing damage to its perimeters.
Many hotels around the temple were destroyed, resulting in a lot of casualties. Most of the destruction at Kedarnath was caused by the sudden rapid melting of ice and snow on the Kedarnath mountain, six kilometres from the temple, which flooded the Charbari lake and then Kedarnath. The rains in sub-Himalayan part of India actually arrive in July. But this year they struck the higher catchments in June with full fury. Kedarnath temple is located in a very deep gorge, surrounded by very steep mountain slopes. The Google Earth terrain images of the location would take one’s breath away. It is a very different, very difficult hilly, steep terrain. Hindu Lord Shiva or Mahadev is lord of annihilation. But it was the Hindu god of rain – Lord Indra who seemed to have shown the fury in Kedarnath. The temple could save lives of some pilgrims but the stampede also resulted in killing of many others.
This whole episode has raised several questions for the central and state governments about our national and local capacitance against climate change. Are our architects and engineers well tuned to build structures which would stand for centuries and be resistant to climate change? The Rege Commission report on collapse of old Mandovi bridge blamed it on corrosion of cables in concrete deck slabs. Even today quality parameters for water used for curing the RCC have not been notified. People are spending huge amounts in Goa for weatherproofing, waterproofing and corrosion control. The survival of Kedarnath temple offers us some hope. If the temple is so resilient then it is not because of any divine force because that force would not have seen death of thousands of innocent pilgrims. The temple as a manmade structure has sent a national message- there is no substitute to ancient Indian architectural wisdom if we were to survive the future calamities.
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