Once again, I returned to Koochbehar Kali Bari. I have been there so many times that its counterpoint Gurudham Temple stands conspicuous with only two visits, that too in past four months. It also stands apart because of the way it is being restored. The Rang Mahal in Kalibari and Gurudham Temple are receiving attention that has been lacking for over half a century. I have returned to Kalibari in each visit of mine and wished for someone to save it from turning into ruins. My prayers have been listened to. Finally! Albeit with a cruel twist. They have started erecting common brick and cement walls in a structure built with lakheria bricks and surkhi with lime mortar (gara). One look at the column and the ugly walls marring the beauty of the balcony will suffice to show the incongruity of the practice. It’s more of defacement than restoration.
There’s a definite introduction of ugliness to the structure of the balcony of the first floor when the two images of the same building, taken at a gap of three months only, are compared. In the image of January 2014, the balcony has a couple of wooden railings, matching with the material of the wooden paneling at the top end of the columns of the verandah. There must have been iron rods at definite intervals to cover the gap between the floor and the railing, while leaving space for the cool evening breeze to pass. That kind of structure has grown organically in the colonial bungalows nativised, quite in sync with the local climate. The present, brick replacement is not only aesthetically jarring but also not in keeping with the need of the building in the kind of climate Banaras has. What’s worse, the defacement is irreversible, that too in a compound owned by the government, as is mentioned on the board at the entrance:
Koochbehar Kali Bari, Varanasi,
Devottar Trust Board, Koochbehar
Department of Tourism, Government of West Bengal
One may pardon those in charge for this vulgarity that amounts to vandalism, but the Government of West Bengal must not have neglected a structure of cultural and historical significance.
[While googling “Devottar Trust Board, Koochbehar” I found out that Rajmata Gayatri Devi of Jaipur was from Koochbehar royal family, the youngest daughter of Maharaja Jitendra Narayan. Koochbehar comprised of Northern West Bengal, parts of Assam, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Kisanganj before its union with Indian territory. coochbehar.nic.in and coochbehar.gov.in provide information about the district, so does wikipedia]
I find the restoration work at Gurudham superior in many ways. Although I don’t have the specialist’s knowledge and common sense may not work efficiently here, I do grasp the logic of using same or similar material while reconstructing parts that must unite with some other parts to make a harmonious whole. My friends Vivek and Ganesh showed me the improved new structure of the temple and the wall that they had restored using an ingenious slice-like construction strategy. There was a portion of the wall inside the temple that someone had tried to bolster by inserting common bricks and cement within. It was reconstructed keeping the portion above the newly (and incongruously) constructed section unharmed. They used only gara for the construction. Lakheria bricks they could not use because funds weren’t sufficient for that.
The tip of the bamboo stick shows the exact spot where pieces of stone were inserted in the mixture of gara to give more strength to the repair work. Vivek is at the other end of the stick. He kept using it as a pointer throughout the guided tour to the premises. What they are trying to achieve at Gurudham is a minimum alteration kind of restoration that keeps the spirit of the place intact. Whatever is being done at Kalibari may end up altering the very spirit of the place, along with the classic appearance of the Rang Mahal that is being reconstructed by people sans any kind of aesthetic sense. For them, the new Rang Mahal will make money by serving the dual purposes of being a rest house and a venue for wedding parties.
Mrinalini Bangroo’s organization has done a commendable work at Gurudham and I congratulate them on what they have achieved already. Vivek told me that the reconstruction work may be complete by the month of August. The bicentennial celebrations of Gurudham fall in September. Mr. Subhash Yadav’s name keeps cropping repeatedly in my talks about the Temple with people who know about it. Dr A. P. Singh had asked me to meet him when I’d informed him that I was going there. Vivek is all praise for the gentleman. I must seek for an appointment in my next trip.
I actually sent a mail to the concerned authorities about Koochbehar Kali Bari with a lot of cc’s. It reads:
I write you this mail because it gives me pain when I look at the present structure of the Rang Mahal of Koochbehar Kali Bari, Varanasi. I am attaching the images of the same structure that I had taken in January 2014, and then in April 2014. They prove that the beauty of the balcony of the first floor has been marred by the mindless and unaesthetic brick and cement construction.
I am from Varanasi and have grown up playing in the Kali Bari compound. I see it as my duty to inform the concerned authorities and to suggest that the reconstruction work must be in sync with the basic form of the building, and must keep aesthetics in mind. Hence, it should proceed under the supervision of some one with better expertise.
I hope that some action is taken in this matter, before more damage is done.
I have published a blog about the same that has another reconstruction work being done in Banaras, scientifically.
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