Subscribe to our weekly newsletter


How climate change is impacting century-old temples of Sundarbans

3 February, 2023 10:10:50
How climate change is impacting century-old temples of Sundarbans

Things are not looking too good for the architectural treasures of Sundarbans. It is not just the people of the largest delta of the world getting displaced due to climate changes, but even the temples and monuments built centuries ago are now falling to erosion and increased salinity resulting due to climate change, frequent cyclones, floods and raised salinity in the area.

The latest victim being the 11th-century temple of Jatar Deul, which is quite famous as a tourist attraction as well as revered by the locals. The terracotta temple is now being corroded due to saline winds and water and excessive heat and humidity. The Archaeological Survey of India has already been called in for restoration and they have suggested replacing the damaged terracotta bricks and planting trees as a protective barrier around the structure.

Jatar Deul is an ancient terracotta structure that has survived the ravages of time for millennia. But the modern threat of climate change, especially the increase in air salinity, is gradually eroding its outer walls. Located at Raidighi, it is just a few kilometres away from the sea. For the past few years, the outer brick wall of the temple is getting eroded, with the edge of the bricks suffering steady corrosion. This is a result of the increase in air salinity. As environmentalist Somendra Mohan Ghosh said: “Ancient temples are destroyed due to environmental degradation. Factors like excessive water pollution, increase in the salinity level of the soil, and rising sea levels --- all contribute to the same. The same is happening to the temples in the Sundarban region.”

The ASI plans to carry out restoration and conservation work at the temple later this year. “Removing the damaged bricks and replacing them with new bricks of similar size is a difficult task as it needs a lot of care so that there is no structural damage caused,” an archaeologist attached to ASI explained. While the temple is 98 feet high, the archaeologist said that the erosion is particularly seen in the bricks on the outer wall up to a height of 15 feet. “The temple stands on a vacant site. There are some trees to provide a barrier to coastal winds, particularly on the upper part of the temple, and that can be the reason that erosion is less on the upper side of the temple,” he added.

As local Biplab Das who runs his NGO in the area and has lived here since his childhood says: “Archaeological restoration like working on the outer bricks, replacing them, creating more tree barriers is an utmost necessity. The mangrove density needs to be increased along the coastline as they act as natural barriers to restrict sea air flow and thus protect these structures from further destruction.” With the increase in tropical cyclones that ravages this coastal part of West Bengal, several trees also get destroyed regularly further exposing temples like JatarDeul to the gusty salt-laden coastal winds. The temple is surrounded by agricultural fields, and there is nothing to protect the 98 feet brick structure from regular saline winds or frequent cyclones.JatarDeul is a Shiva temple and is the tallest standing temple in the Sundarbans on the bank of the river Moni. The temple has a curvilinear tower similar to the temple architecture of the Nagara order of Odisha temples.

As per the ASI website, Jatar Deul is traditionally connected to an inscription, no longer traceable, by one Raja Jayantachandra, purported to have been issued in 975 AD. The temple had considerable architectural merit and closely resembled the Siddhesvara Temple at Bahulara, near Onda in the Bankura district. However, the dating of the temple is controversial. Though some believe it started in the 11th century, others state it might be the 13th century considering its architectural features.

Similar temples in the Sundarbans and Sagar Island have been destroyed and it is high time that ASI and concerned authorities rise to the occasion. One such temple was the brick temple at Mandirtala in Sagar Island, not far from JatarDeul, which has been razed to the ground due to soil erosion. The problem is these temples are terracotta temples, that are made from burnt clay and not stone temples like the Konark temple of Odisha which is also on the shores. Stones are more resistant to harsh saline conditions than burnt bricks.  As Ghosh signs off: “To avoid toxicity in the soil more and more mangrove plantation is needed. Unfortunately, these days deforestation is double the afforestation. Sundarban Development Board also needs to come forward and effectively think about heritage site preservation. Only long-term action plans to combat flood situations efficiently are an immediate need. Else many of these islands will be under the water within the next two decades and around 50,000 people will become environmental refugees, let alone the ancient architecture of the region that will be destroyed.”

Leave a Comments

Related Post