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ASI NOD TO GROUP FOR ERECTING PANDAL IN BIG TEMPLE DRAWS FLAK

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THE PANDAL ERECTED NEAR THE MAIN GOPURAM BY ART OF LIVING FOUNDATION FOR A YOGA EVENT

THANJAVUR: Activists and archaeologists have slammed the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) for allowing Art of Living Foundation to set up a temporary structure on the Big Temple premises to conduct an event violating the rules for protection of ancient monuments and archaeological sites.

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What has provoked them is the erection of a big pandal beside the main gopuram of the temple to conduct a yoga programme. The activists have expressed concern that this may damage the sculptures and inscriptions which cannot not be monitored when hundreds of people gather at a time. This may also set a precedent for others to stake claim for using the temple premises, they alleged.

Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is participating in a two-day spiritual event organized by the district development council as part of the programme commencing on this day. The pandal has been erected using metal sheets on the south side of the main gopuram to accommodate around 300 people. Activists say that the Big Temple is not only a religious place, but a heritage site too recognised by Unesco under the title “The Great Chola Temple”. “The monument is not only the property of Hindus but of those from other religions,” said V Jeevakumar, an advocate and activist in Thanjavur .  “Conducting a private event will definitely be a threat to the inscriptions and sculptures and other structures of the temple. Moreover, Ravi Shankar has a track record of polluting the environment through such events. The National Green Tribunal had slapped a penalty of Rs 5 crore on the Art of Living Foundation for damaging the Yamuna floodplains during an event in 2017. They should not be allowed to conduct the event”, he said.

However, member of the district development council, G Kasthurirangan, refuted the charges. “We have the responsibility to protect the historical monument. That’s why we have erected the pandal without digging even a pit. We have hundreds of volunteers to safeguard the environment. Since Thanjavur is the birthplace of Swamiji (Ravi Shankar), we decided to hold the event here”, he added. “No one accepts the argument that it is a spiritual event since Ravi Shankar is openly supporting political parties with saffron colour. It is purely a private event that should not be allowed to take place”, Professor Marx Anthonisamy of National Confederation of Human Rights Organisation said. When contacted, an official from ASI, Thanjavur sub-circle said that since it would be a spiritual event they had permitted the organizers to conduct the event. They had given permission to hold the event in open space. However, it being rainy season, the organizers had requested to allow them to put up a pandal, he added.

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