Hyundai Ar­chi­tec­tural gems - VI

We go on a road trip in the Hyundai i20 Ac­tive to ex­plore the unique Shree Govin­dji tem­ple in Im­phal

Car India - - CONTENTS - Story: Gunjan D Bi­dani Pho­tog­ra­phy: Arya Arora

The fi­nal in­stal­ment of the se­ries takes us to a mes­mer­iz­ing tem­ple in the North East

As we walked around the tem­ple, we re­al­ized that all the ef­fort to reach this hid­den gem in the north-east was ab­so­lutely worth it

Lit­tle did I know that I’d seek tran­quil­lity in Shree Govin­dji tem­ple, which is partly ar­chae­o­log­i­cal, mostly ar­chi­tec­tural, and, sur­pris­ingly, houses no de­ity. Yet the ter­ra­cotta tem­ple exudes such calm­ness that the in­trigu­ing si­lence all around will leave you awestruck. Read our enig­matic ex­pe­ri­ence as we drive to one of In­dia’s most unique tem­ples sit­u­ated in the mys­ti­cal north-east.

In this sixth and fi­nal edi­tion of Ar­chi­tec­tural Gems of In­dia, our des­ti­na­tion was the Shree Govin­dji tem­ple in the heart of Im­phal, Ma­nipur. We drove the rugged Hyundai i20 Ac­tive cross-hatch which, with its spir­ited en­gine and good ground clear­ance, was a per­fect fit in this hilly ter­rain. The smooth-flow­ing de­sign of the Hyundai only com­ple­mented the pic­ture-post­card like land­scape — clear blue skies with fluffy white clouds and lush green hills. The roads were equally beau­ti­ful as we cruised in our fiery red i20 Ac­tive to­wards Im­phal. With tall trees on ei­ther side spread­ing their leafy arms above us and a sun­light-speck­led tar­mac be­low, this clearly promised to be one of the most mem­o­rable drives we’ve done in the re­cent past.

We en­tered the Kangla Fort and drove past the wa­ter canal with serene re­flec­tions of the sky and trees in it. Even on the steep climb, the per­for­mance-packed 1.2-litre VTVT petrol en­gine didn’t lose steam and kept surg­ing ahead briskly. Soon we reached Shree Govin­dji tem­ple, an ar­chi­tec­tural marvel that dates back to AD 1846. As we walked around the tem­ple, we re­al­ized that all the ef­fort to reach this hid­den gem in the north-east was ab­so­lutely worth it. The ex­pe­ri­ence was sur­real, to say the least.

The tem­ple is a unique struc­ture of red brick and boasts of a rec­tan­gu­lar me­dieval style of ar­chi­tec­ture. Spir­i­tual, mys­ti­cal, and mag­i­cal. It’s dif­fi­cult to find the right word to de­scribe the feel­ing. We were all in­trigued to hear the en­chant­ing sto­ries as­so­ci­ated with this an­cient struc­ture. The lo­ca­tion and the deaf­en­ing si­lence only added to it.

Thank­fully, we had an ex­pert in the sub­ject for com­pany: Ni­lan­jan Bhowal. Ni­lan­jan is the prin­ci­pal ar­chi­tect at De­sign Con­sor­tium and an ex­pert in ur­ban plan­ning and restora­tion. He has played a cru­cial role in restor­ing Shree Govin­dji tem­ple to its an­cient glory; most im­por­tantly, with­out al­ter­ing the orig­i­nal con­struc­tion and style.

Ac­cord­ing to Ni­lan­jan, the east-fac­ing tem­ple was built with a com­pos­ite con­sist­ing of ter­ra­cotta brick and wood dur­ing the reign of Ma­haraja Nara Singh for the king to of­fer prayers to the almighty.

The east-fac­ing tem­ple was built with a com­pos­ite struc­ture of ter­ra­cotta brick and wood dur­ing the reign of Ma haraja Nara Singh

This unique ma­sonry of ter­ra­cotta is pe­cu­liar in its com­po­si­tion of na­tive al­lu­vial soil and tim­ber. Since the north-east­ern part of In­dia lies in the high­est seis­mic zone, suc­ces­sive earth­quakes in the re­gion not only caused ma­jor struc­tural cracks but up­rooted the tem­ple, deal­ing a blow to its sanc­tity. The idol of Lord Kr­ishna was re­moved from the precincts and shifted to a new tem­ple. Due to this, the tem­ple re­mained in ne­glect for a cen­tury and suf­fered di­lap­i­da­tion. It wasn’t un­til 2004 that the govern­ment of Ma­nipur de­cided to con­serve and re­store the tem­ple to its for­mer glory.

While we were strolling around the her­itage site and soak­ing in the ex­pe­ri­ence, Ni­lan­jan in­formed us that the roof was re­con­structed with bam­boo, tak­ing in­spi­ra­tion from the weav­ing pat­tern of the tra­di­tional bam­boo bas­ket. The new gen­er­a­tion of skilled crafts­men, tra­di­tional ar­ti­sans trained in ter­ra­cotta art, were roped in from var­i­ous parts of West Ben­gal to re­con­struct the weath­ered parts of the tem­ple.

Al­lud­ing to the unique­ness of the tem­ple, Ni­lan­jan said, ‘This is a very spe­cial prop­erty. In this build­ing, 16 dif­fer­ent types of ter­ra­cotta bricks were used. We had to cre­ate a team. We ap­proached ar­ti­sans from small dis­tricts of Ma­nipur and West Ben­gal, taught them what re­quired to be done and started mak­ing a dif­fer­ent kind of bricks for this. Some were cir­cu­lar, some oth­ers rec­tan­gu­lar.’

Stand­ing in the tem­ple cor­ri­dor, we no­ticed wooden rafters run­ning along the length of the ceil­ing, vividly show­ing off tra­di­tional con­struc­tion tech­niques. We also no­ticed the ter­ra­cotta jalis and or­na­men­ta­tion un­der authen­tic cor­nices of stucco plas­ter which crown the en­tire tem­ple and found it ab­so­lutely stun­ning. Un­like most mod­ern struc­tures that we see in the ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment, this 18th-cen­tury struc­ture isn’t just bricks and wood but so much more...

We asked Ni­lan­jan to share in­ter­est­ing in­ci­dents from his restora­tion days and he said, ‘Back in the time when we were work­ing here, there was al­legedly a ter­ror­ist at­tack and the Army pro­tect­ing the Kangla Fort ad­vised us to stay overnight in the tem­ple it­self. The Army pro­vided us with food and mat­tresses and for the first time I stayed at a place where I was con­struct­ing or restor­ing.’

It’s ev­i­dent that a lot of ef­fort, sweat, and con­vic­tion have gone into the restora­tion of this holy abode. And now this fas­ci­nat­ing site has be­come a pop­u­lar hot spot for lo­cals and tourists to con­gre­gate. By the time we stepped out of the tem­ple, the place was get­ting busy with vis­i­tors from nearby towns. It felt good to see a group of girls in colour­ful tra­di­tional Ma­nipuri at­tire gather on the steps of the tem­ple, pos­ing for a pic­ture. In an­other cor­ner of the lawn, a mid­dle-aged man was busy nar­rat­ing sto­ries about the place to a bunch of kids who seemed awestruck. Other chil­dren were mak­ing most of the large lawn, run­ning, laugh­ing, and play­ing hide-and-

Even on the steep climb, the per­for­mance-packed 1.2-litre VTVT petrol en­gine didn’t lose steam and kept surg­ing ahead briskly

seek around the pil­lars. The tem­ple had fi­nally got a fresh lease of life.

As we came back to the Hyundai i20 Ac­tive, our de­pend­able com­pan­ion on this road trip, there was a sense of achieve­ment and con­tent­ment on our faces. We had suc­cess­fully com­pleted the sixth and fi­nal leg of the Ar­chi­tec­tural Gems of In­dia se­ries and that too at a spec­tac­u­lar site like this. With palms twitch­ing to get be­hind the wheel, we got into the i20 Ac­tive and started our drive back home. With glimpses of the en­tire se­ries of Ar­chi­tec­tural Gems of In­dia flash­ing through our minds, we re­al­ized it’s never the des­ti­na­tion, but al­ways the jour­ney that en­light­ens you...

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