Designing for Disasters

Architecture Dated:  March 16, 2015
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Sri Govind Ji Temple is located inside the Kangla fort, Manipur, a highly seismic area. The temple was built in 1846 AD during the reign of Maharaja Nara Singha. Unfortunately, this temple was subjected to major structural damage due to earthquakes and eventually, the deity was removed from the premises and moved to a new temple and subsequently the temple was abandoned.

Sri Govind Ji Temple Conservation

Like any masonry building material, terracotta installations are subject to water infiltration and freeze-thaw damage, so the temple restoration critically addressed the moisture damage, expected unit spalling and cracking repairs and masonry joint damage. The carved motifs on bricks of the temple such as creepers and flowers are unique to the era and it required a different approach of conservation.

Not restricted to a mere technical restorative program, the team searched means of engaging present day artisans to reproduce the art in the temple for replacing portions of the motifs that could not withstand any more wear and tear.

Artisans proficient in traditional terracotta masonry construction were brought on site from villages of Bengal for the restoration process. It is not the conservation of the temple alone that made the project unique, but the involvement of various groups of specialized people and craftsmen.

Structural precautions have been taken against seismic forces in the project. The main damages that the main structure faced due to three successive earthquakes are as follows.

  • There were severe cracks on walls due to the earthquakes which got worse by vegetation growth in the cracks and crevices.
  • The barrel vaulted ceiling had collapsed and the structure was exposed to weathering hazard for a long time.
  • The corridor flooring was completely destroyed.
  • The wooden beams and rafters were in a state of decay.
  • The raised plinth ended in a cornice which was damaged to a large extent.
  • The Stucco plaster on the external walls had been damaged.
  • Balusters and parapet were broken and missing.
  • Excessive rainfall led to vegetal growth and created more cracks and dislodged the masonry.
  • There were settlement problems in the foundation due to earthquakes.
  • There was damage due to Saltpeter.
  • The over fired/ under-fired bricks damaged the masonry walls.
  • Action of soluble salts like Chlorides, Sulphides and Nitrates damages the structure.
  • In the Indo-Brahmaputra plane the bricks have a tendency to absorb more water giving rise to capillary action which caused dampness in the masonry structures.

Damages Wall

The Various Precautions that were taken Sequentially are:-

  • A 10’ wide trench was dug up around the temple and corbelled buttresses were provided to strengthen the foundation against the lateral seismic forces. An additional plinth protection band of stone was provided around the structure at the ground level.

Building structure

  • The vaulted roof was reinforced with bamboo and structural steel with lime mortar. The original roof was 40” thick throughout till the top. The new roof started from 15” at the base and 6” at the top, reducing the load by three fourths. Bamboo grid and sparingly used steel were then over laid with a layer of lime Surkhi.

roof structure

  • Traditional artisans and craftsmen trained in terracotta art were brought from various interiors of West Bengal to reconstruct the parts that had completely weathered or had vanished in due course of time.

Shri Govindji Temple's Roof structure

16 types of bricks were found to be used in the construction of Shri Govindji Temple.
Old bricks were dug out from the debris of the monument, sorted out and aired and dried in the sun. Brick bats were kept separately for crushing and making into Surkhi (brick dust).

Old bricks

  • Wooden rafters were in a state of decay and were restored. Missing and completely decayed rafters were replaced.

Wooden rafters

  • Cornices and stucco plasters were restored and at certain places reconstructed.

stucco plasters

  • The Saltpeter deposits were found throughout the masonry structure. Saltpetre bricks were removed carefully without disturbing the structure. Affected areas were treated and those which could be reused were inserted.

Saltpetre bricks

  • Flooring of the corridor and the sanctum was repaired and remade.

Floor

  • The parapet wall and its railings were broken and missing after the earthquakes. These were repaired and replaced to its original state.

parapet wall

  • Due to capillary action the water was rising up in the walls and increasing dampness in the structure. To remedy this, a granite slab was introduced as a damp proofing course at the plinth level. The cornice around the plinth was mostly missing in all the places and was remade.
A section of the plinth showing the Damp proof coursA section of the plinth showing the Damp proof course
  • Terracotta brick of the pillar were subjected to water infiltration and freeze thaw damage. these damaged bricks were carefully removed and replaced by new terracotta wedge- shaped bricks.

Terracotta brick of the pillar

The concept behind the restoration was to restore the temple back to its glory, utilizing historical methods of construction involving the local community. The terracotta construction is a dying art, and artisans proficient in traditional terracotta masonry construction were brought on site from villages of Bengal for the restoration process. It is not the conservation of the temple alone that made the project unique, but the involvement of various groups of specialized people and craftsmen.

At Manipur a different methodology was followed, wherein we were able to utilize historical methods of construction involving the local community. The temple after restoration was given back to the community and is being reused again after a century.

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