Track 2: Sustainability and Conservation of Built Heritage in the Americas
My research as the Martin Weaver Scholarship Grantee (APT 2018) is aiming to identify, understand the materiality, pathologies and condition of the timber used in the historic temple of Mrikula Devi in the Himalayas. The structure is believed to have been established prior to the 11th century AD with several restorations/reconversions done over time, the most recent being from the 16th century.
The temple is in the small hamlet of Udaipur in the Lahaul district of Himachal Pradesh, the Indian state in the Western Himalayan region. Since the reconversion (late 16th century), Mrikula Devi Temple has been a shrine dedicated to the Hindu goddess ‘Kali’, but given the layered historical narrative of the shrine, it is revered by Hindus and Buddhists alike – evidence of which is also seen in the architectural language of the temple. Typical of the Western Himalayan region, the structural assembly of the monument is of ‘Kathkunni’ or ‘cator and cribbage’ system, in which solid sawn timber members of various dimensions are laid horizontally with masonry which is usually adobe and mud. A fable has it that the timber used for the construction of the temple was sourced from one large tree of ‘deodar’ or the Himalayan cedar. A common native of the Western Himalayas, ‘Cedrus deodara’ or the Himalayan cedar is of deep cultural value as much as of material value: the majority of the significant architecture in the Western Himalayas owes its grandeur to the qualities and workability of this timber species.
With the support of the Martin Weaver grant, the author’s is targeting to go beyond the religious narrative and seek scientific information on the historic timber, which is likely to be from different restorations/centuries, given the history of the structure. The first goal of this primary research is species identification/confirmation of the Himalayan cedar; followed by visual assessment for timber-related pathologies including an attempt at dendrochronology – all of which are being carried out keeping in mind the remoteness of the site.
An addition to existing literature and drawings, the author’s manually measured documentation of the temple in 2013 for the Archaeological Survey of India (the temple is listed as an ASI monument), are supporting the research by being a comparative to the conditions that exist at the site today. Some measures to stabilize the monument like shoring the interior ceiling had already been done in 2013 by the Archaeological Survey of India.
As the literature review is in process, planning and execution of the upcoming site visit in May 2019 would be imperative to the results of this research, which is likely to be one of the firsts of its kind done for historic structures in the Western Himalayan region.