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Rameshwaram cleanup drive makes quiet and steady progress

ET Bureau Jul 12, 2014, 10.59AM IST

CHENNAI: Ganga has Modi & team, but it's the NGO drive that is doing the cleanup act for South's temple town Rameshwaram. Even before the Centre embarked on an ambitious programme to clean up the Ganga, temple town Rameshwaram in the south had decided that it needed a clean break from its polluting ways on its own.

Located on Tamil Nadu's southern coastline, Rameshwaram is one of the holiest places for Hindus and receives about 1.5 crore pilgrims and tourists every year, resulting in the degeneration of the environment and ecological balance around the area. But earlier this year a group led by non-governmental organisation Vivekananda Kendra began work to clean and transform Rameswaram through what it calls the "Green Rameshwaram Project". The plan was set rolling in January by former president APJ Abdul Kalam.

"It all started with cleaning the water bodies (or 'theerthams' as they are called) in and around the famous Ramanatha Swamy temple. They were almost ruined and we revived those," said G Vasudeo, secretary of Vivekananda Kendra's Natural Resources Development Project.

200 Years Old Mohabeer Dharmasala restored to its green glory

“This will be an ideal building to showcase use of green energy”

The Vivekananda Kendra, which has been working on “Green and Clean Rameswaram” project, giving fresh lease of life to ‘theerthams’ (venerated water bodies) in around the island, has renovated the 200-year-old Mohabeer Dharmasala, preserving the antiquity.

The massive structure built by a Maharashtra-based businessman, near the Railway Station, was vandalised and presented a picture of neglect after it remained shut for nearly 12 years, when the Kendra took up its renovation by engaging Puducherry-based conservation architect Asaithambi Gurusamy.

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Sporting a New look: Collector S. Natarajan visiting the 200-year-old Mohabeer Dharmasala, renovated by Vivekananda Kendra in Rameswaram on Friday. — Photo: L. Balachandar

The Dharmasala, in which Maa Sarada Devi, the spiritual consort of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, had stayed, wore a new look now with fresh coat of paint and all set for inauguration during the middle of this month. It was renovated at a cost of Rs. 1.37 crore.

“We have renovated the whole structure using lime mortar, one of the oldest types of mortars and Madras terrace roofing, the traditional flooring technique practiced in south India to preserve the antiquity,” Mr. Gurusamy told The Hindu on Friday when Collector S. Natarajan inspected the renovation work.

When the 8,500 sq ft ground and first floor structure was shut for about 12 years, it was vandalised and the wood and rafters were stolen, he said. “Nearly 50 per cent of the roofing was not there and we renovated the roofing with its originality,” he said.

The original building had 11 rooms at the ground floor and three in the first floor, mainly for the business community to stay after offering worship at the Sri Ramanathaswamy temple and they have converted the ground floor into an open air auditorium.

The auditorium would be used to showcase the folklore of Rameswaram, its unique culture and landscape of the island through drama, short film and puppet shows, Mr. Gurusamy said. The auditorium could accommodate about 70 pilgrims and the shows would be organised daily, he said.

The important aspects of the renovation were installation of solar power to meet the entire power requirement and decentralised waste water system, he said adding “this will be an ideal building to showcase use of green energy.”

The Kendra was implementing ‘Green and Clean Rameswaram project’ under the Natural Resources Development Project (NARDEP) and the structure was renovated under the project, V. Saraswathi, Project coordinator, said.