By K.K. Mohammed
(Excerpts from KK Mohammed’s book “Njan Enna Bharatiyan” (Me, an Indian))
Translated by AJ Philip
It was in 2002 that the Chhattisgarh circle of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) was formed. It was to this place that I was transferred from Agra. As the state had just been formed, infrastructural facilities were almost nil. No restoration work was being done on any of the monuments there. One of the reasons was that the temples were mostly in forest areas. When the work started, the media noticed the changes happening to the monuments. That is how everybody noticed them.
In my official work, the first thing I do before taking up any assignment is to clearly demarcate the area by making necessary measurements and building an outer wall to separate it from the rest of the land. Thereafter start the repair work on the monuments. I was able to acquire about 100 acres of land at a place called Sirpur without spending a single rupee. Because of the work that I did at Sirpur, it not only became the largest tourist centre in Chhattisgarh but it also found a place in the tentative list of world heritage sites. Like this, I have been able to acquire for the Archaeological Survey of India land worth crores of rupees at several places without spending any money at all.
Signboards were erected at many places in the town concerned to attract attention to the newly- developed sites. The inscription on one board was like this: “Chinese traveller Hsuan Tsang came all the way from China by foot to see Sirpur 1300 years ago. Whom are you waiting for?” These boards attracted the attention of both the authorities concerned and the common people. Tourism and Culture Minister Jagmohan and Chattisgarh governor helped me in my work. They gave me whatever I asked for.
The Samloor temple in Jagdalpur forest was the centre of Naxalite activities. Dantewada is nearby. One has to walk eight kilometres from Dantewada to reach the Shiva temple at Samloor. When I began work on restoration of the Samloor temple, it surprised government circles for they had been neglecting it for the reasons that it was inaccessible and it was a stronghold of the Naxalites. No government employee was ready to go there. One day when I reached there, the Naxalites surrounded me and my staff. There were only a few staff, including me. I gave it in writing not only my address in Chhattisgarh but also the one at Koduvally in Kerala. That the Naxalites have amazing intelligence was clear from this. In every state and every place, they have their supporters.
What I told them was this …
“It is the first time in a thousand years that someone has come to repair this dilapidated temple. The ordinary tribals who live here will get the benefit of the repair work. If you object to the work, I can stop it. I can utilise the money earmarked for this work to complete some other work somewhere else”. I continued, “All the people engaged in this work are local. They get the wages prescribed by the government. Please check whether they are exploited in any way. Many officials give only a portion of the government-fixed daily wages to the tribals. We give the full wages. We do not cheat in the use of cement and stones”.
They told us that they had inquired about all this and they were satisfied with the work. That is why they came to see us. Their demand was a small sum as donation.
When I heard this, I told them:
“If the amount you demand is small, I will try to give it. Otherwise, I will have to take it from the money earmarked for the restoration of the temple”.
The moment they heard this, they demand Rs 10,000. As a reward, they told us that they would alert us about the rival Naxalites when they come here from Andhra Pradesh. Then you should stop the work for ten days. The work should be resumed only after we are told that they had returned. Under these terms and conditions, the work was carried out. The Naxalites are strong at many places in Chhattisgarh. Because of our approach, we were able to complete our work at such places. What this shows is that we can show the right path to those who are branded as bad if we choose the right approach. Although the government allocates large sums of money under tribal welfare schemes, they do not reach the intended beneficiaries. Some political parties and government officials pocket those funds. The Naxalites can be reformed only if the officials and others posted at such centres are socially committed and are ready to serve them in the spirit of volunteers. When we come in close contact with the Naxalites, we will realise that is the society which failed them and not the other way round. Nonetheless, their politics of violence is condemnable.
The Naxalites cannot be identified quickly. They dress like common people. We can immediately recognise the dacoits who live in the forests in North India. They usually wear police uniform or Army fatigue. They terrorise the local people and extract money from them. It is an easy task. The Naxalites first threaten us. Their style is to capture and then bargain for money. They stay with the villagers and tribals. Their aim is to end exploitation.
While I was in Chhattisgarh, I visited the Lafagadu temple situated on the top of a hill. Its condition was pathetic. It could fall at any time. The temple priest, Pandeyji, asked me, “Sir, can anything be done?”
I expressed my helplessness with regret. Chhattisgarh was a new circle. There were not enough experienced people. From the vacuum everything had to be created. The experienced workers were at Bhopal. Since they were engaged in the restoration work of several temples, they would not be given even if a demand was made. I tried to convince the priest by explaining the situation. “God will find a way for everything”, I heard him say this.
I had tea with him. I regretted my inability and we parted.
That night I saw a dream! Lord Shiva who appeared in the dream told me, “My temple is collapsing. Go and repair it”.
“I do not have expert workers for that kind of work. They are in Bhopal”, I answered. Lord Shiva responded; “I will create the situation for that”.
I woke up in fright. Then I forgot the dream.
The next day I received a fax message at 11.30 am. I have been appointed in charge of both Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. I remembered the dream I saw the previous night. Though I am not an atheist, how could this happen to me who tries to rationalise everything? I have not yet received an answer to this question.
Saint Francis of Assisi who lived in the 12th century had such a dream. It was Jesus who called him and said, “Francis, my temple is falling down. Go and repair”.
I had repeatedly recited it. St. Francis was my favourite saint. His biography reminds me of Lord Buddha. While I was in Goa, it was in the corner that belonged to St. Francis that I stayed. Maybe, because of the influence of St. Francis, he might have appeared in my subconscious mind as Lord Shiva. I tried to rationalise.
In one year’s time, the temple, which was about to fall down, was repaired and beautified. Today many people climb the hill to have a darshan of Lord Shiva.
Pandeyji also had the story of a dream to narrate. A day before I reached Lafagarh, he had seen a dream. That an officer capable of protecting the temple was coming. Then he said in a humorous tone, “but I did not know that the officer would be a Muslim”.
Thereafter, on the occasion of all Mahashivaratri days Pandeyji would invite me on phone. After my transfer, I was succeeded by Vyas, Shastri and Mishra, who were all Brahmins. However, Pandeyji was closer to me than all of them.
Courtesy: Mathrubhumi Books
(K.K. Mohammed is one of the top archeologists in the country. He served as Regional Director (North) of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), and is currently serving as Project Archaeological Director in Aga Khan Trust for Culture)