Hope for resurrection of unique village of temples in Jharkhand, at last

Maluti village, suffering from administrative apathy for decades, could well bounce back as a major tourism  product of Jharkhand. The village of temples is clearly a unique historical and cultural marvel.

S.K. Misra Chairman, ITRHD
S.K. Misra
Chairman, ITRHD

When ​restored with the required precision, it is billed to become a major feather in the cap of Jharkhand tourism in the years ahead. Lying for decades in a state of complete apathy, the unique Maluti site in Jharkhand which historically has gone with the popular tag of ‘village of temples’ now stands a serious chance of revival with the state government recently giving its green signal to kickstart the restoration drive. In fact, the restoration drive was formally kicked off by none other than the prime minister Narendra Modi himself on the occasion of his Jharkhand visit on 2nd October and this has sent the message that this time Maluti’s facelift drive would be real and not cosmetic as it has been on several occasions in the past. Jharkhand tourism has, in fact, awarded the restoration contract to Delhi-headquartered Indian Trust for Rural Heritage and Development (ITRHD) – an NGO which has expertise in conservation and nurturing of rural heritage for sustainable economic development.

Given the general apathy in the past, there have been voices emanating from several quarters demanding the site to be designated as endangered heritage site. In fact, in a 2010 report titled Saving Our Vanishing Heritage, Global Heritage Fund had identified Maluti’s Temples as one of 12 worldwide sites nearest of irreparable loss and damage, citing insufficient management as primary cause. And there has been a sound basis for the kind of concern which has been expressed by some noted heritage conservation agencies in the past.

The place which is situated close to Shikaripara town in Dumka district (on Jharkhand- West Bengal border) is a historical and cultural marvel in its own unique way. According to a Wikipedia account, the place has 72 old temples, built under the Baj Basanta dynasty in the medieval period. These temples portray various scenes from Hindu mythology including the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. There is an interesting story behind the origin of this temple village – the kings of Baj Basanta dynasty developed a penchant for building temples instead of palaces. And even when the kingdom was broken into parts (tarafs), the group heads ended up bringing the competition in building new temples as well. And that explains the presence of so many temples in a single village. As per a blog account, the temples of Maluti are distributed in four clusters, belonging to the four great great grandsons of Baj Basanta. The first cluster belongs to the Madhyam Bari. The second and third clusters are clubbed together and belong to the Rajbari and Sikir Bari. The fourth and last cluster belong to Chhai Taraf. Apart from these there are several other scattered temples along with a few new temples, including the newly constructed abode of Goddess Mauliksha, after whom Maluti gets its name.

Originally, the Maluti village cluster comprised over 100 temples but a substantial chunk of them can’t be restored now, damaged permanently by inefficient human management and natural apathy. “It actually used to be a cluster of 108 terracotta temples. But as per our study, over 40 of them have either been vandalised or damaged by nature. So in our restoration drive which we have kickstarted, we are focusing on 62 remaining temples,” S K Misra, Chairman, ITRHD told TourismFirst in a recent conversation. ITRHD had presented an elaborate plan to Jharkhand Tourism two years back which not only comprised the details of possible restoration drive which can be put in place but also giving a complete rejig to Maluti as a unique tourism product for Jharkhand. “ This project has all the required characteristic to become a major rural tourism product,” Misra asserted.

As per ITRHD estimates, the restoration drive of Maluti temple complex would be time consuming given its dilapidated state. “In our reckoning, it will take anywhere between 5-7 years to finish the exercise. About one-third of the existing temples in the complex are large structures and it will be take some time to get them back in fine fettle,” Misra pointed out. The site is under the administrative control of the archaeology department of the state government and till the restoration drive continues, ITRHD is also likely to assist in its management. The complete restoration drive is expected to cost around `6 crore (`25 lakh for big temples) and the state government has released preliminary fund to kickstart the restoration drive at the site. Apart from this, public sector mining major Coal India has also released some fund for the revival of Maluti complex on the recommendation of National Culture Fund. “Now that the project has kickstarted primarily with the state government funding, we believe more support to come from the corporate side. We hope that the Tata group, which has a significant presence in the region, will also come forward to provide financial assistance to this unique project,” Misra said.

Maluti Village can derive mileage from its proximity to Tarapith Temple

For the proponents of Indian tourism who are looking at options for its next scale graduation, more emphasis on rural tourism products is clearly a viable ​option​. And here the suggestion when presented with a microscopic analysis often veers round to the view that rural tourism products can’t alone become the major draw primarily because of ​the ​distance factor. They, therefore, need to be developed in proximity to a known destination and offered as a bundled package. On this account, Maluti when its temples are restored, stand​s​ the chance to become a major rural tourism product because of its proximity to a tourism dynamo.

In a geographical sense, Maluti as an attractive tourism product in the future​may find it hard to draw its strength from its state capital connect (obviously the main entry point for majority of tourists) which is over 200 km away. It i​may be a better option for it to drive mileage out of its proximity to the noted Hindu shrine​, ​Tarapith​,​ which lies across the border in West Bengal. Tarapith is a small temple town near Rampurhat in Birbhum district known for its Tantric temple. The Tantric Hindu Temple is dedicated to the goddess Tara and is a recognised Shaktipeeth. Tarapith is flocked by thousands of tourists every year and a substantial chunk of ​its ​visitors include NRIs and foreign tourists. Th​is​ famous Hindu Shrine is just 20 odd ​km​ away​. Once restored, this temple village​ can easily attract ​additional​ footfall from Tarapith​.​ Tarapith because of its high tourists arrivals has a sound accommodation base comprising as many as 120 hotel units with some of them belonging to 4-star and 3-star categories.

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