The terracotta temples of Bengal are susceptible to rapidly degrading if neglected in Bengal’s humid climate. They can suffer from lichen, damp, pollution, and flooding. Plants take root easily unless removed after each monsoon. Damage can be caused by wilful removal of panels, renovation and unscientific restoration efforts. In this way hundreds of brick monuments are now lost or have become overgrown and ruinous, and dozens of others have been renovated. Many temples that were photographed and listed by surveyors in the 1960s and 70s no longer exist.
We know that when sutradhar guilds were active, they visited temples every few years to repair the structure, the terracotta panels, the wooden doors, and the fresco paintings. They also left instructions with the patrons on general upkeep and maintenance. With the decline of sutradhar guilds, this annual upkeep has stopped. Some monuments are now protected and conserved by government archaeology departments in India and Bangladesh. However, it is not possible for the government to undertake conservation of hundreds of temples. Education and awareness at village level, responsible tourism, and carefully managed local conservation initiatives are the only way to save the vast majority of medieval brick temples.
In 2018, I started an initiative through the Bengal Heritage Foundation in London to raise funds for a local conservation initiative. We engaged directly with heritage volunteers based in Kolkata and Bardhaman. Monuments needing immediate conservation were identified in the villages of Kendur in south Bardhaman, Ghoshpur in Medinipur, Suhari in east Bardhaman, and Achkoda in Purulia. Following discussions with villagers and local government authorities, conservation work was undertaken in Kendur, Ghoshpur, and Suhari.
Conservation work in Bengal is difficult. The temples are often in remote, isolated villages that are hard to reach with no places to stay. Restoring brick structures and terracotta decoration is painstaking and time-consuming, and requires manual work in several phases under expert guidance. Very little work can be undertaken during the hot summer months or the rainy season. Complications arise due to vested interests and local politics. Not all initiatives are successful. Our conservation efforts are documented via Facebook at Bengal Terracotta Conservation.