Last Kavi temple in Maharashtra demolished by villagers for renovation

Kavi art is a rare heritage artwork found in the coastal areas of southern Maharashtra, Goa and southern Karnataka.

Credit : Indie Journal/Saili Palande-Datar


The last original Kavi Art edifice in Maharashtra, Mauli temple in Zolambe village in Sindhudurg district, was demolished on Thursday by the local villagers, in a bid to replace it with a modern-styled temple in the name of restoration, despite the orders by the Department of Archeology and Museums to prevent the destruction of the temple. While the villagers claim that they have only demolished a part of the temple while the part with the paintings is mostly intact, they do not offer any evidence to support that claim, when asked by conservationists and other people.

The approximately 500-year-old temple carried the last remaining example of the finest Kavi art found in the state of Maharashtra. While the conservationists, environmentalists and the government department worked together to reach out to the locals and prevent damage to this rare heritage site in the state, the villagers still went ahead with the demolition on Thursday.

“The discussion about demolishing the existing temple and building a new one in its place began around two-three years ago. However, when we realised that the temple carried the rare Kavi art, we reached out to the local people and told them about the importance of this find. We held several dialogues with them, due to which the demolition could be delayed, but we always feared this day would come,” says Rajendra Kerkar, environmentalist and conservationist based in Goa.


Kavi art documented at Mauli temple, Zolambe. Photo: Saili Palande-Datar


He, along with several other researchers documented the paintings in the last couple of years.

The temple was one of the very rare examples of wooden word, mud construction and Kavi art. There are very few woodwork-based temples left in Maharashtra today. This was the last temple with Kavi art in Maharashtra, the northernmost edge of Kavi art region. There are a couple of temples in Goa and a few left in Dakshin Kannada region in Karnataka.

"We tried to convince the locals that we could help them repair the temple in a scientific manner. We told them that the temple site could be classified as Class C place of pilgrimage and the locals would receive funds under it for the conservation of the temple then. We also requested them to let the original temple be and to construct the new temple next to the heritage structure. However, all our efforts failed,” said Saili Palande-Datar, Idologist, Conservationist and Researcher, who works in the Konkan and Goa region extensively.

The villagers on the other hand have been claiming on social media that they have not inflicted any damage on the Kavi paintings in the temple. They say that they had to demolish the temple as it was dilapidated and was infested with rats. They also added that the sabhamandap (courtyard) has not been demolished and that its pillars still have paintings. They also claim that the conservationists talking about the demolition are only trying to defame the villagers. However, despite repeated attempts to connect with the villagers, Indie Journal did not receive any response from the villagers or any evidence that the Kavi paintings were saved from getting destroyed during the demolition.



“In fact, it was the walls of the sanctum of the temple that had most of the paintings. That itself is destroyed now. Moreover, a team of architects had recently visited the temple for condition mapping. They did not record the temple to be in as bad a shape as claimed by the villagers. There were only a couple of cracks which could be repaired,” Palande-Datar said.

Kavi Art or Kavi Kala gets its name from Kav (the red bole or red earth) natural pigment used to plaster and colour the walls and ground of houses. The indigenous artform could only be witnessed in the coastal area of Maharashtra, Karnataka (Karvar region) and the state of Goa. The Kavi murals could be seen in decoration on temple walls, small shrines or even old houses in this coastal region. However, in Maharashtra, the Mauli temple in Zolambe was the last remaining site where this artwork could be seen.

“The red pigment ensured that the temple walls and the artwork were preserved all these years. The humid weather in these areas also helps preserve these pigments. These colours were also environment-friendly,” Kerkar said.

Kavi murals are etched into the walls using a maroon red pigment on a layer of plaster made with lime obtained from seashells mixed with fermented jaggery, residue from climbers and creepers, gum and powdered tamarind seeds. The motifs painted in this art depict a combination of classical and folk symbols and deities.

“Last week, we came to know that the villagers had removed the roof tiles of the temple and began an auction for reconstruction. We immediately set the wheels in motion and wrote letters to the Department of Archeology and Museums as well as the Sindhudurg District Collector. The Director of Archeology Department Tejas Garge issued a notice asking the district governing bodies to ensure that the temple demolition does not take place until the temple was surveyed by the department.

However, none of it worked and the villagers went ahead with the demolition hastily,” said Palande-Datar.


Mauli temple, Zolambe. Photo: Saili Palande-Datar


When contacted about this Garge said, “Unfortunately, the temple was not legally declared as protected. We initiated the process, we tried our best. But we could not prevent the demolition.”

The villagers said on social media that they had taken permission from Devasthan Vyavasthapan Samiti, Pashchim Maharashtra, Kolhapur. However, conservationists have debated over the temple management committee’s rights to authorise the demolition or reconstruction of age-old, heritage temples.

Palande-Datar says the villagers might be trying to begin the construction of the new temple before the village fair next month.

“Villagers usually aspire to build huge, modern-style temples with a grand Kalash. Since the Ram Mandir construction began in Ayodhya, the drive has even increased. Such projects also garner a large amount of money,” she added.

While the discussions to save the temple began to fail, the conservationists began negotiating with the villagers to at least save the walls and pillars with Kavi art.

“We requested them to let us remove and preserve the walls with the artwork. However, the villagers did not even let us preserve those. From what we heard, the walls carrying the artwork have been destroyed to dust, with no scope for preservation,” Palande-Datar said.

Kerkar said that another such temple carrying Kavi art was demolished in Dingne village in Sawantwadi taluka in the district last year. In fact, demolition and unscientific reconstruction of heritage temple sites in the name of ‘jeernoddhar’ (restoration) has become quite common in villages across Konkan.

“There is no official data, but the number of such projects has increased drastically. There is a dearth of artists who know how to repair and restore the heritage temples. People also want their village temple to be new and grand. There must be barely 20 wooden temples left in south Konkan,” Palande-Datar exasperates.