Dilapidated Samkha Ahan temple stands alone dying a slow and painful death

Phanjoubam Chingkheingangba *

Existing condition of Samkha Ahan temple : Dilapidated Samkha Ahan temple
Existing condition of Samkha Ahan temple : Dilapidated Samkha Ahan temple

It is well understood knowledge amongst the Meetei community, particularly those residing in the Wangkhei area, that many of the descendants of Maharaja Bodhchandra, who signed the controversial merger agreement in 1949, had sold several acres of lands due to dire financial necessities and indifferent attitude towards preserving historical monuments and sites which are of archaeological significance.

Having embraced Hinduism in the early decades of the 18th century, both Hinduism and Sanamahism remains an inseparable part of the Meetei community and is undeniable part of Meetei's ethnic identity though the religious belief is up to the choice of the individual themselves.

Even though the first brick temple was constructed during the reign of King Kiyamba in the 15th Century, at Lamangdong (present day Bishnupur) temple, a rise in construction of temples accelerated before and aftermath the tragic Seven Years Devastation.

During the period when a mild and gentle King Chandrakriti was ruling the erstwhile kingdom of Manipur, countable numbers of the Hindu temples were constructed at several places of Imphal locality.

Of such temples, Professor L Kunjeshowri says temples built during the reign of King Chandrakriti reflect the Indo-Islamic style of architecture though the earliest form of temple style assumes much similarity with Bengali hut type structures.

While some of the Hindu temples have been given protection by both the Central and State government under Manipur Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act 1976, some century's old Hindu temples have not been protected making it vulnerable to natural phenomenon and exposing it to extinction as a result of time.

In fact, the temple of Leimapokpam Keirungba, despite being declared a protected, has failed to achieve the provisions in relation with the declaration of being protected, added the well known archaeologist.

On the contrary, the celebrated modern-day ISKON temple, built in terms of crore of INR, bears a fusion of indigenous and other form of foreign architectural designs stands glittering for foreign visitors, the older architectural style witnessed in such temple (Samkha Ahan) which became integral part of Manipuri architecture is being neglected to die a slow death, though the employment of the design of "Kai" is still prevalent and encouraged in many personally owned temples.

Case of Samkha Ahan Temple

While the World Heritage Day was being celebrated on April 18 this year, standing alone quietly, exposed to the destructive forces of natural phenomenon, is the temple of Samkha Ahan located behind Kusum oil pump in Nongmeibung area in Imphal.

The story of Samkha Ahan is one of such temples that requires immediate government attention and the Meetei community themselves to preserve the age long temple which once served as a seat for a former ruler of Manipur (for a period of time-hence it is called Purana Rajbari) before the present day Royal Palace in Palace Compound was constructed in 1910 with the assistance of the colonial British.

Accordingly, the temple of Samkha Ahan is more than 100 years old and is eligible for protection by the government under existing archaeological and historical laws even the country's Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act 1958.

Meanwhile, the Hindu temple is in extremely dilapidated conditions but centuries long customs and rituals are still being pursued by the present day religious caretaker without failure, unfortunately at their own costs while the owner themselves, who are descendants of the Rajah's family, are not in terms for negotiation as regards to the protection and maintenance of the Sanoukha Ahan temple is concerned.

Existing condition of Samkha Ahan temple : Dilapidated Samkha Ahan temple
Entrance gate of Samkha Ahan temple : Dilapidated Samkha Ahan temple

According to one of the religious caretaker of Samkha Temple structures, the temple dedicated to Lord Radha Govinda (Gopinath) was well planned construction which includes Samkha Macha, Samkha Ton (in Yaiskul) and Samkha Yaima in Moirangkhom area.

Regarding Samkha Ahan temple, a highly respected archaeology professor maintained having built with traditional bricks and mortars, Hindu temples in Imphal, have its own uniqueness with surrounding moats, "mandaps", idols and bells but remains on the verge of collapse less instant protection and maintenance is not given by the concerned authorities.

Unfortunately, the rightful owners of these temples have been astute and have taken a hard stand to divulge the details and take initiative to preserve such a temple of historical importance and make it glaring like the Thangal General temple complex which would have made Imphal town, a small replica of Mandalay city where dozens of Buddhists shrines and monasteries gives a tourist a sight to marvel at.

While the ownership of Samkha Ahan have reportedly been granted to a trust or Committee, which presumably starts with Maharaj Nara Singh, the owners (one of the descendants of Bodhchandra) during the last few decades had already damaged a large portion of one large historical "mandap" to build rental houses at the costs of historical monuments, a standing proof of the height of artistic designs achieved by Manipuri rulers and the artisans.

The mentality to stop further maintenance of Samkha Ahan also implies that the temple be left to natural deterioration thereby making it much easier for the rightful owners to achieve its reportedly self-vested objective.

The entrance gateway as well as that of the roof of Samkha Ahan temple is also decorated with floral designs but the tragedy of the temple is the condition in which it now is.

Existing condition of Samkha Ahan temple : Dilapidated Samkha Ahan temple
Deteriorating condition of Samkha temple (Southern side : Dilapidated Samkha Ahan temple

Helpless defender of the temple

L Ibomcha Sharma, an astrologer by profession, has been rendering selfless services of conducting morning rituals in the temple including many Hindu-related festivals which are observed annually.

Having lived in the immediate neighbour of the temple for more than twenty years and emotionally attached to the Samkha Ahan temple, the elderly Meetei Bamon, says it pains his heart to see the ever worsening conditions of Samkha Ahan temple. Nevertheless, he and his family who had been allowed to stay in his present residence have been observing the Hindu-related rituals every single day as per the customs.

However, he opines that having no ownership rights, he is helpless to take the initiative for preservation of the temple and maintain its historical structure less the government and other concerned department intervenes.

He lamented the crumbling portions of the walls, the ever growing green molasses in the surrounding moats and the numerous cracks which had appeared in every side of the temple with thick layers of plaster that previously covered the temple falling apart.

However, Sharma says that he is there to carry on the tradition of conducting rituals for the temple (Lai Senaba) and maintains that he will leave if the religious idol kept at the temple is removed.

The temple also houses several small black "sacred" stones referred to as "sal-grams" and kept alongside the images of the Hindu gods and goddesses.

* Phanjoubam Chingkheingangba wrote this article for
The writer is Special Correspondent for Assame newspaper Asomiya Pratidin and can be contacted at phanjching(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on June 28 , 2016.

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