The recent decision of the Puri Municipality to demolish the ancestral house of Gurudev Tagore located on Chakratirtha Road at Puri has evoked sharp reactions from across the State. The Patherpuri house, which was built by the Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Thakur, is an iconic building, more than 100 years old, and an invaluable heritage structure. The place was home to the famous poet who used to love Puri and where he had composed some of his famous literary works, including his magnum opus ‘Gitanjali’. A bust of the bard is installed at the far end of the building. A large number of documents and articles penned by Tagore are still preserved at the building. Some of these documents have been lost due to decay and lack of proper maintenance, but a few invaluable artifacts still remain.
A portion of the building was being used as a hostel for students of an adjoining College. However, the asbestos roof of the building was blown away during cyclone ‘Fani’ a few months ago, and since then it has taken the look of an abandoned structure. The Sub-Collector of Puri, Bharat Charan Sahu has said that the building is in ruins and there is no other option but to demolish it. It is not known if the district administration has given a thought to restore this building keeping its heritage value in mind. Most likely the State Public Works Department has declared the building unsafe as is their wont without examining the possibility of proper conservation and restoration.
According to Amiya Bhusan Tripathy, the former DGP of Odisha, who is the present Convener of INTACH’s Odisha operations, certifying a building unsafe, is a routine thing for the PWD. The department lacks qualified persons who can do proper restoration and conservation work. He has written to the administration to stop the plans for razing down the building and instead take measures for the proper restoration and conservation. He has given an assurance that Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage could take up the project and ensure that the structure gets a new lease of life.
Anil Dhir, heritage expert and historian, says that the Odisha PWD had declared many buildings unsafe and through the efforts of INTACH they were repaired with proper conservation techniques and stand proudly today. The Kanika library and Assembly Hall at the iconic Ravenshaw University, the Cuttack Circuit House, and the old Board of Revenue Building too were at some time declared as unsafe, but they were all restored. In fact in Katak, the very same PWD which had declared the structures unsafe did the restoration under proper guidance.
The Jobra Workshop was worked upon by INTACH and a grand Maritime Museum stands in place today. In Puri too, the house of Janaki Nath Bose, father of Netaji Subash Ch Bose was given to INTACH in 2015 and the building stands in one piece after proper conservation. In Sambalpur the house of the Assamese Poet Laureate, Laxminath Bezbaruah, which was marked for demolition is currently in the process of conservation by INTACH. The Rani Bhakri and the Old Town Hall of the City, which were in ruins, are also in the final stages of restoration.
The Vice-Principal of the Samant Chandrasekhar Junior College, Sankarshan Dash said that they had been intimated by the civic body regarding the demolition. “Since the building is synonymous with the legendary Rabindranath Tagore, we have requested the Works Department through a letter to construct a building which can be made into a ‘Tagore Museum’ to preserve the documents and artifacts in ‘Patherpuri’. Priyadarshan Pattanayak, convener of ‘Shree Jagannath Sena’, said the administration should never sacrifice this heritage building.
Anil Dhir, Heritage Lover, Bhubaneswar