One morning in 2016, Dr Raghavendra R’s routine jog took him to a dilapidated structure in his town Srirangapatna, Karnataka. The small town, based in Mandya district, is known for being home to century-old heritage buildings, ponds, lakes and temples dating back to the reign of Tipu Sultan and the British raj.
However, when Dr Raghavendra chanced upon this particular building, he could only see that it was an old temple upon close inspection — it was hidden under thick grass, weeds and other unwanted vegetation.
“The state of the unique and precious architecture, which was integral to the town, was quite sad. So I started spending my morning runs looking for other heritage buildings and realised that a majority of them were in the same condition,” he tells The Better India.
Dr Raghavendra says he also found lakes, ponds and other ancient water bodies buried under dumped waste and debris, having carelessly been neglected for years. He decided to take matters into his own hands to revive them.
Today, his initiative has brought together 300 odd-volunteers to help breathe life into long-forgotten and neglected lakes, ponds and heritage buildings.
Keeping the heritage alive
On why he decided to take up this mammoth task, Dr Raghavendra says, “These are assets that we will pass on to the next generation. It would be a loss if we were unable to maintain this rich heritage.”
To gather the help he needed, the 39-year-old, who works as a programme coordinator for National Service Scheme (NSS) at Seshadripuram Degree College in Mysuru, appealed to his students to support him in his mission.
“As a part of the NSS programme, the students have to offer community service. I decided that they could contribute by restoring these age-old structures,” he explains.
After he gathered his volunteers, the team began by approaching concerned authorities such as the municipal corporation and the archeological department. “They helped by providing necessary approvals and historical information about the structures. The students received safety gear and equipment for the cleanups,” he says.
The team dived into the task of braving insects, snakes, waste and other such dangers. They also filled water in the ponds if needed.
Since 2017, the volunteers have revived four lakes, ten water ponds and eight temples in the town. The effort has helped about 1,500 people access clean water from the freshly rejuvenated ponds and lakes, Dr Raghavendra says.
Additionally, the students have worked to revive two parks in the town by cleaning, beautifying and planting saplings.
An unending mission
Shridhar S K, an investment banker and volunteer with the initiative, says, “I have been participating in the revival of heritage structures for the past four years. I joined the drive for fitness purposes but realised the social and cultural importance while participating in the activity. Our town is known for its historical importance, and I wanted to contribute to keeping the tradition alive.”
Shridhar says that Dr Raghavendra pays for all the work. “He provides breakfast and beverages to the volunteers for free. During the COVID-19 lockdown, the professor saw a salary cut by 30 per cent. But he continued his efforts regardless,” he says, adding that the cost of cleaning with the equipment sometimes scales up to Rs 20,000.
Dr Raghavendra admits that finances are a hurdle during the rejuvenation work. “I have to plan the work well in advance and chalk out the estimates to manage funds. On some occasions, locals who are impressed by the students’ hard work will show their support by contributing snacks. Otherwise, I have no external support, but do this to give back to society,” he says.
He adds, “Other challenges we face include the delay in obtaining permissions from authorities. Sometimes, it takes months to get the nod and begin the work.”
Dr Raghavendra says he will continue to revive as many ancient structures as possible and keep them alive.
“My aim is not to shine in the newspaper, gain publicity or seek financial support. It is my way of showing gratitude to society,” he adds.
Edited by Divya Sethu