Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Rock solid: Descendants of fort-builders are helping the ASI restore monuments

The Wadars of Maharashtra helped the Marathas and Portuguese build their massive forts. Today, they are using the same methods on projects across the country.

Wadar workers reshape stone blocks at the Elephanta Caves, a Unesco world heritage site in Maharashtra. ’It is a matter of prestige for us that we are being roped in to work on such a site.’ says Tukaram Pawar, 56. (Aalok Soni / HT Photo)

In 2016, the majestic ruins of the Bassein fort on the outskirts of Mumbai were made famous by Coldplay’s ‘Hymn for the weekend’, which opens with shots of the ramparts and an ancient stone staircase.

The 110-acre fort, over four centuries old, is all that remains of the once-bustling port city — that, and the modern-day fort builders of Maharashtra, believed to have descended from the men and women who erected these unshakeable walls.

“The Wadars, a community of stone-cutters from the villages of Ahmednagar and Solapur districts, have unique skill when it comes to working on basalt rock,” says Kailash Shinde, a conservation assistant officer with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). “We believe it was they who were employed by the Marathas, the Portuguese and the Ahmedshahi sultans to work this very hard kind of rock into durable fortifications and fortified settlements. Workers for this kind of stone are hard to find.”

In Maharashtra, the Wadars are helping restore nine forts, he adds. They are also helping restore the Bidar fort in Karnataka, the Jhansi fort in Uttar Pradesh and the Krishna Temple in Hampi. And there are plans to rope them in to help restore the Panchalingeswara temple in Mandya, Karnataka.


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