GHF Funds Conservation Planning for India’s Maluti Temples

Last year, GHF commissioned a team led by Abha Narain Lambah to study and document the unique terracotta temples of Maluti, India. The result was a comprehensive 481-page report that describes the history of the structures, identifies the major threats facing them today, and offers suggestions about how to develop a strong network of Indian and international supporters to conserve both the temples and the remote village communities that surround them.

Maluti, located in Jharkand state in eastern India, was once home to 108 temples built during the 18th and 19th centuries. Over time, many of these structures have collapsed due to the region’s harsh climate, but the remaining 60 or so hold great historical and religious significance, and are still places of daily worship. Because of their isolation from modern developmental activity — there is no electricity, running water or basic health care in Maluti village — GHF’s partners, including the Indian Trust for Rural and Heritage Development (ITRHD), are proceeding carefully with plans to preserve the temples.

“The conservation study resulted in revealing a beautiful and yet vulnerable historic resource that stands at the crossroads of being ‘discovered’ by cultural tourism,” said Lambah, an award-winning conservation architect who also serves as project director of GHF Hampi. “The issue remains how to approach the genuine conservation of the structures in a way that is sympathetic with the village and sustainable in the long term.”

Unlike much of India, whose historic architecture is being rapidly reshaped by modern development and materials, Maluti largely retains the traditional character of an Indian village. The vernacular domestic architecture consists primarily of one- or two-story mud structures with sloping roofs of thatch or terracotta tiles. All new constructions are required by the local community, under the guidance of village elders, to respect the sloping roof profile characteristic of Maluti.

While the 2001 census estimated the village’s population at 3,575, that number has dwindled as an increasing number of residents have left in search of jobs and education. With the bulk of the village’s workforce depending on meager subsistence farming or having to seek employment in illegal quarries outside the village, Lambah hopes that employment generation and crafts revival, coupled with innovative schemes for involving local men and women in the conservation process, will pave the way for a sustainable future for the temples.

“Tourism could be both a boon and a threat to this fragile village community,” she said. “Strengthening the local community through education, awareness and a greater stake in the conservation process is critical.”