Pathra, August 3 (NIA): Yeasin Pathan, an ill-paid office peon, has been on an unusual, expensive and risky venture. He is a Muslim who has, for the past 40 years, been passionately working for the restoration of 18 th.Century Hindu temples in the old Zamindari area of Pathra in the Eastern Indian State of West Bengal, reports the website of Milaap Social Venture India (Pvt) Ltd.
Built with bricks, the temples had gone to seed due to neglect by the descendents of the original Zamindar (land owner) builders and the indifference of locals who seem to have no sense of history.
But when Yeasin went around seeking help to restore the treasures of the past, the local Hindus objected saying that, as a Muslim, he has no right to do anything to their places of worship, and the Muslims taunted him “for promoting idolatry”. But the never-say-die Yeasin would not give up.
Pathra is a sleepy town 125 kms from Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal. Located on the banks of the placid Kangsabati river, the host of old temples and ruins in the village hint at a lively past. In ancient times, Pathra is believed to have served as the gateway to the legendary Tamralipta port.
While no one in Pathra seemed to care for the historical temples, a Muslim boy from the nearby village of Hathihalka would spend hours wandering among the ruins of the temples and the zamindar’s abandoned mansions. Yeasin Pathan, the boy in question, used to conjure up in his mind times in the past when the temples were throbbing with life as congregations reached devotional ecstasy with drums beating and conch shells blowing. A passion to restore the crumbling structures to their past gory seized him but few would lend an ear to his pleas for assistance.
But while he was in his teens Yeasin met David McCutchion, a British academic interested in Bengal’s terracotta architecture, who showed an interest in his project. But nothing concrete came out of this encounter, except encouragement.
It would be decades before Yeasin’s resolve would be understood by the community. In the meanwhile, the villagers stole bricks from the ruins to build their own houses. Even the descendants of the zamindars’ families had no qualms about taking away these bricks. A century’s neglect, local theft and the unpredictable ways of the Kangsabati river had taken their toll.
Yeasin was punched, kicked and beaten up when he intervened to stop vandalism. The Hindus warned him not to interfere in the “matters of the temple”. The Muslims denounced and shunned him for “serving idolaters”. His family asked him hard questions about why he squandered away all their money on awareness rallies and temple repairs and upset the villagers.
But nothing would deter Yeasin. He wrote extensively about the temples, their history, and the importance of conserving them in the self-published Bengali language magazine Mandirmoy Pathrar Itibritto. He kept visiting Kolkata petitioning the government to save the monuments in Pathra.
Govt Help Comes
But Yeasin persisted and cajoled and support began to trickle in. He formed the Pathra Archaeological Preservation Committee (PAPC) in 1990, an NGO that brought Hindus and Muslims together as members. He told the two communities that they would all benefit when tourists came to Pathra.
The result: PAPC has restored 18 out of the 34 big temples in Pathra.
In 1994, Yeasin was presented the Kabir Award for communal harmony by the then Indian President Shankar Dayal Sharma. Whereupon, he petitioned the central government for help and began visiting New Delhi to seek help from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
Four years later, the ASI sanctioned INR 20 lakhs for the restoration of a few temples. In 2003, it agreed to take over the rest of the conservation work. It is even taking over the land around the temples to develop Pathra as a heritage village.
Today Pathra gets tourists, and boasts of a pucca road, electricity and telephone lines.
Crusader In Penury
But the 40 years of struggle has taken its toll. At 62 Yeasin Pathan is now in dire straits financially. As a man with four children, he could not make ends meet with his peon’s salary of INR 10,000 per month. He had often taken loans to put into the restoration, printing his magazine and lobbying.
Currently, Yeasin is suffering from a blocked artery and kidney stones.
“I can’t do this work more. I have nothing left,” he laments in an interview to the Kolkata-based English daily The Telegraph. He now needs just a small portion of the loving care he lavished on the country’s heritage returned to him, Milaap says in its appeal for funding.