ABB helps India’s heritage monuments withstand the forces of nature

ABB lightning protection technology shields ancient temples from destructive lightning strikes.

Every year, black clouds coat the skies along the northeastern shores of India as the monsoon season settles in. And to a degree that few other places in the world experience, lightning bolts crackle over the land.

Lightning strikes 20 or 30 times per square kilometer in eastern India every year, according to the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, a rate that is high even for a country where lightning has killed more than 2,000 people a year since 2005.

In the northeastern coastal state of Odisha, home to some of India’s oldest and most iconic temples, this has raised a particular problem — how to protect the integrity of centuries-old buildings, along with the safety of millions of pilgrims, tourists and worshippers, from skies that can hurl bolts of electricity five times hotter than the surface of the sun?

The Bhubaneswar Circle of the Achaeological Survey of India (ASI) has found a solution with ABB technology that can protect broad areas of open space and buildings from lightning strikes with a single unobtrusive steel rod and ground connections.

The innovative OPR range of early streamer emission air terminals (ESEAT) are especially effective for open-air sites. With this technology, a terminal rapidly emits an upward channel of ionized air, referred to as a leader, when conditions are ripe for a lightning strike. The upward leader races toward the downward arc of a lightning strike, intercepts it before it can strike other objects in the area and channels the power safely through the OPR rod to the ground.

If a single building needs protection, installing static air terminals on top of the structure, connected by a web of conductive wiring to grounding rods — a structure known as a Faraday cage —can securely insulate the building and its contents from strikes.

But when a large open-air area that cannot be wired needs protection, or if a building such as an ancient temple cannot be inconspicuously retrofitted with a conductive cage, an OPR system is the solution. Depending on the height of placement, an OPR 60 terminal can protect up to 120 meters in any direction.

After a lightning strike in June 2015 on the Khajuraho Temple in Madhya Pradesh damaged the stone building and killed a 17-year-old tourist, officials in Odisha took action.

Charged with protecting the many monuments in the state of Odisha from lightning and other hazards, the Bhubaneswar Circle of ASI worked with ABB to install OPR lightning protection systems on 11 temples in the state, starting with the largest — the 12th-century Jagannath temple complex in Puri, one of the most famous religious complexes in the world.

ABB technology has been deployed to protect the sprawling Jagganath Temple complex in Puri from lightning strikes.
ABB technology has been deployed to protect the sprawling Jagganath Temple complex in Puri from lightning strikes.

Each year, around the first of July in the heart of the June-to-September monsoon season, as many as 1.5 million people crowd in and around the 400,000-square-foot temple complex for a procession known as Rath Yatra, or the Festival of Chariots. Three giant hand-built wooden chariots carry images of Lord Jagganath — whose name translates as Lord of the Universe — and his brother and sister to the Gundicha Temple two miles away. Jagganath’s enormous 65-ton chariot provided the genesis of the English word “juggernaut,” meaning an overwhelming force or institution. The temple complex, with 30 separate buildings and broad open spaces, provided the first challenge for OPR’s ability to protect Odisha’s many heritage sites.

The enormous chariots of Lord Jagganath and his brother, Lord Balabhadra, proceed through the thronging crowd during the annual Rath Yatra, or Festival of Chariots, at the Jagannath Temple complex in Puri.
The enormous chariots of Lord Jagganath and his brother, Lord Balabhadra, proceed through the thronging crowd during the annual Rath Yatra, or Festival of Chariots, at the Jagannath Temple complex in Puri.

ABB India coordinated with Odisha’s General Electric Department and the Jagganath Temple authorities to install the first external lightning protection system at the temple. Since then, the safeguarding has broadened to include 10 other sites, including the Lingaraj temple, one of the oldest in the state, and the Megheshwar temple, both in the state capital city Bhubaneswar.

“India’s diverse historical monuments are our national legacy. And it is a matter of great pride that ABB’s state-of-the-art global technology has been playing a key role in assisting ASI to conserve our heritage structures,” said Sanjeev Sharma, managing director of ABB India Ltd. “Our technical advancements in active lightning protection emphasize our leading position and commitment to preserving our rich past, with more than 2,000 installations of lightning arresters across India and over 200,000 installations worldwide.”

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