Swami Kamalananda Bharati is the founder of Hindu Devalaya Parirakshana Samiti, an organisation dedicated to ‘Jeernoddaara’ (restoration and revival) of Hindu temples. Swamiji has for the past few years been one of those at the forefront of the public movement against the Andhra Pradesh Hindu Religious Endowment Department’s total mismanagement and corrupt administration of Hindu temples, including the renowned Tirupati Balaji Devasthanam by the State Government. To create awareness on the state of our mandirs, he has undertaken three padayatras, covering 8000 villages and totalling a distance of over 10,000 Km, in Andhra Pradesh, visiting each district and each village during these yatras. Swamiji is also at the forefront of anti-conversion work in Andhra Pradesh.
In an interview to Organiser, Swamiji talks about the threats to Hindu temple traditions, the forces and his work to counter forces and the future course of action for Hindus. Excerpts:
Q.What according to you is the biggest threat to Hindu temple traditions today?
With respect to conducting temple rituals and following traditions as per our Agama Shashtras and also the way temples are managed, we have to look at them in various angles. One of the threats to follow the age-old traditions in our temples is the interference by politically motivated temple management. The Government department’s aim has been to alter traditions and replace them with new rituals that fetch more money. Both officials of the Endowments Department and few politicians are involved in such activities.
The next threat is from the Christian missionaries. They used to operate out of public glare earlier, but from the last decade, they are attacking our temple traditions openly. For instance, in Narasapuram they attacked the main murti at Shiva Temple, in Bheemavaram they attacked Bhagwan Krishna’s Murthy, in Chittoor, they desecrated the Grama Devata temples in 3 villages. In Guntur too they attacked Hindus and attempted to build a Church over a Hindu temple. In Kurnool, they forced the government to stop money that was being given to manage a temple from the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) funds. Hindu temples in almost all districts in Andhra Pradesh are under attack from Christian missionaries, and they are doing it openly.
On the other hand, the Islamists do not attack Hindu temples or traditions openly, but they target those who follow them, either through Love Jihad or covert operation through educational and personality development programmes.
But the real critical issue with the Hindu society is that most do not identify themselves proudly as Hindus. It is also true that most among Hindus stay away from temples that are in their towns and villages. It is one thing to undertake a pilgrimage to Sabarimala or Tirupati which most do. But an average Hindu is not connected emotionally to the temple near him/her. This was the primary concern of my ‘Sampoorna Grama Yatra’ where Sampoorna Devayala Sandarshana Grama was our aim. I visited every village and visit all the temples in the village and get every Hindu family to visit all the temples in their village and connect them with it. Subsequently, we also undertook a Rath Yatra called the Sampoorna Devayala Sandarshana Rath Yatra with the same aim.
Q.You have travelled thousands of kilometres covering more than 8,000 villages. What are the threats villagers face in maintaining their traditions?
The biggest issue with the temples today is that there is an enormous shortage of archakas for our temples in towns and villages. Today 95 per cent of the villages have no archakas in their temples. The archaka system that was prevalent has died down due to migration of people to cities and other places in search of different jobs, and no one is ready to take up the job of the archakas. Due to this, temples in villages are lying vacant without any pooja being performed, and villagers too do not visit them. There are villages where ten temples are closed due to non-availability of archakas. It is such villages that are the target of Christian missionaries. They have built 6-7 Churches in such villages, and each church has well-paid pastors.
But there are Bhajana Mandalis in many villages where along with Bhajans, people involve in Kolaatam (Dandiya) kind of traditional activities. Those who conduct Bhajans in villages come from one particular caste. Similarly, among the Scheduled Caste communities also, Bhajan Mandalis is very much prevalent, and it is lead by the people from the same community. I can say Hindutva is alive in villages due to such Bhajan Mandalis. People irrespective of gender, caste, take part in Bhajans and it is a platform that unites all Hindus.
- I can say Hindutva is alive in villages due to such Bhajan Mandalis. People irrespective of gender, caste, take part in Bhajans and it is a platform that unites all Hindus”
- we have to get all those trustees of temple management trusts which are well managed by Hindus themselves and are not under the purview of the endowment department of the governments. We have to take them into confidence. We have to note their experiences, their dedication, their values and the way they manage their temples. All these have to be laid before the Hindu society”
- It is in the best interests of the Hindu society if Hindu organisations come together, discuss and deliberate on these issues and chalk out a way forward and work concertedly”
Here I need to stress the difference between Hindus in urban and rural areas in maintaining our traditions. During the last 30 years, there is a change in our villages. The income of villagers has increased due to which their quality of life has also become better. Consequently, they have started taking an interest in our Dharma, temples, traditions and are involving themselves more in them. The point to be noted here is that those who are building temples and managing them in our villages in recent times are the people who are from the Backward Classes and SC/ST communities. I have witnessed this in Andhra and Telangana. I had also observed that when they remained within their caste-based professions, their income levels were low and they did not progress. But once they went out of their castes and joined new professions, they earned well which also leads to huge improvement in their quality of life. They then started going to temples, involved in building temples, managing them, undertook yatras and wearing malas, etc. Those families that did not even have proper clothes to wear and stood outside temples only to receive their share of prasad have today progressed to a level where they are funding temple renovation, wearing good clothes and take part in temple festivities with pride and honour. Historically too, whenever there has been economic progress in our backward communities, the strength and spirit of the Hindu society too has always increased.
Villagers primarily have faith in their grama devata followed by their kula devata. Each caste also has a jati devata. Villagers duly perform pooja to their devatas with a lot of faith and devotion. For example, Vishwabrahmins worship Vishwakarma, Vaishyas worship Kannikaparameshwari, Goudas worship Renuka Yellamma, Chamars perform pooja to Arundhati and Mathamma Devi, Mahars worships Channakeshava. Likewise, each caste worships its devatas. The faith they have in their grama devata or kula or jati devata has played a significant role in in clebrating diverse traditions of the Hindu fold. Villagers worship their devatas with lot of devotion and also a source of social cohesion.
Villagers spend huge money in pooja festivities of their devathas. Mavulamma Talli (Devi) is the grama devatha of a village in the Bheemavaram municipality. Just the Sabzi Mandi near the temple here donates lakhs of rupees for the upkeep of the temple dedicated to Mavulamma Devi. It is in this way the local communities support and build temples of their devatas. The Grama Devata and the Kula Devata are like Brahmastra and Pashupatastra against religious conversions in villages.
In cities and towns too, not all temples are well managed as thought. In several colonies in cities, temples suffer from similar issues of lack of archakas or funds. Many temples get enough funds only for basic pooja and for the archakas. Only few temples which get good number of devotees can get good funds for their regular activities and management.
Q.If temples are freed from Government control, do you think Hindus can take control of the temples and manage it well?
Firstly, we have to get all those trustees of temple management trusts which are well-managed by Hindus themselves and are not under the purview of the Endowments Department of the Governments. We have to take them into confidence. We have to note their experiences, their dedication, their values and the way they manage their temples. All these have to be laid before the Hindu society. There may not be many such temples but we have to do this to educate our society.
For instance, there are about 80 temples in Andhra alone which are managed by the Ganapati Sachchidananda Peetha of Mysore. All rituals and traditions are followed as per their own norms. The purohits of all the 80 temples are trained in Agama shashtras in the Veda Pathashalas of the Ganapati Sachchidananda Ashram in Mysore. The committee members of these temple trusts go to Mysore every year and present their reports which is evaluated by the Ashram. This is a model that is already in front of us which can be emulated.
Today people give sufficient money or donations for temple jewellery and other causes. But it has become difficult to find dedicated and trustworthy people to manage temple trusts. We need a process to find such people and train them in managing temple affairs. We should institute something like a ‘Temple Management course’ to find and train people who will become adept at managing temple affairs and administer the temples as per our Agama shastras. They have to be trained well about our shashtras, mahakavyas, traditional lifestyle, itihasa of Bharat and the temple itself. This has to be done professionally as a mainstream college course.
Q.How have your efforts enabled people to follow their traditions in their temples?
Today all are discussing temples, their traditions and threats. But when we started our movement in 2001-02, not many were bothered or even heard us. By 2006-07, due to the efforts of our temple movement, people and political parties were educated about it and in 2007 they took a unanimous decision to amend the Endowments Act. I have visited thousands of villages where I teach people about the importance of the temple and its traditions. I talk to people about the need to safeguard their temples due to which many have come forward to help us in our movement. Today, most mathadhipathis, sants, small and big Hindu organisations speak about saving temples both in India and abroad. But the efforts are still individualistic, and everyone is forwarding their memorandums to the Government which are different from each other. The Government cites the differences in memorandums and brushes aside their demands, which is exactlty what they want. However, if we all come together, arrive at a common minimum programme and submit one single memorandum after due deliberation, the Endowments Department and Government will be forced to listen and act on our demands. It is only due to such concerted efforts that we will get lasting solutions.
Between 2007-09, I undertook a padayatra of 10,000 kms in 30 districts of erstwhile Andhra Pradesh in 3 years. More important than the kilometres I walked is the way the padayatra was conducted. During the yatra, I visited every temple in a village by involving all the resident Hindus of the village. We together performed a parikrama of all the village temples like the Shri Rama temples, Shiva Temples, Grama Devatha temples, Kula devatha temples, Vana Devatha, etc. Through this parikrama, I was able to connect all Hindus of the village to all the temples, including those they didn’t visit earlier.
I have also observed that Hindu organisations and sant samaj takes up one issue today and forgets about it later. Then again after sometime they take up some other issue. If it’s temples today, it will be something else tomorrow. I suggest that all organisations and concerned people take up only one issue at a time, like the issue of temples now, and work on it for five years or so until we have found a permanent solution. For example, if we take up the save temples movement, we should all work on it for five years continuously, taking into consideration various aspects like, saving temple traditions, temple lands, utilisation of temple funds, taking temples out of government control, education for temple management, etc. Only by working together by being focused, without other distractions, will we be able to tackle all angles related to the single issue and arrive at a solution.
I have been fighting many policies of the Endowments Department of Andhra and Telangana for the past 15 years. Due to our movement, the government brought in an amendment in 2007 to the Endowments Act, which mandated that the archakas be paid a proper salary. Earlier to our movement, the archakas were getting a pittance and even that was not guaranteed. Archakas in rural areas get Rs.5000 and those in urban areas get Rs.10,000 per month under the ‘Doop Deep Naivedyam Scheme’ of the Government after our continuous struggle.
I have also been fighting legally to safeguard temple lands and have found success in all cases we have fought. Even in case of TTD, I have been successful in forcing the Government to make many changes in the way they run the affairs of the temple. For instance, the Left Unions and politically affiliated officials tried to stop the age old practice of people from the ‘Yadava’ community to be the first to have the darshan of Venkateshwara after the doors are opened every day. We have been able to force the TTD to continue with the tradition. But there are many machinations afoot to create Sabarimala kind of anarchy in Tirumala temple too.
When I worked for saving temples, I focused only on temples where I visited temples both in rural and urban areas and talked to all stakeholders, approached government, filed cases in courts and worked continuously until we found a solution. We involved people in the process by making them understand that the issues related to temples are issues of the entire society too and their important role in the same. I have been successful in this endeavour. Today, due to our movement may youths from towns and villages have come forward and are volunteering to work towards reviving temples, safeguard temple lands or even to monitor utilisation of temple funds and resources.
Q.Hindu traditions and anything sacred is the target of the anti-Hindu brigade.
There have been concerted attempts to undermine or scuttle the ancient Hindu traditions. Rajahmundry Ghats and Nellore lake issue are the most recent attacks by Evangelists and Jihadists. Hindu organisations have been fighting back each time. More than 10-15 Hindu organisations like ‘Swahikti’, Dharma Jagran, Hindu Chetana Vedika, etc., are working to counter these forces. We are working to safeguard and revive temples. Many Dharmacharyas too are working seriously on several issues. Hindu samaj is ready to face them but we also need the political will to counter them. It is in the best interests of the Hindu society if all Hindu organisations come together, discuss and deliberate on these issues and chalk out a strategy and work concertedly.