Callous Government with their pseudo-secular pretences, biased Courts with their miscarriage of justice, and gullible, ignorant Hindus are the culprits behind the dwindling of ancient Hindu temple traditions and practices
While the Travancore kings, who defeated the Dutch and ended their supremacy and ambitions in South Kerala and Tamil Nadu, it was not easy for them to extend the same protection to Northern Kerala which bore the brunt of the Islamic invasions and repeated rampages by Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan. But Hindu kingdoms prevailed in South Kerala and ensured the temples and their traditions were protected and preserved.
Travancore Dynasty is considered as the protectors of Padmanabha Swamy Temple
So, temples in South India did survive though with new structures, statues, and murals. Tall temple towers were erected in most temples to reinforce the re-emergence of temples as the centres of the communities. There were new
festivals and celebrations which increased not only to honour the deities but also to recognise the saints and sages who sustained Dharma, Bhakti and Sastras that were intertwined with the temples.
Most of the local and social festivals and traditions in India are reflected in temple traditions and rituals. For example, there would be special poojas during Navratri or Shivratri or Vaikunda Ekadasi. But what was more
important was the fact that the unique traditions and rituals were associated only with the temples and the institutions.
The Jallikattu celebrated in many parts of Tamil Nadu always marked the festival of one particular temple of the village where it was held. Jallikattu may happen at any time of the year as per the temple tradition, but it is usually connected to the Pongal (Tamil harvest festival), which falls as soon as the Utharayanam period begins.
Courts have now started questioning the important temple practices like Gaja Pooja by entertaining Public Interest Litigations (PIL)
Other traditions that were sustained by temples include the oral traditions of chanting and learning of the Vedas. The teaching of agamas, sastras, Gho Samrakhsan, Ayurveda, Music – particularly Nadhaswaram and the singing of the Tevaram and Pasuram, i.e. from the bhakti literature, dance and craftmanship relating to the building of temples, mandaps and chariots.
There were significant roles for every caste including Dalits in the village, in each major temple festival – known as Brahmotsvam - and which lasted anywhere between 7 and 21 days. Some important temples like the Chidambaram Shri Natraj Temple have three Brahmotsavams in a year. The Arudra festival celebrated there has Lord Natraj, the presiding deity on a grand Chariot on the four Maada Veedhis (temple streets) in Chidambaram. The temple chariot would not return to the last leg of the journey to the Eastern Street unless the fishermen communities from nearby coastal villages come and offer in a grand display – dhotis, saris, grains, fruits and flowers in a multitude of bamboo baskets for their “Son-in-Law,” Lord Shiva.
Tipu Sultan had destroyed thousands of temples in South India
Today, we face many challenges to our temple traditions in three ways. Indeed, the majority of Hindus are oblivious to the systematic destruction of our traditions – both domestic and temple. They are blissfully ignorant of the destructions wreaked by secular governments and their babus through the control of Hindu temples. Now courts have joined them as a third force for the destruction of our tradition. If we don’t act now, our traditions would be consigned to the dustbins of history or rendered meaningless by courts by either banning them or by burdening them
with pre-conditions that would make it impractical to follow.
In the first place, since 1947 temples and their endowments have lost about 80 per cent of the lands that were endowed to them for their sustenance and charities. It was one of the biggest blows suffered by Hindu institutions and communities in the last 70 years. Once you lose your land, you end up losing your ‘place’ in the society, About 1,20,000 acres of land belonging to Travancore temples were taken over by the state government. Today Kerala Hindus have no large stretch of lands and their children face the continuing ignominy of getting “secular
education” in schools and college run by Christians and Muslims on lands that once belonged to Hindu temples. 85 per cent of the hospitals in Kerala belong to non-Hindus. Northern Kerala lost 4,00,000 acres of temple lands. Today, Hindus are now a minority there due to this.
The question is how a community can sustain or maintain temple traditions when a corrupt Government has robbed their properties and their officials that are hell-bent on wrecking temples traditions, while turning a blind eye to the blatant violations committed by foreign-funded missionaries and other religious fundamentalists to deprive the Hindu society of their ideals, and traditions?
In Tamil Nadu, Temples, Mutts and Endowments have lost 47,000 acres of agricultural lands between 1986 and 2016. Of the remaining 4,78,000 acres of lands belonging to temples, 2,35,000 acres are under hostile encroachment with absolutely no revenue coming from there for more than two decades. Due to corruption and vote-bank politics, politicians and corrupt government babus are callous about the state of affairs. Because of this many Veda Patasalas have been shut down. Hundreds of agama patasalas, Ayurveda hospitals, ghosalas, Nandavans and other dharmic institutions have been closed down for lack of funds and lands.
- More injustice have been meted out to temple traditions and other Hindu practices through a miscarriage of justice by Courts and lack of awareness of Hindus regarding their fundamental rights
- Hindu Organisations should join to form a large and thoroughly professional Legal Cell and a Research Team that would produce unassailable evidence and rationale for the recovery of Hindu properties and to defend Hindu traditions
- How can a community sustain or maintain temple traditions when their properties have been robbed by a corrupt Government and their officials that are hell-bent on wrecking temples traditions
- In Tamil Nadu, Temples, Mutts and Endowments have lost 47,000 acres of agricultural lands between 1986 and 2016. Of the remaining 4,78,000 acres of lands belonging to temples, 2,35,000 acres are under hostile encroachment with absolutely no revenue coming from there for more than two decades
Some time ago, the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, M Karunanidhi changed the Tamil New Year Day, from the 1st of the Tamil month Chitrai to the 1st of the Tamil month Thai by issuing a Government Order. Immediately, a directive was issued by the Commissioner of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department that controls more than 40,000 temples in Tamil Nadu enjoining on temple authorities NOT to celebrate Tamil New Year Day on the 1st of Chitrai. For the past 15 years, Tamil Nadu Government has introduced a ritual in Tamil Nadu temples – to observe the Death of Anniversary of the Late Dravidian Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu – CN Annadurai - on February 3 of every year. Late Annadurai was an anti-Hindu who called for the burning of sacred Hindu Texts and Puranas.
Courts have now started questioning the essential temple practices like Gaja Pooja by entertaining Public Interest Litigations that question presence of elephants in temples. Courts, in writ petitions, decide what essential practices in certain temples or among certain sects of Hindu denominations are. Such questions of essential practices can be determined only by a trial court Judge who has to carefully examine expert opinion, texts and evidence given in a trial proceeding. We have seen again and again that such decisions in matters of Essential Religious Practices by High Courts and Supreme Court in Writ Proceedings and PILs are mostly superficial or completely wrong.
More injustice have been meted out to temple traditions and other Hindu practices through a miscarriage of justice by Courts and lack of awareness of Hindus regarding their fundamental rights. These wrong judgments have further emboldened politicians and babus to bulldoze temple properties, practices and traditions. It is high time Hindu Organisations came together to ensure that many of their temple and religious practices are not only defended under Articles 25 and 26 of the Indian Constitution but also under Article 29(1) as a Fundamental Cultural Right. Certain traditions and practices like priesthood in temples, the teaching of the Vedas, practising and teaching temple music and dance, craftsmanship should be defended under Articles 19(1)(g) and 21.
Many of our centuries-old temple traditions and practices should be declared as National Heritage by the Union Government and adequate protection given for their continuation in their established traditional forms.
Hindu Organisations should join to form a large and thoroughly professional Legal Cell and a Research Team that would produce unassailable evidence and rationale for the recovery of Hindu properties and to defend Hindu traditions. This, in my opinion, is the greatest need of the hour.
(The writer is an honorary President of Temple Worshipers Society, Chennai and an activist to safeguard temple lands and properties)