Our temples, originally built as custodians and propagators of dharma, are now looked upon as generators of wealth by our State Governments. This wealth is used for the benefit of people who are not part of Sanatan Dharma
Meenakshi Temple Tamil Nadu
What is the #FreeHinduTemples movement all about? Why should any Hindu support it? Is it a movement by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or by Bharatiya Janata Party or is it a movement by private parties interested in lording over the Temples of Bharat? Ever since Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev spoke up about freeing the Temples of Tamil Nadu from Government control, the movement has seen a swirl of activity. Let us see how this movement came about to be …
If memory serves me right a lot of Sadhus, Sanyasis, Dharma Gurus and Mathadeeshas have been arguing for freeing the Temples from Government Control since the time of Independence. The movement got a lot of support from Swami Dayanand Saraswati of the Arsha Vidya Foundation too, who exhorted the Dharmaacharyas to fight for freeing the Temples from “Secular” management. In 2018, the Hindu Charter of Demands also placed this as one of their core demands, along with creating a Jeernodhar Trust with Rupees 10k crores as seed funding to revive our decaying Temples. In 2019, this demand was intensified when the Equal Rights for Hindus was demanded by the Hindu Charter Trust, along with demand for equal standing with the Minorities in the interpretation of the Constitution (especially Articles 25 to 30) of the Nation. The ex-CBI chief M Nageswara Rao (who is the person behind the Equal Rights for Hindus movement) has presented his version of the movement to various Government heads, also to Dharmaacharyas and on various forums from then on.
Devotees should Manage Temple
To give a basic understanding of the movement, it would suffice to say that while our Temples were originally built as custodians and propagators of Dharma, today, they are looked upon as generators of wealth by our State Governments. This wealth is because of the donations by the devotees of the Temples, but unfortunately the same wealth is used for purposes other than propagating Dharma. In fact it is used for the benefit of people who are not part of Sanatan Dharma at all. This has happened because our Government and our Constitution claim that they are “Secular” with no relationship to Sanatan Dharma. When they explicitly state that they are not followers of Dharma, how then can they serve Dharma? And when they cannot serve Dharma, why should they run or administer any religious institution at all? This simple question is at the basis of the #FreeHinduTemples movement. The Government, especially a Secular Government has no business to be involved in running a Hindu Temple at all. It is the Deity and the Devotee who should be looking after the Temple.
Now, one of the most important questions that arise is as to what will happen if the Government exits the Temple. Who will administer it? What will be the role of the Temple administration with respect to the funds of the Temple? Will it bring about a rise in casteism again? Will the funds become the private property of the administrators or the Priests of the Temple? Etc, etc. Before answering the questions I would like to draw the readers’ attention to some facts …
- There was no concept of a Hundi in more than 95 per cent of the Temples before. The Temples were managed by and all expenses of the Temples were borne by the kings or prominent families of a region or by a community.
- The salaries of the employees of the Temples too were borne by these people. Sometimes, the various communities in the employ of the Temple were given land for cultivation and the produce of the land was considered as salaries for the work done.
- The Priests would receive “Dakshina” by the Bhakta, for their services rendered.
- Every community had their well-defined role to play in the daily running of the Temple, in the daily/periodic Pujas, in the upkeep of the Temple. For example, the Priest (of most Temples) would be from certain families of the Brahmin community, only the traditional goldsmith could make the ornaments for the Deity. The appointed washerman was the only one who would wash/provide cloth for the use of the Deity or the Priest, each dhol/musical instrument played for the Deity was played only by the Bhandaris or the respective community, the flowers and flower garlands were made by a particular community, the leaves/fruits/vegetables used for the ‘Bali’ would be cut only by the Gowdas (in N Karnataka), and so on …. There was no overlapping of roles and this guaranteed that every single community would be a part of the adoration and worship of the Deity.
- It is pertinent to note that not all Temples had Brahmin priests. There are thousands of Temples which have priests who are from other communities and Tribes.
- Copious amounts of money started flowing into big Temples after the Hundis made their appearances and later, after the administration started charging fees for Darshan, Sevas and Prasad, all of which was free earlier. This system of earning money from big Temples gained popularity after Bharat got Independence from the British rule.
- Now when talk about freeing Temples from Government control is spoken about, one raging debate that is going on is “Who will manage our Temples?” The opinion seems to be divided mainly into two camps:
- The families which have been managing the day-to-day affairs of the Temples will manage it completely especially since they are the ones who have saved it from the onslaught of the invaders and have kept the Sampradaya intact.
- A central body should be created to manage and administer the Temples subject to certain guidelines, and this body should be based on modern democratic principles.
- Equal Rights for Hindus believe that there is a third way around this. Before discussing this, I would like to draw attention to some roles that our Hindu Temples must embrace, which they are probably not doing right now …
Sri Venkateswara Swamy Temple, Tirupati
Temples can play an active role in helping those families which are victims of hate crimes. For example did any temple in Delhi help the family of Rinku Sharma or IB officer Ankit Sharma, both of who were victims of religious hate crimes?
- Play an active role in propagation of Dharma and an equally active role in preventing conversion. Not all Temples are under the control of the State Governments, but can anyone list out any Temple which is working towards preventing Conversion to any Abrahamic Faith? If one were to take a look at Google maps listing out the Churches or Masjids around any famous Temple, one would be shocked. Why is it that any of our famous Temples, including Chidambaram Nataraja Temple, which is not under the control of “Secular” authorities not able to prevent proliferation of these ever mushrooming Evangelist churches? Just having Ved-paathshalas for scholarly studies is not enough any more … having Dharma classes for regular children should also be a role actively played by our Temples.
- Play an active role in preventing slaughter or any animal and especially gou-hatya in the periphery of any Temple upto at least 2 kms radius.
- Play an active role in securing the structures, vigrahas, wealth of all Temples big and small, near every big Temple which can afford to partake in the expenses of maintaining security. If this were done, we would not hear of smuggling of our Vigrahas to foreign shores.
- Play an active role in helping those families which are victims of hate crimes. For example did any Temple in Delhi help the family of Rinku Sharma or IB officer Ankit Sharma, both of who were victims of religious hate crimes? Is it not the duty of Temples to help Hindu victims of religious hate crimes or love jihads?
- Play an active role in continuing of rituals, festivals and celebrations. Also play a very active role in fighting PIL Mafia which interferes in our rituals and stops our festivals. Have we heard of any major Temple administration lobbying for bursting of Diwali crackers, Jallikattu or against the school syllabus where all Hindu festivals are condemned? If not, why not? Could the Temples of Delhi not have donated crackers/ clothes/sweets to poor Hindu children during Diwali?
- Play an active role in rebuilding and reigniting the flames in those Temples which have been destroyed in the past. Why should Archeological Survey of India handle our worn-out Temples? Bring them back to life!
The families which have been managing the day-to-day affairs of the Temples will manage it completely especially since they are the ones who have saved it from the onslaught of the invaders and have kept the Sampradaya intact
Fillip to #FreeHinduTemples
The fact is that our emotional and spiritual connect with our Temples has systematically gone down. We go to the Temples not to be a part of it, but to do our part in performing any Puja or Mannat and just getting back home immediately after. If we want to face the challenges facing Sanatan Dharma today, this has to change. People from all communities of Sanatan Sanskriti have to actively participate in running the day to day affairs of our Temples and feel that it is their own Temple and that the Deity owns them completely.
To do any/all of the above, the administration of the Temple has to run in two parts:
- The ritualistic aspect (Pujas, Prasada, Festivals, etc.) has to be looked after totally as per the Agama Shastras and by those with Adhikara and complete knowledge of the tradition.
- The administrative aspect has to be inclusive of all communities and a board can be formed with active participation of every community which wants to be represented in the board. It could have people not just from that region, but also devotees from other regions as per the understanding and consensus of the board members.
Over and above this, an independent team can audit the functions and financial handling of the Temple in a transparent manner. All this will definitely help in making our Temples as places of spiritual and social activities working for the welfare of the entire Hindu samaj, once again. Come, be a part of the #FreeHinduTemples from Government Control campaign. Gather information about your nearby Temples, see if you can be a part of their activities, work towards a robust revival of Sanatan Dharma again.
(The writer is a Mumbai-based columnist)