PM Modi’s visit to Sabarimala will hopefully end the woes of the shrine – Rajeev Srinivasan

Ayyappan Temple at Sabarimala

Rajeev Srinivasan“The PM’s visit to Sabarimala should create an awareness of the problems faced, and perhaps it will lead to the dissolution of the Devaswom Board, just as that other white elephant, the Planning Commission was disbanded. That would be not a day too soon. Kerala’s temples deserve the right to manage themselves without busybodies from government interfering in them.” – Rajeev Srinivasan

Swami AyyappanThe hill abode of Sri Ayyappan in the Western Ghats has become one of the most-visited temples in India, and it is in the list of places where the most places converge in the world (Source: The Economist, 2013). Unfortunately, it is also a testament to the incompetence and uncaring attitude of the Indian state, because pilgrims suffer greatly if they wish to visit.

Therefore I am delighted that Prime Minister Narendra Modi may visit the shrine this year, according to G. Ananthakrishnan (“Sabarimala on PM radar”) in The Telegraph, as it may force the authorities to improve the critically deficient infrastructure that they could easily upgrade, but won’t. It is also a metaphor for what appears to be active official hostility to Hindu pilgrims.

Pilgrims wait to climb the 18 steps at SabarimalaI know because I just went to Sabarimala for Deepavali. I have done the pilgrimage five or six times over many years, and can testify first-hand as to how it has deteriorated over time. My very first pilgrimage was when I was 17, and at that time there were no permanent settlements on the summit of the hill, where the shrine is. People only went there during the season (November to January) and for a few days at the beginning of every Malayalam month.

The main difference is the number of pilgrims visiting, which has grown exponentially, as it is an attractive, albeit difficult, trip, and the worship of Ayyappa has grown dramatically in the southern states. Then, I walked alone up the hill through rough paths, and I encountered only a handful of people who were going down the hill. When I went to the summit, I could pray for as long as I wanted in front of the deity’s tiny abode.

A few days ago, there were thousands of pilgrims at the summit, and I encountered hundreds returning down the arduous climb. During the season the numbers swell to hundreds of thousands of black-clad visitors, as the total number over the truncated period comes to over 30 million (which is the entire population of Kerala, to give some perspective).

Unfortunately, this tsunami of pilgrims has overwhelmed the carrying capacity of the area, and it makes the strenuous climb far more difficult than it needs to be. For, from the Pamba River staging area where vehicles park, it is a vertiginous climb up a few thousand feet through dense tropical forest to the small plateau where the shrine is. It is hard on the feet (we climbed barefoot up the granite and concrete path), on the heart (every year a few people have cardiac arrest), and on your system in general (there are only a dozen or so toilets on this path).

Once you get up to the plateau, things don’t get any better. Often, in peak-season, you have to wait for up to 10-12 hours in line in concrete sheds with corrugated-iron sheeting as roofs, which gets stiflingly hot on sunny days. Accommodation availability is utterly minimal: many sleep in these very sheds. Toilets, bathrooms, a clean place to sleep, decent food to eat, medical care—all are scarce.

The amount of plastic trash around the place is startling: bottles, bags. There are feral pigs – yes, wild pigs with mean-looking fangs – rooting in the food waste and human waste, and they add their droppings to the mess of mud and paper and flowers and plastic.

And there have been several stampedes in the past, which obviously is a problem of poor organisation and crowd management. (Tirupati, with an equally large number of pilgrims, has figured out crowd control; there is no reason why this cannot be attempted in Sabarimala too.)

This is no way to run a holy place. Nor any way to treat poor pilgrims who come from far away. I once met a barefoot pilgrim who was a Sri Lankan-origin investment banker in London, but many are ordinary folks from villages in interior Karnataka or Andhra Pradesh. They come, black-clad and bearded after 41 days of penance, carrying on their heads the twin coconuts filled with ghee that they will use for ablutions. These are the believers, that vast and invisible substratum of India that Dharampal once mentioned: they follow ancient practices of pilgrimage to holy spots, ignoring the cities and other distractions. This is eternal India, sanatana dharma.

Hiuen Tsang / XuanzangYou get a glimpse of this true India when you finally reach the sanctum with your aching and weary body, your only thoughts those about Ayyappa. Strangely, when you try to get your micro-second glimpse of the presiding deity before you are shoved forward by the press of those behind you, you tend to forget all the hassles. Because it is a point of singular power, and it has been so for millennia: historian Lokesh Chandra notes that it was once a temple to both Shiva and the Avalokiteswara Padmapani (the Bodhisattva of Compassion) simultaneously, as described by the Buddhist monk Hiuen Tsang (Xuanzang) who visited some 1,400 years ago and considered it already an ancient temple. (See my old article on its history here.)

The criminal neglect of the temple is mostly due to state hostility and partly to sheer incompetence. Kerala alternatively has Communist-led and Congress-led governments, which for practical purposes means a Communist/Muslim coalition or a Christian/Muslim coalition. The Hindu vote is fragmented and divided, to the extent that the BJP is yet to have a single MP from the state, although O. Rajagopal almost unseated Shashi Tharoor in Trivandrum last May. Modi appeals to the OBC Ezhavas (the mainstay of the Communists) and to the SC Pulayas; and this may lead to some electoral realignments, and that is surely part of his calculations.

There is a monstrous entity called the ‘Devaswom Board’ that controls all Hindu temples (and note please: only Hindu temples, as Christian and Muslim places of worship are entirely free of control or even audit or tax. I read a ruling by an Income Tax appellate court that Hinduism is a way of life, not a religion, and therefore Hindu temples are not tax-exempt!)

In fact, in an allegedly secular state, there should be separation of ‘church’ and ‘state’, that is, the government should not interfere in religion. That is true for Christians and Muslims: the State leaves them alone to do whatever they want with their churches and mosques. But in the case of Hindus, the government expropriates whatever Hindu temples have. The Devaswom Board is a violation of the constitutional principles of equality before the law and freedom of religion.

This is the principal reason Hindu temples are in trouble in Kerala, as the Devaswom Board, with atheists and Communists often as board members, acts as a mechanism to commingle the revenues of temples with government revenue. In other words, the Devaswom Board, and thus the Kerala government, steal the money that pilgrims donate to Sabarimala (and other large temples like Guruvayur). No more than 5 percent of this is spent on upkeep and maintenance and infrastructure development in the big temples; the rest is swallowed by the state treasury.

Many of the smaller temples under Devaswom control are closing because there is no money spent on them at all (I read a report quoting the Travancore Manual that were some 10,000 temples in Travancore a hundred years ago; while today there are fewer than 1,500). This verges on extinction.

Temples are torn down for ‘development’. For instance, the 1,800 year-old Parthasarathy Temple in Aranmula is slated for severe downgrading for an unnecessary airport project there which is basically a land-grab. Dozens of temples were torn down to create Cochin’s airport. In the 1950s, a planter tried to burn down the Sabarimala shrine to grab the forest land around it. All this is simply abominable.

Narendra Modi greets Ganga DeviA visit by the Prime Minister should shine the spotlight on this unsavory aspect of what is quite simply apartheid against Hindus. In addition, he will see first-hand how his idea of a Swachh Bharat has a long way to go: unlike most temples in Kerala, where the abundance of water, and related habits, ensure cleanliness, poor Sabarimala is the epitome of unsanitary conditions.

The PM’s visit should create an awareness of the problems faced, and perhaps it will lead to the dissolution of the Devaswom Board, just as that other white elephant, the Planning Commission was disbanded. That would be not a day too soon. Kerala’s temples deserve the right to manage themselves without busybodies from government interfering in them.

If the PM were to visit during the season, the difficulty in ensuring security will mean disruption for pilgrims, especially if he were to make the full trek up and down the hill, which, he, as a physically fit individual, should be able to do, unlike all other PMs so far. Still, that would be a small price to pay for the possible improvements it might bring. – FirstPost, 24 October 2014

Cross crossed-out!Socio-political history of Sabarimala – Ashok Chowgule

There is a socio-political history that needs to be mentioned about Sabrimala, which would indicate the civilisational importance of the temple. From Wikipedia, we can read: “In 1950, a fire broke out which destroyed the entire temple and it had to be reconstructed. According to the official enquiry report submitted by the Deputy Inspector General of Police, K. Kesava Menon, some Christian fundamentalists committed the arson.”

This was preceded by attempts of the Christian churches to grab properties on the way to the hill, erect crosses and shrines. The objective was to block the path to the temple and so prevent worship at the site. The local RSS units (at the time this was the only mass based Hindu organisation working at the grassroot level—VHP, of which I am a senior office bearer, was formed in 1964 by the RSS) had to mount a protest against this effort, some of which had to be done in a violent way. This was successful, and yet another pilgrimage shrine was kept free for the Hindus to be able to worship in the future.

What Wikipedia does not mention is that the vandals were instigated by the Christian churches, and DIG Kesava Menon has given names of various people involved. None of them were prosecuted.

Rajeev Srinivasan, the author of the above article, does mention the vandalism when he says: “In the 1950s, a planter tried to burn down the Sabarimala shrine to grab the forest land around it.” I recognise he did not dwell on it, so that the attention to the main point, relating to the present, is not diluted.

» Rajeev Srinivasan is a popular columnist from Tiruvananthapuram. His daytime job is that of a consultant in the software industry. He blogs at Shadow Warrior here.

Pilgrims at Sabarimala

See also

Tamil Nadu Government’s scant regard for cow protection – B. R. Haran

Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious Charitable Endowments Department

B.R. Haran“While devotees donate thousands of cows and calves in the belief that they would be taken care of well, the HR & CE Department shows scant regard to their religious sentiments and to the welfare of the hapless animals. This pathetic state of affairs prevails across the state. … Hundreds of cows have vanished from the goshala of Sri Ranganathar Temple, Srirangam, which is the first Vaishnavite Divya Kshetram and the Chief Minister’s own constituency. … A review … in November 2012 showed that 5,389 cows have vanished without a trace from the goshala attached to the famous Thiruchendur Murugan Temple. They had been sent to private goshalas for maintenance, some of which exist only on paper! Neither the department had records, nor did officials have any answer!

The CowGlorious Bharatiya tradition

When it comes to religious tradition and the cultural heritage associated with it, our culture stands foremost in the world, with thousands of temples more than millennia old, a continuous legacy of pious worship by Hindus from across the world. Since ancient times, temples have been seats of learning. The temple tradition includes protection, preservation and progression of Vedas, agamas, literature, arts, architecture, gau samrakshana, music, fine arts and culture.

As we worship the deities installed inside the temple, we also worship the vrukshaas and theerthas associated with them. We also worship the vaahanaas of the deities. However, if there is one animal to which we give equal importance as that of the deity, it is the cow. To no other animal in the Hindu pantheon does the Sanatana Dharma give so much of sanctity and importance.

In ancient times, each and every temple had its own nandavanam (garden) and goshala attached to it. Devotees visiting the temples would visit the goshala and offer worship to the cows and feed them. Products like milk, komiyum (cow urine) and cow dung cakes used for daily rituals like abhishekams and homams were all taken from the goshalas. Even the vibhuti (sacred ash) was prepared from cow dung.

Degeneration caused by political instability and governmental apathy

Even while our nation was oppressed by the invaders for a thousand years, our religious tradition and cultural heritage almost remained intact and continued, though practising them was made difficult. Our worshipping pattern didn’t change at all. Our culture of worshipping the cow continued.

Although, the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department was established during the British period itself in Madras, the temples of Tamil Nadu bore the brunt of loot and mismanagement only after the takeover of the endowments by the governments formed by the Dravidian parties. With the advent of the Dravidian governments since 1967, the temples have been systematically mismanaged and their wealth looted alternatively by the DMK and AIADMK governments. The temple tanks, nandavanams and the goshalas became extinct due to total disregard. Even those left are not getting the required attention from the government.

High Court’s direction

In the third week of August, the Madras High Court constituted a three member committee to investigate the status of goshalas attached with the temples under the purview of Tamil Nadu government’s Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment (HR&CE) Department and ordered the committee to submit its report within two months.

The High Court gave this order after hearing a petition (WP 28793 & 28794 of 2013) filed by writer and animal activist Radha Rajan. The petition said, “The Goshalas attached to the Temples under its purview are maintained by the HR&CE Department itself. However, more than a dozen cows died in the Goshala attached to the famous Thiruvannamalai Temple due to lack of sufficient food and improper maintenance”, and prayed for the constitution of a committee to look into the omissions and commissions with regards to the HR&CE Department’s maintenance of temple goshalas.

When the petition, submitted by advocate Sathish Parasaran, came up for hearing by the First Bench comprising Chief Justice Sanjay Kishen Kaul and Justice M Sathyanarayanan, Government Pleader S Kandaswami submitted that L Anantha Padmanaban, Joint Director of Animal Husbandry Department, has been appointed to review the maintenance of temple goshalas. Accepting the submission of the government pleader, the High Court also included Dr Sumathi of the Animal Welfare Board of India and Radha Rajan in the committee and ordered them to submit a report within two months after investigating the temple goshalas. The case was adjourned for 27 October.

Save the Cow!Background of the case

In October 2013, the media reported sudden deaths of several cows at the goshala attached to the famous Annamalaiyar Temple in Thiruvannamalai. While donating the cows, the devotees also part with a decent amount for their maintenance; moreover, the revenue of the temple is huge, running into several crores of rupees. So, it is not difficult for the HR&CE Department to manage the goshala. However, as several cows died within a short span of time, cadres of Hindu Munnani and animal lovers resorted to hunger strike in front of the temple. The district authorities pacified them and ordered an investigation by an organisation called Arunachala Animal Sanctuary and Rescue Center.

When the veterinary doctor and other officials from the centre visited the goshala situated within the temple premises, there were a total of 105 cows in it. All were donated by devotees and local people who could no longer care for them. Many of them had given Rs. 10,000 for the maintenance of the cows. After investigating the status of the goshalas and health of the cows the center gave the following report:

  • Cows and calves are seriously undernourished and have lost the ability to chew well
  • The care-taking is inadequate. There is only one caretaker and an assistant for all the animals.
  • They are fed twice a day. Each feeding in total consists of: 25 kg of oil cake, 25 kg of black gram covers, 25 kg of bran, and hay. (They never get green grass). That is enough food to sustain only 15 adult cows.
  • There is adequate space, but no protection against rain.
  • In case of acute illness, or injury, the Government Veterinary Hospital responds promptly.

While the temple revenue runs into crores, the HR&CE Department appointed only two people to attend to 105 cows and cattle feed enough for only 15 adult cows! If this is the condition of the goshala, is there any surprise in the reported deaths of cows? If this is the condition of a goshala attached to such a big temple, imagine the status of goshalas in smaller temples.

In this background, Radha Rajan filed a writ petition requesting the High Court to order the government to submit a status report with details about the number of goshalas and cows maintained therein, the status with regards to the purchase and distribution of cattle feed, hygienic condition of the goshalas, etc. She prayed for constitution of a committee to investigate the goshalas. Thus, the HC constituted the three member panel.

Seal of Tamil NaduPathetic condition across the state

While devotees donate thousands of cows and calves in the belief that they would be taken care of well, the HR&CE Department shows scant regard to their religious sentiments and to the welfare of the hapless animals. This pathetic state of affairs prevails across the state. Let us see the state of affairs in a few other temples too.

Thiruchendur Murugan TempleFive thousand cows vanished from the goshala of famous Thiruchendur Murugan Temple

A review by the department’s internal auditors in November 2012 showed that 5,389 cows have vanished without a trace from the goshala attached to the famous Thiruchendur Murugan Temple. They had been sent to private goshalas for maintenance, some of which exist only on paper! Neither the department had records, nor did officials have any answer!

When the number of cows donated by the devotees exceeds the limit and the goshala runs out of space, the department used to send them to private goshalas; this practice still prevails. However, it was found that the officials violated the norms, which resulted in thousands of cows missing. It was even suspected that the cows could have been sold to butchers by the officials themselves. (Dinamalar, 30 November 2012)

The HR&CE Department has “integrated goshalas” in places like Srirangam, Palani and Thiruchendur for maintenance of cows in large numbers, as most of the temple goshalas lack sufficient space. In October 2010, a building was constructed inside the integrated goshala premises at Thiruchendur for proper maintenance. Veterinary doctors were placed there for regular check up of the cattle. The department bought one Bolero jeep for inspection purposes. However, at present the integrated goshala is in a pathetic condition without even a single cow. The place stands abandoned with plants and bushes grown all over and frequented by anti-social elements. While the officials enjoy joy rides in the Bolero jeep, they didn’t bother to maintain the integrated goshala. The department wasted more than a crore of rupees on this “project”.

From temple to beef stalls, a one way ticket for cows in Srirangam

Hundreds of cows have vanished from the goshala of Sri Ranganathar Temple, Srirangam, which is the first Vishnavite Divya Kshetram and one of the most famous temples in the world. Tamil weekly Kumudam Reporter (27-12-2007) ran a detailed cover story with photographs exposing that:

As the number of cows donated by bhaktas keeps increasing, some are deliberately allowed to die without food. Then they are accounted as ‘death due to disease’ and sent for burial. They are cut into pieces at the burial ground and transported to beef stalls in and around Srirangam. On an average, two or three cows are transported in this fashion every day. Many cows do not find a place in the ‘death list’ either.

The internal audit report noted the disappearance of 105 cows in a single year, thereby confirming the weekly’s cover story. This writer is given to understand that the sad story of cows’ death continues even now in Srirangam, the Chief Minister’s own constituency.

Mysterious Pazhani goshala     

Pazhani Murugan Temple is a famous temple bringing crores of rupees revenue for the Tamil Nadu government. In 2008, the HR&CE Department established an “integrated goshala” here in 240-acres at Seemanampatti, 40 kms from Pazhani town. The main purpose was to bring cows from the various temples and maintain them with adequate food and water and vast grass lands. But, when this writer and his colleagues from Vedic Science Research Center visited the integrated goshala on 4 March 2014, there were only 9 cattle (3 bulls, 2 cows and 4 calves). Though there are 20 staff on the payroll to attend to the cattle, only one was present on the spot. The ‘Cattle Officer’ had gone out. We spent more than three hours there but the ‘Cattle Officer’ did not return.

The area suffered severe water scarcity and the locals said they couldn’t find water even at 1200 feet. We could find only two small tanks filled with water and only two mounds of haystack. There was no semblance of any other cattle feed. When asked, the available staff said that green grass and fruit skins (left over from fruits used for preparing the famous Panchamrutham) used to be brought from Pazhani, but we couldn’t see any of them.

An organisation called ‘Pazhani Temple Protection Council’ has taken up various issues concerning the temple with the concerned authorities. A member of the organisation said that hundreds of cows donated by devotees have died in the last two years. We were given to understand that the HR&CE Department charges Rs. 1000/- for maintenance of each cow donated by devotees and that 300 cows were sent to women self-help groups without proper official procedures like notification, government order, etc.

If temple authorities are sending cows donated by bhaktas to self-help groups, why should they charge the devotee Rs. 1000/- for maintenance? Are there proper accounts of the money collected and for which other purpose is the money being used? What are self-help groups doing with the cows—are they maintaining them or selling them? Does the department keep track of those cows? If the cows are being sold by the self-help groups, why is the department giving the cows to them? Has the department taken any action against groups which have sold the cows?

So many questions arise! But there was no responsible official in that 240 acres integrated goshala to give proper answers. Ironically, the department spent Rs. 1,39,27,176/- for this goshala between 2008 and 2011!

Blatant violation of rules

When the HR&CE Department sends cows to private goshalas for proper maintenance, it is supposed to follow certain rules and regulations in this aspect:

  • The department can send the cows to only goshalas which are recognized and approved by the Animal Welfare Board of India. Those private goshalas must take care of the cows properly.
  • Each and every cow must be insured in the name of either the Joint Commissioner of the department or the Executive Officer of the concerned temple. If an insured cow meets with death, 70% of the insurance amount must be given to the goshala and the balance 30% to the temple.
  • The concerned goshala must duly inform the Joint Commissioner and Executive Officer about the death of cows which are sent by the temple.
  • HR&CE Department officials must inspect the cows at the concerned goshala at least once in two months.

These rules are violated at will. The officials knowingly send the cows to unrecognized private goshalas; they do not inspect the cows and goshalas, and do not maintain proper accounts. Thus, slaughter houses serve as the final destination of these poor cows. No wonder people allege that officials are making money out of such an evil practice.

Ramanathaswamy Temple in RameshwaramPathetic condition of cows in Rameshwaram Temple

At the following YouTube link one can see the pathetic condition of cows in the goshala of the famous Rameshwaram Temple, which shows the attitude of HR&CE Department officials for cow protection.

In the first week of this month (Sept 2014) this writer visited goshalas in five famous temples in Thanjavur and Kumbakonam, and found all in sordid condition.

Thirunageswaram Shiva Temple:  This is “Raagu Stal”, one of the famous Navagraha temples. There were only 2 cows and the shelter was in a pathetic condition. One could not see any cattle feed or even a haystack! No staff was seen taking care of the cows, which were tied near the Annadhana Hall.

Oppiliyappan Venkatachalapathi Temple: Only 3 cows seen in the vegetable garden, which had very little vegetation. Only haystack was available in the badly maintained shelter. Here also no staff was seen taking care of the cows.

Sarangapani Perumal Temple: There were 20 cows (14 cows and 6 calves) and the single shelter was not sufficient to hold them. Some masonry works were going on there. HR&CE Department has solicited donations for providing cattle feed through a notice board which states that the goshala has 32 cows. Only one staff (Gopalan) was there to look after 20 cows. The cows are not given bath on daily basis, but only on auspicious days or when he has time. Only haystack was seen and no other cattle feed. Though Gopalan said the cows were fed with other cattle feed such as oil cake and bran, he showed just a little quantity of oil cake which would not be enough for a single cow. The shelter was badly maintained.

Patteeswaram Durga Temple: Total 10 cattle (6 cows and 4 calves) were there. The milk is being used for pujas and abishekams by the temple itself. The shelter is badly maintained. There is also space for nandavanam, which is not used for cultivation of green grass or other cattle feed. Two staff (Mohan and Gopal) are taking care of the cows, but only Mohan was there during the visit. One HR&CE Department staff was seen taking count of the cows. Mohan said they take counts regularly and veterinary doctors visit regularly. He said the department doesn’t arrange any cattle feed apart from the haystack.

Swamimalai Murugan Temple: Though I was given to understand that the famous Swamimalai Murugan Temple has a goshala, I couldn’t find one when I visited. On enquiry, I learnt that a goshala functioned till two years back. When I visited the place where the nandavanam and goshala existed, I saw a lot of construction underway, such as toilets, hall for annadhanam and kitchens. One building for lodging government staff was also there apart from mobile toilets.

All these five temples are huge and famous and bring lots of revenue for the government. In spite of that, the cows and goshalas are badly maintained. This status of temple goshalas after the constitution of a panel by the High Court reveals the seriousness shown by the government and the HR&CE Department not only to cow protection, but also to the Judiciary.

J. JayalalithaaDestruction of cattle wealth and government’s indifference

On one side, temple cows are allowed to die and sent to slaughter houses, on the other side lakhs of cattle are trafficked from and via Tamil Nadu for meat and leather. The Tamil Nadu government is the culprit on both counts. It can easily streamline the temple goshalas utilising the temple revenue and it can end cattle trafficking by instructing the authorities to strictly implement the transportation rules.

But the government is just not bothered and allows all sorts of violations to happen. It doesn’t seem to realize that depleting cattle wealth will have a lasting long-term negative impact upon our agriculture and environment.

Worse, there is not a single mention about cow protection in the HR&CE Department’s Policy Note for the year 2014-15 submitted under Demands (no:47) for grants in accordance with the budget. In fact, the word “cow” is not to be found in the entire Policy Note! Even during her speech under Section 110 in the Assembly, the Chief Minister made no mention about cow protection and temple goshalas, while she waxed eloquent on things such as constitution of committees, appointment of trustees, regularising encroachments, and renovations, et al.

Madras High CourtCourt of law is the last resort

In this kind of disgusting and dreadful scenario, it is heartening that the High Court understood the plight of the hapless animals and constituted a committee to investigate the temple goshalas and submit a report. It gives confidence that the High Court will give requisite directions and pronounce orders for the proper maintenance of goshalas with clear systems in place, thereby ensuring the welfare of cows. The onus lies on the government to respond positively to the High Court’s orders and directions. – Vijayvaani, 25 September 2014

References

  1. http://www.newindianexpress.com/states/tamil_nadu/Panel-to-Study-Condition-of-Goshalas/2014/08/21/article2390292.ece
  2. http://www.dinamalar.com/news_detail.asp?id=833228
  3. http://www.dinamalar.com/News_Detail.asp?Id=595054
  4. Tamil Weekly Kumudam Reporter dated 27-12-2007
  5. http://tinyurl.com/prw8n72 from www.vsrc.in
  6. http://cms.tn.gov.in/sites/default/files/documents/hrce_e_pn_2014_15.pdf  

» B. R. Haran is a senior journalist based in Chennai.

ASI’s assault on Shankaracharya Hill in Srinagar – Sandeep Balakrishna

Shankaracharya Temple in Srinagar

Archaeological Survey of IndiaAccording to this Tribune news report, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has summarily renamed the Shankaracharya Hill to Takht-e-Suleiman overlooking the Dal Lake in Srinagar.  If this was not enough, the ASI has also presented a distorted version of the history of the Shankaracharya Hill on the tourist information plaque, a move which has justifiably outraged the Kashmiri Pandits. From that news report:

‘It is a matter of great concern that ASI has given the name Takht-e-Suleiman (Throne of Solomon) to it, replacing the earlier plaque. How have they come to this conclusion warrants an answer,’ said Predhuman K. Joseph Dhar, an expert on ancient Kashmir history. He said recently a European historian visited the place and expressed surprise over information provided to the people.

Adi Shankara BhagavatpadaOf course, there is no question that this move is politically motivated because it has no basis in history. One wonders what is the connection between Suleiman/Solomon and Adi Shankara.

Even a layman in India knows that Adi Shankara travelled in all four directions in India and established maths in prominent places in each direction. That apart, he consecrated several other major and minor temples and other places of worship like in Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu, Kollur in Karnataka, and in Sharada in Pak-occupied Kashmir.

Kashmir indeed has a hoary history as one of the finest centres of learning in the world. In its heydays, it attracted scholars and philosophers from all parts of India. In the annals of the Hindu tradition, Kashmir was almost synonymous with “Sharada Desha” or “Sharada Peetha” or the Pedestal of Goddess Sharada (or Saraswati, the Goddess of Learning). A conclusive evidence of this exalted status of Kashmir can best be gleaned from the famous verse in praise of Saraswati as

Namaste Sharada Devi Kashmirapuravasini
I bow to you, Goddess Sharada,
the One who Resides in the Kashmira country

This verse is so commonplace recited and heard by millions of Hindus daily across the world that hardly anybody gives a second thought at the rich historical heritage that’s embedded in it. And the credit for establishing Kashmir as the Sharada Peetha, to make it part of the nation’s cultural and spiritual DNA goes to Adi Shankara.

And it is this hoary heritage that the ASI has sought to destroy unceremoniously by renaming the Hill after some Suleiman based on a spurious history. Needless, in the process, real history has been made an unfortunate victim. From the same report,

‘While the plaque informs the people that the roof of the temple was constructed by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in 1644 AD, there is no mention of King Gopadhari, who [repaired] the temple, King Lalitaditya, who renovated it several hundred years before the arrival of Islam in the 13th century, and Dogra rulers, who placed the lingam of Lord Shiva, which was destroyed at the orders of Jehangir’s wife Noor Jehan,’ said Dhar

As for the spurious history,

Talking about the name Takht-e-Suleiman, New York-based historian and author of Jesus in Kashmir: The Lost Tomb, Suzanne Olsson, said at one time Kashmir was controlled by Jews and Suleiman referred to Solomon, King of Israel and one of the greatest Jewish rulers, known for his wisdom and riches. ‘In ancient times, there was a considerable influence of Hebrew people in Kashmir. Several places have names similar to Jewish places. But historically, it is referred to as Shankaracharya Hill,’ Olsson said.

Sue OlssonOne wonders whether Suzanne Olsson even understands how she contradicts her own assertion. If Jews had indeed controlled Kashmir, why don’t we have a single piece of evidence to show for it? And second, she doesn’t quite explain why despite the Jewish control, the Hill was revered and renowned as the Shankaracharya Hill? And why doesn’t Rajatarangini, the most definitive account of Kashmir’s history mention the presence–let alone control–of Jews even once? And why haven’t the galaxy of scholars and litterateurs from Kashmir–Kalhana, Abhinavagupta, Anandavardhana, Kshemendra, et al–mention Jewish influence? The truth is the Suzanne Olsson happens to be the latest purveyor of the phony theory that Jesus visited/lived in Kashmir. Two definitive sources are sufficient to puncture Suzanne Olsson’s motivated claim about Jesus in Kashmir. The first is by the redoubtable Koenraad Elst, and the second by a Buddhist monk and scholar named Shravasti Dhammika who takes a close look into various Suzanne Olssonsesque myths about Jesus’ visit and stay in India.

St. ThomasAll kinds of scholars making all kinds of fantastic assertions have existed since time immemorial. However, it is regrettable that the ASI, a body of the Government of India, chose to put out one such fantastic claim as the official history of a place based purely on political consideration. This does disservice not just to Hindus but to the nation’s precious heritage as a whole. More importantly, it is a dangerous portent. As we’ve seen in the case of the St. Thomas Church of Mylapore how an existing Hindu place of worship was appropriated by Christian missionaries through deceit and declared as one of the sites of Christian piety.

Given this, what is the guarantee that the “Takht-e-Suleiman” will not become a dargah or mosque some time in the near or distant future and thereby erase another living place of Hindu heritage permanently? – India Facts, September 27, 2013

» Sandeep Balakrishna is the administrator of the IndiaFacts website. 

» Those who wish to sign a petition objecting to the change of name of Shankaracharya Hill to Takht-e-Suleiman can do so HERE

Freeing Hindu temples from state control – Subramanian Swamy

Dr Subramanian Swamy“Takeover of temples can happen, the Supreme Court held, only on establishing a clear case of mal-administration and that too the takeover can be for a limited period, and the management of the temple will have to be handed back immediately after the ‘evil has been remedied.'” – Dr. Subramanian Swamy

Supreme Court of IndiaThe Supreme Court delivered a landmark judgment on January 6, 2013, allowing my Special Leave Petition that sought the quashing of the Tamil Nadu Government’s G.O. of 2006 which had mandated the government takeover of the hallowed Sri Sabhanayagar Temple (popularly known as the Nataraja Temple).

The Madras High Court Single Judge and Division Bench had in 2009 upheld the constitutionality of the G.O. by a tortuous and convoluted logic that new laws can overturn past court judgments that had attained finality earlier. The Supreme Court in 1953 had dismissed the then Madras Government’s SLP seeking the quashing of a Madras High Court Division Bench judgment of 1952 that had upheld the right of Podu Dikshitars to administer the affairs of the Nataraja Temple while dismissing all charges of misappropriation of temple funds against the Dikshitars. The Supreme Court thus made this judgment final and hence that which cannot be re-opened. But in 2009 the Madras High Court did precisely that. In 2014, in my SLP, the Supreme Court Bench of Justices B.S. Chauhan and S.A. Bobde therefore termed this re-opening of the matter as “judicial indiscipline” and set aside the 2009 Madras High Court judgment as null and void on the principle of res judicata.

In their lengthy judgment, the Bench has clearly set the constitutional parameters on the scope of governmental intervention in the management of religious institutions. In particular, the Court has opined that any G.O. that legally mandates a takeover of a temple must be for a fixed limited period, which I had suggested as three years.

The Dravidian Movement intellectuals and politicians in various parties in Tamil Nadu are incensed with the judgement. The recent article “Reforms in the House of God” (A. Srivathsan in The Hindu January 13, 2013) is one such example that laments the Supreme Court judgment.

Chidambaran Nataraj TempleIn this Dravidian movement background, it is not difficult to understand the views of those who believe that Hindu temples ought to be managed by the government, and that any deviation is a social, ethical, moral and legal sacrilege! In Mr. Srivathsan’s article it is stated that: “For almost a century, the Tamil Nadu government has been trying to bring the Chidambaram Natarajar Temple or the Sabanayagar Temple as it is officially known, under state administration”. This is one expression of the outlook that only Hindu religious affairs need to be managed by the government. The obvious question, why should a ‘secular, socialist’ government control only Hindu places of worship, but not Muslim and Christian religious institutions clearly has been avoided.

But the country has moved on after the phase of British imperialist grip on Tamil Nadu during which phase the Dravidian Movement was founded. Prominent leaders of this Movement had declared that “blowing up of the Nataraja Temple by a cannon is the goal of the Dravidian Movement”. Unfortunately for them, in the last two decades, the rising popularity of the Hindu religion among the youth, and the debilitating corruption in financial affairs of the Dravidian movement have made such a violent aim unattainable. But the biggest roadblock is the Constitution of India.

In fact, what is scandalous is the corruption after takeover of temples by the Tamil Nadu officials, MLAs and Ministers by looting the temple wealth, lands, and jewels, and the reckless diversion of donations of devotees to non-religious purposes.

Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple, Srirangam, Tamil Nadu.For example, temple properties: Tamil Nadu temples, under Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments Department (HR & CE), has control over more than 4.7 lakh acres of agricultural land, 2.6 crore square feet of buildings and 29 crore square feet of urban sites of temples. By any reasonable measure, the income from these properties should be in thousand of crores of rupees. The government, however, collects a mere Rs.36 crore in rent against a ‘demand’ of mere Rs. 304 crore — around 12 per cent realisation. How much is under the table only a court-monitored inquiry can reveal. In any corporate or well-managed organisation with accountability, those responsible would have been sacked. Yet, we have people rooting for ‘government administration’.

Temples themselves: The Srirangam Ranganathar Temple paid the government a (yearly) fee of Rs. 18.56 crore (2010-11) for ‘administering the temple’; for employees rendering religious services, like reciting Vedas, pasurams during the deity procession, no salary is paid. There are 36 priests in Srirangam who perform the daily poojas — they are not paid a monthly fixed salary. They are entitled to offerings made by devotees and a share in the sale of archana tickets. Yet the temple pays a monthly salary ranging from Rs. 8,000 to Rs. 20,000 for the temple’s government-appointed employees, like watchman, car drivers etc. who perform no religious duties.

The situation is “significantly” better at the famous Nellaiappar Temple in Tirunelveli. In this temple, priests performing daily pujas are paid monthly salaries, but ranging from Rs. 55 — Rs. 72 (and this is during 2010-11). But did some politician not say you can have a hearty meal for Rs. 5 per day? But it is just Rs. 1.65 per day, going by the standards of the ‘secular’ government.

HR&CE Minister M.S.M. Anandan Many large temples maintain a fleet of luxury vehicles, typically the ‘fully loaded Toyota Innova’, for the use of VIPs! And for the use of assorted Joint and Additional Commissioners and, of course, the Commissioner himself. It is very difficult to understand the religious purpose such extravagance serves or even a ‘secular’ purpose! The HR & CE takes away annually around Rs. 89 crore from the temples as administrative fee. The expenditure of the department including salaries is only Rs. 49 crore. Why does the government overcharge the temples – literally scourging the deities – for a sub standard service?

Temple antiquity: The third ‘contribution’ of the government is the mindless destruction of priceless architectural heritage of our temples.

There are several instances of sand blasting of temple walls resulting in loss of historical inscriptions; wholesale demolition of temple structures and their replacement by concrete monstrosities; in a temple in Nasiyanur near Salem, an entire temple mandapam disappeared, leaving behind a deep hole in the ground, literally.

Recently the government started covering the floor of Tiruvotriyur temple with marble, a stone never used in south Indian temples. The original floor was of ancient granite slabs with historical inscriptions. There are several initiatives for ‘renovation’ of temples — the bureaucrats rarely consult archaeologists or heritage experts. Without knowledge, experience, competence or appreciation and with great insensitivity they use inappropriate chemicals on ancient murals, insert concrete/cement structures, use ceramic tiles to ‘embellish’ sanctum sanctorum and construct ‘offices’ within temple premises. Ancient monuments 300 to 1000 plus years old are never ‘renovated’, only ‘restored’, a distinction that escapes the babus.

Counting the donations in a temple hundi. More importantly, the Supreme Court, in the 2014 Chidambaram case has held that the government cannot arbitrarily take over temples, which is what has been happening in Tamil Nadu under the Dravidian movement’s influence.

In the case of Trusts and Societies, takeover of temples can happen, the Supreme Court held, only on establishing a clear case of mal-administration and that too the takeover can be for a limited period, and the management of the temple will have to be handed back immediately after the ‘evil has been remedied’.

There are several large temples in Tamil Nadu under government control for several decades. If the Supreme Court judgment is applied, then the government is in illegal, unethical and unfair control of these temples. apart from being answerable for innumerable acts of dereliction of duty, defiling of temples that has resulted in loss of several thousands of crores of rupees to the temples and to their antiquity. That is my next move — to liberate all Hindu temples presently in government control on expired GOs. In the future we need to bring some mosques and churches to rectify the mismanagement going on in these places. Then the secularism of India’s intellectuals will be truly tested. – The Hindu, 20 January 2014

» Dr Subramanian Swamy  is a former Union Minister and a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

See also

The Divine Pot – Devdutt Pattanaik

Cooking rice porridge for the Gods

Surya DevaThe pot is a great invention. Without the pot, we would still be going to water bodies like rivers and ponds to hydrate ourselves as and when we feel thirsty. Thanks to the pot, we can get the water into our homes and store it for future use no crocodiles lurking beneath the water, no fear of a wild animal getting provoked into attack. The pot is a symbol of human civilisation.

Ancient Indians revered the pot. It was the symbol of the womb, the garbha, for it sustained human life. The pot was equated with the mother; it was a symbol of divinity. A pot or kalash filled with water and sprouts and crowned with green leaves and fruits became the symbol of abundance and good fortune. It was worshipped over 3,000 years ago. It is still being worshipped today.

The Gods, the ancients believed, had a pot that overflowed with grain and gold. It was called the akshaya patra. They also had a pot brimming with amrit, the nectar of immortality. Humans had neither. But humans included women who created and nurtured life, ensuring the continuation of the species. Women were therefore a combination of akshya patra and amrit, holding in their bodies the Water pots and veiled Rajastani women.promise of abundance and immortality for the family. Without a woman, a family perished. The family tree withered.

In ancient times women were clearly regarded as being more valuable than men. The survival of a tribe depended not on the number of men it had but on the strength of its women. So in the early days, women were given the choice to choose husbands. The foremost form of wedding was considered to be one where the father gave his daughter to another family. It was a gift of akshaya patra and amrit.

While the forest was equated with the wild Goddess, the field was equated with the domesticated Goddess. Forest was woman, field was wife. Forest was water in the pond, field was water in a pot. Field was the womb that sustained a village. It was worshipped as humanity’s akshaya patra and amrit, bringing forth prosperity year after year. The domestication of the earth, the transformation of the woman into home-maker, the moulding of clay into a pot, is the result of human intervention, an imposition on nature’s freedom, a sacrifice to ensure the birth of civilisation, to ensure perpetuation and survival.

Gujarati Garba DancersIn autumn, as the rains recede and crops are harvested, three things come together on nine nights: the pot, the woman and the field. In the centre of the field, the pot is placed filled with water and sprouts, and around it women dance in circular formation. They bend down and clap as they thank the earth and cosmos and energise it with their happiness. This is garbo, the dance of the earth-womb. The circular formation of the dance is a reminder of the horizon, the rim of the divine pot, the world we live in. We live in a cosmic womb, just as deities in temples are enshrined in the garba griha or sanctum sanctorum, a detail endorsed by the metal pots placed on top of the temple dome.  – Times of India, Chennai, Oct. 15, 2010

Bypassing Ayodhya – Ravi Shankar Etteth

Babri Masjid Demolition

Ravi Shankar Etteth“Advani was the general of the BJP’s march to power, riding on the chariot of faith. But the new saffron samurai who lays his claim to the seat of Delhi has skipped the road to Ayodhya for now. Narendra Modi, the self-defined “Hindu nationalist”, uses the weapons of development and aggressive rhetoric—sometimes historically incorrect—to attack UPA’s corruption, economic ruin and dynastic politics.” – Ravi Shankar Etteth

Zahir-ud-din Muhammad BaburSomething happened twenty-one years ago, this week, this month, that would forever alter the political geography of India. It was the anniversary of the collapse of the ancient regime of secularism, which had been fattened on political cronyism.

Standing on a crowded terrace overlooking a square, hemmed in by bamboo barricades, I could see the crowd of kar sevaks becoming restless as the sun slowly banished the December mist that had obscured Ayodhya’s temple towers. The huge, time-blackened building menacingly squatted on a rise in front. It was built by a brutal warlord who had come all the way from Uzbekistan to seize India. On his way, Zahir-ud-din Muhammad Babur had torched Lahore, watching it burn for two days. The invader, who Guru Nanak described as “messenger of death”, soon seized the throne of India. He laid the foundations of the Mughal dynasty, born out of a jihad of greed and power. He was no illiterate avatar of Tamurlane, but was a poet and an aesthete. In the tome he wrote, Babur Nama, poetry and ornithology coexist with schizophrenic zeal: “For the sake of Islam I became a wanderer; I battled infidels and Hindus. I was determined to become a martyr, Praise be to god that I became a Ghazi—killer of non-Muslims.” In 1528, Babur “attacked Chanderi and by the grace of Allah captured it in a few hours…. We got the infidels slaughtered”. Mughal rulers, except Akbar, followed Baburology with the same zeal. Shah Jehan ordered the destruction of 76 temples. Aurangzeb was the greatest monster—Mughal court records reveal he ordered the destruction of Kashi Vishwanath Cemple in 1669, followed by the Krishna Temple at Mathura and “a grand mosque was built on its site”.

Sri RamaOn a December evening, 21 years ago, Babur’s “infidels” fought back at the past.

At a press conference at Faizabad the previous day, L.K. Advani answered my question whether the VHP would demolish the mosque. He dismissed the possibility. The next day, after a journalist was attacked by kar sevaks, all media was herded into safety behind heavily protected police barricades. Looking for more journalists, the cops arrived at the terrace where I stood along with a throng, watching the tumult in the square. I didn’t want to be herded to safety. The atmosphere crackled with the electricity of history. I borrowed a saffron ‘gamcha”—a cotton towel that kar sevaks wore around their necks—to make the cops believe I was a pilgrim among many. As the domes fell one by one, people left their positions and rushed towards the mosque, which was by then being attacked with pickaxes, tridents and iron bars. I was swept along in the tide and was perhaps the only journalist to get inside the mosque when it was being demolished. Amid chaos of dust and falling stones, a sadhu with matted tresses and a flaming white beard thrust a gleaming trident into my hands and urged me to strike a blow for Ram. The air was thunderous with the ancient war cry that conquered Ravan’s Lanka.

L.K. Advani: Broken promisesThat Hindu banzai made Advani India’s first Hindu Knights Templar. His first rath yatra from Somnath in Gujarat to Ayodhya was stopped in Bihar, but the seeds of Hindu political triumph were sown. Advani was the general of the BJP’s march to power, riding on the chariot of faith. But the new saffron samurai who lays his claim to the seat of Delhi has skipped the road to Ayodhya for now. Narendra Modi, the self-defined “Hindu nationalist”, uses the weapons of development and aggressive rhetoric—sometimes historically incorrect—to attack UPA’s corruption, economic ruin and dynastic politics. The difference between Advani and Modi reflects India’s departure from the politics of communalism to the gratification of aspirations. Manmohan Singh showed that Nehru’s “modern temples of India” were not dams and PSUs, but the stock exchange and mega malls. Modi seeks to take it forward by forging a new future for India by departing from the ‘Secular’ versus Hindu debate. God is the passenger, and not the driver, of his chariot. – The New Indian Express, 8 December 2013

» Ravi Shankar Etteth is a columnist for The New Indian Express. He can be contacted at ravi@newindianexpress.com

Video shows Tamil Nadu HR & CE Dept official ‘lifting’ hundi collection – The Hindu

Sathugiri Sundara Mahalingam Temple Entrance

Counting the donations in a temple hundi. IMAGE FOR ILLUSTRATION ONLYIn a shocking incident, a video recorded during the counting of ‘hundi’ collection at a famous temple in the district allegedly revealed that an official pocketed over Rs.1 lakh.

According to a reliable source in the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department, the hundi collection at Sri Sathuragiri Sundara Mahalingam Temple was counted by the department staff on August 21. As per the department’s directive, the entire counting process has to be video-graphed  An employee engaged in the counting later complained to the higher-ups that an official embezzled the money.

The officials conducted an inquiry and examined the video clipping which allegedly revealed that an official took a bundle of 1,000 rupee notes and another of 500 rupee notes from the hundi collection even as the counting was in progress.

Based on the complaint, an inquiry had been ordered, the source said. When contacted, Joint Commissioner (HR & CE) Muthu Thiagarajan said, “An inquiry ordered by the Commissioner is under way. We will be able to ascertain the facts only on completion of the probe.”

A large number of devotees assemble at the temple, situated near Perayur here, during Amavasya as part of fulfilling their vows. – The Hindu, 3 October 2013

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