Gold worth Rs 186 crore missing from Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Kerala – ENS

Padmanabhaswamy Temple Gopuram

Vinod RaiIn July 2011 the Supreme Court committee stumbled upon six vaults in the temple, with just one vault left to be opened. The treasure that has been found in the other five vaults have been estimated to be valued at more than Rs 100,000 crore. – ENS

In a startling revelation, the Vinod Rai committee special audit report on Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, stated that a lot of financial irregularities and corruption is going on in the temple administration and gold worth Rs 186 crore have gone missing.

According to sources, the report by former comptroller and auditor general Vinod Rai are in two volumes and five parts running into 1,000 pages. The Supreme Court had asked Rai in October 2015 to complete the audit and submit its report.

This directive came on the recommendations of amicus curiae and senior advocate Gopal Subramaniam, who had sought overhauling of the functioning of the temple.

The report states that there is a loss of 263 gold on the name of purification and states that gold worth Rs 186 crore in the form of 769 gold pots are not traceable.

Rai, in his report, has recommended a committee probe to oversee these irregularities.

“Gold worth Rs 2.50 crore was lost because of change in ratio adopted for purification. Moreover, the residual quantity of gold was not recovered from the contractor which lead to a loss of Rs 59 lakhs,” sources said.

“There was a lack of transparency in kanikka [gift offering] counting. Gold and silver worth Rs 14.18 lakh had not been entered in the nadavarav register, which is illegal,” according to the report.

“Silver bar with value of Rs 14 lakh was found to be missing,” the report said.

Gopal SubramaniumThe temple trust illegally sold 2.11 acres of land in 1970 and no records were found.

The report also expressed surprise over the sudden increase of expenditure in temple management over several years and termed it as “abnormal”.

The committee has also recommended major changes in the temple administration system and suggested that it should now be a seven-member committee headed by a retired section-level officer, tantric, two prominent citizens, representative of state and the royal family.

The report also suggested major changes in the temple’s security arrangements and said, “Priceless items in the temple should be housed in a modern museum and security installments need to be altered a bit.”

The audit was done for the financial year 2004-2014.

In July 2011 the apex court committee stumbled upon six vaults in the temple, with just vault B left to be opened. The treasure that has been found in the other five vaults have been estimated to be valued more than Rs 100,000 crore.

Since then, armed security guards, besides state of the art security equipment, have been deployed for the safe upkeep of the treasure. – The New Indian Express, 15 August 2016

Sri Padmanabhaswamy's treasure.

Whether UPA or NDA, discrimination against Hindus and Hindu temples continues – Kanimozhi

Padmanabhaswamy Temple Gopuram

Lady ReporterWhy should government control Hindu temples, while churches and mosques are given a free hand? Why is the government spending, tax-payers’ money towards churches and masjids, while diverting most of the money collected from temples into non-temple, non-Hindu activities? – Kanimozhi

There are as many as 2,07,000 temples in Karnataka and the total income of these temples amounts to Rs 72 crore. Only a sum of Rs. 6 crore is being spent by the Government for their upkeep. On the other hand, the Government spent a phenomenal amount of Rs. 50 crore for the madrasas and Rs. 10 crore for the churches,” Sri Sri Ravi Shankar said in 2003.

That was when S. M. Krishna of Congress was the chief minister of Karnataka. In the last 13 years, while the income from the temples has doubled, and the amount spent towards madrasas and churches has also doubled, the amount spent on the upkeep of the temples has remained the same. During these 13 years, Janata Dal (S) and the BJP were in power between 2006 and 2013 and the Congress is in power since then, but the condition of temples continues to remain pitiful.

Here are some key-facts from a 2003 article by Anjali Patel, which are dated but still relevant today:

  • 70% (Rs. 50 crores) of Hindu temples’ money is diverted for Muslim madarasas and haj by Indian Government.
  • 5,000 temples in Karnataka were to be closed down due to lack of funding and maintenance.
  • During Kumbh Mela in Nasik, each Hindu devotee was forced to pay Rs. 25 to Rs. 50 for a dip in the holy water. Congress, BJP and Shiv Sena said nothing about this (while giving money to Muslims and Christians).
  • If a Hindu or a Sikh wishes to visit holy places in Kailash Mansarovar or Gurudwara in Pakistan, leave alone subsidy, they are forced to shell out large amounts of money to visit their holy places, while Muslims enjoy massive 70% subsidy for their visit to haj in Saudi Arabia, which is paid from the pockets of taxpaying Hindus. The gross income of TTD for the year (2014-15) is estimated to be Rs. 2359.2 crores ($385.33 mn)

The issue here is not just about the government misusing the funds collected from the temples, or taxpayers’ money being spent on subsidizing religious travel of a particular community, the issue is much beyond that.

But, let us first understand the difference between Hindu temples and the places of worship belonging to other religions.

Dr. Subramanian SwamyAccording to Dr. Subramanian Swamy, as he explains very clearly in this video (see below), the temples are the places of inhabitance of our Gods, and not simply a place to offer prayers. The construction of a temple and the subsequent installation of the idol involves processes called prana pratishta, by which the very presence of Gods are established within the premises of the temples and thus, the temples become the abode of the Gods. On the other hand, a mosque or a church, is simply a place to offer namaz or prayers, respectively, and they have no conception of these places as being the very abode of God.

Most Hindu temples have a rich story to tell and during ancient times they were also utilized as places of learning. But, today, it is disheartening to see, how temples have transformed from being places of learning to being commercial complexes, from which government is pocketing crores of rupees as income every year. The ground situation for adherents of Hinduism has become critical over the last seven decades, mainly due to political interference and politics of discrimination and appeasement. Though, India got independence in 1947, and the constitution guarantees Right to Religion, it appears that the implementation has catered to the needs of all communities, except the Hindus. This is especially troubling, since India is a Hindu-majority nation.

The successive governments and political masters, need to answer why this discrimination against Hindus? Why should government control Hindu temples, while churches and mosques are given a free hand? Why is the government spending, tax-payers’ money towards churches and masjids, while diverting most of the money collected from temples into non-temple, non-Hindu activities?

If only the Hindu community is given back the control of the temples and their activities, then the money collected from the temples could be utilized for so many community oriented, religious, cultural, and educational activities.

Hindu temples are not the sacred places that they should be, because, they are not under the control of Hindu community. The income from most of the Hindu Temples, the offerings by the devotees, etc. goes to the government treasury and become government revenue and hence, the Hindu community has no say as to how the temple money is utilized. Prior to 1925, the Sikh Gurdwaras were in control of Udasi mahants, who were largely perceived as corrupt and degenerate from the mainline Sikhs. The Sikhs fought hard and forced the British to pass a law, which brought the administration of Gurdwaras under the control of an elected body of the Sikh people. That law is the Sikh Gurdwaras Act 1925. That law has worked exceptionally well and has satisfied the Sikhs’ desire of being in control of their Gurdwaras and overseeing them as per the group’s mandate. This is one of the best examples that Hindus can emulate.

Sri Siddhivinayak TempleTemple statistics

The government takeover of temples has resulted in several state governments running full-length ministries for the management of various activities of those temples. The erstwhile Andhra Pradesh government, for instance, employed 77,000 people to ensure “smooth conducting of pujas” in its 33,000 temples. Similar numbers could be found in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Kerala. Ministries for management of temples are present in some north Indian temples as well. This is one of the immense incongruities of Indian secularism is that a vocally non-religious government sees no contradiction in overseeing Hindu sanctuaries, and just Hindu temples.

Such systematized oppression and discrimination against the majority community, which constitute around 80% of the population of the country, is without parallel on the entire planet. Some Hindu sampradayas, for example, the Ramakrishna Math and Mission have even attempted to claim “minority” status so as to preserve their institutions from government interference. This continuing grip of the government over administration of Hindu sanctuaries is not only an infringement of the religious rights of the Hindus, but has also resulted in massive corruption and abuse of assets. Add to this, the government’s apathy and utter disregard towards the sacredness and sanctity of the temples.Add to this, the utter disregard and contempt shown towards the sacredness and sanctity of the temples.

In 1980s, the then Kerala chief minister K. Karunakaran had ordered the Guruvayur Temple to transfer 10 crore rupees from its bank account to the state treasury to offset financial deficit. Whether the amount was ever returned or not is doubtful. What’s more, the temple’s property was reduced from 13000 acres of land to a meagre 230 acres of land by the Land Reforms Act (pdf), which helpfully avoided non-Hindu foundations. In 2004, the Maharashtra government admitted to diverting US$ 190,000 from Mumbai’s Siddhivinayak temple to a charity run by a politician, in the Bombay High Court. In Tamil Nadu, the HR&CE Department controls more than 4.7 lakh acres of land of horticultural area, 2.6 crore square feet of structures and 29 crore square feet of urban place that is known for temples. The earning from these properties must be at least few thousand crore rupees, yet the government collects a meagre Rs 36 crore in rent. This is a classic case of corruption and underhanded dealings.

Politically influential people have shamelessly appropriated temple property for individual use. A friend of mine narrates how a representative from the Tamil Nadu HR&CE Department would arrive at one of the small temples in the state to collect the money deposited in the temple hundi and would pocket a part of it for his personal use. Petty corruption, underhanded dealings, and misuse of temple assets are rampant in the government administration of the temples.

Ram Lalla VirajmanAyodhya, Will a temple be built there ever?

Ayodhya is among the most sacred places for Hindus across the country. According to Hindu Itihasa (history) texts, Lord Rama was born, brought up, and ruled from Ayodhya. But, for the last many decades Ram Janmabhumi has been in the middle of political dispute. The dispute traces its origin to the destruction of the Hindu temple in Ayodhya and construction of a mosque in its place during the reign of Babar of Moghul dynasty in the 16th century. The recent excavations in the area have also confirmed the presence of a Hindu temple beneath the demolished Babri mosque. Yet, a new temple for Lord Ram is yet to see the light. Though, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy has expressed a certainty that such a temple will be built soon, it remains to be seen how much of his assertion will materialize on the ground.

Conclusion

It is high time that Hindus realize that their government is discriminating against them in the name of secularism. Income from Hindu temples should be spent on those very temples and on activities that enrich Hindu community and propagate Hindu religion. For this, it is vital that temples are freed from government control and are instead managed by the community. Hopefully, the Supreme Court, which is scheduled to hear today, the petition of late Swami Dayananda Saraswati to free temples from government control, will be able to address these genuine concerns of the Hindu community. IndiaFacts, 13 July 2016

» Kanimozhi is a NRI living in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. She is an engineering electro-mechanical consultant and the founder of the Kurukshetra2019.com web portal. 

Venkateshwara Temple Tirumala

2 – Temples, Elephants and Traditions – B. R. Haran

Death of the Thiruchendur Temple elephant Kumaran

B. R. HaranIn August 2014, the Madras High Court constituted a 3-member committee … to investigate the status of goshalas attached with temples under the HR & CE Department. … In a subsequent sitting, the High Court extended the mandate of the committee to inspect elephants and their maintenance. Hence, the committee members began inspecting elephants while inspecting cows and goshalas. – B. R. Haran

As the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department of Tamil Nadu government has been irresponsible in the maintenance of cows and goshalas in its temples, after more than a dozen cows died in the goshala of Thiruvannamalai temple, animal welfare activist and writer Radha Rajan filed a Writ Petition (WP 28793 & 28794 of 2013) in the Madras High Court, praying for constitution of a committee to look into the omissions and commissions with regard to the HR & CE Department’s maintenance of temple goshalas. 

In August 2014, the Madras High Court constituted a 3-member committee, comprising petitioner Radha Rajan, Dr. Sumathi of Animal Welfare Board of India and L. Anantha Padmanaban, Joint Director, Animal Husbandry Department, to investigate the status of goshalas attached with temples under the HR & CE Department. The committee was ordered to submit its report within two months.

The committee inspected 21 temples and sent its report to HR & CE Department and obtained their reply too. The final reports were submitted to the High Court and arguments recorded. The HR & CE Department was unable to give a convincing reply to the committee’s findings; its indifference and irresponsibility came out in the open.

Accepting the committee’s recommendations and suggestions, the High Court directed it to include 10 more persons and carry out inspections at temples all over the state and report to AWBI. It directed the HR & CE and Animal Husbandry Departments to cooperate. The HC closed the case by ordering the state government and HR & CE Department to comply with the recommendations given by the committee. The court said it would have periodical review of the inspections being carried out and steps being taken by the government.

In a subsequent sitting, the HC extended the mandate of the committee to inspect elephants and their maintenance. Hence, the committee members began inspecting elephants while inspecting cows and goshalas. Following such inspection, the three elephants of Kanchi Kamakshi Amman Temple were sent to a rehabilitation center of the Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, at Marakkanam, in Villupuram district.

Kanchi Math elephants Sandhya, Indhumathi and JayanthiKamakshi Amman Temple Elephants

Sandhya alias Kamakshi from Karnataka suffers from cataract detected prior to 2007. The same year, she developed a non-healing deep wound in the right thigh, which degenerated due to the pressure exerted while lying down. Due to irregular treatment, she developed abscesses in the right and left thigh and hip region and left hind foot as also a lesion in a damaged nail. In due course, she became blind in her left eye.

Skin lesions were found on her head and forehead. The tail was fractured due to multiple dislocations of vertebrae; the hairs on the tail were found to be removed, allegedly to make money in the black market. As Sandhya had to stand and walk on concrete / granite floors for years, her feet weakened and foot-pads thinned, making her gait abnormal due to deviation and fusion of the left foreleg fetlock joint; she is on the verge of developing arthritis.

Indhumathi from Kerala is suffering from overgrown and broken nails in both forelegs and hind legs. She suffers from non-healing wounds on elbow joints and forelegs. Her foot-pads have also thinned due to continuous standing and walking on hard surface. Skin lesions are found all over the body, particularly on the back, head and forehead regions. Overall she was found dull and restless.

Eighteen year old Jayanthi from Assam has started getting callouses and wounds, which would become chronic if she continues standing and walking on hard surface. A healed lesion was found on her right hip. Her gait is abnormal as evidenced by the dropping of her left hip.

On seeing the poor health of these three elephants, the AWBI decided to send them to a rehabilitation centre for treatment and care. The Kanchi Mutt understood the seriousness of the issue and extended full cooperation to shift the elephants.

Death of the Thirukadaiyur AmirdhakadeswararTemple elephant Abirami Thirukadaiyur Temple Elephant Abirami

Amirdhakadeswarar Temple, where Bhagwan Shiva saved Markandeya from Yama, is one of the most famous temples of Tamil Nadu. Devotees throng the place all around the year to celebrate their Sashti Aptha Poorthi (completion of 60 years) and Sathabishekam (completion of 80 years). Sri Muthukumaraswami Thambiran of Thirupananthal Adheena Matham donated a 4-years old female calf named Abirami to the temple.

Abirami has been serving there for more than 20 years. On 28 November 2012, she was sent to the Annual Elephant Rejuvenation Camp conducted by the Tamil Nadu government at Mudumalai forests near Ooty; she returned on 13 January 2013. From that day she fell sick, could not eat as usual and started losing weight. She was under saline administration, but collapsed in the early morning of 25 January and died; she was only 28 years old! The normal lifespan of an elephant is 70 years. She was buried at Yanaikulam, nearly. The autopsy revealed a polythene cover, a river pebble and an undigested banana peel in her stomach. Possibly she consumed the pebble at the rejuvenation camp as there are no river pebbles in the vicinity of Thirukadaiyur.

Abirami died within 12 days of her return from Mudumalai. What kind of treatment was given to her during those 12 days? Were the doctors able to identify her problem? Shouldn’t the HR & CE Department conduct an enquiry? Shouldn’t the state government order an enquiry? Sadly, both did not bother.

Death of the Rameswaram Temple elephant Bhavani Rameswaram Temple Elephant Bhavani 

Sri Ramaswami Raja, founder chairman, Ramco Cements, had donated two elephants, Bhavani and Ramalakshmi, to the Rameswaram Temple. Bhavani was sent to the same elephant rejuvenation camp as Abirami. She reached on the evening of 25 November 2012; the camp was scheduled to begin the next day. A local doctor had issued a “Fitness for Transportation Certificate” on 9 November. As she looked dull on arrival, she was taken to the river for bathing. The moment she entered the river, she fainted. As the mahouts could not lift her, a crane was brought to lift her out of the river. She remained motionless, and doctors on arrival found her dead. The forest veterinarian, Dr Manoharan, issued a death certificate saying Bhavani died of exhaustion resulting in cardiac arrest. Her body was sent back to Rameswaram; she was 52.

Was it right on the part of the authorities to subject a 52-years old elephant to a tiresome travel, standing for more than 12 hours? Was Bhavani sick at the time of leaving Rameswaram? That being the case, was she subjected to more stress during transportation? Who decided to send her to the camp? How did the doctor give a fitness certificate to a sick elephant? Or was there a problem at the camp? Why didn’t the HR & CE Department conduct an enquiry? Why didn’t the government order an enquiry? The sordid fact is that the actual reason for Bhavani’s death has not been made public.

Death of the Thiruchendur Temple elephant Kumaran Thiruchendur Temple Elephant Kumaran

Devadasa Sundaram, a former trustee of Thiruchendur Murugan Temple, donated 4-years-old male calf, Kumaran, to the temple in 2006. Kumaran was not sent to the Annual Rejuvenation Camp which began on 11 December 2014 at Mettupalayam. He was reputedly not sent to the camp as he was allegedly in a state of musth and discharge from the temporal glands was noted. In this condition, Kumaran suffered from diarrhea on 7 January 2015. Despite treatment by doctors, he passed away early in the morning of 9 January. He was barely 13 years old.

When the local people heard of his death at such a young age, they protested and demanded an autopsy. As per the Tamil Nadu Captive Elephants (Management and Maintenance) Rules 2011, an autopsy is mandatory, but it was not done. The temple officials refused autopsy on the grounds of affecting sanctity. It is not clear if the HR & CE Department had intimated the Forest Department of his death.

What kind of a care was given to Kumaran? Did the doctors have enough experience in treating elephants? What was that the cause of death? As the rejuvenation camps are organized for the well-being of elephants, what was the real reason behind not sending him to the camp at such a young age? What exactly was his health condition then? When the autopsy is mandatory, why was it not done? Who decided not to do it?

It may be added that the Animal Welfare Board of India, in its affidavit to the High Court, cited local media reports alleging that Kumaran was subjected to electro-ejection method to extract sperm from him, and that his tusks were also removed after his death. Only an enquiry can establish the truth.

Death of the Thanjavur Big Temple elephant VellaiyammalThanjavur Big Temple Elephant Vellaiyammal

In 1960, as a mark of thanksgiving to his ishta devata, Devi Punnainallur Mariamman, for the success of his movie Veera Pandiya Kattabomman, actor Shivaji Ganesan donated a 10-years old female calf, Vellaiyammal, named after a character in the movie. Vellaiyammal was shifted to the famous Big Temple in 1985. Soon, her health deteriorated. Legs became weak and she started suffering from joint pains. Her condition worsened and her legs became hard and stiff. She could not bend her limbs and she was unable to sit and lie down. She had to sleep in standing posture for several years.

Despite this, her mahout, Baskar, his brother and assistant Sarangan, used to make her stand for hours in front of the second entrance of the Big Temple tower; they used her to make money. They would charge devotees Rs. 5/- for her blessing, Rs. 10/- for sitting on her back and Rs. 25/- for a photograph with her. This money was never handed over to the temple office. They also used to remove hair from all over her body with a crude razor, and sell them in the black market.

The HR & CE officials never bothered to take any action against the mahouts. After complaints from local people, the department suspended only assistant Sarangan and put up a notice saying, “Elephant Vellaiyammal is being fed as per the advice of doctors. Hence devotees should not feed her with fruits, coconut, etc. Devotees are requested not to take blessings from the elephant and sitting on its back and taking photos are also prohibited. Do not give money to the mahout. Those who want to support by cash or kind, can hand them over to the temple office”.

The Regional Joint Director of the Animal Husbandry Department, Lourdusamy, issued a stern warning to HR & CE officials in the temple against the physical abuse of the elephant. He instructed the officials to reprimand the mahout and to ensure that such abuse did not occur again.

Having years of prolonged illness, Vellaiyammal breathed her last on 14 September 2013 at the age of 62. What kind of a treatment was given to Vellaiyammal and why was there no improvement? Were the doctors experienced in treating elephants? Why was she kept at the temple and not taken by the forest department? Why were the mahouts allowed to use and abuse her for begging? Why didn’t the officials bring in an experienced mahout to replace Baskar? Who is responsible for the years of pain and suffering by Vellaiyammal?

Death of the Virudhunagar Valasubramaniaswami Temple elephant SulochanaVirudhunagar Temple Elephant Sulochana

Sulochana was serving in Valasubramaniaswami Temple in Virudhunagar. She was blind in one eye; the second eye developed cataract. She was also suffering from arthritis. With literally zero vision and painful limbs, she was unable to walk.

How she found it difficult to take a single step can be seen in the video below.

In December 2015, as her mahout didn’t guide her properly, she fell down and her shoulder was severely dislocated. Since then, she could not sit or lie down and used to sleep standing against the wall. This made her even weaker and affected her dietary intake as well. Her sufferings can only be imagined. On the midnight of 21 March 2016, Sulochana fell down in her sleep and did not get up again. She breathed her last at 8.30 am on 22nd morning; she was just 32.

Why did the authorities keep her in the temple knowing well that she was blind and afflicted with arthritis? What was the necessity to keep her for temple services in such a condition? Why wasn’t she sent to the forest department or any other rehabilitation centre? Didn’t the doctors advice the department? Who is responsible for her life of distress and suffering?

(To be continued…)

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

 

See also

No more elephants at Pazhavangadi Temple – Deccan Chronicle

Pazhavangadi Mahaganapathy Temple

V. K. VenkitachalamThough smaller temples had begun to keep elephants out, bigger temples continued to shy away from breaking with convention. “This decision by a big temple like Pazhavangady will definitely inspire others to follow suit,” said V. K. Venkitachalam, the state’s foremost elephant activist.

On Vinayaka Chathurthi, September 5, the Elephant God will not move around the Fort area on the back of an elephant.

Pazhavangadi Mahaganapathy Temple, which lies in the shadow of the Sreepadmanabha Swamy Temple and is maintained by the Indian Army, will soon become the first major temple in South India to avoid the use of elephants during its annual festival. From this year, the Ganesha deity will be taken around in an open vehicle. The temple has also decided to do away with the traditional fireworks display.

“The Puttingal tragedy has definitely got us thinking,” said Captain Sudhakaran, the manager of the temple. “As for the decision on elephants, we could not turn our backs on the increasing incidents of torture against these animals in the name of religion,” he said.

The proposal was put up before the advisory committee of the temple headed by noted neurosurgeon Dr Sambhasivan, and was promptly passed. “The temple thantri was also of the view that we had to change according to the times,” Captain Sudhakaran said.

Elephant in chainsThe temple authorities have also informed the Pazhavangadi Poura Samithi about the decision. “It was important to tell the people living in the area as the use of elephants had a long tradition. They too are aware of what is happening to elephants and have respected our decision,” Captain Sudhakaran said.

The decision could turn out to be revolutionary. “Elephants were always tortured in the name of religion. This decision by a temple like Pazhavangadi is a reminder that rituals can be subjected to timely reforms,” said Animal welfare Board member M. N. Jayachandran.

“If all the Devaswoms in the state take a cue from Pazhavangady and ban the use of elephants, there can be no better message the state can convey,” he added.

Though smaller temples had begun to keep elephants out, bigger temples continued to shy away from breaking with convention. “This decision by a big temple like Pazhavangady will definitely inspire others to follow suit,” said V. K. Venkitachalam, the state’s foremost elephant activist. – Deccan Chronicle, 16 June 2016

Thrissur Pooram Festival

 

1 – Temples, Elephants and Traditions – B. R. Haran

 Indhumathi and Jayanthi
Kanchi Math elephants Sandhya, Indhumathi and Jayanthi
Kanchi Math elephants Sandhya, Indhumathi and Jayanthi

Many temple elephants like Maduravalli have died in Tamil Nadu before, and such deaths have become a regular phenomenon. Abirami of Thirukkadaiyur Temple, Vellaiyammal of Thanjavur Big Temple, Bhavani of Rameshwaram Temple, Kumaran of Thiruchendur Temple and Sulochana of Valasubramania Temple, Virudunagar have all died in the recent past.Many temple elephants like Maduravalli have died in Tamil Nadu and such deaths have become a regular phenomenon. Abirami of Thirukkadaiyur Temple, Vellaiyammal of Thanjavur Big Temple, Bhavani of Rameshwaram Temple, Kumaran of Thiruchendur Temple and Sulochana of Valasubramania Temple, Virudunagar have all died in the recent past. –  B. R. Haran

Two recent incidents involving temple elephants have hurt our sensibilities. One, the sad demise of female elephant Maduravalli after prolonged illness, and the other, the shifting of three elephants from Kanchi Kamakshi Amman Temple to a rehabilitation centre for treatment. On the one side, we have the welfare of temple elephants; on the other, we have centuries old tradition in temples. Since both are important, this study attempts to find a fair and just solution to the confusion arising out of the question—what is important, elephant welfare or temple tradition?

Sad demise of Maduravalli

Maduravalli has been serving at the Koodal Azhagar Temple in Madurai since 1976. She was brought to the temple when she was 12 years old. Around twenty years back, she suffered from ulcers in her feet for which she was given inadequate treatment and since then she has not been doing well.

After a few years, she developed ulcers again in her feet, and in course of time, due to lack of proper treatment and medical assistance, the ulcers worsened and became big wounds. Her foot pads thinned and Maduravalli developed very painful and septic abscesses. This condition is known as ‘foot rot’ in elephants and this is caused because captive elephants are forced to stand on stone, concrete or cement floors. They are forced to walk on tarred roads. Elephants must stand on natural earthen floors. Maduravalli’s foot rot became so bad that eventually she was unable to stand and walk. Even in that recumbent position, the temple authorities kept her chained!

The photos taken during Maduravalli’s last days can be viewed at these two links:

Suffering for months together without responding to any treatment, Maduravalli was just lying down in the worst kind of pain, even losing her appetite. Even at that stage, she was kept chained. Finally on the evening of 26 May by 4.30 pm, Maduravalli passed away at the age of 53.

Had she been treated well and taken care of as per the Captive Elephants Management Rules and Guidelines, Tamil Nadu, issued in 2011, she would not have suffered this fate and she would be serving the temple for many more years to come. The mahout, the District Forest Officer serving under the Chief Wildlife Warden and the temple management must be squarely held responsible for the death of Maduravalli and the Tamil Nadu government would do well to conduct an enquiry into Maduravalli’s death and fix responsibility.

Maduravalli’s death is not an isolated incident. Many temple elephants like Maduravalli have died in Tamil Nadu before, and such deaths have become a regular phenomenon. Abirami of Thirukkadaiyur Temple, Vellaiyammal of Thanjavur Big Temple, Bhavani of Rameshwaram Temple, Kumaran of Thiruchendur Temple and Sulochana of Valasubramania Temple, Virudunagar have all died in the recent past.

Shifting of Kanchi Temple Elephants

Sandhya alias Kamakshi, Indhumathi and Jayanthi were three elephants serving at Kamakshi Amman Temple, under the management of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham. Sandhya alias Kamakshi was brought to the temple from Hunsur Forest Division of Karnataka when she was seven and a half years old. Karnataka Forest Department had sold her for Rs.20,000/- in 1981. She is now 42 years old. Indhumathi was brought from Wayanad Forest Division when she was 6 years old. Kerala Forest Department sold her for Rs. 20,000/- in 1987 and now she is 34 years old. Jayanthi was gifted by Assam Forest Department at the age of 3 in 2001. She was from Kaziranga National Park and she is currently 18 years old.

Gunaseelan, a senior mahout serving the temple for 35 years, was taking care of all three elephants. One P. Thillaikumar has been with the elephants for the past two years; A. Natarajan has been around for a year. Another person, S. Shekar, who was earlier with the elephants for about 10 years assisting Gunaseelan, left the temple for some time and rejoined work in June 2015. Then, suddenly, senior mahout Gunaseelan died and his daughter, Annapoorani, was appointed as fourth handler. However she only acts like a visiting supervisor and reportedly keeps all the records with her at her residence.

Based on complaints received from bhaktas of Kamakshi Temple, AWBI constituted a four member committee comprising Ms. Suparna Ganguly, President of Bengaluru based CUPA (Compassion Unlimited Plus Action), Dr. Sundaramurthy from CPR Environmental Education Centre, Dr. R. Sumathi from AWBI and co-opted member of AWBI Dr. Manilal Valliyate. The committee inspected the elephants and their living conditions at the Kamakshi Amman Temple on 22 July 2015 and unanimously concluded that the three elephants have been greatly affected psychologically as well as physically.

The committee gave suggestions and guidelines for care and medical treatment to the temple management. The Srikaryam (Manager) of the Kanchi Mutt told the committee that they have a 5-acre land which could be converted into a natural habitat for the elephants. Consequently, when the case regarding the proper maintenance of cows and goshalas in temples came up for hearing, the AWBI submitted its report on Kamakshi Temple elephants to the honourable High Court. The Honourable High Court had extended the mandate of the Committee and ordered it to also inspect temple elephants besides cows and goshalas.

A year later, the High Court ordered the committee, constituted for inspecting temple goshalas, to visit temples where elephants are put into service. Even as the HR & CE Department delayed submitting the list of temples with elephants, the committee visited Kamakshi Amman Temple to inspect the elephants to see if the recommendations made by the AWBI committee had been implemented.

During the visit, the committee found out that the temple management had not followed the guidelines given by the AWBI committee, and that the elephants’ physical condition had deteriorated further. It felt that the elephants needed immediate attention and medical assistance. Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu government’s HR & CE Department submitted the list of temples with elephants and the committee visited some more temples and inspected the elephants and their living conditions. Meanwhile, the Kanchi Matham agreed to allow the three elephants to be moved to an elephant care facility in Villupuram district.

On 12 May, 2016 the elephants—Sandhya alias Kamakshi, Indhumathi and Jayanthi—were shifted to the Marakkanam elephant rescue and rehabilitation centre belonging to Tree Foundation and WRRC (Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre). While the temple management extended full cooperation for the shifting of elephants, Annapoorani (former mahout’s daughter) and her mother attempted to thwart it by protesting against the shifting.

As the elephants were also habituated, they listened to her. While Indhumathi and Jayanthi were shifted without much difficulty, Kamakshi obeyed the orders of the widow and daughter of the dead mahout and because she is also totally blind in one eye, she slipped and fell as she tried to get down from the truck. Kamakshi had to be kept in Kanchi itself for one more day and the next day she too was shifted to Marakkanam, this time without obstruction from her former mahouts.

Meanwhile, a section of the mainstream media, always on the look-out for sensational news, reported Annapoorani’s version that the elephants were shifted because the management wanted more space inside the temple, and that they were beaten and tortured while being shifted. The media failed to contact either the NGOs or the temple management.

Some persons who were not aware of the details of the issue took the media reports as truth and attempted to spread a canard on social media: “The shifting of elephants is a conspiracy by alien forces through foreign-funded NGOs to remove the elephants from temples, thereby putting an end to the Hindu tradition of Gaja Puja; the motive behind this is to encourage religious conversions and a few activists are paid for facilitating this.”

Meanwhile, Indhumathi and Jayanthi, once in the Marakkanam rehabilitation centre, showed remarkable improvement in just two days. Sandhya alias Kamakshi joined them the third day. The rehabilitation centre, surrounded with coconut groves and other greenery, has decent facilities for elephant care. All three elephants are finally living a chain-free life, moving, walking freely and enjoying the natural habitat. Expert veterinarians are attending to them and they are being fed with nutritious food. The elephants are happy and peaceful in the new environment. As a goodwill gesture, Pujya Sankaracharyas of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham have blessed the initiative and sought the cooperation and support of the bhaktas.

Their present condition can be seen at the following links:

If we can understand why these three elephants were shifted from the temple, why NGOs were used for the purpose, why the High Court was involved, we would understand that Maduravalli could have survived had she been shifted to a rehabilitation centre. Perhaps many other temple elephants would not have died like Maduravalli. It would be in order to understand some basic facts about elephants and their life in natural environs and in captivity.

Basic facts and salient features of elephants

  • The elephant is a mammal. It feeds on sugarcane, bamboo, and other leaved plants. It is the largest among terrestrial animals with an average life span of 70 years, second only to human beings.
  • Elephant is a strong animal. Even lions and tigers do not go near it. Lions can attack only as a group and even then they can attack only a solitary, weak, old or sick elephant.
  • Elephants live as a family in a herd. The male calf will stay with the family until he attains puberty. Thereafter it may leave the group. But female elephants stay together and are closely knit. Very rarely do female calves leave the group after attaining puberty.
  • Male Asian elephants have tusks. Female elephants do not have tusks but some female elephants have small tusks called tushes. The back of the Asian elephant is elevated and it has two elevations on the forehead as well.
  • Elephants spend 16 hours on average to forage for food. They have limited digestive capacity, digesting only 40% of the food they eat, so they have to consume much more than they can digest. An adult elephant can eat food weighing between 140 Kgs to 270 Kgs.
  • Male elephants are generally 3 meters in height and 6000 kgs in weight. Elephant skin is thick (25 to 30 centimeters), but soft and is unable to tolerate the bites of ants and mosquitoes. The skin around its mouth and ears are very soft. Asian elephants have more hair than African elephants.
  • Elephants naturally love to bathe in sand, mud and clay. This helps protect their skin from heat and radiation.
  • Elephants have strong legs. Even though the legs bear such a huge and heavy body, they can climb and descend easily on steep mountain paths. As their feet are large they can stand for hours together without rest. But, Asian elephants take frequent rest as compared to African elephants. They have five nails on the front feet and four nails on the hind feet. Elephants can swim well. Their feet can easily sense even low frequency vibrations or sound waves.
  • The trunk is the elephant’s unique feature. It is made up of 40,000 muscles and can bend on all sides. It has a small lip (African elephants have two lips) and two nostrils in the tip of the trunk. The elephant can lift anything, from small firewood to a huge tree, with the help of its trunk. Generally it uses its trunk to take food to its mouth and to drink water.  The trunk also helps the elephant to defend itself from attacks of other animals. Since the neck is short, the trunk becomes all the more important.
  • The large ear lobes help the elephant to balance body temperature. The outside air gets into the body through numerous blood vessels in the ear lobes, thereby reducing the heat and body temperature. The elephants constantly fan their ears to maintain body temperature.
  • The elephant’s hearing and sniffing capacity is remarkable. The elephant is naturally short-sighted and therefore depends more on its hearing and sniffing capacity than its vision. The trunk, like the ears, can sense vibrations.
  • Elephants are as intelligent and maybe more intelligent than humans. An elephant’s brain is the biggest in size among animals living on land and weighs slightly more than 5 kgs. Elephants are basically gentle and kind in character.
  • The elephants are self conscious. They can identify themselves while standing before a mirror. They have the capacity to understand what is shown or pointed to them.
  • The elephant’s pregnancy period is 22 months. Generally it gives birth only to one calf. Giving birth to two calves is a very rare phenomenon. The calf will weigh between 90 to 115 kilograms at the time of birth. The pregnant elephant is always surrounded, protected and helped by other adult elephants before, during and after childbirth. A calf is always reared by the herd from the time of its birth.
  • Elephants require large forest lands to live and survive. They require a natural habitat full of flora and fauna. They go on a specific path for a long distance eating off the flora on the way and by the time they return by the same path after several months, the flora would be back in full growth. That is how they create the “Elephant path”. Because these elephant paths are destroyed due to deforestation and human expansion into forest reserves, conflicts between elephants and humans occur quite often.

(To be continued)

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

Maduravalli

Maduravalli

Maduravalli

Maduravalli

 

8 – Tamil Nadu in the grip of Jihad – Thamizhchelvan

Moorthi

JournalistMoorthi was brutally murdered in broad daylight on 27 February 2010, which also happened to be the Prophet’s birthday, Milad un Nabi. Moorthi was murdered inside the temple complex itself. The documentary shows a person named Ponnan, who says, “Saying that it was an offering on the occasion of Milad un Nabi”, the killers “slashed Moorthi’s neck and poured sand into it”. – Thamizhchelvan

After presenting the true story of the murder of four brothers who fought for the protection of temple land, the Hindu Munnani’s documentary presents the gruesome murder of a temple manager who fought against the attempt to convert the samadhi of a sant into a dargah.

Moorthi The samadhi of a sant, Sarveswara Baba, is situated in Kruthalapuram village adjacent to a place called Sholavaram in Thiruvallur district. The Sarveswara Baba Samadhi was also known as Sarveswara Temple. A local person, Moorthi, was managing the affairs of the temple-cum-samadhi.

Muslim fundamentalists have a considerable presence in the village. When they conspired to convert the Sarveswara Baba Samadhi into Shah-in-Shah dargah, Moorthi opposed it vehemently and filed a case in the local court against the attempt. The fundamentalist elements were also reportedly active in illegal activities. As the case was poised against them and the judgment in favour of Hindus was expected anytime, the fundamentalists decided to eliminate Moorthi.

Subsequently, Moorthi was brutally murdered in broad daylight on 27 February 2010, which also happened to be the Prophet’s birthday, Milad un Nabi. Moorthi was murdered inside the temple complex itself. The documentary shows a person named Ponnan, who says, “Saying that it was an offering on the occasion of Milad un Nabi”, the killers “slashed Moorthi’s neck and poured sand into it”.

As the area is a stronghold of fundamentalist elements, Member of Parliament J. M. Haroon of the Congress party, conspired to help the infiltration of Muslims into the temple by constituting a committee comprising both Hindus and Muslims for administering the Baba Temple. His brother forcibly obtained the signatures of Hindus who were opposed to it.

Describing this scheming act of the MP and his brother, Ponnan says, “J. M. Haroon prepared a deed in which there were 10 persons each from the Moslem side and the Hindu side. When the Hindus refused to sign on the dotted line, they beat us to sign. It was his brother Amanullah who unleashed violence upon us. Some of us had to give in”.

After the formation of the committee, Muslims entered the administration and started creating trouble for the Hindus. They went to the extent of stopping Hindus from worshipping. Ponnan says, “When we visited the temple, they said that flowers should not be brought inside for offering and chased all of us out of the temple”.

Consequently a peace committee meeting was organised in which it was decided that the samadhi belonged to the Hindus. However, before the decision was made, an attempt was made to purchase a few Hindus by offering money.

J. M. HaroonThe documentary shows Ponnan saying that he too was bribed. He says, “A peace committee meeting was organized and J. M. Haroon came to attend it. Hindus belonging to the village too participated in this. It was concluded in the peace committee meeting that the place belonged to the Hindus and hence it had to be handed over to them. At that time, Haroon placed his hand upon my shoulder and took me aside. He then stuffed a bundle of currency in my pocket, which I exhibited to the Hindus. I showed the currency to Hindus and announced in public that Haroon was attempting to buy me”.

The jihadis murdered Moorthi just 15 days before the verdict was to be delivered by the Thiruvallur court. Had the judgment come, Muslims would have had to vacate the property and the temple would have been in the control of Hindus.

Ponnan says, “Moorthi was murdered just 15 days before the judgement was to be delivered. If the judgement had been delivered they would not have been able to enter the premises and hence they did away with him. That was an important reason to murder Moorthi”.

After the murder of Moorthi, the authorities sealed the Samadhi Temple and the case is still pending in court.

Meanwhile, someone broke open the seal and entered the temple. Although he was caught by the police, they let him go on the pretext that he was mentally deranged. Ponnan says, “Someone broke open the seal and looted all the money. Police caught a Moslem boy. Someone told that he was a mentally deranged person and based on that the police let him off”.

In course of time, further encroachments have taken place upon this land due to occupation and illegal encroachment. The samadhi of a Hindu Baba is in the danger of being usurped by non-Hindus.

The documentary says that the fundamentalist outfit Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam (TMMK) has entered the premises to facilitate the annexation of this area by their community.

Are Hindus destined to lose their beloved Baba’s samadhi? Will Moorthi’s sacrifice go in vain?

 (To be continued…)

» Thamizhchelvan is an independent senior journalist in Chennai.

Moorthi's wife with Moorthi's body

The visual documentation of the above article can be viewed and downloaded from the video below (English) from 13.25 mts to 17.52 mts.

Tamil Newspaper Report

7 – Tamil Nadu in the grip of Jihad – Thamizhchelvan

Kumarapandian

Journalist “One of the murder suspects, Abdullah, is a recent convert. Another suspect was only 18 years old when he committed the barbaric act. This is a classic example of the poison of terrorism being planted in the minds of youth and children.” — Thamizhchelvan

Would those who commit murder for wearing religious marks spare those who raise their voices for the cause of temples? Posing this question, the documentary presents the gruesome murder of four brothers who attempted to protect the temple in their home town.

Tenkasi, the second largest town in Tirunelveli district, is a ‘municipality’, located close to Courtallam. The town got its name Tenkasi, meaning ‘Kashi of the South’, as it has a Kasi Viswanath Temple. The town was founded by Dyan kings and the temple was built by Parakrama Pandya. Hindus comprise 62% of the population; Muslims are 35% and Christians 3%.

Kumarapandian hailed from a traditional Hindu family. He had five brothers. He was also a member of Hindu Munnani.

Kumarapandian of TenkasiWhen local Muslims wanted to construct a mosque on Viswanathar Temple Street, the government, anticipating trouble and communal problems, refused permission. Ignoring this, however, the Muslims attempted to construct the mosque. Kumarapandian opposed this strongly. Thereafter, he was murdered on 17 December 2006.

Opposing construction of the mosque seems to be a reason for his murder, but there are other reasons also. On the anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the Muslims organized a protest demonstration. Although the police had earlier denied permission for the Kumarapandian's wifestatewide protest demonstrations on 6 December, they later yielded and gave sanction to fundamentalist organisations. Kumarapandian opposed this too.

He also attempted to start an ambulance service for the poor, which was not liked by the fundamentalists, as they feared competition to such a service being undertaken by them. “While they hacked him, the jihadis uttered these words openly…. You are creating obstacles in the path of mosque construction and you are buying ambulance to compete with us; saying these very words they attacked him with scythes,” Kumarapandian’s brother Ravi Pandian stated.

Another brother, Sakthi Pandian, points out that those behind the gory murder of Kumarapandian have not been identified so far: “Cases have been registered against three persons, namely, Haneefa, Abdullah and Sayed Sulaiman. However, till date, those behind the murders have not been brought to light”.

What is pathetic is the fact that the murder case has not come for trial in court. Advocate Socrates says, “The case has not come even for the argument stage. Since those involved in the murder of Kumarapandian are also involved in the Bengaluru bomb blast case and are absconding, this case has so Kashi Vishwanath Shiva Temple of Tenkasifar not come to the court for arguments”.

One of the suspects, Abdullah, is a recent convert. Another suspect was only 18 years old when he committed the barbaric act. This is a classic example of the poison of terrorism being planted in the minds of youth and children. Advocate Socrates says, “One of the criminals, who was an accused in this murder, is Murugesan alias Abdullah; he had converted to Islam recently and had committed this murder”.

In the meantime, the police sent the 18-year-old boy to a juvenile home under the Child Welfare Board and the other two were taken in judicial custody. Abdullah and Haneefa petitioned the High Court against polygraph test, brain mapping test and narco analysis test, arguing that such tests are violative of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution and it would amount to testimonial compulsion. But the High Court ordered in favour of the police and dismissed the petition of the accused. Yet, since then, the case has not moved even an inch.

Kumarapandian's motherMeanwhile, tragedy again struck the family of Kumarapandian. His elder brother Sekar and younger brothers, Suresh and Senthil, who continued the agitation against construction of the mosque from where Kumarapandian left it, were also brutally murdered in the busy thoroughfares of Tenkasi. Showing the forlorn mother of the Pandian brothers, the documentary asks, “What is the panacea for the pain and sufferings of this mother, who lost her four sons?”

Sekar’s daughter was studying well and wanted to become a chartered accountant. The documentary asks, “What is the future of this girl who dreams to be a chartered accountant?”

Feeling the absence of her father and his motivation, the girl says with firm resolve, “I like to study for CA and I have told about this to my father too. My father used to encourage me a lot, but now there is none to Sekar Pandian's Son & Daughterdo so. However, I shall strive hard”. Her mother, Sekar’s wife, says, “I somehow borrow money and educate my children”.

When Kumarapandian was murdered, his wife was in an advanced stage of pregnancy. Having lost her four sons and seeing her daughters-in-law and grandchildren suffering, Kumarapandian’s mother says, “We were happy and lived in peace. All these were brought to an abrupt end by them. What can we do? I just draw solace looking at the faces of those surviving”.

Four brothers have sacrificed their precious lives for a public cause. The terrorists who have murdered them have not been punished so far; the case has not come up for trial.

Meanwhile, the fundamentalists persist in their attempt to construct the mosque. Construction materials can reportedly be seen at the site and work is allegedly going on. No tangible action has been taken so far by the authorities.

(To be continued…)

» Thamizhchelvan is an independent senior journalist in Chennai.

Sekar, and younger brothers Suresh and Senthil

Kumarapandian's brothers Suresh and Senthil

The visual documentation of the above text can be seen in the video below from 8.20 mts to 13.25 mts.

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