Dr. Durgesh Samant
Instead of getting straight to the topic, first let me lay down the present day state of affairs to you. This is in context of the 15th report of the Law Commission and pertains to `Control and administration of temples or places of worship in Maharashtra’ It has been introduced at the behest of the Chief Minister of the Maharashtra. Newspaper reports say that introduction of the act has been approved by the commission. The government however has not passed any ordinance on it. One noteworthy point here is that a similar effort was made by the 13th Law Commission. At that time too the government had attempted to take over Hindu temples and had passed an ordinance to that effect. However the Kerala temple association opposed this ordinance and prevented it from becoming a law. Now as per the clauses set by the 15th Law Commission not only temples in Kerala, but also other organisations indulging in religious activity will fall in the purview of this law. This law however excludes Muslim dargahs, Mosques and madarsas. No matter what the present status of the law is, one thing is certain, that the government wishes to governmentalise Hindu temples. This will be clear from the take over of the Siddhivinayak temple in Mumbai, the Saibaba temple at Shirdi, Vithoba temple at Pandharpur, all in Maharashtra and some temples in other Indian states. That is precisely why serious thought needs to be given to this issue. The points in this regard presented by the government and others are given below. (Part 1)
In the recent times none on behalf of the Maharashtra government has clearly presented his viewpoint. (It is another matter that the government is always callous when it comes to issues pertaining to Hindus.) Yet from the sequence of incidents till date one can deduce the following about the government’s stand:
1. Trustees of temples are ignorant, hence they cannot provide modern amenities in temples.
2. There is misappropriation of temple funds and also maladministration.
3. Temples are not developed as centres of attraction. We will do this.
4. There is no discipline in the transactions of the trustees of temples.
5. Temples have ample wealth and assets which are just hoarded and not used for social development.
Issues of the Marathi `Daily Sanatan Prabhat’ and other publications have clearly pointed out how these claims of the government are meaningless.
So instead of elaborating on them again, all I will say is that there is not much substance in the government’s standpoint.
Viewpoint of the temple trustees
1. Annual wealth tax assessment is done rgularly.
2. We function according to the `trust deed’ and present a report to the government.
3. We keep improving upon the transparency of our transactions.
4. How can we just surrender temples which we have looked after like our own children?
5. Temples work tirelessly for social upliftment.
6. Every year based on our income, as per the audit report, we pay wealth tax.
Viewpoint of the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti
1. The government administration is so lax and incompetent that it was unable to even run corporations. This can be clarified with several examples.
2. Corruption is a part and parcel of several government departments.
3. Various acts to prove overspending and domination by government officials or politicians have already been brought to light.
4. A secular government will never be able to view a temple as a seat of worship. That is why under the pretext of developing a temple they will convert it more into a tourist spot than a place of worship.
5. When the government is ‘secular’, non-Hindus, atheists, etc. will start ruling the temples. Wielding their powers they will do whatever they wish.
6. Expenses of the temple administration will rise as now they will have to contribute towards the salaries and allowances of the employees.
7. Funds collected from Hindu temples will be used for non-Hindu institutions and their tasks. Paradoxically, Hindu temples will fund those non-Hindus who are attacking the Hindu religion.
8. The mission of a temple is to propagate the Hindu religion and when the government is ‘secular’ this will certainly not occur.
9. The temples will not be available for religious purposes.
10. The truth in the accusations made by the government with respect to temple trustees is doubtful. If for the sake of argument, the points put forward by the government are considered as correct then, governmentalisation of temples is not a solution to the problem, is crystal clear.
11. On one hand the government is liberally trying to privatise spheres such as defense, communications etc. and on the other it is converting property connected to an individual’s or a Hindu’s spiritual and religious life. How does one explain this contradiction?
12. And if this were so, then tomorrow the government will exert control over everything done in a temple, from celebration of a festival to a prayer to be recited, to offerings made to a deity and ritualistic worship of the deity.
Viewpoint of devotees
According to devotees, going to a temple for worship is an important event in their life. This is just like any other issue in the Hindu religion. They are unaware of this law, which is to be introduced, and other related points. Those who are aware of this to some extent are prepared to do anything to fight it. However those who are prepared to fight to any extent do not know this.
What does the law have to offer?
In the country and state today, several temples have been governmentalised. The answer lies in this.
What is appropriate and inappropriate in this?
Some will be confused about this. But the answer is simple. View this from the religious angle.
The position of a temple from the religious viewpoint
From the religious viewpoint that is in religion, its observance, its history worship and imparting religious education what role does the temple have to play? Words are insufficient to describe the importance of a temple. A temple is the mother of the Hindu mind. It is in her bosom that this religion is nurtured. A temple is a living wonder of the eternal values nurtured by the Hindu religion. A temple is the foundation, the very support of the Hindu religion. From the spiritual point of view, for man, it is a means of constant flow of the sattva component. A temple is not merely the abode of a deity, it is the deity itself.
The Agni Puran says:
Devasya devanam va alayaha l
Meaning: The residence of one or more deities
Evamesh Hariha sakshat praasaadtven sanstihi l
Meaning: In this way Lord Hari Himself exists in the form of a temple
Shikaram shir itthahurgarbhageham galastatha l
Mandapam kukshittaratyahuha praakaram janujanghakam l
Gopuram paad ityaahudharvajo jeevanmuchyate l
Meaning: The peak (shikhar) of a temple is its head, the inner chamber (garbhagruha) its neck, the open hall (mandap) its abdomen, the walls (praakaar) its thighs and calves, the gate (gopur) its legs and the flag (dhvaj) the life in that body.
This is a very important point, which requires emphasis. Only the idol in a temple is not God. That is precisely why viewing every part of the temple as a part of the body of God, it should be looked after and its sanctity maintained. This point is clear here. Will those looking at a temple as a tourist attraction ever accept this concept?
In the historical era temples played an important role in social life. Several art forms were nurtured here. In fact music and dance are two art forms, which grew with support from the temples. Temples were also seats of education. Sanskrit schools were conducted here. Vedas and its forms viz. holy scriptures, Puranas, Epics, Darshans, etc. were the holy texts studied here. A temple would look after the student who studied these Holy Scriptures. The rich would offer donations to the temple. For those undertaking spiritual practice, those surrendering unto God, renouncing the world, a temple was the seat of support. Temples were erected with different objectives to earn merit, to cleanse oneself of sins, to fulfill a vow, to become famous, to celebrate victory, etc. and wealth was offered there.
The teaching that one should not go to the temple empty-handed was impressed upon the social mind with the motive of developing their sense of sacrifice. That is why even today the temples are wealthy. But how much of that wealth is being utilised as in the olden days, needs to be examined. Formerly temples were honoured a great deal by society. The convention in those days was that `No one’s house should be at a greater height than a temple’. If a rich man felt like increasing the height of his house he would first raise the height of the temple. This rule applied to Kings as well. Do you think the present day rulers or those who sing the glory of secularism will build temples or do something for their welfare? If viewed from the religious viewpoint a temple should be used and maintained in the following way.
From the religious viewpoint how should a temple be used?
1. To undertake religious tasks
2. To propagate religion
3. To serve as a seat for imparting religious guidance to Hindus
4. To play a role in uniting Hindus
5. To impart religious education to devotees
6. To encourage devotees to practise more devotion
7. To give funds and other assistance from wealthy temples to less wealthy and inexperienced ones
8. To give required facilities to devotees
From the viewpoint of faith or religion, an averagely motivated devotee feels that a temple should serve as a tool to facilitate worship & spiritual practice, to give Hindus a perspective of religion in day-to-day life, to impart religious education to Hindus and to help them in creating good impressions on the minds of their children. A temple being their seat of worship, the administration should be perfect and the sanctity of the temple should be maintained. How much of this is being implemented today? Can you imagine how a secular government, which indulges in mean flattery of non-Hindus, will manage such temples? The famous Tirupati-Tirumala temples in Andhra Pradesh are under the control of the government.
When the Congress assumed power in Andhra Pradesh, the Chief Minister, M. Samuel Rajshekhar Reddy, began the process of christianising an area of the temple. Ms. Veena Nobel, a Christian lady was appointed as the Chancellor of the Padmavati University. Then the image of Lord Vyankateshvara there was dislodged and substituted with that of Jesus. The temple property was reduced and a plan to construct a church there was chalked out. J.B. Mathews, a Christian company was allotted the contract of making the holy sacrament (prasad) of laddoos for the temple. Thus, several measures detrimental to the Hindu religion were taken.
A mention of all this is in the inquiry conducted by the committee selected by the High Court under the chairmanship of a retired judge. The Siddhivinayak temple in Mumbai has also been taken over by the state government. Just as the government, to satisfy elected Members of Legislative Assembly who have not been given a ministerial berth in the republic of India, creates various corporations, so will occur in government controlled temples. We all know what the conduct of people appointed in such organisations is like and also their style of working. That is why when further plots for governmentalisation of temples are found, one can easily predict what these government run institutions will do.
In short, from the system proposed through governmentalisation, it is crystal clear that the temples will not be maintained as they are. That is why we need to protest against this plot with all our might. Now the question is how this is to be opposed and how these plans are to be foiled? What is the solution to this ?
Opposition through the constitutional route
According to our path there are three main ways to oppose this.
1. A legal battle: The first way to fighting this constitutionally is going to court. But for this the act has to be introduced. To be able to combat it in court the state legislature or the governor of a state should pass it. The law has still not reached that stage. Once it becomes a law will we be able to challenge and win it in court? Only legal experts can give an answer to this. Based on common knowledge one such expert says, “ If the government wishes to enforce a law then it certainly does and to do so it does everything and anything possible so that it is legal.” As seen in the past those in power go to any extent to accomplish this. A team of legal experts is always available to fight for the government. So if we fight it legally, this will have its limitations that we have to foresee. We shall certainly challenge it in the courts and prove their claims false but this should be the last resort. We should not need to use this final resort at all, meaning thereby that to create social awareness we certainly need to study law and present it appropriately.
2. An agitation with the people on our side: We should express our opposition to this bill introduced through various platforms and to be able to accomplish this we need to unite. The Hindu Janajagruti Samiti has taken up this task. In the very beginning, the foundation of the agitation should be expansive from all aspects. An agitation by workers of the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti and trustees of the temples is of limited use. In several places even other invitees have attended our meetings to speak on this issue. The HJS has made saints in the Varkari sect aware of this as well. But even that is insufficient. The important section that we need to tackle is the devotees visiting the concerned temple. This section of people is of utmost importance. Here we need help from the trustees of the temple because only they know the devotees visiting that temple closely. The trustees and administrators of the temple must realise that only they know devotees visiting that temple.
3. Opposition in the state legislative assembly: We cannot take up this issue directly; this has to be done by the members of the legislative assembly.
What needs to be done to draw the sentiment of the people to our side?
People participate in such agitations in different ways. This question brings up several offshoots. In that `You are doing this with a narrow-minded, selfish attitude or in the interests of a handful of people and we are doing this in the interests of society and the state’ is the most important trump card of the government and will be so with respect to this law as well. To make matters worse, there will be already be a section of people in society who question why people donate to God and temples when there are needy and distressed people in society and also feel that temple funds should be directed towards society at the earliest, to support them.
The government will certainly support such like-minded thinkers. In fact the government will use this as their main point of combat. We will be told that` thousands of crores of rupees from temple funds which can be used for social welfare are being blocked because we are interfering in and opposing this.’ How will we combat this stance? Needless to say, corruption and incompetence exist everywhere. They will also question if this does not occur when trustees manage the temples.
They will therefore reiterate that this opposition offered by us in the governmental process of serving the public interest will be against the people. They will also state that they have excluded temples with a low income from this plan. We will have to convince the public, the Hindus that our opposition is not just in the interests of a handful of trustees; it is more expansive, in the very interests of society, it is on a higher plane, that it is a protest to protect religion holistically. Then we will have to prove to the government that all Hindus have a united stand on this issue. For this to happen all elements of Hindu society will have to participate in this struggle. So decide what role you will play in this battle? Now, a comparison of the places of worship of other religions and our own temples to some extent is essential to comprehend the issue.
Comparison of places of worship of Hindus and those of others: The first question that will arise here will be why do Hindus not feel as much attachment to temples as Muslims or Christians feel about theirs? The principle of group worship is adopted there and all people from society professing those faiths feel close to their respective places of worship. But this is not so in case of Hindus. Those places of worship control their social life and offer them guidance. They are nurtured to be proud of their religion.
Their religious struggles are chalked out and implemented secretly from the place of worship itself. But what is happening in the Hindu society? Our temples need to become seats of teaching religion and centres for learning to respect religion. Hindus should feel that management, protection and administration of temples are their responsibility even if it were to a small extent. Temples should become centres for imbibing values. To achieve this Mr. Lakshmanshastri Joshi, an expert in logic says, “the temple should be able to create classes of employees, devotees and servitors harbouring great respect for Hinduism and a sense of duty towards performing religious rituals.”
What should the entire Hindu society do to oppose the governmentalisation of temples?
Earlier I have mentioned how the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti has already taken this up as its mission. At the same time I have said that `a section of people who cannot be part of the HJS due to various reasons, but can form an important part of the opposition are devotees of that temple. We have to make efforts so that the trustees of all temples reach out to their devotees smartly and briskly. Only then can they win their trust and it is on this that the future of this issue lies. I request all temple trustees and devotees to ponder on this issue and send us their opinions. They must act. I am presenting some points here in this regard.
Efforts to be made by temple trustees to make aware devotees
We have to examine whether we have made devotees aware that we are fighting for religion at large and not merely for Hindus and temples. Otherwise it will be presumed that this is an agitation of a handful of temple trustees carried out to retain their powers. For that we also need to see how many devotees attend meetings on this issue. To ensure that they attend in large numbers we can arrange special meetings at their convenience. Others who are highly motivated to work for this cause can be convinced about this at an individual level. When doing all this the devotees should be convinced about all these facts or we should at least succeed in turning their attention to this. Only if we are able to accomplish this, then shall we attain success in this awareness campaign.
(To be continued.....)