This is a two-part article that examines the systematic loot and destruction of Hindu religious places of worship, Vedic temples, heritage, and culture institutionalized and systematized by the British and executed with ruthless precision under successive Congress governments at the center
An 800 year old Shiva temple in Tholur village of Namakkal district in Tamil Nadu under the aegis of the Hindu Religious Charitable Endowments department (HRCE), a government appointed body was razed to the ground using bulldozers in August 2016. This temple built by the Kongu Cholas was a heritage temple that was supposedly being “restored” by the HRCE. No one knows who was responsible or why this temple was demolished with the HRCE blaming the villagers and the heritage activists pinning the blame on the HRCE.
The destruction of this “living” temple, where people offered prayers every day is not a one-off, or a stray incident. This is only another example of the systematic loot and destruction of Hindu religious places of worship, Vedic temples, heritage, and culture institutionalized and systematized by the British and executed with ruthless precision under successive Congress and communist governments at the center and states.
The plain and shocking truth is that successive, supposedly secular governments at the center and at State levels have been controlling, selling-off, distributing, and profiting from the collections of Hindu temples. The fact of the matter is that an offering made by a Hindu devotee in good faith can be siphoned-off to feed the coffers of Governments or worse still used to provide grants to Christian and Muslim places of worship and education. Christian and Muslim establishments on the other hand have full autonomy with regard to the funds, administration, and assets of their places of worship and education. This led to the coining of the word “Reverse Discrimination” by Swamy Dayananda Sarasvati. India is probably the only country where in the name of secularism the majority community has been and continues to be discriminated against, in all walks of life.
Often defenders of this kind of pseudo-secularism take refuge under article-30 of the Indian constitution which confers certain rights on the minorities. However, a reading of several judgements on this “Right” including one by a 11-judge bench of the Supreme Court makes it clear that this “Right” is only a “Protection” in the unlikely event of minority persecution by the majority. It cannot and should not be used by one category to receive special and/or preferential treatment and/or profit from it.
The Table below summarizes the discrimination faced by Hindu places of worship versus places of worship belonging to other religious denominations:
|Place of Worship under state control||Yes||No||No|
|Government administers and manages finances||Yes||No||No|
|Government can control, takeover and dispose temple assets||Yes||No||No|
|Government can divert funds for other purposes||Yes||No||No|
|Priests, devotees, practitioners have a say in temple management||No||Yes||Yes|
|Educational institutions run by place of worship is autonomous||No||Yes||Yes|
|Educational institution can decide and discriminate in hiring of staff and student admissions||No||Yes||Yes|
Jawaharlal Nehru in 1951 expressed a desire to see that no private Hindu temple existed in India. The Hindu Religious and Charities Endowment Act of 1951 (HRCE) was a result of this “desire” to takeover and control all Hindu places of worship. Through this act State Governments could:
- Takeover and completely control the administration, upkeep, finance, and human resources of Hindu temples
- Appoint managers to the boards of temples in the name of better administration and then browbeat and control all the activities of these temples.
The question of why in a supposedly secular-socialist republic, only Hindu and Vedic temples were brought under government control and not Christian or Muslim places of worship is either not being asked or is being deliberately brushed aside by vested interests within and without the political, social, and cultural establishment.
As per the Vedic agamas and shastras a temple represents a “living human being and the consecrated deity the soul” Therefore a temple belongs to the deity and everyone else including the government, HRCE, devotees etc. are all simply “Trustees of the house of God”.
Additionally, Vedic and Hindu temples have always played a role much larger than just being centers of rituals, worship, and congregation. They have been centers of worship (Poojalayas), Culture (Kalaalayas), Service (Sevalayas), Education (Vidyalayas), Protection (Rakshaalyas), and History.
In the last 6 decades since the enactment of the HRCE, there has been a systematic loot, plunder, and destruction of Vedic and Hindu temples and the complete loss of the cultural ethos of these temples including patronage to music, dance and arts, Veda pathashalas, and Goshalas.
Take the example of AP where more than 34,000 temples are under government control. Reports suggest that only 18% of the revenue received is used for the purposes of temple development, upkeep, restoration, devotee welfare and infrastructure. A mind boggling 82% is diverted for other purposes. The Tirumala Tirupathi devasthanam receives more than INR 3,100 crores per year – 85% of this or a whopping 2,635 crores is transferred to the Government exchequer and subsequently diverted to causes and institutions not even remotely connected to the Hindu community or temples – this includes funds to Muslim and Christian churches and mosques, educational institutions, madrasas, and Haj subsidy.
The worst atrocities were committed under the regime of the late Y. Samuel Rajashekar Reddy when Christian evangelism reached its peak in AP. During his regime, there have been reports also of how a blatant attempt was made to take over 5 of the 7 shrines of Tirumala in order to distribute land for churches to be built there – this was thwarted by strong protests organized under the aegis of Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha.
In Karnataka, it was reported as early as in 2003 how INR 79 crores was collected from 2 lakh temples and 59 crores of this money was diverted towards Muslim madrasas, and Haj subsidy, and another 13 crores towards Churches, with the temples that actually made the contribution getting a mere 7 crores for maintenance!
In Kerala funds from the famous Guravayur temple has been diverted to government coffers. Kerala state alone has more than 29,000 Christian missionaries/clergymen and 19,000 Muslim clergy whose only goal seems to be conversion of the heathen masses. With a population of 56% the Hindu community of Kerala controls less than 25% of the State economy. Former Kerala Chief Minister the late Karunakaran once “ordered” the Guravayur Sri Krishna Temple Dewaswom to deposit 10 crores to the state treasury to help the government to tide over a “financial crisis”. There is also the case of how in the Muslim majority district of Malappuram, some Muslims ganged up to erect fences and prevent entry of Hindu pilgrims to the 1,000 year old Shankara Narayana temple in Kalpakancherry.
Can we imagine the reprisals that would follow from the government if Hindus were to gang-up and prevent Muslims for example from entering a place of worship or performing namaaz?
Kerala is a test case a harbinger of what is to come if rampant appeasement politics is practiced unchecked and the Hindu majority remains a silent spectator.
In Tamil Nadu the government has brought under its control 4.7 lakh acres of agricultural land, 2.6 crore Square Feet of buildings, and 29 crore square feet of urban temple sites. Of the 36 priest who perform daily puja at the famous Srirangam temple, not one receives a fixed monthly salary. They have to make a living out of a share from devotee offerings and sale of archana tickets. In that very same temple Government appointed employees like watchmen, drivers and workers reportedly receive anywhere from 8,000 to 20,000 per month as salary. This begs the question, Why the discrimination only against the priests?
The famous Siddhi Vinayak Temple in Mumbai was “nationalized” in 1981. Subsequent to this nationalization, the siphoning-off and diversion of several crores of temple funds by government was so rampant that the Bombay High Court issued a prohibitory order stopping them from further misuse. The government appointed trustees of the temple even spent INR 24 lakhs of temple funds on a marketing event at a 7-star hotel supposedly to discuss ways of marketing and advertising the temple as a tourist attraction!
These are only a few select incidents and instances of the wanton plunder and pillage of Hindu and Vedic places of worship in supposedly free India. There are several other instances of loot and plunder that will be beyond the scope of this article. Suffice to say that in the name of political expediency and vote-bank politics, the fragmentation of the Hindu population has been encouraged and used to keep the Hindu majority of the country under subjugation. This has to change and it is time the Hindu majority found its voice, united, and started fighting for its rights. The first step in this course correction has to begin with reclaiming our lost heritage.
In the words of Swami Dayananda Saraswathi the convener of the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha (HDAS), “Hindus should unite to take back control of their temples from the Government. This is the only way the Hindus can find the money to propagate the religion and withstand the onslaught of conversions by other religions”
The second part of this article will attempt to look at what can be done to bring back the lost glory of Vedic and Hindu temples and if the legal route can help wrest control of Hindu temples from the government and hand it back to the practitioners of Hindu Dharma.
A version of this article appeared on March 15, 2017 in Rightlog.in under the same title.
2007 Forum for Religious Freedom – Save Hindu temples.