Since a few weeks now, the issue of freeing Hindu temples from the clutches of Government control has been actively discussed. While prominent personalities like Sri Sadhguru JV have launched a campaign highlighting the plight of temples under Government control, leaders such as Sri M Nageshwara Rao (retired CBI Director) have proposed a framework for management of temples once they are liberated from Government control.
This issue has caught on very good traction on social media, reflective of the concern the Hindu society has towards this issue. A lot of suggestions have been put forth and a number of the proposals of the proposed management philosophy have been debated.
An article by Smt Rati Hegde captures the key highlights of the proposed “inclusive management” proposal. One of the suggestions in this proposal is to resort to a uniform style of management of all temples, comprising a cross-caste representation from the relevant stakeholders. This particular point has been hotly contested by many, who have argued that the sampradaya system of management be given prime consideration to applicable temples when restoring control to the management of Hindus. A good overview of this system can be read in this article.
In this writeup, I would not like to go into those aspects that have already been discussed in good detail in various fora. This includes the debate around primacy to sampradayas and the need, or otherwise, of central temple boards to oversee temples at a national and state level. Instead, I would like to draw attention to a couple of additional topics that have surfaced in the course of recent debates.
The first point is regarding the pivot or central theme of a temple, in its post-liberated avatar. There indeed needs to be a very good discussion on this topic culminating in various stakeholders agreeing on an approach. There is a growing belief amongst many eager enthusiasts that a temple, once liberated, will automatically become a centre of the dharmic revival of Hindu Samaj. The proposals and ideas lean towards viewing the temple as a centre of social justice, remover of social ills and so on. While all of this does indeed fall under the umbrella duties of a temple, it needs to be called out very clearly that the primary purpose of a temple in Hindu Dharma is to serve as a centre of worship. It is a religious, spiritual centre first and foremost.
Almost all sampradayas of Hindu religion believe that Parabrahman, and associated deities, are omnipresent. God pervades the entire Universe. However, the temple and specifically its deity is seen as a place where there is a special presence of the Lord. The consecrated deity therefore is revered because he or she “listens” to the prayers of the devotee more than anywhere else. It is due to this fact that Hindus throng to temples. Their religious needs and spiritual thirst is satisfied in a temple. Hence they visit a temple.
All the activities of a temple are therefore focused towards “pleasing” the deity and maintaining or increasing the “sannidhana” or presence of the deity. As long as the deity reigns in the place, we believe he or she will “hear” us. And as long as the deity hears us, there is hope for us to escape from our Adhyatmika, Adibhoutika and Adidaivika troubles.
It is due to this fundamental outlook that temples have survived for thousands and thousands of years in our land. It is not that an average Hindu cannot pray at home. It is not that he does not do it. YET he resorts to a temple when in need. Because the temple gives him hope. The deity gives him comfort. The rituals give him satisfaction. The worship gives him courage.
The proposal to manage temples post liberation from Government control needs to strongly acknowledge this reality of the Hindu attitude towards temples. Unfortunately this core aspect of the temple is only passingly being mentioned in the proposals. A customary, matter of fact, mention is typically made – something along the lines of “All traditions and rituals will be maintained as-is”. But this is not such a simple matter to be mentioned only in passing reference!
As has now become evident, thousands and thousands of these temples have stopped functioning. Even daily puja is not happening. This being the case, a restoration of all these temples to their original ritualistic state is not going to be an easy task. Those temples which were formerly managed by members of a certain sampradaya may still find people with interest and knowledge about how those particular temples was managed and run. But there are likely to be thousands of other temples where this knowledge has been lost. The proposal needs to address this critical requirement.
Imposing conditions such as representation of all sections of society in a management committee, regular audits, compliance to laws of the land and so on are all easy to consider when framing a proposal because these tasks are secular in nature. However, the focus of the proposal needs to be on facilitating the theological aspects of the temple.
Regular pujas every single day. An annual utsava. Conduct of special rituals on major festivals such as Ugadi, Navaratri, Deepavali, Sri Rama Navami, Krishna Janmashtami. Worship of the deities as per the relevant scriptures. Distribution of prasadam.
Ensuring the above for a temple that has been locked down for many years is not an easy task. But it is something that needs to be the prime focus.
If this is not done, then the re-emergence of these temples as centers of Hindu activity and as the source of Hindu strength cannot be achieved. We must remember that not every temple liberated from Government control will be eventually able to run schools or veda pathashalas. Not every one of them will be able to run orphanages or hospitals. Not all of them will be able to conduct camps or workshops. Only those temples which start prospering from a financial point of view will be able to engage in additional dharmik activities. What is however absolutely essential is that each and every one of the liberated temples needs to be fully functional from the point of view of worship, rituals and traditions.
A second topic that would be relevant to discuss here is the role of temples in countering the influence of evangelical forces and in sustaining the integrity of Hindu society. Social media posts of the leaders of the movement have unfortunately tended to place the blame for the sorry state of Hindus on temple management primarily. Harsh comments on the traditional management of temples such as the Chidambaram temple have been made blaming them for lack of success in checking conversion activities around the temple.
This is an unfortunate, and in fact, wrong conclusion to draw.
For seventy years now, our education system is slipping out of the hands of Hindu institutions. Obtuse interpretations of constitutional provisions meant to secure the educational rights of minorities have made it greatly discouraging for Hindu institutions to run schools and colleges. One has to suffer the pain of hundreds of licenses and clearances to run even an elementary school.
Our textbooks are full of “secular” material and they have a profound impact on the impressionable minds of our youth. The only Hindu thing taught these days in schools are instructions about why Deepavali and Holi ought NOT to be celebrated!
Constitutional provisions guarantee full freedom to those religions which believe in aggressive proselytization. In a secular State, fundamental rights for proselytization effectively mean State support for proselytization.
Lastly, through FCRA and other channels, thousands of crores are allowed to come into the country and these funds end up being used for proselytization activities.
In the midst of all these attacks on Hindu society, how fair is it to pinpoint the blame on the hereditary managers of temples? It is in fact a miracle, or rather the blessings of our Devas, that these sampradaya managed temples have still continued to function in spite of the relentless assault from proselytizing and other secular interests.
Temples and their ecosystem are meant to provide a certain internal immunity to Hindu society. Just like the way immunity in the human body helps fight external viruses, a strong temple ecosystem will help resist attacks on the Hindu society. However, other measures have to be taken in order to minimize the external attacks. Wrong root-cause on this issue will mean incorrect solutions leading to future disappointment and potential disillusionment with the temple ecosystem.
A third and final point. The temple liberation movement must not be seen in isolation. It is most definitely a critical goal to achieve. But it alone will not suffice to stem the entire rot. The temple ecosystem needs to be nurtured through other channels.
First and foremost, the average Hindu, over the past seventy years, has lost his “connect” with the temple. He no longer feels a sense of duty towards the temple. Without the financial backing of its patrons, no institution can revive or grow. Without the Hindu loosening his purse, the liberated temples will not prosper.
The Indian State has, through the Constitution, recognized religious practice as a fundamental right. This means that it is perfectly acceptable for the State if a Hindu spends for religious purposes. The State must therefore allow an income tax exemption for contributions made towards temples. Appropriate limits may of course be imposed. But such an exemption will open the channels of financial funding for temples. All the other activities on the educational and social justice fronts being envisioned will only succeed if financial resources are made adequately available.
As it stands today, even if a temple were to be financially prosperous, there is great hesitancy in expanding its activities in the field of education. Running a school or a college is a tedious activity carrying the burden of hundreds of clearances and licenses. Further, there is no freedom to teach religious curriculum. The right to impart Education must be made available to Hindus. This is directly connected with Article 30 of the Constitution. This provision must be amended and the rights enshrined under it must be made available to all sections of society, including the majority Hindu community. Such a move will encourage those temples which will progress on the path of financial health to invest in Education.
To conclude, the movement to liberate temples from Government control must pay attention to the following:
- Focus on the core activities of a temple. The worship, rituals and tradition of the temple must be the pivot around which everything else revolves. This will automatically ensure the “inclusive operation” of the temples.
- Ensure other handicaps of the Hindu society in the areas of Education and religious freedom are removed. This will ensure the appropriate impact of temple liberation and will prevent disappointment if temples fail to achieve wider success due to inaccurate root-cause of issues.