We have heard of Reductio ad Hitlerum in context of the Western World – where an opponent is derided by simply making an ad-hominem attack against him and his position on a real/imagined basis that it can be compared to Nazism (these days even the requirement for said position being similar to that taken by Nazis in past is not required for such accusation – anyone can be called Fascist or Nazi). In the Indian context, we have a parallel – Reductio ad Casteist. If anyone is to be derided, accuse them of being casteist and a supporter of untouchability. No evidence is required. It is expected to put the accused on back foot for no fault of his – he can defend himself against false accusation but will still be seen as a criminal. Periyarists and Leftists have primed this as an art and it seems that the few elite neo-liberals among the so-called right-wing have learned the art from their left-wing friends. Anyone who is not acceding to their views is branded as casteist or more magnanimously, friends of casteists.
The said ‘argument’/’accusation’ is heard now against people who stand for the rights of various Hindu sampradayas/denominations to manage their own temples. What is apparent to the ordinary Hindu masses – that sampradaya is not equal to caste – is supposedly not understood by the deracinated – nevermind the ‘nationalistic’ sloganeering – elites, who have neither any idea about how & why temples are supposed to function nor an inclination to understand about the nuances. As a result, we see these people trying to fit temples to suit their needs whereas for the Hindu devotees, serving the deities is the primary purpose of temples.
The foremost problem faced by devout Hindus is that thousands of temples – abodes of deities – built by their ancestors for worship have fallen into disuse under government control. They are living examples for why temples should not be under control of government babus. The best and immediate solution for this state of affairs is for the temples to be handed back to the people of the respective denominations to which these temples belong – so that the devotees can manage and take care of their temples and deities.
This is where a supposedly fundamental problem is raised by the neo-liberals – how and who shall manage the freed temples? This question has been already answered by various proponents of the free temples movement, primarily Sri TR Ramesh – president of Indic Collective Trust and Temple Worshippers Society. But somehow, these are overlooked and fallacious insinuations or sometimes, even ad-hominem attacks are made against the devout Hindus who stand for the rights of traditional sampradayas to manage their temples on their own. Let us look at the proposed structure for management of temples in detail now – as given by Hindu devotees.
The purpose of temple must be understood by us first and foremost. For Hindu devotees, when prana pratishtha is done, the murti (also called arca) is occupied by mantreshvara (a Lord of the mantra) due to which the murti becomes sanctified and the offerings made to the murti are conveyed to the deity embodying the said murti. In case of Vaishnava agamas, the murti is considered as an avatar of Vishnu and is even called as arca-avatara. The murti is not seen as different from the deity worshipped. It is believed by the devotees that the deity has taken the form of arca – out of His/Her great compassion and as such, the devotees have been given an opportunity to serve the deity even while they live in the mortal world. The deity of the temple is at once seen as the Ruler of the Universe as well as a child/minor since the deity depends on His/Her caretakers for their daily requirements in arca form. Thus, the primary purpose of temple is to offer service to deities and have darshana of the devata who has been served well. Temples were also centres of art, education, philosophy, annadana, medicine etc., in the past. The entire economy of a village/town revolved around the temple center in the Hindu kingdoms. Markets flourished near temples – with the deities as the witnesses to ensure fair trade. None of these facts are disputed by any devotee. It is the wish of devout Hindus that temples once again take such a lead role in all matters of life.
But it should be kept in mind that all these other activities are secondary and tertiary to the existence of the temple. One should not, in the name of social justice or modernity, destroy the very basis of temple by relegating worship and rituals to the last level with primary purpose being other money matters. Government control of temple has resulted in exactly that sin; and we should not replace one sinner with another wherein a new board of temple management is formed consisting of people who think that worship and rituals do not matter much – that what matters is how temple can be used for Hindu political causes. We shall delve deeper into this issue later. Suffice to say that temples shall serve the society as their secondary objective – it is the duty of government to ensure that predatory forces are not allowed to destroy the native culture of the land. No one should say that the government shall allow the predatory forces a free hand to destroy us in an unequal fight where resources are favorable to our adversaries – and that it is the primary duty of temples to fight these forces. If temples give up their primary purpose of worship, then devotees shall stop visiting temples for their spiritual succor. Thus, temples will cease to exist as functioning places of worship – which means they may as well lose their ability to even fight the predators, which they otherwise had through their very presence as well as their secondary objectives and activities. Hindus will do well to question the government on these issues rather than giving the government a free pass and passing the blame on temples. Let us have a look at the only feasible way in which the temples can be truly granted freedom, for it is our view that any compromise with this scheme would defeat the whole purpose of the Free Temples movement.
Temples can be split along the following lines – those which belong to a sampradaya or a community and those which belong to the local Hindus in general. The latter mostly consist of temples constructed in the modern era, which are simply places of worship for local community or the old grama devata temples which belong to all the Hindus of said village/locality. Further, there are two more types – temples with hereditary trustees and temples without hereditary trustees. We get the following grid regarding the types of temples and any temple will occupy one of the four positions in below grid
Of these, in case of temples without hereditary trustees, the village/locality temples are to be managed by an elected body of representatives from local Hindus and where it belongs to a particular sampradaya – representatives from that sampradaya (this shall include people from across caste spectrum but belonging to the sampradaya). Where the deity is the kuladevata of a particular community and peculiar to said community, the said community shall be solely authorized to manage such temples through their representatives (e.g. Draupadi Amman temples of Vanniyars, Vasavi Devi temples of Telugu Arya Vaishyas). The larger temples without hereditary trustees (like Parthasarathy temple in Chennai) shall be managed by a management committee which shall comprise of elected representatives of the sampradaya followers in the vicinity of the temple with a few acharyas/revered people of said sampradaya also being given a place in the committee – where these acharyas can be selected by a parishad formed for said sampradaya which shall comprise of all acharyas of the sect or where this is not possible, the local sampradaya followers may elect such acharya representatives. Where hereditary trustees are available, the management shall vest with them. There is no need to eject the hereditary trustees from management. Most of the smaller temples outside government control survive only because the hereditary trustees of these temples manage them devotedly and make provisions for worship of the deities. Hence, such system of management should not be affected.
|Trustee / Denomination||Sampradaya||Non Sampradaya|
Management of temples is different from management of properties of temples. Where some of the major temples have extensive properties, which are beyond the need of the temple & local community (for festivals, staff quarters, any schools, colleges, mandapams, hospitals etc.), the extra properties from various temples can be pooled to form a Hindu temple estate department in every district – where the duty of such department shall be to realize proper income from these real estate properties. Said income, net off expenses, shall be transferred to the respective temples. A portion of excess income over expenditure shall be set aside for poorer temples belonging to same sampradaya first and other local temples after that. Another portion of excess income can be pooled together with the estate department to set up district level facilities and institutions for Hindus (like medical colleges, classical music and dance colleges, folk art schools, shilpa schools etc.).
To ensure that there is transparency in management of funds, all temples with income of more than INR 25 Lakhs as well as every estate department & institutions run by them shall be subject to propriety audit. All institutions shall be subject to audit wherever applicable under the Income Tax rules and the annual accounts shall be made public. There is no transparency in the current form of management by government departments. We can make the temple committees open to review by public through publishing of financial accounts and audit reports.
Finally, the reason for insistence on sampradaya administration of temples needs to be understood by everyone. Hinduism has multiple sampradayas and each is distinct from another. Every sampradaya temple is meant to be a place of worship for that particular sampradaya where others can join as common worshippers but the temple shall belong to the sampradaya. These temples are the primary venues through which the rituals and the practices of the sampradaya are passed on from generation to generation. As such, the assets of the temples shall be used primarily for the purpose of said sampradaya wherever possible. When temples are taken over by local Hindus at large, there is always a fear of dominant sampradayas/communities running roughshod over the other sampradayas/communities which may even involve transfer of funds from one institution to another as well as attacks on any rituals which maybe abhorred by other sampradaya (like animal sacrifice). Where there are no dominant sampradayas, every managing committee shall become a hung assembly like institution which shall only lead to chaos and not proper management. On the other hand, where the temple is managed by people of the same sampradaya, none of these problems occur. Moreover, any transfer of funds to other sampradaya institutions will also not be seen as a case of high-handed behavior but as a case of community helping one another. In case of temples under private sampradaya management, such support to other sampradayas have always been seen in the past as well as present. There is no need to create unnecessary friction or fear that sampradaya managed temples will lead to Hindu disunity. We certainly do not want a situation where a BAPS Swaminarayan temple has a vamamargi shakta as trustee or a Shakta temple with pashubali being foisted with a Gaudiya vaishnava trustee or even worse, a non-believing neo-liberal being made a trustee of any sampradaya temple. It is absolutely clear that the proponents of sampradaya-free management have no idea about what they are asking for. It is better to ignore and abandon any such nonsensical and whimsical ideas that do not provide solutions but only create the illusion of coherence by taking a faux moral high ground.
Hindus will do well to ask for government to exit from temple management so that they can manage their temples according to their sampradayas – which can only be far better than the current state of affairs where thousands of temples are under disrepair without any puja and government apathy is the only result we have received at each & every step.
Piling one’s political aspirations/agenda upon temples is not the method to free Hindu temples. Let political power be used to set the ground rules fair for the native culture of this nation. To allow the government to run minority specific schemes which further strengthen the hands of the aggressors and then to blame temples for ills of Hindu society is both horrendous & a logical fallacy. We do not need another RTE like law for temples. Through RTE, the government accepted its failure in educating children and pushed the burden on Hindu schools. Now, it seems some neo-liberals want the government to push the burden of social justice on Hindu temples. At the end of the day, only Hindus and their institutions are made to become scapegoats at the altar of ‘national development’. This has to stop.