Temple Management and Government: The Reality

Temples have always had their important place in the history of Bharat. They served not only as places of worship but also as economic centers. The income from the temples were used to not only feed the poor but also run free schools and universities which were open to all irrespective of the varnas (as stated by Shri Dharampal in his book “The Beautiful Tree” only vedic schools were restricted to the Brahmins while the schools teaching science, mathematics and other fields were open to all).

When the Government of Bharat took over the management of such ancient temples which served as economic centers, it not only affected the services rendered to the public by the temple but also led to many corruptions in management.

Let us compare certain temples which are now currently run by the government with the Udupi Krishna Mutt which is still under traditional management of the “ashta mathas” of Madhva tradition. Many temples in the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh etc. had the practice of feeding the devotees irrespective of their caste, language etc. While this practice is still largely present in the Krishna mutt of Udupi, many temples run by the government have either completely stopped the practice or reduced the number of devotees being served with food from thousands to mere hundreds.

This practice was largely affected because of the acquiring of temple lands by the government when they took over the management of the temples. Under the Kerala Land Reforms Act, over 12,000 acres of Guruvayur temple’s land has been reduced to a few hundred acres. And in Sabarimala, 2,500 acres of temple land has been sold by the Travancore Devaswom board which is the trust of the government of Kerala currently maintaining the temples.

This improper selling of lands has also effected conversions in various places as the Christian missionaries, unlike the temples and other Hindu organizations, fed the poor only to turn them towards Christianity. Also, only the temple management is taken over by the government while the churches and mosques in Bharat are free to run as private organizations.  Situations in certain states are even more appalling as reported in a section of the Press; for the years 1997-98 to 2002-2003 for which figures are available, a major portion of temple income in Karnataka was allocated to madrasas, mosques and churches whereas temples got only a little amount.

At certain places the government has directly sold the lands of temples to Christian organizations at throw away prices; these corrupt practices have resulted in huge losses to the temples. One such example is the selling of about 1600 acres of land belonging to the Srisailam temple to Chrisitian missionaries to build universities, schools etc to propagate Chrisitianity in the name of social service.

With the sale of lands, the Goshalas and the number of cows in temples also reduced by a greater proportion.  Cows are considered as sacred by Hindus. The ancient Hindu temples had goshalas filled with cows of various Bharatiya breeds (native to that region). Destruction of these goshalas has also contributed to a great fall in the number of unadulterated native breeds of cattle – so much so that several breeds may become extinct in near future.

The education system of Bharat before the arrival of British is considered as one of the most organized in the world at that point of time. Many universities and schools which provided free education to all were run by temples. One such example can be seen from the inscriptions of the Thanjavur Brihadeeshwara temple where it is clearly stated that Raja Raja Chola made 3000 brahmins who were living with teaching as their occupation to stay around the temple for the education of children from various castes in different fields including veterinary science.  While the British colonials disbanded such schools for establishing the current education system which has cut us off from our roots and also failed to lift our standard of living, the Government of Bharat instead of establishing the ancient good practices, further worsened it by taking over the temple management and giving rise to corruption and chaos by complete mismanagement.

The temples under government now are seen as a way of generating revenue for the government instead of serving people. This can be understood from the statement made by the current Chief Minister of Kerala Dr. Pinarayi Vijayan that the Sabarimala temple must be opened throughout the year in order to overcome the financial difficulties of Kerala government because of empty coffers. Hence it is high time we fight for the removal of government from temple management. It must be ensured that temples become the backbone of our society instead of being just seen as a place of worship.

(This article first appeared at https://paanchajanya1284.wordpress.com/2016/09/05/temple-management-and-the-government-a-reality/ and is being reproduced with the permission of the author)

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