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On Temples, some little known facts & a story of “secular” loot

7 January 2013 2,137 views 12 Comments

*** CAUTION: Long Post ***

In 2009, even as the governing body of Tirumala Tirupati was facing questions over 300 missing gold coins, a priest was arrested after confessing to stealing a deity’s two gold necklaces weighing more than a kiloGoverning body officials “said the priest was only a small fry and that there was a larger scam happening at the Lord Balaji temple – which is in possession of jewellery worth more than Rs 45,000 crore”. No inventory of the temple assets, controlled by the government, has been done since 2005. An inquiry in July 2008 by the Vigilance Department of TTD resulted in the suspension of several officials but the findings were never made public.

In 2010, the state government of Orissa apparently sold several hundreds of acres of land belonging to Jagannath Puri temple to Vedanta Foundation at throw-away prices. The matter is now under investigation[i].

In 2003, the Telugu Desam government in Andhra Pradesh “offered ayurvedic giant Dabur as much as 120 acre of land for a monthly lease of Rs 5,833” (!). The land belonged to Kodanda Rame Swamy temple in Chittoor[ii].

In Tamil Nadu, an audit in 2007 of the ancient Parthasarathi Temple in Chennai, managed by the government, revealed that records of seventeen temple grounds (~41000 sq. ft.) in T.Nagar were missing; In addition 11 other grounds had incomplete records and lacked clear titles. The audit also found properties that were let out to non-existing tenants & those that were sold apparently on an ad-hoc basis[iii].

In 2006, A probe conducted by the Justice Tipnis committee on disbursal of surplus funds by Siddhivinayak Temple noted in its report, “the most shocking aspect..is that there is no method or principle followed for particular institutions. The only criteria for selection was recommendation or reference by trustees or the minister or a political heavy-weight, generally belonging to ruling party

In 2006, Acharya Kishore Kunal, the Religious Trust Administrator in Bihar mentioned that “government control over the temples through its endowment department, has resulted in loss of temple properties worth Rs. 2000 crore”. He was further quoted as saying “the alienation of property has taken place in three ways — sale, lease and forcible occupation by persons with criminal antecedents…several temples, mutts and trusts…over the years have slipped into the hands of criminals masquerading as priests and swamis.[iv]

Down south in Kerala, anecdotal evidence suggests that the extent of donations from the Bhaktas at Sabarimala expropriated by the government is such that without them, the government treasury will not be able to break even[v].

This is the story of some of India’s richest temples. This is about the little known fact that they are all controlled by the government. This is a story of “secular” loot. These sacred places of worship and living symbols of our heritage, culture & civilisation that managed to survive centuries of invasions and plunder are today prey to a rapacious government’s systematic loot.

By virtue of control over the Trust Board, the government also controls the surplus funds generated by these temples. Bear in mind that these are some of the richest temples anywhere in the world, not just in India.  What happens to these surplus funds?  The reality is no one quite knows.

All we know is that they are rarely – if ever – diverted back to improving the temple, the facilities, the salaries of priests or for Hindu religious pursuits.  For the most part, they are transferred arbitrarily by the government for “secular”, non-Hindu purposes. The most damaging side-effect of this is lack of resources for maintenance and upkeep of temples, leading to irreparable damage to many medieval and ancient structures

In what may be the most appalling instance of such wilful neglect, disbursements to temples in Karnataka for renovation and maintenance between the period ’97-’98 to ’02-’03, fell (more than halved) from Rs 16.5 crores to Rs 7.1 crores even as revenues collected from these temples rose from Rs 58.63 crores to Rs 79 crores! Interestingly, over the same period, disbursement to Madarsas, Mosques and Haj committee rose more than 4 times from Rs 14.25 crores to Rs 58 crores and disbursement to Christian institutions and churches more than doubled from Rs 5 crores to Rs 12.75 crores.

One of the worst examples of blatant interference in temple affairs was the discovery in Jun ‘12 of a centuries-old temple in a little-known village in Tamil Nadu, managed by government appointed trustees. The temple was badly mutilated in a series of ill-advised construction works. This included the replacement of eastern doors of the temple with new ones that had carved faces of – among others – EVR (who apparently once garlanded ShriRam with a garland of shoes), Mother Teresa, Annadurai and Abdul Kalam. This was not all, the walls were “re-done” with engraving the names of trustees on them.

To the best of my knowledge, such intervention in temple affairs, their management and finances rarely extends to mosques or churches. And where such interference is feared, protest is swift.  Is it a surprise then that the Wakf board is the third-largest landholder after the railways and defence in India?[vi]  Or that the Catholic Church in India owns the largest chunk of non-agricultural land, and is known to be the second largest employer after the Government of India with an annual budget equal to that of the Indian Navy[vii]?

Such brazen interference is also the reason a political leader in Kerala actually had the gall to protest against the government’s decision to only appoint “Hindu MLAs who believe in God” on Devasom Boards on the grounds that such a move is “against the fabric of the Constitution

But here is the most cruel twist to this sordid state of affairs. While the government shamelessly continues this “loot” of Hindu temples & sacred spaces, political parties, with an eye on votes, compete with each other to provide sops to Imams & Mosques. Thus we had RJD & Trinamool Congress in 2010 demanding the implementation of a Supreme Court order to provide salaries to Imams of government-aided mosques”[viii].

Yes, you read that right.

In this wonderful “secular” country of ours, where the government arrogantly takes over the “right” to manage some of the richest Hindu temples, we actually have “government-aided mosques”, complete with Imams whose salaries are supposed to be paid by the Government. In 2012, the government of Paschim Banga went one step further. It announced that Imams will be “give a monthly honorarium of Rs. 2,500” and “homeless, landless Imams” will be given land to build homes, with the government footing the bill for “construction expenditure” too.

Sadly, most Hindus remain blissfully unaware of all this and of course, no “liberal” will raise their voice on this matter. Should a concerned Hindu mention this in polite conversations, you can safely assume he or she will instantly be branded as “communal”.

Where does this end? And what is the solution?

As always, the first step is to raise awareness about this matter. A vast majority of Hindus – even though otherwise very well-read and well-informed are simply unaware of the monstrosity of government’s control over temples. Many others do not realise the extent of the damage this is causing.

So the first step is to make others aware. The next step is to bring this to the attention of the leaders of Hindu organisation in your area and ask them to challenge this blatantly unconstitutional law in courts. Fortunately things are changing. In Nov ’12, the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha (the apex body of Hindu religious leaders) decided to take up this matter. Other activists are gathering information and evidence to challenge these laws in courts. But we have a long way to go – and we cannot afford to be complacent. Why? Because we have not seen the end of this yet.

From a report dated 15th May ’12: “The Tamil Nadu government today proposed amendments to a 1959 act governing temples seeking to bring ‘samadhis’ and ‘brindavans’ under its ambit for effective control”. The reason? “…(these) samadhis and brindavan..are being worshipped as a place of public religious institution..and..own vast property..(these) are not being controlled effectively”. Sigh.

Additional Notes:

The History of this Loot (excerpted from Sh T R Ramesh’s research):

The roots of the problem go deep and far back in time to pre-Independence India. The law that enables government control of temples in Tamil Nadu actually has its origins in a long-forgotten act called the “Madras Hindu Religious Endowments Act, 1926” (Act II of 1927[ix]). This act enabled the government to “issue a notification” and take-over the temple and endowment properties &  their management

The Madras Hindu Religious And Charitable Endowments Act, 1951 institutionalized government control and management of Temples under a commissioner and other government servants.

When the Supreme Court held sections 21, 30(2), 31,55,56 and 63 to 69 of the 1951 Act ultra vires the Constitution, the government did not pursue the appeal. Instead, it brought a new law. The Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious And Charitable Endowments Act, 1959 reintroduced clauses struck down by SC as unconstitutional in 1954 .

As Shashi Shekhar notes in “Laissez Faire for our Temples” (18th Aug ’10) the history of government interference in Tirupati Balaji dates back to the 19th century. Things became worse after 1947. “Post-Independence, government control over sacred Hindu temples further tightened and got consolidated in a series of acts, notably the “Madras Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act(1951)” which superseded the 1932 Act and subsequently the Andhra Pradesh Charitable and Hindu Religious Institution and Endowments Act (1969) which in turn superseded the 1951 act”

There is no control or oversight of what happens to surplus funds. Such amounts are often transferred arbitrarily by the government for “secular”, non-Hindu purposes. It should be noted that the HR & CE department makes a surplus every year.

The lack of attention to the maintenance and upkeep of temples is leading to irreparable damage of many medieval and ancient temples, particularly in South India. The government shows scant regard in preserving and protecting the architecture, murals, paintings and inscriptions in these temples. Renovations are often done by contractors who lack expertise in such work and often valuable pillars are removed, structures destroyed and modern structures are imposed on these sites

The Legal Basis of this Loot:

The “legal” basis of this loot may lie in an oddity in Indian law – an oddity which consider a deity as a legal entity. As a legal entity, “a Hindu deity can own and enjoy properties…The temples manage their wealth through their representatives. So, to divert the deities’ riches, one needs only to become their legal caretakers

This role of a “Caretaker” is what enables the government to blithely take over the managing of temples and have total control over their wealth.

Additional References:

  1. Nitin Pai’s post on the treasure at PadmanabhSwamy temples in Thiruvananthapuram, from which this brief excerpt[xix]: “ there is no case to monetise the wealth and treat it as a budgetary resource. The philosophical reason is that it is an inter-generational asset. We can’t break down the Taj Mahal and use the marble to construct low-cost housing for the poor.”
  2. HR & CE: Rogue Department of the Government of Tamil Nadu” by T R Ramesh
  3. Nationalization of Hindu Temples” by Sandhya Jain (courtesy Daily Pioneer 7th October,2003)
  4. A Potential Solution:  “Dharmic Councils” by Sh Krishnan Bhatnagar, included here[xxii].
  5. A Looming Disaster[xxi] by Subhash Kak, Sept ’03 from which this excerpt: “Even assuming that the corruption charges were true, it did not require government take-over to fix things. A legal framework guaranteeing autonomy with checks and balances to ensure good management could have easily been devised. Such a system would have had the capacity to been proactive with reforms. One could have even hoped for a declaration that all jatis are equal, and aptitude and training, not birth, is the sole criterion for priesthood. ,,,It would have been easier for the government to achieve such a result by not becoming a part of the system. As things stand, the government temple departments have been timid in the matter of social reform, often perpetuating vested interests. Neither have they done an effective job at producing texts, doing heritage research, or training priests. Critics charge that the level of corruption is now much greater than it was during self-management…Last time I checked, India’s Constitution had an explicit declaration about its ‘secular’ character, but who cares.”

Related Posts: Pseudo-Secularism at its best  and On Ancient Temples, Mosques, Highways and Airports and “On Temple Wealth and Treasures

A shorter version of this post appeared at Times of India blogs. End-notes and source references below.


[ii] “Caretaker Gifts Kuppam Land – Deccan Chronicle, Nov 30, 2003)” quoted here http://www.esamskriti.com/essay-chapters/Why-must-temple-collections-be-controlled-by-the-Indian-Government-1.aspx

[iii] T R Ramesh’s research

[iv] From Accusations of Irregularities in Bihar’s Temple Properties, epaper.hindustantimes.com, Patna, August 7, 2006 quoted here: http://www.bharatjagran.com/bharat-jagran-data/2006/050906.htm

[v] “Hostages of fortune: Hindu deities and their wealth” by George Augustine, http://www.vigilonline.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1566&Itemid=1

[vi] Saba Naqvi in Outlook, “Allah’s Left The Building”, http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?261789

[vii] IBN report on “Debate rages on over Catholic Church properties” by D P Satish, http://ibnlive.in.com/news/debate-rages-on-over-catholic-church-properties/98453-3.html

[viii] Here is the 1993 Supreme Court judgement on this matter: http://indiankanoon.org/doc/1929233/

[ix] From Sh T R Ramesh’s ppt.

12 Comments »

  • 1. PT said:

    Shame! They are not looting the temples, they are digging our graves. Shame on the CONgress govt.

  • 2. Prashanth K.P. (@prashanthkpp) said:

    Unbelievable. Astounding. Disgustingly abominable. I am suddenly hit by a sudden disturbance of the mind, emotion and sensibility after reading your Blog! It is a shock to a Hindu’s sense of security….who dwell mostly unaware of his existence, happy to live in a world of pretense, stubbornly refusing to want to know the steady erosion of his religious existence, his cultural existence and his social existence.

    And this does not spare or exclude me too. I am awed at the details you have provided here, though I was boasting to be aware of, but barely as much as indicated in your blog.

    Reading this blog has been an education by itself.

  • 3. Rakesh Bhatt said:

    I now know this bitter truth.I realize that only feeling sad for a day or two won’t serve the purpose.I prepare myself and people I know for a transformation which will take time but will yeild desirable result.
    Shivoham!

  • 5. Shashi said:

    Shantanu,
    This is a long known issue. The problem is, like any other government corruption issue, what can ordinary citizen do?

    One possible solution that I think may work, but needs immense awareness and unity among the devotees, is for the priests to announce this unethical issue and stop prayers, darshan-s etc for a week. Just close the doors, or sit in silence, chant no mantra-s offer no prayers for anyone. That is sure to bring the issue to attention of the devotees. It being a religious issue, has to be dealt by the devotees.

    Imagine you go to Tirupati, and there is no darshan.

    The question for an do-er like you is, how can this be achieved without anyone getting arrested on false charges, since this is direct attack on government source of unaccounted funding. And no one lets go of a morsel from their mouth!

    It is one of the most unethical thing happening against Hindu-s in the name of secularism, and used to fund other religions, as if they lack foreign funding in the first place.

    When you put a few bacteria of curd in the milk, slowly, slowly, (even if you watch it without blinking, you won’t notice it), it turns the entire milk into curd. That is what will happen to India and Hinduism, while we tout supremacy in service industry of IT. We will be left dumbly with smart phones and 4G to do what?

    The problem, most educated Hindus truly believe in Gandhi’s statement – “When religious symbols are a cause of division in society, they are worth giving up.” Like the famous ‘Vasudhaiva kutumbakam’ fallacy, such wonderful statements are only believed by and ‘enforced upon’ only the Hindu-s.

    The bigger issue is, even though many may be upset about it, not every one knows what to do concretely about it. Most people are simple average Ram and Shyam surviving and supporting their families.

  • 6. Sarvesh said:

    Shantanu ji, thanks for the effort, the case very meticulously presented, hope it reaches every Hindu, especially those that say temples are mismanaged and the priests are frauds.

    Please also observe that the temple grabbing by seculars is quite old. It is in the DNA of congress from as old as the times of Chittaranjan Das and Subhas Bose.

    See Subhas Chandra Bose – Another Look Part 1: “The Seeds of Islamophile Secularism”

    “There is another less known episode that begs recalling from these same years when Subhas Bose was the CEO of Calcutta Corporation and Deshbandhu Das the Mayor, and Bengal Congress comfortably in their control.

    There is a shrine of Tarakeshwar Mahadev at Serampur, not far from Calcutta, which is one of the most popular temples in Bengal. The shrine had enjoyed patronage and endowments from the local Hindu Jamindars and Rajas for at least the last three or four hundred years, and was headed by the traditional Giris, one of the ten dashanamis.

    Sometime around these days allegations were made of financial impropriety against Satis Chandra Giri, the reigning Mahant of the shrine. Deshbandhu C R Das got involved and launched a movement of agitation what Congressmen called as Tarakeshwar Satyagraha. Under his leadership, hundreds of Congress volunteers from Calcutta dawned upon the shrine and started doing blockade, dharna and arrests. In face of such ugly protests that went on for many weeks, Satis Giri retired, giving charge to another person named Prabhat Giri.

    Deshbandhu also got the shrine to agree to come under a management board which would abide to Congress decisions, would disclose to them its financials, and agree to spend parts of its endowment and donations to secular causes of “various nation-building activities.”

    Subhas Bose, who was a participant of these activities, wrote: “As in the case of other holy shrines, there was considerable property attached to the temple… there were allegations against the Mohunt of Tarakeswar with regard to his personal character and to his administration of the endowed property.… pressure was brought to bear on the Bengal Congress Committee…. Deshbandhu launched a movement for taking peaceful possession of the temple and the attached property, with a view to placing them under the administration of a public committee.…”

    The temple remained in physical control of these Congress-satyagrahis until a third party of Hindus in Bengal, particularly the managers of the other temples under a body they formed called Bangal Brahman Sabha, filed a litigation against them in the Calcutta court. After a year of the heated legal battle, the Court finally decided in Sabha’s favour, asking congress workers to vacate the temple possession and hand it over to the Sabha and the new Mahant.

    But even now the Satyagrahis were in the attitude to defy the court order and continue their “satyagraha”. Gandhi had since beginning not liked this program and had even brought it up in a meeting with C R Das in Darjeeling that year. Finally he had to intervene and publish a signed appeal in Amrit Bazar Patrika on July 9, 1925 to call off the agitation and hand over the temple control. The then Bengal Governer wrote about this Tarakeshwar Satyagraha as ‘Hoax of a Movement’. Bengal Congress gave it up but not without passing a resolution condemning the court order and the Bengal Brahman Sabha.

    Some years later, Congress minister Taraknath Mukherjee of Fazlul Haque government got a legislation passed in Bengal Assembly called the ‘Tarakeswar Temple Bill of 1941’, which explicitly set aside the earlier court verdict, and placed the temple management and its property under a public committee with government oversight, along with the provision to spend the excess temple funds for miscellaneous “social purposes”.

    The whole episode tells us something about the eagerness of those who call themselves secular to meddle in the temple management and its funds, then just like now.”

  • 7. Amit said:

    Sarvesh ji, have you given up on blogging? You haven’t written a new post in ages.

  • 8. Amit said:

    Its very unfortunate that money offered to Temple God is distributed to Mosque and church and Madarasa that preach loud and clear that “Hindus worship Satan ” ,”infidel will got to infinite hell ” its part of every discourse in the sunday prayers at churches , and basic teaching of Quran ,

    Its an insult of Hinduism and devotees ,that our temple money is given to those who call our Gods “satanic ”

    Biggest blunder is that karnataka report ,seems like money for “disbursment for minority community development ” is only taken from temple money , while article 30 b prohibits Govt takeover of minority institutes , Hindu Temple , God and Devotees are insulted in this way , its our Money , Hindus Money ,
    if we can’t change this system better we stop donating at these temples , i prefer to give money in hand of priest everytime , at least that fellow is serving God day and night ,better chance of getting any “Punya” , i will prefer that my money goes to him , than to going in that donation box and reaching Mosque Madarassa and politicians ,
    even better give it to the poor begging in front of temples ,

  • 9. v.c.krishnan said:

    Dear Sir,
    If the writers on your blog are so het up on this matter in Karnataka; Let the blog/use Facebook/use Linkedin/SMS and every means of communicating to see that this becomes a part of the manifesto for the ensuing MLA election in Karnataka.
    Regards,
    vck

  • 10. B Shantanu said:

    Placing this here for the record: Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple Treasure: The Inside Story” by Choodie Shivaram, 15th May ’13

  • 11. S. Krishnan said:

    I have been reading long and deep into various aspects of History. Throughout history, it has always been the scum of the gutters (‘neech se neech’) who have triumphed. Always, decency, honesty, refinement has been overcome and destroyed.

    See what Columbus did to the very cultured and civilized natives who brought him Mayan Gold;

    See what happened at ANGKOR WAT; and all the other HINDU temples in CAMBODIA; such grandeur as we find difficult to imagine even today : all destroyed by uncivilized peoples;

    remember the BAMYAN Buddhas blown to bits by the Al Quaida.

    See MAKKA : it is said to have been a SIVA temple earlier. – but no HINDU or non-muslim can go there and so this cannot be verified;

    See the QUTB MINAR;we can – even today – see that this was a Hindu temple.

    See the fabulously ornamented sculptures at the temples at BELUR and HALEBIDU; Allauddin Khilji heard of these fabulously beautiful and wealthy temples from far away DELHI. And he sent MALIK KAFUR – his eunuch- cum- slave who had been made the commander in chief of the army to sack the HOYSALA kingdoms. The Delhi Sultanate became immensely rich.

    Right down to the Ayodhya Ram temple which they destroyed and built the Babri Masjid.

    Every event in history right through the European traders coming to India and taking over the country till date with Nehru and his progeny using this shameless Congress Party to rule this country (and to loot it);

    And Hindus still seriously believe in Bhagvan Krishna’s promise “yada yada his dharmasya … paritranaya sadhoonaam …sambhavami yuge yuge”

    Bhagavan Mahavishnu’s one ‘nimisha’ (one blink of HIS eye lids) is one entire chatur yuga for us mortals. And we poor misled Hindus have been waiting for the next ‘nimisha’ and the next ‘yuga’ for ‘paritraanam’.

    Why can’t some learned and capable Hindu master the knowledge in the scriptures to develop military and physical power to destroy these evil beings even as Rama did or as Arjuna and other Pandavas did ? It is because there are no true Brahmanas or true Kshatriyas in this country. – only Vaisyas who sell their mother for money; and sudras who scavenge on her body.

    I am absolutely disillusioned. and very very sad.

    Krishnan

  • 12. B Shantanu said:

    Heartening: Nataraja temple to be managed by priest, not by Tamil Nadu govt, PTI | Jan 6, 2014..
    ..NEW DELHI: The famous Nataraja temple in the town of Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu will be managed by priests and not by the state government, the Supreme Court on Monday ordered.

    A bench of justices B S Chauhan and S Bobde set aside the order of the Madras high court which had in 2009 transferred the administration of the 1000-year-old Lord Shiva temple to the government.

    The apex court passed the order on appeals filed by the temple’s priests and BJP leader Subramanian Swamy.

    Swamy contended that an attempt was made after Independence to bring the temple administration under State control in August 1951 but the Supreme Court had held that the Podu Dikshitars had a right to administer the temple as a religious denomination.
    ..
    He contended that if there were allegations of misappropriation of temple’s property then it should be dealt with under the provisions of Indian Penal Code and not by taking over the temple administration.

    The state government in 1987 had appointed an official to manage the endowments and considerable assets and property owned by the temple.

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