Lecture on “Temples: Self Governed and Self Sufficient” by TR Ramesh under Tamil Heritage Trust, September 7, 2013
About the speaker:
Shri Ramesh had a typical career till 2009, when he offered his services -albeit as a lay devotee- to the administrators of the ancient Chidambaram Temple – when their temple was unjustly taken over by the State Government. Since then he has made considerable research in law relating to Hindu Religious Institutions and Endowments. From the year 2011 he has been fully engaged in retrieving our temples from Government control. He has contributed a few articles on Religious Endowments Law, and also, authored a book in Tamil on the Hindu Religious Endowments Department.
In 2011, he and a group of people from Chennai started a Registered Society – Temple Worshippers Society. (Website)
Focus of the talk on 7th September was to provide the listeners an insight into the issue. Shri Ramesh started off with the historic legal background to the issue then moved on to provide with a snapshot on the impact of the Government interference. From there he gave an overview of what kind of initiatives would be possible if we were to succeed even partially in the areas of social and cultural welfare of the stakeholders of the temples.
The talk was illuminating and filled with facts. Some of the interesting titbits:
First time a ‘government’ got involved in temple affairs was the case of East India Company getting involved with Tamil Nadu temples. Given the status of collection of rent from temple lands they got into the act and collected revenue from the tenants of temple lands, on behalf of the temples and passed them on to the temples. With a condition that 50% of the revenues should be spent on reconstruction. In those days when Hundi collections were almost non existent, this step proved to be a boon to the temples. Money flowed in and many temples damaged during Islamic conquests got rebuilt.
Subsequent years saw gradual encroachment of the rights of the temples and increasing appropriation of even religious roles. Originally the Hindu Religious and Cultural Endowments Board was set up primarily to ensure collection of revenues due to temples. However now they play an active role even in managing the internal affairs of the temples.
Shri Ramesh provided the full background to the Chidambaram Temple issue, which was quite an eye-opener. It was so easy to be ill-informed!
The level of violation of existing laws of the land in management of the temples was staggering or rather dismaying.
In his answer to a question one could understand that contrary to popular belief the situation in Tamil Nadu at least is not entirely related to the ascension to power by the DMK in 1967. This probably is a result of the general and gradual deculturation, deracination and the ‘dumbing down’ that we witness in historic and cultural issues today.
Tamil Heritage Group uploads the video of the full speech of their monthly talk series here (normally in a short while after the talk). Readers who can follow Tamil can view the talk in the website once uploaded.
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