The Tamil Nadu govt’s Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowment (HR&CE) department has finally managed to evict a family that was residing inside the raja gopuram of Thopparankatti Vinayagar temple in Thanjavur by converting it into a house for several decades.
According to the reports, the temple administration had rented out approximately 430 square feet of the mandapam in the raja gopuram to a temple employee named Sabapathi Pillai through a tenancy agreement about 60 years ago. Pillai’s son 75-year-old Jayarama and his 70-year-old wife Shyamala were the last tenants residing in the ‘house’.
Sixty years later, there is no trace of the temple at the place now. Currently, only Shyamala lived in the house constructed inside the raja gopuram of the Thopparankatti Vinayagar temple.
The family living inside the temple were legally not encroachers till January 2019 as they were handed the eviction order by the HR&CE officials after local people notified about the occupation in early 2019. There was growing opposition from the locals who had requested the department to evict the family. However, Shyamala was initially adamant to not vacate from the place.
“They remained tenants until the order of termination of tenancy was issued by HR&CE after which they were considered as encroachers,” said HR&CE department advocate V Chandrasekar.
The Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department (HR&CE) is one of the departments of the Government of Tamil Nadu that is responsible for managing and regulating the temple administration within the state.
Chandrasekar added that the temple trustees nearly 60 years ago may have decided to give it to the family without consulting the executive officers of the temple. Now the issue was taken up seriously and the solution was found by evicting them, he added.
Meanwhile, the officials have asked the family to vacate the place, but they stayed put.
“So we passed an order to terminate the tenancy on January 31, 2019. Yet, they remained there claiming that they had the rights to continue to reside there,” an officer said.
Family evicted from the temple, idols to be installed
A team of officials led by assistant commissioner of S Krishnan, HR&CE Department, Thanjavur Division, acting upon the notice carried out the anti-encroachment drive. One official said that the door frame (Nilai) put up at the entrance of the raja gopuram as the main door of the house was removed by the tenant Shyamala herself as she was evicted.
“It is also planned to install an idol in the rajagopuram after the inauguration,” another officials said adding that they may also consider renovation of the temple.
The anti-encroachment drive of Hindu temples by the HR&CE department in Tamil Nadu comes just after a week the Madras High Court had observed that the temples are testimony of pride and knowledge and cannot be used for any purposes other than religious functions.
Temple land for any purpose other than for holding religious functions
Last week, in a significant observation, the Madras High Court had said that the state government cannot use temple land for any purpose other than for holding religious functions.
The Madras High Court, responding to grievances raised by devotees regarding the alienation of temple land of two temples in Tamil Nadu, emphasised that temple land can be utilised only for the beneficial purposes of the temple. In the order, the Madras HC had also directed that the properties of religious institutions, particularly temples, have to be maintained properly.
The High Court also observed that temples in Tamil Nadu are not only a source of identification of the ancient culture but also a testimony of pride and knowledge of the talent in the fields of arts, science and sculpture. The court also directed the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department to identify and protect all temple lands from encroachers with an officer in charge filing periodical reports.