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‘Free the Temples’ movement: A comparison of contesting ideas regarding management of Hindu Temples after freeing them of state control

The ideas converge on the proposition that all castes should be represented in the management of Hindu Temples. However, that is arguably where the convergence ends.

The movement for freeing Hindu Temples from government control has received a major boost in recent weeks after Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev vouched for the same. Not too long after, retired IPS officer M. Nageswara Rao joined the ‘Free the Temples’ movement as well.

However, there are divergent visions regarding how Temples ought to be managed after freeing them from government control. Such visions are often in conflict with each other but there is agreement among the proponents that state management of Hindu Temples is not feasible. Here, we shall discuss three visions that have manifested as a consequence of the anguish over Temple management.

District management of Hindu Temples

There is a category of proposals that can be broadly classified under ‘community management’ of Hindu Temples. The earliest reference to this we are aware of was made by Rangesh Sridhar and Amar Govindarajan in an article on Swarajya Mag in July 2020. But their proposal is unique for the emphasis of Temple administration at the District level.

Sridhar and Govindarajan proposed a three-step mechanism for the management of Hindu Temples after they have been freed from Government control. First, they propose, the exclusive mandate of a Temple ought to be the propagation of the Hindu faith.

Second, the leadership of the Temple administration ought to be elected by Hindus in the district. However, they state that traditional custodians of the Temples would continue to preside over the religious affairs of the Temple.

“The point is not to show off egalitarian views but to ensure that leadership of temples is contested for, opening up space for discussion about how best to use temple resources and producing Hindu leaders who have the interests of the Hindus and temples at heart,” the authors said of the reason for elected leadership.

Third, the second tier leadership of the Temple would involve the major castes in the district. At the core of this proposal is the idea that “every Hindu in a district must be made a stakeholder in the temple.” The rest follows from that premise.

Community management of Hindu Temples

M. Nageswara Rao, who has been advocating for ‘inclusive management’ of Temples, appears to endorse the premise proposed by Sridhar and Govindarajan. Nageswarao Rao said in a statement following a controversy over a ‘private fiefdom of cliques’ comment, “If the entire Hindu demography of all castes is not included in this collective fight, how do we hope to achieve the purpose of freeing the Temples from Govt control to protect Dharma?”

The former interim-director of the CBI continued, “We have to realise that times have changed. There are myriad existential threats to our civilisation. It is the responsibility of all Hindus to protect and propagate Hinduism, which requires all sections of Hindus become equal partners. Exclusion of any class of Hindus would be self-destructive.”

“When India gained political independence, we did not return the country or its parts to the respective erstwhile rulers namely the Marathas, the Rajas and the Nawabs from whom the British seized it. Did we? So if it was unacceptable then, would the same logic not apply against handing over public Temples to trustees/people who managed them before Govt take them over? What is sauce for goose should be sauce for gander too!” Rao added.

Local management of Temples

A contesting vision for the management of Hindu Temples proposes devolving power from the state to village committees. Proponents of this category of thought include Sadhguru and Indic Collective.

TR Ramesh, president of Indic Collective and president of Temple Worshippers Society, said recently, “Till 1951, there were less than 1,000 temples which were under the control of the government.  But since then, over a period, the State government has taken over around 44,000 temples during the past five to six decades. All those temples which have less than Rs. Two lakh income per annum can be handed over to the village level committees with representatives from all castes and communities.”

Sadhguru, too, argues that Temples must be freed from government control due to the rampant corruption and mismanagement that has contributed towards debilitating circumstances in Temples. His proposal is to turn over the Temples to devotees. It is evident that it would involve greater participation of the local communities.

This category of proposals includes divergent visions that could be seen in conflict with each other. However, there appears to be consensus that the government would be relegated to the position of only a regulating authority and would not be involved in the management of the Temples themselves.

Under this idea, Sampradayas can be seen to have the primary authority to manage and administer Temples.

A Board of Saints and Scholars

The Tamil Nadu unit of the BJP promised in its manifesto, “The administration of Hindu temples will be handed over to a separate board comprising Hindu scholars and saints.” But that has not found as much support as they party would have hoped.

TR Ramesh said, “The BJP is trying to appeal to the sentiments of the people. In reality, the BJP does not want to give up temple administration. So, they are trying to put the wine in the new bottle. That’s all.”

“Government having control over the temples is a wrong proposition. It should not continue. But promising that the temples would be handed over to a board of scholars and saints is an act of cheating as such a move is illegal. The Constitution has ensured the religious rights of individuals as well as denominations.  For example, a protestant church and a pentecost church cannot be merged. So also, temples of different Sampradayas cannot be brought under a single board,” he added.

R Jagannathan of Swarajya Mag, while acknowledging that it was a step in the right direction, argued that it is not good enough. He said that the proposal leaves room for governments to pack such boards with scholars and saints of their own choice. He argued for legislation to enable government to move out of the business of administering Temples.

Convergence and Divergence between different proposals

There are really only three broad visions for the management of Hindu Temples that we have highlighted here as a state appointed board of Saints and Scholars does not really fall under the purview of ‘Free the Temples’ movement. Thus, we will point out in short where the three proposals converge and where they diverge.

The ideas converge on the proposition that all castes should be represented in the management of Hindu Temples. However, that is arguably where the convergence ends.

The proposal by Sridhar and Govindarajan envisages management of Temples at the District level while the local management proposal lays emphasis on management by village committees and other localised entities. Furthermore, the former also proposes elected leadership in the management of Temples, an idea that is worthy of note due to its uniqueness itself. Nageswara Rao’s vision leans towards the former but does not advocate elected leadership.

One could argue that both models could work simultaneously. While the Sridhar-Govindarajan vision could be made applicable for large Temples, the other could be used to manage small Temples with less than Rs. Two lakh per annum income.

However, despite the divergence of opinion, there is convergence among all sides that state administration of Temples is causing great harm to the welfare of Hindu Temples.

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Searched termsFree the Temples
K Bhattacharjee
Black Coffee Enthusiast. Post Graduate in Psychology. Bengali.

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