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Chidambaram temple row: Plea filed in Madras HC challenging govt order allowing devotees to climb Kanakasabhai Mandapam

While the Chidambaram temple management had banned climbing the Kanakasabhai Mandapam for a glimpse of the deity, Tamil Nadu govt issued a order overturning that ban and allowing people to climb the same

In the latest development in the controversy over the Tamil Nadu government interfering in the religious activities of the Chidambaram Natarajar temple, a petition opposing a government order issued in May 2022 allowing pilgrims to ascend the Kanakasabhai Mandapam for a glimpse of the deity at Sri Sabhayagar Temple in Chidambaram has been filed with the Madras High Court.

During the Aani Thirumanjanam festival, just for four days from June 24 to 27, priests who oversee the Thillai Nataraja temple had prohibited pilgrims from ascending the golden platform due to security concerns. The temple administration takes the step to ensure large crowds are managed smoothly, as a lot of devotees visit the temple during the annual festival. However, the state government has tried to overturn this decision of the temple using the order.

The priests argued that it would be challenging to protect the gems and carry out the puja while dealing with the big number of devotees present on this particular occasion. Consequently, a board was set up with the restrictions written on it. However, the board was removed by the HR and CE officials on 26 June.

TR Ramesh, the president of the Temple Worshippers Society and the Indic Collective Trust has filed the petition. Ramesh asserts in the plea that a Tamil-speaking Vedic Saivite group known as the “Chidambaram Dikshitars” had been conducting deity worship and managing the temple for close to two thousand years. In addition, he said that on May 17, 2022, the State of Tamil Nadu’s Principal Secretary for Tourism, Culture, and Religious Endowment Department issued a Government Order allowing universal authorization to pilgrims visiting the Chidambaram Temple.

This is a day after the Chidambaram temple priests were booked by the Police for restricting the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department (HR&CE) officials from offering prayers on the sacred stage kanagasabai mandapam inside the temple. The government of Tamil Nadu’s Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department oversees and supervises administration of a large number of Hindy temples throughout the state. However, the Chidambaram temple is not under their jurisdiction. It has been alleged that the govt is trying to take over the temple currently managed by the Dikshitars.

Ramesh argued in the plea that while the contested order is stated to have been approved based on recommendations from the Commissioner, Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment Department, and after consultation with the District Collector, it omits to mention consultation with the Secretary to Podhu Dikshitars. Ramesh continued by saying that the authorities had also neglected to mention the authority they had in order to issue such instructions.

“I respectfully submit that the 1st Respondent has failed to mention as to the powers, if any, available to him to pass any orders concerning a denominational institution, especially when Sections 105(a) and 107 of the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act 1959 preclude every authority from passing any orders in violation of the established usage of an institution and in violation of the rights of a religious denomination guaranteed under Article 26 of the Indian Constitution”, the plea read as quoted by the Live Law.

Ramesh continued, “The contested GO has directly interfered with the performance of rituals in the Kanaka Sabhai, a raised platform immediately beneath the temple’s sanctum sanctorum.” He further said that, in the past, devotees who wished to do particular archana were permitted entry inside the Kanaka Sabhai only at specific times, but even this practice was discontinued after the epidemic broke out.

He added that after some motivated and non-believers started raising issues, the Secretary of Podhu Dikshitarts made the decision to forbid anyone from receiving Darshan from the Kanaka Sabhai, which resulted in the passing of the contested GO.

The argument further asserts that it is impractical to accommodate devotees in the Kanaka Sabhai, which only has room for 7 to 10 devotees, and that giving preferential treatment to select people could harm the temple’s atmosphere of peace and secrecy and invite criticism and accusations from the general public.

Additionally, it claims that the contested GO was made without power and in violation of Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution because the Principal Secretary could not locate any reference to it in the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment Act.

Therefore, the plea asks that the contested GO be declared ultra vires, unlawful, arbitrary, and without authority, and it also asks for a suspension of its implementation while the case is being resolved.

Kanagasabai is a combination of two Tamil words, kanagam meaning gold and sabai meaning court. Since the idol is believed to be performing Bharathanatyam, one of the traditional Indian dance forms, in the court made of gold, the court is called Kanagasabai.

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