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Supreme Court agrees to hear pleas about Tamil Nadu govt’s attempt to appoint ‘non-believers’ as priests in state temples 

As per the petition, despite orders by the SC, the state govt is attempting to appoint non-believers as archakas, only with a view to destroying temples in the state.

On Monday, September 25, the Supreme Court directed the status quo in the appointment of archakas (priests) at Tamil Nadu temples administered by the Agamic tradition. It agreed to look into a series of petitions alleging that the Tamil Nadu government is trying to appoint “non-believers” as archakas (priests), contrary to the age-old Agamas governing temples in the State.

In response to a writ petition filed by ‘Srirangam Koil Miras Kainkaryaparagal Matrum Athanai Sarntha Koilgalin Miraskain-karyaparargalin Nalasangam,’ a bench of Justices AS Bopanna stated that “in the meantime, the status quo relating to archakaship in Agamic temples in question, shall be continued in the same manner, until further orders.”

The petition, filed by advocates G Balaji and P Valliappan, urged the court to overturn the Tamil Nadu Government order dated July 27, 2023, as well as the Government letter dated August 28, 2023, and all subsequent orders. The government orders tried to interfere with the ‘passed down from generation’ scheme of appointing archakas of a particular faith in Agama temples by opening it up to those from other denominations who had completed a one-year certificate course for archakas in schools run by the government. 

According to the petitioner association, “prominent Shaivite and Vaishnavite temples in Tamil Nadu were built according to Agamas and worship therein is according to Agamas.”

As per the petition, despite orders by the Supreme Court and the Madras High Court, the state government is attempting to appoint non-believers as archakas, only with a view to destroying temples in the state. “It is well settled that a secular Government does not have the power to interfere with essential religious practices, as such a right is well protected under the Constitution of India. Agamas undoubtedly pertains to an essential religious practice, which cannot be tampered with by a secular Government,” the petition read. 

It went on to say that experience in Agamas is not gained through one-year certificate courses but through years of endured instruction under learned Gurus. “…they obtain Deekshai or Samskara (initiation) from their Guru/Acharya, who is most often their respective fathers, at a very early age viz. between five and seven years, and undergo rigorous Vedic education for a minimum period of three years. Thereafter, they are groomed to perform Poojas and Homams for another three to five years before taking over as Archakas”, it pointed out.

Senior Advocate Guru Krishna Kumar, appearing for the petitioner association, stated that the Supreme Court held in the 1972 case Seshammal and Others vs State of Tamil Nadu and the 2016 case Adi Saiva Sivachariyargal Nala Sangam v Government of Tamil Nadu that Archakas of Agama temples must be appointed in accordance with Agama traditions.

SC refuses to stay Tamil Nadu government’s decision to appoint Archakas in temples

Notably, last year the apex court issued notice to the Tamil Nadu government, refusing to stay the latter’s decision to appoint or dismiss ‘Archakas’ (priests) in temples in the state.

The apex court had also issued a notice in a plea by former Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy, seeking to prevent the State government from appointing ‘Archakas’ (priests) in the temples there.

The petition challenged the provisions of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, 1959, to the extent that they gave the State ultimate power over the appointment and sacking of archakas (priests) in State Hindu temples.

Tamil Nadu government interference in Temple

The Tamil Nadu government’s Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) department has been time and again accused of interfering with the administration and taking over Hindu temple land in the state.

In a recent case, on June 27, Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) department official Velvizhi, accompanied by two female police personnel, entered the Kanagasabai amidst resistance from Dikshithars and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters. The development came days after a controversy erupted claiming Pothu Dikshitars of Chidambaram Natarajar temple declined permission to devotees to offer prayers from Kanagasabai during the Aani Thirumanjanam festival.

In March, T R Ramesh, an activist based in Tamil Nadu alleged that over Rs 400 crores had been missing from the Samayapuram Mariamman Temple fund. The activist filed an RTI requesting a 5-year income and expenditure statement of the Temple. He alleged that up until 2021, the funds looked intact, however, in December 2022, 92% (approximately ₹422 crores) were missing from just this temple.

Tamil Nadu government’s HR&CE dept had, however, refuted the claim and said that the funds were safe.

Last year, the Supreme Court on Thursday demanded the Government of Tamil Nadu’s statement to a petition alleging that the administration indirectly had taken over the operation of over 38000 temples in the state of Tamil Nadu by recruiting executive officials but without nominating temple trustees. According to the petition, the act has resulted in the mishandling of the finances of large temples

In the past few years, there have been several incidents when the Hindu temples in the state of Tamil Nadu have faced attacks. Tamil Nadu is a land of temples, the majority of which are ancient and have significant heritage significance. Unfortunately, the temples are now the target of criminals and the victims of indifferent authorities and bureaucrats.

Attacks on Hindu temples in TN

The recent wave of vandalism events at Hindu temples in the state has been cause for great concern. The HR & CE department, which is in charge of temple management, and the Tamil Nadu police have adopted a casual approach to the crisis.

The police have conveniently labelled the attackers mentally challenged in several of the cases. This police version has received little interest as only Hindu temples are usually damaged.

Earlier this year, on August 7, a miscreant smashed the murtis of Bhagwan Murugan and Valli and Devyani at the Dhandayudhapani temple around noon. The temple is situated atop a hill. When devotees saw the man damage the murtis, they handed him over to the authorities. He was identified as Boopathy, a Siruvayalur inhabitant. He was declared mentally ill by the police.

Also in the year 2021, the rock-cut mountain temples on top of Aththri Hills in Alvarkurichi in Tirunelveli district were vandalized by the Islamists. As reported earlier, the rocks surrounding the Hindu temples on Aththri hills were desecrated allegedly by Muslims, who painted the Islamic symbol “crescent moon” on the sacred rocks. The culprits also wrote “Allah”, along with an Islamic symbol and the number 786, atop the hill.

In June 2021, a Chola-era Shiva temple in the Pudukkottai district of Tamil Nadu was vandalized, and idols of the deities were destroyed by unknown assailants.

A group of unknown assailants had entered the Kailasanathar temple in Keezhananchur village in Pudukkottai district and damaged the Shivalingam present inside the temple. The assailants also damaged idols of many deities, including Lord Shiva, Ganesha, Parvathi and Nandi installed in the Chola-era temple.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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