Kerala is truly God’s own country in respect of the number of devotional centres it boasts of. There are the age-old places of worships and new ones on the block vying for footfalls.
To capture the attention of the public, advertisement blitzkrieg, a phenomenon associated with the commercial circles, is being taken up by managers of churches and temples.
Those who unleash a publicity campaign have enough reasons to defend. It helps the devout to prepare and plan the pilgrimage. But there are quite a few who find it unethical. “Matter of faith should not be a subject of publicity,” said K.Janardhanan, secretary of a prominent temple trust in Ernakulam.
History has enough examples to prove that deities and pilgrimage centres have flourished in good and slump times that people have had to go through. Large sections of society rely on God during adversity as well as prosperity. Believers seek blessings through offerings and resort to thanksgiving by giving a bounty for the favours received.
It should be a matter of choice for most people to offer prayers in a secular country. But the issue becomes a matter of public interest when money accrues in pilgrim centres. Managing these centres has proved to be a tricky affair and much heat and dust have been raised over the way in which the centres of devotion are handled.
Trusts formed by a few are entrusted with the management of many of the places of worship. Charges of embezzlement of funds have often been raised against several of such trusts. The courts have had to intervene on various occasions.
Trusts should be formed by devotees and they should have a permanent nature, Mr.Janardhanan said. There are governing bodies formed to conduct festivals and several instances of misappropriation of funds have occurred at such centres in the past. Auditing of funds should be done every year. A responsible governing body would keep vigil against misuse of funds as also oppose methods such as publicising a matter of faith, he said.
Can the funds of pilgrim centres be managed by public authority? The answer is no, according to Ashok Singhal, one of the prominent leaders of Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Mr.Singhal, who visited Kochi recently, aired his discontentment over the way temples are being managed by various authorities. The Aluva Mahadeva temple had vast stretches of land in its possession and had lost a large quantum of it over the years, he pointed out.
Paul Thelakkat, a spokesman of the Syro-Malabar church, said information on religious functions could be useful to the public, but advertisements would have a bad connotation. “Humility occupies prime position in religious matters; you don’t boost your ego; you are humble; you are not showing off. God should not become an instrument to boost your ego. Information with an eye on publicity could be counter-productive,” he said.