History & Culture

Regulating temple affairs

Sri Ramanuja  

The Sri Bhagavat Ramanujacharya Darshana Kainkarya Trust organised a two-day seminar on ‘Sri Ramanuja and the contemporary world.’ Professor Godavarisha Mishra spoke on Ramanuja’s influence on the Puri temple. He said it was Ramanuja who suggested King Choda Ganga Deva to build a big temple for the deity of Puri-Jagannath, who had been in worship there for several years.

Ramanuja established the Embar Math in Puri, so named after his cousin, who was also his disciple. This Math still functions, and is located about 10 metres from the lion gate of the temple.

There was a royal grant of 10,000 acres of land to the temple, in the name of Embar Math, for the purpose of performing various services in the temple. There are more than 57 Sri Vaishnava mathas in Puri.

Ramanuja debated Advaitins in Puri. Parasara Bhatta records Ramanuja’s visit to Puri in verse, saying Ramanuja stayed gladly in Purushottamam (Puri). The Lakshmi shrine in the temple was built at the instance of Ramanuja.

Ramanuja’s influence is seen in the practice of giving rice as prasada to devotees. So much rice is cooked, that during every bhoga 10,000 people can partake of the prasada. There is a certain time of the year when darshan of Jagannath cannot be had. During this time, devotees go to the nearby Alwarnath temple, which is said to have been visited by Ramanuja.

Dr. T.S. Ramaswami spoke on temple administration then and now. He began by listing the defects in the present day administration, before contrasting it with Udayavar Thittam (Ramanuja’s arrangement). Ramaswami elaborated on how legislation has been used detrimentally in the case of Hindu temples. Some years ago, Swami Dayananda Saraswathi and others filed a case in the Supreme Court challenging the validity of the Tamil Nadu Act of 1959, and also the Andhra Pradesh and Puducherry Acts.

Ramaswami said that Ramanuja regulated temple worship in such a way that every section of the society had a role to play in the temple. He achieved what thousands of years of legislation will never be able to achieve.

With the sack of Srirangam by Muslim forces, Ramanuja’s system was suspended, until order was restored in the temple. Later, the East India Company also began to meddle in the affairs of the temple. Interestingly, in 1858, Queen Victoria laid down that British administrators could not impose their religious beliefs on her subjects, and that every one of her subjects would enjoy “equal and impartial protection of the law.” And yet, legislation regarding management of temples continued to be passed, as for example the Robinson Bill (1877).

After Independence, an interesting discussion took place in the Madras Legislative Assembly, about the need for the Government to take over the temples.

T.S.S. Rajan said that it was the duty of the Government to protect the funds of temples, because these were for service of the people.

This idea of ‘service of the people’ has, in later years, led to hundi collections being used not for the deity, but for social purposes. The then Chief Minister Omandur Ramaswami Reddiar, observed that if the Government did not interfere, it would be playing into the hands of a ‘surging Godless crowd,’ a clear reference to the rise of atheistic Dravidian parties. An act governing Hindu religious and charitable endowments was enacted in 1951. Later amendments to this act were made, and the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act of 1959 came into force.

Taking advantage of the word ‘secular’ in the preamble to the Constitution and the word ‘reform’ in Articles 25 and 26, the Government has brought in many changes in temple administration. However, on the whole, the Government seems more keen to protect the interests of the staff it appoints in temples, than to protect the interests of devotees, concluded Ramaswami.

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Printable version | Apr 15, 2021 2:38:05 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-and-culture/Regulating-temple-affairs/article14500971.ece

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