History & Culture

Clean chit: how temples use technology to keep surroundings spotless

Madurai Meenakshi Temple

Madurai Meenakshi Temple   | Photo Credit: s_krishnamoorthy

It’s a smell that’s probably lingered here over centuries — the heady fragrance of jasmine in a damp wicker basket, the pleasant petrichor and the scent of dry air that hovers over warm cobblestones. I’m on the path leading to the many gateways that open into Madurai’s famed Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple, recently in the news for being adjudged best ‘Swachh Iconic Place’ in India. Earlier this year, 10 places across the country were identified by the Centre as part of the Swachh Iconic Places initiative and the Madurai temple being named the best has brought laurels to the city. District Collector K. Veera Raghava Rao and Corporation Commissioner S Aneesh Sekhar recently received an award from Uma Bharti, Union Minister for Drinking Water and Sanitation.

The temple, first mentioned by Saivite saint Thirugnanasambandar in the seventh century was almost destroyed in the sack of Madurai by Ala-ud-din Khilji’s general Malik Kafur in the 14th century. Its glorious architecture, comprising one of the largest temple complexes in Tamil Nadu is the work of the Madurai Nayak dynasty in the 17th century. The temple that stands on the South bank of the Vaigai has many concentric quadrangular enclosures within masonry walls, with the city laid out in a square radiating from the temple. It has 14 gopurams with the tallest being the southern tower at 170 feet and the oldest being the eastern tower built in the 13th century by a Pandya king. Thousands of brightly painted animals, gods and demons in plaster and stone stare impassively at the nearly-40,000 people who visit every day.

For both the pilgrim and the passionate heritage buff, the temple’s painted ceilings, stone sculptures — including a rare one of Nataraja with his right leg raised — many pillared halls and museum are a walk through both the spiritual and the historic. At the heart of the temple stand the gold-roofed shrines, one each for Meenakshi and Sundareswarar; legend has it that they were married in a grand union here with the bride’s brother, Azhagar (Mahavishnu) giving her away.

This is my third visit in as many decades and the temple seems to breathe with a cleaner air. “Since January this year, we have banned plastic in the temple and in the streets adjoining it,” says Aneesh Sekhar. “The first phase of the Swachh Iconic Place project implemented by the Madurai Corporation at the temple is expected to be completed by March 2018. For this phase we have partnered with the CSR front of BPCL that has contributed Rs. 11.5 crores to this project, aimed at improving the sanitary conditions as well as the pilgrim-friendly aspects of the town around the temple. Construction of 25 e-toilets, RO water points, placement of bins, the improvement of the Meenakshi Park adjacent to the temple and two traffic islands are part of the agenda. We also make use of four sand-sweeping machines and involve the public, NGOs and ‘Swachh police’ to keep the surroundings clean. Our innovation was one of the reasons we were nominated.”

It’s a measure that seems to have paid off. Prasadam is distributed in brown paper bags. There are containers to collect excess sacred ash and unlike in most temples, it doesn’t float to settle everywhere. The shrines are air-conditioned and fresh air flows through the temple dispelling the dank odour of oil and smoke. Bangle-sellers wrap circlets of tinkling light in newspapers and the granite floors are cool and clean without the grit of dirt. The tank reflects the beauty of the cobweb-free sculptures that line it. Shafts of sunlight bounce off the brass lamps and the temple seems new even with its old-fashioned aura. Both literature and arts celebrate Meenakshi Kalyanam — the place is a fitting venue, as never before, to host the marriage of the gods.

Round-the-clock process

Sree Kurumba Bhagavathi Temple, Kodungallur

Cleanliness is given top priority at the Sri Kurumba Bhagavathi Temple of Kodungallur, one of the oldest temples of Kerala. Like in all temples of the State, it has a system in place for cleaning the premises. The ten-acre plot on which the temple is situated, in the heart of the township, is more or less clean but for overgrown foliage. The staff employed by the Cochin Devaswom Board, which manages the temple, begin cleaning at 4 a.m., a process, which continues through the day. Members of various communities, including the Kudumbis, the Nairs and the Ambalavasis are assigned various duties related to the maintenance of the temple premises. After the two major festivals — Bharani and Thalappoli — during which devotees congregate in large numbers in the small township, a massive cleaning operation is executed by the Kodungallur Municipality employing around 100 additional cleaning personnel. Half of the cost for this operation is borne by the Cochin Devaswom Board, according to the Municipal Chairman C.C. Vipinachandran.

“The Kodungallur Temple maintains a high standard of cleanliness within the temple premises and outside,” says Surendran Thampuran, representative of the Valiya Thampuran (eldest member) of the Kodungallur Kovilakam (erstwhile royal family of Kodungallur). There are enough toilets within the temple for the use of devotees. During festivals, the authorities install temporary toilets both in the temple and outside. Every year, the huge pond within the temple premises is cleaned during the seven days when the temple remains shut, after the Bharani festival.

Sree Kurumba Bhagavathi Temple, Kodungallur

Sree Kurumba Bhagavathi Temple, Kodungallur  

Organic disposal

Kanakadurga Temple, Vijayawada

The famed Sri Durga Malleswara Swamy Varla Devasthanam, popularly known as Kanakadurga temple atop Indrakeeladri Hill in Vijayawada, has initiated a string of measures to serve pilgrims better and make the area eco-friendly.

In a remarkable step, the temple authorities installed a separate domestic sewage treatment plant which operates on 100 KLC Fluidised Media Reactor (FMR) technology opposite the Mahamandapam area. “It will regulate the discharge of sewage and treat it to prevent diseases,” says A. Surya Kumari, Executive Officer of the temple.

Besides, the temple management has also acquired organic waste converters. It will convert wet and dry organic waste into compost. Order has been placed for four e-toilets to be installed beside the Mahamandapam. Each is equipped with a switch, pre-flush, auto flush and automatic platform cleaning, LED indications, voice-guidance and a display board. They are trackable on App. RO water plants meet the drinking water needs of the pilgrims. They have been installed at various points in the temple.

Kanakadurga Temple, Vijayawada

Kanakadurga Temple, Vijayawada   | Photo Credit: RAJU_V

Well-maintained ghats


Located on the banks of the Ganga, the entire town of Varanasi (Kasi), referred to as Mokshapuri, is considered holy. The bathing ghats are clean and inviting, a dip in the Ganga is sure to lift one emotionally, the aarti being a moving experience. The Manikarnika Ghat, incidentally, made it to the Swachh Award. The same, however, cannot be said of the temples — Viswanatha-Visalakshi, Annapoorna or Kala Bhairava — managed by pundas. The roads leading to these temples are narrow and filthy. The centuries-old temples have been rebuilt several times. Spiritual association draws lakhs of people to Kasi, among whom are pilgrims, sadhus and those who want to spend the last days of their life. With this kind of traffic is it possible at all to bring the temples and the paths around under a cleanliness drive?

Ghat, Varanasi

Ghat, Varanasi   | Photo Credit: PTI

Better connectivity


A fortnight ago Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation for a four-lane cable-stayed bridge between Okha and Beyt Dwarka. This is a shot in the arm for the Shri Dwarkadhishji temple authorities, says deputy administrator Harish Patel. It will ensure better connectivity to this small town situated in the extreme west of Saurashtra. It will also boost tourism in the region. Situated on the banks of River Gomti, the temple is more than 2,000 years old and is part of the Hindu char dham pilgrimage. The five-storied limestone structure, supported by 72 pillars, is built in the Chalukyan style. “The temple is maintained by The Archaeological Survey of India while cleanliness is ensured by a national-level agency. With the heavy flow of devotees, the upkeep of this shrine is a challenge but we realise how significant this temple is - it is the gateway to western India. It is also the gateway (’Dwar’ means door and ‘Ka’ means Brahma) to liberation or moksha,” says Patel.

Shri Dwarkadhishji Temple, Dwarka

Shri Dwarkadhishji Temple, Dwarka  

Eco-friendly steps

Sri Siddhivinayak Temple, Mumbai

Sri Siddhivinayak Temple at Prabhadevi, an important landmark of the megapolis, is the first green temple of the country. The temple is the recipient of Platinum Award given by the Indian Green Building Council.

“In the recent past, we have been working hard to make the temple more devotee-and-environment friendly,” says Sanjiv Patil, chief administrative officer. The energy-efficient measures include solar panels, LED lights, glass canopies for natural lighting on the walkway around the temple and water misting technology instead of air conditioners to bring down the temperature inside. As for waste management, flowers and coconuts are segregated. “We have made arrangements for their reuse. Flowers are sent to a design unit, where the pigments are removed and the colours are used on fabric. Coconuts are grated to make sweet prasad while the shells are sent to a manufacturer of craft products. Our aim is zero garbage,” points out Patil. To ensure that the prasad is hygienic, the temple follows the norms laid down by the Food Standards and Safety Authority of India (FSSAI). “We are planning to use curcumin, a natural supplement, in our ladoos. It is the principal compound in turmeric that gives the yellow colour,” adds Patil. The sindoor used on the Lord and as tilak on devotees’ forehead is also chemical free.

Sri Siddhivinayak Temple, Mumbai

Sri Siddhivinayak Temple, Mumbai  

Under ASI care

Sri Virupaksha Temple, Hampi

Maintenance is given top priority at this seventh century temple in Hampi, which has come under the care of ASI (Archaeological Survey of India). Dedicated to Lord Siva (Virupaksha), it is among the group of monuments of world heritage sites having outstanding universal values as designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). The temple existed prior to the Vijayanagar empire and the village, its capital, is a living heritage site. Devotees throng the temple on Mondays and new moon days. The temple, which is intact, with pujas and rituals taking place, attracts a large number of tourists from across the globe. On special occasions, including Sivaratri, a golden mask, studded with precious stones, said to have been donated by Sri Krishnadevaraya to commemorate his coronation, is placed on the Linga (Virupaksha), which has been a major attraction.

Recently the upkeep of the temple passed into the hands of the ASI, which has swung into action to give the monument a face-lift. ASI has already renovated the ‘Manmathakunda’ (pushkarni). The work of renovating the three gopuras is under way. Next on the agenda is the restoration of the bazaar mantaps. Encroachments have been removed to facilitate this work.

Sri Virupaksha Temple, Hampi

Sri Virupaksha Temple, Hampi  

Pristine location

Kamakhya, Assam

The pure mountain air rejuvenates pilgrims and the calmness that prevails outside belies the fervour and frenzy, which grip visitors inside the shrine of Kamakhya, located atop the Nilachal Hill, Guwahati. The temple is dated between 7- 17th centuries. Feminine power is most vibrant in the cave temple, hailed as one of the 51 Sakti Pitas. It receives devotees, distance notwithstanding, from all corners of the country. Well maintained for the volume of traffic it deals with, the visitors will not encounter garbage mounds, which some of the temple cities are known for. Also why the temple was shortlisted for the Swachh award. The worship here is only complete after saluting Mother Bhuvaneswari in a temple at a higher hillock.

Kamakhya Temple, Assam

Kamakhya Temple, Assam   | Photo Credit: Ritu Raj Konwar;Ritu Raj Konwar

The ten iconic places identified by the Central Government under the Prime Minister’s Swachh Bharat

Mission were: Vaishno Devi (Jammu and Kashmir), Taj Mahal (Agra), Manikarnika Ghat, Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh), Kamakhya Temple (Assam), Jagannath Puri (Odisha), Ajmer Sharif Dargah (Rajasthan), Meenakshi Amman Temple (Tamil Nadu), Balaji temple, Tirupati (Andhra Pradesh), Golden Temple, Amritsar (Punjab) and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mumbai, (Maharashtra).

With inputs from: Chitra Swaminathan, Nandini Ramani, Sujatha Varma, Renu Ramnath and M. Ahiraj. Pictures: Archives

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Printable version | May 28, 2020 9:04:31 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/cleanliness-check-in-various-temples-across-the-country/article19896090.ece

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