HC endorses govt control over temple

Rejects Plea Against Appointment Of An Executive Officer For Chidambaram
Source: http://epaper.timesofindia.com

Chennai: Paving the way for a direct administrative control of the famous fifth-century Natarajar Temple at Chidambaram by the state government, the Madras High Court on Monday upheld the appointment of an executive officer as government nominee to administer the temple.

Justice R Banumathi, rejecting the pleas of Podhu Dikshidhars (traditional priests) that it was a private temple and that they had untrammelled rights over it, cited "improper management" of the temple to validate the appointment of an executive officer. "Offerings to god by worshippers have not been accounted for and there were also (instances of) missing/loss of gold jewels. The Dikshidhars have not maintained the accounts, and they have not realised the income due to the temple...In cases of improper management of temples or religious institutions, it would be necessary for the commissioner of Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment Department to appoint an executive officer, " the judge said.

Justice Banumathi was passing orders on writ petitions filed by the Podhu Dikshidhars and another impleading petition filed by a devotee, U Arumugasamy, who wanted to be permitted to recite Thevaram and Thiruvasagam inside the temple. The issue under consideration was a Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment (HR&CE) commissioner’s order issued on July 31, 1987 appointing an executive officer for the temple.

Questioning the appointment, the Dikshidhars claimed they enjoyed a special status under Article 26 of the Constitution and that they were a different religious denomination. Appointment of an executive officer is government’s direct interference with their religious affairs, they said, adding that they enjoyed complete autonomy in the matter of daily rites, ceremonies and administration of temple properties.

However, distinguishing between the right to perform rituals and to manage the temple, Justice Banumathi said that the right to manage the temple, offerings or kattalai are not integral part of religious practices. "As such they are amenable to statutory control," the judge ruled, citing judgments of the Supreme Court. "Administration and maintenance of the temple is purely secular and the state can intervene and regulate the administration if the secular activities of the institution have been mismanaged," she said, adding that the HRCE commissioner had rightly appointed an executive officer.

Justice Banumathi also permitted Arumugasamy to recite Thevaram and Thiruvasagam inside the temple, and said, "this court expresses the hope that at least from now on, the vast properties of the temple would be taken into proper administration."

(Justice Banumathy is a Christian by faith)

  • The 5th century temple is spread over 40 acres. It has both Shiva and Vishnu shrines on its premises. The temple and the Lord were immortalised in poetry by four poet-saints - Thirugnanasambandar, Sundaramoothy Nayanar, Thirunavukkarasar and Manickavasagar.

  • The Natarajar temple has four towering gopurams with 7 levels. The eastern gopuram has 108 postures of the Bharathanatyam

  • The presiding deity Nataraja is in cosmic dance form

  • Dikshidhars of the Chidambaram temple objected to the Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments Board’s move to appoint an executive officer to manage the temple and its properties

  • They refused to allow the executive officer into the temple

  • HR&CE Board officials claim that they were unable to find out the veracity of the accounts submitted by the dikshidhars as they do not submit vouchers for expenses made