Temple-The Heart of Hindu Civilization , Dr.K.V.Raman ,Eminent Archeologist
Temple Administration Today , Shri Rama Gopalan
Temple-The Heart of Hindu Civilization , Dr.K.V.Raman
Respected Shri Ramagopalan, office-bearers of Vigil, and ladies and gentlemen. I was very happy when ‘Vigil’ asked me to speak on temples. Nobody it seems is interested in knowing about the long and hoary history of our temples, much less to know anything about their architecture. ‘Vigil’ has taken up a subject very dear to my heart and I am very happy to be here today. It is not a easy subject to talk about or understand in a span of one hour, but it is a very good beginning and I hope something significant comes out of this. There is so much to know about our temples, their architecture, the Agama which governs all aspects of temple building and temple rituals, the inscriptions which we can find engraved on the walls and floors of our temples, the various temple rituals and festivals and so much more. Each is a life-time’s study. I have been asked to speak on the significance of temple architecture. I will begin with our temple gopurams.
Usually on our Gopurams at the entrance of all temples you see a ‘wagon-vaulted’ roof. It is a rectangular plan over which the ‘wagon vaulted’…………… is mounted. That is called the sala sikara and it is different from the globular that is characteristic of a vimana. The difference between a vimana and a Gopura, you should understand, is that, the Gopura is raised on the gateway or the entrance of the temple while the vimana is raised over the sanctum sanctorum. Speaking of vimanas, we have the circular vimanas in circular temples – a type of temple called Kailasa. We have nine varieties of these circular temples - Valaiya, Padma, Mahapadma, vesara, …….. you see the Lotus is also circular only it has concentric circles. It may not appear to be a perfect circle; it has nevertheless, a number of concentric circles. We also have oval-shaped vimanas, again nine varieties of them, like the Gajaprushta Vimana - the elephants back are apsidal temples meaning horse shoe shaped. We have also the Vajjra, Chakkra, and Swasthika shaped temples. It is really marvelous how our temples have been classified. This has been done on the basis of a very rational argument - on the very geometrical and mathematical calculations and proportions that form the basis of temple construction.
Some texts classify our temples under 45 heads while other texts list 96 types of temples. There continue very great and substantive discussions and arguments on the classification, discussions which only add to the sum total of our knowledge of temples. Just as there are discussions among scientists who may not agree on every detail of some discovery or phenomenon. But these academic discussions are the basis for all incremental knowledge on any issue. This is so of academic discussions on temples too. We have a number of beautiful texts like Maanasaara ,the very word Maanasaara means it is a text of measurements – maana. We also have Mayamatha, maanaso-ullasa, and several Agamas, two of the most well-known being the Vaikanasa and the Paancharathra agamas. Within each text we have the Samhithas like the Paadma samhitha, Eswara samhitha, Poushkara samhitha. These texts give us details and accounts of innumerable temple models, their structures and the basis of their classification are exercised and discussed. So even from the point of view of science, pure science, our temples are a living testimony to our scientific and Engineering knowledge and skill and I am afraid, we who are studying our temples, and our scientists and engineers and architects have still not mastered it. Their majesty and longevity beckon to us still,the architects, scientists and our artists.
Now coming to the variety of temples. We say for example, that all temples have the sanctum sanctorum over which the Vimana stands but the Vimana will not be the same type of Vimana that you may find elsewhere in the country. There are distinct differences from region to region. These are known as regional styles and there are even dynastic styles. Like we find within Tamilnadu - the Pallava style, the Chola style, the Naik style, the Vijayanagara style and so on. A style is a kind of Pani in music, which they adopted. Let me give you a musical analogy.I am reminded of the distinct style of each musician in the classican form. Take the Ragas for example. The same Thodi acquires distinct nuances when rendered by Ariyakudi, or sung by Semmangudi or by Maduramani Iyer even though the Raga is the same the Arohana and Avarohana are the same but from the distinctive style of rendering it we can say this is the Maduramani school, the Ariyakudi school and so on. In North Indian classical Music and dance forms, these distinctive styles or schools are known as ‘gharana’s. Similarly in temple styles or architecture too we have schools and styles which can be identified regionally because of the traditions that they have adopted.
So all over India we have great schools of art in different parts of the country, in different regions. We have the Gupta style of the great Gupta dynasty - the Golden age of Guptas it is called because of the brilliance and excellence that the Guptas nurtured and patronised in all areas of human thought and creativity. One of the earliest temples we find is that of the Guptas called Devagriha at Jansi – it has very beautiful sculptures from our Puranic and ithihasic themes. In the South we have the Pallava sculptures. The Pallavas created a new variety of temples - the innovative cave temples. Scooping out and carving the temples from out of the rocks –a phemomenon you will find in other parts of India too. We have around 600 to 700 cave temples in India. Mostly in the western ghats – in Bombay, Puna, Ellora, Ajantha, Nasik, all of them dedicated to Buddhist sanctuaries, Hindu sanctuaries and Jain sanctuaries.
This tradition of building cave temples continued in other parts of the country, in different times.The Chalukyas of Badami very beautiful cave temples in places like Badami, Haihole, and Pathadakkal in Karnataka. The Pallava’s in Mahabalipuram or Mamallapuram, The Pandiyas in Kazhugumalai, Thiruparangkundram; Thiruparangkundram Murugan temple is actually a cave temple because we go straight to the Muruga shrine and come away, you just look around we can see an array of beautiful signs dedicated to Siva, Vishnu, Durga, Ganesha all our Hindu deities have been honoured in the Thiruparngkundram temple. There are cave temples in Chera country too; near Thiruvananthapuram there is a place called Vizhinjam where there is a cave temple.
I will now come to Ratahs which are monolithis temples - temples carved out of one rock. This is a unique style of temple building as u see in Mahaballipuiram. The Pallavas created a unique temple city in Mamallapuram which has these five Rathas - Dharmaraja ratha, Bhima ratha, Arjuna ratha. All these five Rathas were made from one single rock cut into five pieces and each Ratha carved from one single, whole piece. And the most glorious temple of Kailasa at Ellora is again a similar monolithic rock-cut temple.
Coming to the 7th and 8th century AD and until the 11th and 12th centuries we have a continuing and brilliant tradition of temple building by the several dynasties that ruled the South, showing remarkable ingenuity. They built not only small and medium sized temples but also great masterpieces like the Thanjavur Big Temple – the Brihadeeswarar temple. The Vimana of this temple is about 200 feet tall. This is a stone temple, constructed in pyramidal tiers. It is one of the yet lingering mysteries about how they brought those stones to thanjavur because Thanjavur is legendary for the stark absence of any kind of stone. So how did the King have these stones moved to Thanjavur? And more amazing and inexplicable still, how did the builders of this magnificent temple lift up these heavy stones to the regal height of 200 feet? It is an engineering miracle and we are still trying to decipher it.
Rajaraja Cholan’s son Rajendra built the Gangaikondachozhapuram temple followed by Rajaraja II who built the Darasuram temple, the temple at Thirubhuvanam - all mighty temples. And in this connection I would like to make a point about how they built the 200 feet tall Vimana the principle they adopted. The next time you happen to go to this temple please get on to the first floor. Usually we go to the ground floor, worship the lord and come away but there is a first floor which we can reach where you can see very beautiful almost natural, dancing sculptures carved on stone. If you look at the top you will see the entire vimana going up in receding tiers.This is known as the corbelling system of construction, a corbelled arch with progressively narrowing space as we go up and then finally sealed by a huge stone block about 80 feet, 80 tonnes in weight. That was the system we adopted and it is known as Kadalica Karnam or the corbelling system. It is again a marvel of engineering skill.
Now about SriRangam, another ancient temple, remarkable for the territory it covers. It stands amidst the seven Prakarams - sapta prakara madhye. Each Prakaram has 4 great towers, one in each of the four main directions. This temple, indeed this temple town is known as ‘bhooloka vaikuntham’ or the Abode of the Lord on Earth. There are a number of tanks inside the temple, several mandapams. The most remarkable feature of this temple I that the several structures within the temple premises have been built over several generations. And they have been built with full knowledge of the basic structural plan of the temple. If you were to draw a line from the garbha griha of Lord Ranganatha, which is located at the very center of the temple premises, to the outermost gopura, you will see that they are in perfect alignment. It is a straight line that connects both points. And the remarkable thing is that all other structures that came up later with constructed to be in complete alignment to the center the Sanctum Sanctorum, which was taken to be the point of reference for all future measurement. This has been done both meticulously and extremely beautifully.
When we speak about temple architecture I should mention the different kinds of Mandapams we see in our temples. The mandapams are again architectural masterpieces. We have the 100 pillared mandapam, the 1000 pillared mandapam, the kalanya mandapam, the Unjal mandapam for the swing festival, the vasantha mandapam located in the midst of a garden so that during summer the deities could be taken there amidst the cool temple garden; we also have the mirror ‘kannadi’ mandapam, the hall of mirrors reflecting the deities from all sides, and then you have the Natana sabha or the Koothamabalam, chith sabha, Kanakha sabha, Rajasa sabha in Chidambaram. This sabha has a very peculiar architecture where you have a wooden tag of the superstructure – Ambalam. So much for Mandapams which also include the different halls built uniquely for different purposes.
I now come to our temple tanks which are woefully neglected today but which were really enchanting when they were made. We are reminded of the great Kamalalaya in Thiruvarur,the great Vandiyur theppakulam,the Mariaman theppakulam Madurai, Thanjavur, and the great MahaMakam Tank in Kumbakonam. It is a mighty tank and like the lingering mysteries of how we raised those magnificent gopurams and vimanams, another lingering marvel is how the river waters were brought into this mighty tank and also how the waters were fed regularly into the tank. The Mahamakam festival was an occasion to undertake ‘annadaanam’ on a scale that is typical only of our civilization.
Even our own Triplicane Parthasarathy Temple was still recently quite well flooded by water, as was the Chitrakulam in Mylapore. But today sadly, both tanks are not only empty and filled with sand but are also defiled and misused. If these temples have to be restored to their glory, then these tanks have to be cleaned and put back into use for the purposes for which temple tanks are meant. In Madurai we have the ‘porthamarai’ or the Golden Lotus tank which finds mention in Sangam literature. When we talk about these temples we always talk about the kings who built them, RajaRaja built Thanjavur Temple, Rajendra built Gangaikondacholan Temple but we hardly talk about the Sthapathis who built them, the artists, the master craftsmen who built them. Traditionally, and with good reason, they never signed their names on their work. True to our Indian culture they have to remain anonymous as an expression of devotion to the deity and the temple they built. This was the highest expression of dedication. Their art, their craft, their knowledge and skills did not create temples as art; it was not art for art’s sake, neither was it art for money’s sake, it was art for as an expression of dedication to the Lord by the sthapathis who are really worthy of our veneration. Our forefathers venerated them. They called them ‘deiva thacchar’, ‘maha thacchar’, the Lord’s own craftsman, under whose tutelage and guidance several artisans learnt their skills.
There is no record of any Sthapathi or craftsman inscribing his name on the temple anywhere. There is one inscription in the Thanjavur temple which says it was built by Rajaraja ‘perum thacchan’ or the premier craftsman. There too he does not tell us what his own name was, only that he was the premier craftsman of the King RajaRaja. While some Sthapathis spoke of themselves as the craftsman of such and such a king, others would call themselves the servant of such and such a deity. That is why Kamban in the Kambaramayanam calls ‘mayan’ deivathacchan. Sthapathis were honored, and highly respected. They were given ‘Manyams’. They were highly respected because their job was highly demanding. You know they were creating the abodes of the Gods. They are all Viswakarmas. Therefore they are given the ‘yagnopavitha’ or the sacred thread. They were eligible for Brahmavidya and like the Brahmins they too perform all religious ceremonies and one of the beautiful texts says what is excepted of a Sthapathi. He is not simply a stone mason as we are apt to consider him, but he is a great and profound man of knowledge.
A Sthapathi must be able to design, he must be proficient in all sciences, must be pious and compassionate, he must be happy in mind and free from greed, free from all vices. He must be truthful, must have self-control, and he must abide deep in the ocean of the science of architecture. He must be well-versed in music, dance and other allied arts. This is what is excepted of a Sthapathi. We are very fortunate such eminent sthapathis in our midst even today, sthapatis who have descended from a great lineage. I can mention Ganapathi sthapathi for example. We are very fortunate to have him. He is a great and profound scholar who has come in the line of Rajaraja perumthachan. He belongs to that family and he has written several books on vaastu purushaa and vaastu mandalas.
Now apart from designing and constructing the structure of the temple which engineering skills, there is an aspect to a sthapathi’s work. This concerns the inside of the temple, the sculptures on the walls, on the pillars, on the Gopurams and the Vimanams, the Garbha griha and the presiding deity of the temple and the deities in the other shrines within the temple. The temple comes to life, and acquires character and sanctity only because of these murthies, the sculptures, and the icons that you see in the temple. This area of knowledge and skill is known as iconography or iconology.
A master craftsman or a master sthapathi may be the designer of the layout of the temple. He decides where a sign or a symbol should be located, where the pillared Mandapams and the different sabhas should be placed and so on. But the details are executed and the work is done by several artisans and artists. Our temples are really treasures of our culture. You must all visit Mahabalipuram and see the great sculpture Arjuna’s Penance. The entire epic has been put up on this rock-canvas as it were. It is a visual expression of the ‘Kraartharjuneya’ of the Mahabharatha - Arjuna performing the severe penance on the banks of the river to get the Paashupathaastra. This has been beautifully depicted with the river flowing in the center and on either side of the river, on the banks, you can see the Rishis, the Brahmins performing their religious ceremony; there are the temples on the banks of the river and all celestials all gravitating towards the Lord knowing that Shiva has come down and everybody - Chandra, Surya, the Gandharvas, they are also traveling towards Lors Shiva. The whole sculpture has captured a dynamic movement. It is not a static dead sculpture but you can actually see all the activity and the whole rock-canvas is briming with life and energy. By the side has been portrayed Krishna as Govardanadhari where he is surrounded by the cows, and the cowherds. He is giving protection to them all because they were all threatened by Indra. This is again a story from the Bhaagawata purana which has been beautifully depicted there.
Scenes from the Mahabharatha have also been depicted in the Halebid temple, near Mysore. Great attention has been paid to even minute details. Abhimanyu entering the Chakravyuha and then not knowing how to come out of it has been very beautifully depicted in Halebid. Arjuna shooting the fish over his head with his arrow by looking at its reflection in a bowl of water beneath has also been depicted here. This can only mean that the sculptors had to be well-versed in our Puranas and Ithihaaasas, and well-versed in all our classical texts. They depicted their knowledge visually in the minutest detail so that even the uninitiated and the uneducated could also experience this joy in visual forms.
Speaking about sculptures, I must tell you that we have woven into our classical dances and our sculptures an entire world of symbolisms. These have been in-built into our sculptures and icons. If you do not understand the symbolism, you will not understand the significance of the image. These symbols are depicted through gestures of the hand and the postures of the body. These are known as ‘hasthas’ and ‘mudras’. Vyakyana Mudhra, Vismaya Mudhra, Anjali Mudhra, Abhaya Mudhra, Varada Mudhra, these are all specifically incorporated into our sculptures and icons as a kind of code language which you have to decipher, to understand the message or the image which the artist wants to convey. If we do not understand the symbols we will say, there are so many meaningless hands, meaningless hands showing meaningless gestures.It is not so;every gesture is prescribed by the tenets of that art form and each has a special message to offer.
We also have the science of measurements defining and specifying the different aspects of temple art and architecture - thaalamaana, and the pramaana. The Sthapathis have to follow certain specific measurements for each deity. The sculptures also depict the dress and ornaments of the period, a variety of ornaments like the crowns or kreedam, Makutas, Haaras, Kaiyooras, Mekalas, Kundalas, Pathra kundala, Makara kundalas, an unimaginably rich variety of ornaments and all of them depicted in our stone sculptures. When we say sculptures, it is not only those that depict divinity but also those that depict human beings, devotess and saints. The Alwars and Nayanmars, have been defied in our temples. Folk themes are portrayed. Even kings are depicted as standing in Anjali like KrishnaDeva Raya at Tirupathi, Thirumalainayakar at Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple.
So much for stone sculptures. Coming to Bronzes, the south Indian bronzes are considered to be masterpieces in world heritage. The bronzes can be seen in the ‘Utsava vigrahas’ or the ‘utsava murthies’. These are procession deities, meaning, the presiding deity of that temple comes out into the streets and walks into every nook and corner of the village so that everyone will have his Darshana. One of the most beautiful images in bronze is that of Nataraja. Lord Nataraja is Lord Shiva performing the cosmic dance. It is amazing how the concept of cosmic dance finds expression in the bronze. The cosmos is shown by the Mandala, and the ‘panchakritis’ – srishti, sthithi, samhara, maya and mukthi have been fused into the image in so expressive a manner that even western scholars like Ananda Coomaraswamy have waxed eloquent about its beauty and written books on the cosmic dance of Lord Shiva.
Similarly the images of Krishna, we have a variety of bronzes, different forms depicting different acts and different roles as Venugopala as Rajagopla as Kalinganarthana.
I will now make a brief reference to the Rama group as I call it. The Parithioor Ramar, Thillaivalagam Ramar, and the Vaduvur Ramar are considered to be masterpieces of Bronze art. Out temples are also repositories of paintings, the art of paintings. The whole gamut of paintings, we do not have a single specimen of Chola paintings except in the Big Tample of Thanjavur around the Grbha Griha. Fortunately we discovered it over 50 years ago. They were completely overlaid by soot and other accretions and thanks to the chemist, they have managed to remove all the overlaid accretions and have managed to restore the original paintings. These are priceless paintings describing the life of SundarMurthi Naynar and Seramanpuruman Naynar. The celectials inviting him as he was ascending to Kailasa. It is a beautiful scene, very detailed, and breathtakingly beautiful. There is also Shiva in a chariot, masterpieces of fresco paintings, each one of them. And when I say ‘painting’ you must also know that it involves technique of painting, it also involves an in depth knowledge of colors. What were the colors that the painters used all those centuries ago? They were using mineral colors, vegetable colors, not the chemical colors which we are using today the Jenson and Nicholson’s but colors extracted from natural sources and blended to get certain combinations and blends of colors. There is a text specifically on paintings – ‘Chitra sutra, Chitra Lakshana’. It describes in great detail, the qualities of a good painter, his equipment, various kind of brushes, various mixture of colors and how to put them on the canvas - all these things have been spelt out in those texts and our Artisans and our Artists were very knowledgeable about the art and must have mastered the texts to have been able to create the masterpieces we see in our temples even today.
We also have marvelous wooden works, wood work as represented by the chariots or ‘therrs’ as we call them in Tamil. These craftsmen were called ‘rathakaras’. ‘Ratha’ meaning chariot. When we speak of ‘ratha’s the ‘therrs’ of Thiruvarur, Srivilliputtur, Varadaraja Swami temple in Kanchipuram, come to our minds. These master crasftsmen working with wood also made the ‘vahanas’ for the deities. ‘vahanas’ used during the Brahmotsvam, as also the palanquins, the huge temple umbrellas. When I talk about these things, about the numerous specialists and their men who contribute to the building and functioning of our temples, you will realize how beholden we are to the various specialists in these various fields who were working for the temple. Our temples therefore are not meant for one community or one particular class or caste; every section of the society was involved in temple maintenance, in worship,in festivals, in the decorations and sculptures, in paintings and architecture.
Our temples are the pivot and heart of our society. The society was involved in it, every section of society was involved in it. Coming back to woodwork,the most exquisite examples of woodwork are the temples of Kerala. These are made completely of wood. Incidentally, in Tamil Nadu too, prior to the temples built of stone from around the 7th century onwards, our temples too were made of wood.The wooden architecture of Kerala is unique, we get to see similar wooden temples in Himachala Pradesh with similar woodworks there. Gabelled arches, Gabelled roofs, circular Vimanas with wooden covering with a copper sheet, these are the distinct features of the temples of Kerala. The Kerala Vimanas are circular with a wooden covering covered by a copper sheet to enable the water to run down without stagnating on top. And thewn we have the temple Jewellery, those unique and ornate pieces of jewellry used to adorn the deities, the lamps, the vessels; everything you touch in the temple is a piece of art, a piece of craft which involves long tradition, long history and long years of study and mastering.
I will end with two three references. The temple was also a center of music, a center of dance, a center of learning. I need not elaborate you all know about it. The Nathaswara Vidhvan is a part of the temple repertoire, we have a number of inscriptional references to the maintenance of these Pipers, Drummers,and the maintenance and upkeep of all the artisans and craftsmenr involved in temple work. And musical inscriptions, nowhere in the whole world do we have musical inscriptions as we have in Tamilnadu in a place called Kudumia Malai very near Tiruchirappalli. It is considered to be a landmark in the history of Music, in the history of Tamil Nadu because all the swaras as known in the Pallava Period have been inscribed there. Another place where we have musical notes inscribed in temples is Thirumaiyam and both Kudumia malai and Thrumaiyam are of immense value to us, not only for the musical notes or swaras inscribed there but also for the musical instruments which were used in those days and which too have been engraved there as sculptures. Some of these ancient musical instruments can still be found in some of the temples of the South, particularly in Kerala. In Kerala we will find the different kinds of Drums used there, they have continued the tradition and so the temples in Kerala have preserved the musical heritage.
Some of our temples have musical pillars. This means that the architect also knew how to devise the pillars in such a fashion that each member, each pillaret as we call it rang with a different note. We have pillars ringing with the Saptha Swaras. We find such pillars in the Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple, musical steps are found in Darasuram. We have all heard about the Panchamukha vadya but we have not seen it. I am told that in Thiruvarur alone is this instrument played but we have excellent sculptural representations of this ancient and unique instrument. Representations of panchamukha Shiva himself playing the panchamukha vadya in Darasuram.
As regards learning, our temples have played a great part in fostering Sanskrit and Tamil learning. We get to learn and listen to the Vedas and Divya Prabandam, and Devaram in the temples. In fact when I talk about music I should talk about the Oduvaars who recite and sing the Devaram in the orthodox old ‘pann’ as we call it in Tamil. Pann Isai is the ancient name for ‘Raga’. Similarly the Divya Prabandam were also sung in tune and in the temple processions you can see both Veda Parayanam and Divya Prabanda ghosties or groups accompanying the deity. In these processions, the Divys prabandam ghoshti goes first, and the Veda ghoshti comes at the end. The idea is, Kamban says this in his ‘Sadakopar andadi’, not I, that Vedas are going in search of the lord while the lord goes in search of the Divya Prabandas.
Such was the eminenence given to both sanskrit and Tamil in the temples of Tamil Nadu, both of which are considered to be two eyes of our culture. There was no discrimination in favour of one over the other. ‘Ubayavedantins’ was how the experts in both languages were called. In fact, in a place called Ennairam very near Vilupuram where there was a Sanskrit college, we still have details of the entire syllabus of this college, there were nearly 270 students studying there during Raja raja’s period. The college was known as Rajaraja Chaturvedi Mangalam. Experts in the four Vedas were brought and asked to settle down there and offer their services to the temple and also to teach the junior students. Vedic recitation, Grammar or vyakarana, mimasa, alankara, ayurveda, jyotisha, astronomy, all these formed a part of the syllabus of that period.
Talking about temples is a vast topic. Each one of the subjects that I have spoken about today can form the theme of a lecture in itself. But I will conclude with a quotation of one of the greatest scholars, an American, actually a European scholar who has spent her lifetime in India. She has been in Calcutta, in Madras and she has written a marvelous book called ‘The Hindu Temple’ in two volumes. A. L. Bhasham was written a book called ‘The Wonder that is India’. He says the most striking feature of this ancient civilization of India, is its humanity. Our people enjoyed life passionately delighting both in the things of the senses and the things of the spirit. So the temple was both a religious center as well as a center of arts and culture. Stella Krameris, the European scholar says, “ The Nataraja Image of Rhythm is understood as a source of cosmic motion and action. The purpose of this dance is to release the innumerable souls of mankind from the snare of illusion. Lastly she says the art of India was never rent by the western dichotomy. This is very important because we now talk about secularism vs religion. This kind of dichotomy never afflicted the Indian mind. The art of India was never rent by the western dichotomy of religious belief and secular life. Thank you very much.
Temple Administration Today , Shri Rama Gopalan
Respected elders, brothers and sisters,
I can listen to Dr. Raman’s talk endlessly. His very informative discourse on temples and the manner of his presentation have been erudite. My only regret is that he spoke for barely forty minutes. Some noble soul should arrange for a series of talks of experts on temples and we must all have the pleasure of listening to them for ten or fifteen days and invite only those people, who don’t look into their watches when they listen to his talk. His talk should be recorded and published. It is because of people like Raman, that the next generation will get to know of the significance of our temples. So my request is that someone should be instrumental, and should accept the responsibility of arranging for a series of talks/lectures by Dr.Raman so that all the knowledge, the experiences and the thoughts contained in him is passed on to the next generation.
He has taken us to very great heights. Now I will have to bring us all down to reality and the situation on the ground so to say, of our temples today. So please forgive me. Recently I had toured some villages in and around Tiruchirapalli, near Thirumannor. There I saw a temple by the road side. A temple knwn in Tamil as ‘paadal petra sthalam’, a temple which had been sanctified by the presence of the nayanmars. This was a temple known as ‘naalwar paadina koil’ or the temple which had been visited by the four premier nayanmars. A very beautiful temple but you cant get inside the temple because there is a bus stand located right next to it. I do not have to say anything more. All the waters from the drain are let into the temple. I enquired about this state of affairs to an executive officer who sits inside every Hindu temple. Then I asked the people living in that place, people who worshipped at that temple about what they were doing about this outrage. Indeed what were they doing?
I had gone to a temple in a village in Ramnathapuram district. It was a small temple in a small village and you had to walk to the village by a narrow lane. The approach to the village was very difficult. There was a dead dog on the way to the temple. The smell was simply nauseating. Then I went inside the village and asked those people how they could live with the smell of a decomposing carcass. They told me that it had been a week since they had lodged a complaint with the local Panchayat but that the Panchayat had not acted upon their plaint. I asked them if they weren’t human too and finally got some of them to clear the dog from the pathway and buried it themselves.
Now who do we hold responsible for the state in which our temples find themselves – temples, which as Dr. Raman said, were the pivot and the heart of our society? We have only ourselves to blame. Only we are responsible. In yet another place, the deity is being carried around the town in a procession; four persons accomapnied him – one holding aloft the burning torch on the long pole, one person was playing the nathaswaram, and the third was playing the mridangam. It struck me that day that our Gods were indeed were forgiving and compassionate. The deity was listening to that nadawwaram which was not only being played off-key but also with total disinterest. These four persons were accompanying the Lord, not out of dedication or a sense of the greatness of their task but only because they had nothing else to do. This is the state of affairs today. Why is it that people do not take up temple work anymore? Is it that we are doing something else more pressing or that we do not have the time to spare? None of these . we lack shraddha and bhakthi. That is the bottomline and I hope and pray that such talks as are delivered by people like Shri Raman will change this situation and inspire people to give of their time and resources to the temples of India so that they revert to being the heart of our society yet again.
The fundamental question is why is there government interference in our temples? Our Chief Minister, during his previous tenure, had invited a group of persons to discuss the issue of temple administration. He had called everyone but as usual he hadn’t called certain people. People like me. But we forced our way into the meeting and asked him why the government should manage the affairs of temples when it doesn’t interfere with mosques and churches. The question angered him greatly and he said that until the Hindu temples were taken over by the government, people responsible for administering them were only looting temple funds. I said I didn’t know about that but what I know is how they are being looted under government management. There is a song that is being sung today. “We are atheists, we don’t believe in God, we don’t worship him. We therefore go to temples and stop at the hundial”.
The reason for this pathetic state of affairs in out temples is only because we, who call ourselves Hindus, we who pride ourselves in being Bhaktas, do not go to temples at all. Not as a part of our daily routine, not as a responsibility. Magnificent temples all over, but not a soul to be seen in any of them. I don’t know if it is the fruits of the punya of some Mahatma but now, we get to see some people visiting temples with great devotion on ‘pradosham’ days. Ditto for Vishnupathi. As I said, it is probably the blessings of some living or departed noble soul that our temples are seeing some activity at least on some days of the month.
What does a secular government have to do with religion? More to the point, what does it have to do with managing our temples? The funds of the mosques are with the Muslims and that is being used by them to propagate their religion and for other activities over which the government has neither any control nor any say. Similarly, Church property or real estate owned by the church and church funds are controlled only by the church and these funds and these properties are being used for the propagation of their religion which includes evangelization and proselytization. That being the case, why should the government administer our temples? To aadminister our temples, the government has usurped all temple lands and other moveable and imovable property, has assumed control of all temple funds and put the temples beyond the reach and control of the Hindu devotees.
It is to highlight this outrage, this injustice that the VHP undertook a padayatra from kanyakumari to Fort St. George. The government in our temples is like the snake in the grass. It will not move away easily. Indeed it will not move at all. It has to be forced out. Our temples generate 20 crores of rupees annually. Does any of you think that the government is going to relinquish control of a golden goose which is a perennial source of money for looting and misuse? So the government should get out of temple affairs and should hand over the temple administration to people of faith and who belong to no political party -retired judges, retired military officers and police officers, muttathipathis, aasthana adeenakarthas, and those organizations who exist only to protect Hindus and Hindu interests. These are the people who should be managing our temples, not the government and definitely not a government whose political ideology is atheism. We shall not stop or rest till we get this done.
What provoked this meeting was the diktat given to all temples by the Minister for HR&CE, Tamizhkudimagan, that all archanas in temples should henceforth be performed only in Tamil. This unwarranted and even insolent interference in temple rituals has enraged the Hindu community, many of whom have called me several times in the last few days, asking me to do something about it. Truth to tell, I was not surprised at the Minister’s remarks. Such remarks can come only from those who have no faith and who have no stakes in the well-being of temples. It is of course besides the point that the same Minister would not have dared to tell the mosques and the churches to conduct their religious services in Tamil.
It was around this time that I was asked to meet the Tamil Nadu Assembly Speaker for some kind of a joint interview in the Kumudam magazine. I was loath to meet him because in recent days some very controversial and distasteful remarks about Hindus and Hindu Gods had been attributed to him by the media. He is reported to have said that it is only other religions which undertake seva or charity work for the needy in society and that the Hindus don’t have any social commitment. He is also reported to have said that archanas in temples will be performed henceforth only in Tamil and those Gods who did not understand Tamil, need not stay in Tamil Nadu. I was to comment on these remarks made by the Assembly Speaker. of the two issues that the Speaker has dared to comment, I will not respond to one because this is not the forum except to remark that the Speaker needs to inform himself better before he speaks. Hindus run fifty times more schools and hospitals than the Christian missionaries. The Christian missionary run hospitals and schools wear the symbol of the Cross, ours don’t wear any symbol. That is no reason to think that we do not have any social commitment or that we do not undertake seva work.
But let me respond to this Tamil archana issue. I asked the Minister whether he has issued the same instructions to the Muslims in the Mosques. To which he replied, ridiculously it seemed to me, that the Muslims spoke good Tamil. This is neither here nor there because he had not answered my question on whether he had issued similar instructions to the Muslims. And then I asked him if he has asked the Christians to translate Hallelujah and Amen in Tamil so that we all understand what they mean. I told him successive governments have undertaken to reform the Hindu religion, each according to its whims. So was it not time to reform the other religions too, I asked him. I could see that my questions had made him very angry but the point is he did not respond to any of them. He had no answers to give.
We have no objections to archanas being performed in Tamil or in any other Indian language but what we do object to is the reasons being given by these DMK men and what we do object to is this brazen interference in the religious rituals of our temples. They should stop with the hundial. They should not enter the garbha griha. The Gods understand all languages; they understand bhakti even when it is silent. So there is no need for the Minister to make an issue of what language is to be used to perform the archanas in temples. Similarly, the Speaker must also understand that the Gods who can hear the ants creep on the ground don’t need language lessons, not even from the Speaker. In this very hall, nearly eleven years ago, in 1986, there was a discussion between me and Professor Ma. Nannan, whether we needed to learn Hindi or not. He was accompanied to this venue by several Tamil bhaktas carrying arms. It is the same kind of people the Tamil bhaktas who are today demanding that archanas in temples be performed in Tamil. There is a fringe group among them which, year after year, in Thiruvaiyaru, in January when musicians gather to offer their anjali to saint Thyagaraja, who gather in significant munbers to create a disturbance demanding the anjali be performed in Tamil and not in Telugu or Sanskrit. The same kind of people.
Until recently, it was the custom to perform the archana in tamil on demand from the bhaktas. Any bhaktha could ask for the archana to be performed in tamil and it was done. The archana is performed inside the garbha griha. Most of the time, we do not hear the mantras. So how does it matter anyway in what language it is performed, as long as it is performed with devotion. As I see it, their aim is not to foster Tamil. If that were their objective, Tamil could be fostered in a thousand other ways. Their objective is to rid tamil nadu of Sanskrit. Not that they will succeed. But go to any nook or corner of India and you will find that no matter what language or dialect is spoken there, it will have at least a few sanskrit words in it. Sanskrit unites the people of this country. These Tamil bhaktas are political separatists. So they have an ulterior motive for wanting to rid Sanskrit from the state. And even otherwise, these are people who if they were not in government, would not even enter the portals of temples. Speaker Palanivel Rajan told me he goes to the temple everyday to offer worship but that he will stop doing so if opposition to Tamil archanas mounted. I told him his not going to the temple anymore would have no impact upon the Gods and that the loss was his, not the temple’s.
The temples of Tamil Nadu are not for the people of Tamil Nadu alone; they belong to every Hindu in every part of this globe. The Hindu of this country is a mild-mannered person, as an individual and as a community. So anybody can say anything to abuse Hindus and Hinduism, they can interfere in our religious rituals and we accept everything meekly. buT not some of us. it is time we told the government firmly that it is time it got out of temple affairs, it should not intrude into affairs which are not the business of a secular government and also that it should leave the administering of temples and temple affairs to Hindus and to Hindu bhaktas.
When Tamizh Kudimagan became the HR&CE minister he announced that every temple should adopt a school. Sounds wonderful doesn’t it. But it is nothing but a cunning ploy. Eighty percent of our temples are in dire straits. They do not have the wherewithal to perform even one pooja in a day to the deity. There is no oil for the lamps, there is no camphor for the deepa aarthi. The poojari in such impoverished temples will snuff out the lighted camphor after the aarthi – something that is inauspicious and never to be done. But he has to conserve the camphor for the next bhakta. That is the extent of impoverishment of our temples. Then how can such temples which can barely survive themselves, adopt a school? Again, it is clear that he will not ask churches and mosques to do the same. Let me hasten to add, we don’t want them to adopt our schools, but the fact remains that the Minister can issue such untenable instructions only to Hindus and their temples.
In Tamil Nadu there are 25,000 temples. Shri R.S.NArayanaswamy has conducted extensive research on temples and temple administration. Of these over eighty percent of them are those in a state of impoverishemnt. There are around 20 very large revenue generating temples and around 700 or 800 temples with middling revenue earnings. The government has a beady eye on these temples. Yesterday, I had occasion to offer worship at the Periapalayathamman koil. There are strong indications that the government is planning to take over this temple too. The government waits to see which temples generate a revenue worthy of being controlled and the moment it sees one such temple, like a predatory bird, it swoops on the temple and picks it up. Whatever the government touches withers. Now the government has laid its unholy hands on our temples.
Recently I attended the Kumbhabhishekam in one of our temples. All arrangements were made by the bhaktas themselves,the money for the event was also arranged and mobilised by the bhaktas and yet, the kumbhabhishekam had to be authorised by the government! The Executive Officer, who is employed by the HR&CE ministry but who is paid his salary from temple funds had to be paid one thousand rupees for signing on the form authorising the kumbhabhishekam to be performed. Let me tell you, the bats which hang in the temples, each one, in its previous life must have been a person who had fattened himself on temple property and tample funds. Our temples own agricultural and other land worth tens of thousands of crores. Who is reaping the benefit of it all? Not the temples which continue to remain and destitute and lacklustre. It is being enjoyed by those who enjoy direct or indirect political patronage.
‘Vigil’ has taken up the task of initiating a public debate on the state of our temples. Otherwise who cares? Who cares to pay the slightest attention to our temples? The mosques and churches in Tamil Nadu are prosperous and well kept. But if you happen to see a run-down and dilapidated structure anywhere, you can be assured it is a Hindu temple.
There is a magnificent and beautiful temple in a village called Surutupalli near Oothukottai, where Lord Shiva abides in the very unusual sayanam posture. The Kanchi Paramacharya happened to visit the village and had stayed there a few days. It was only after that the rest of the world knew of the existence of this beautiful and unique temple.
Now coming back to the Minister’s command for temples to adopt temples. The reason being when Churches can run schools, why can’t the Hindu temples? I object to this on two grounds. First, constitutionally, the Hindus of this country do not have the same rights as the minorities when it comes to starting and running educational institutions. The government taxes Hindu schools, has taxed us and bled us dry. You have control over our temples and our temple money. You bleed us dry when we run schools. Then why do you insist that temples should now adopt schools? Having taken over our temples, shouldn’t you be running the schools instead of burdening our temples even more?
And did you all know that if a Hindu wants to start even a primary school, he has to deposit twenty-five thousand rupees with the government, fifty-thousand for middle school and one lakh rupees if I intend to have a high school too. But the secular government, if the Christians and Muslims want to start a school, any school, they do not have to pay a single paisa. This is secularism for you.
We get the government we deserve. At least some Hindus are now waking up to the injustices perpetrated against Hindus and their religious and educational institutions. Let me ask another question of this government. There are so many government departments – health, education, PWD and so on. Let us assume that some money has remained unspent, at the end of one financial year, in one or two of these departments. Considering the fact that so many of our temples are withering for lack of funds, will the government, pass on the surplus money from the PWD, to these temples? If not, then why does it think it is alright to usurp temple funds for running schools or laying roads or to supplement budget deficit? There are so many schools and Karunai Illams which the government runs with money diverted from temple funds. But there is not even an iota of Hindu values of spiritualism in those schools and institutions.
In Thiruchandur, the government has usurped the Thiruchendur temple funds for laying roads on the pretext that these temple funds are being used only to improve facilities in temple towns. It is clear that the government has no responsibility towards Hindu bhaktas. It will not spend any money from government funds for our benefit. Whatever facilities have to be provioded in temple towns or for Hindu bhaktas the government will usurp temple funds to provide the same. As I said earlier, we have only ourselves to blame because one, we dot know the state of disrepair into which our temples have fallen, and two, even when we know it, we do nothing about it.
The government has now constituted an Advisory Board for temple affairs. The names on the Board are impressive. There are good people in it. I wrote to this Board and also issued a statement in the Press. I told them to announce in the newspapers that they will be visiting such and such a district and such and such a temple on this day. G9 and meet the temple devotees there, I told this Board and ask them to tell you about the state of affairs of these temples. Ask them to tell you their grievances with regard to temple worship and temple administration. They have promised to consider my suggestion. If we don’t care for our temples, why should they? The very least we can do is to exert pressure on the government and this Board to set right temple administration. What else can we do? We can begin by going to temples regularly as a family. We can begin to take an interest in its affairs and try to involve ourselves as much as we can in temple work. We may visit all big temples in the hope of receiving some favour from the Gods in return but we should not neglect the temple on our street.we must have as much faith in the deity of the temple in our street as we have in the deities of big temples.
Today is a good occasion to raise another question. Does anyone know what happened to the crores of rupees worth jewellry belonging to several temples? The government says it is in its safe keeping. But how do we know that? Has anybody taken an inventory? Have the findings been made public? Are such inventories made regularly? Recently jewellry worth two crores of rupees was stollen from the Sarangapani temple in Kumbakonam. Temple jewellry and temple ornaments and other articles get stollen regularly. The government has taken all these temples under its control. Then is it not the duty of the government to provide sufficient security to these temples so that such thefts do not occur?
We don’t care. We don’t care when our temples are looted, we don’t care when there is a bomb blast in the meenakshi Amman koil in Madurai. There is a bombblast in madura meenakshi amman temple and nobody even cares. I have asked several great men about the apathy of the Hindu people. The answers of two great men calmed my tormented heart. One was the Kanchi Paramacharya and the other was Krishna Premi swamy. Both of them attributed the apathy of the Hindu community to the absence of leadership. If one elder in the community were to take the responsibility of galvanising the people of his locality, the Hindu community there would come alive.
People go to temples today overcoming innumerable petty difficuties from having to pay for safe keeping of their foot wear to paying parking fee for their vehicles. The idea behind drawing the temple ratha through the streets of the village or the town was to unite all the people of the locality in a common duty performed for the temple. If we have to end caste conflicts, then it is important for all temples to resume the ratha yatra. Hindu bhaktas must ensure that the ratha fectival is celebrated without hurdles to enable all people of the locality to come together. Our minds are united when we serve the temple together. The ratha of the Thiruvaroor temple had not been mobile for several years. We finally got it moving seven years ago. I went to meet the kanchi Paramacharya after the event to seek his blessings for ereviving the ratha yatra of the Thrivadamaruthoor temple. He asked me if I knew that there was a time when every temple had a ratha of its own for precisely the same reason – to bring together all people in the service of the Lord. My intense desire is to see that every temple has its own ratha again, to see that every temple in Tamil Nadu has the resources to perform six poojas a day, every temple must perform the dharma of annadaanam, every temple must perform go-pooja, every temple must have at least a small goshala to care for those cows and other cattle which have served us all their lives.
I was staying in Thiruvanmiyur for a week. The Marundeeswarar koil is being very well cared for by the bhakthas. They have something called the Friday committee. This committee manages the administration very well. They have an excellent goshala where they take very good care of cows and cattle. If the temples of a locality are prosperous and functional, then the locality also becomes prosperous and well. A house that prays together stays together. Similarly if all the town gathers together to meet in the temple and pray together, the country will be united and peaceful.
As Dr.Raman observed earlier, our temples used to act as the dispenser of medicines. It used to be the seat of justice, a literary center, it was also the counseling center where the elders of the village or town would gather and make themselves available to the people who wanted advice or who wanted a pair of ears to vent their sorrow, or to share in their happiness. The elders listen to you compassionately and advise you with great wisdom and you went back feeling lighter in heart.
Temples observed the dharma of annadanam. In times of drought and famine the people would perform annaabhishekam for the presiding deity of the village. Every family would offer some rice for the abhishekam and after the pooja, every individual in the locality, big and small would wait humbly in line to partake of the prasadam. Our temples had something called the ‘annakudi’. The ‘annakudi’ would function until such time the famine or the drought ended and the people could resume their normal lives again. Kerala temples have the ‘ootupirai’ and in the Punjab such feeding centers in the Gurdwara are called ‘langar’. All over India thus you know that our temples and other places of worship performed annadanam. In Karnataka, in Dharmasthala, 15,000 people partake of the prasadam of Lord Manjunatha Swamy everyday.
Temples used to be the center for the learning of Yoga, for listening to religious discourses. Our temples were also the center for all performing arts. We must restore our temples to their traditional role as the heart and soul of our community. For that to happen, we have to take care of our street temples first. Let us adopt those temples which are neglected by the government. The government neglects those temples which do not generate any revenue; let us adopt such temples and make them functional. Temples are the life breath of the Hindu community. If we are ready to accept responsibility for our temples then we have the right to demand that the government step away from temple administration. We have the right to demand that the man who administers our temples must be a person well-versed in the agamas. He must be a man of faith. We must ensure that our religious and cultural values are disseminated and propagated.
I was in Delhi last week and saw a video cassette prepared for those who intend to make the pilgrimage to Kailas-manasarovar. The idea appealed to me. We too should make similar cassettes of our temples and show them to our people, to our children. There is no point in bemoaning the state of our temples. Just as the bhakthas in Thiruvanmiyur have constituted the Friday committee, bhakthas wherever they can must involve themselves in temple affairs and keep a close watch on the government till such time we free our temples from government control. Namaste.