First published click here to read.
It is a great irony that a secular Government should deeply embroil itself in the administration and running of Hindu temples and institutions in the guise of supervising the secular aspects of temple administration. This grotesque policy of the Government to supervise religious institutions applies only to Hindu Religious institutions.
Viselike grip on Religious Institutions
By its own account the HR & CE Dept administers (or rather mal-administers):
•47 temples belonging to Mutts
•1721 Specific endowments and 189 Trusts
This has been possible due to Tamil Nadu being ruled continuously by atheists and unscrupulous persons, a corrupt bureaucracy, a debased High Court and above all, stark apathy, indifference and ignorance among Hindus. In recent times, the covert and overt designs of Christian missionaries and agencies have added to the plight of Hindu temples.
Around 1840, the then British Government started giving up administration of temples. They asked some of the prominent mutts in Tamil Nadu to look after some of the important temples and endowments. The Heads of Mutts who were happy to take over the administration of these temples so that they are run as they ought to be run, were careful enough to get written documents or “Muchalikas” from the British Government, which assured them that they would not take back the temples from the Mutts.
Thus some very important temples came under the complete control and ownership of these Mutts and the Mutts ran them ably and efficiently. The primary purposes of worship and utilization of funds meant for the upkeep of temples and conduct of rituals were never lost sight of by the Heads of Mutts or officers. While a few temples were thus brilliantly administered by the Mutts, thousands of other temples in the then Madras Presidency were handed over to the respective trustees with the then Government playing little or no role in supervising them.
In 1925, the Madras Hindu Religious Endowments Act, 1923 (Act I of 1925) was passed by the local Legislature with the object of providing for better governance and administration of certain religious endowments. The Act divided temples into what are known as Excepted and Non-excepted temples. Immediately after the Act came into force, its validity was challenged on the ground that the Act was not validly passed. For this reason, the legislature enacted the Madras Hindu Religious Endowments Act, 1926, Act II of 1927 repealing Act I of 1925.
This Act was amended from time to time. It is unnecessary to refer to the changes introduced later. Suffice it to say that the Act was amended by 1946 by as many as ten Acts I of 1928, V of 1929, IV of 1930, XI of 1931, XI of 1934, XII Of 1935, XX of 1938, XXII of 1939, V of 1944 and X of 1946. A radical change was introduced, however, by Act XII of 1935. The Government was not satisfied with the powers of the Board then existing and they clothed the Board with an important and drastic power by introducing a new Chapter, Ch. VI-A, by which jurisdiction was given to the Board to notify a temple for reasons to be given by it.
Thus, it can be seen that even in the pre-independence era, the Board had systematically consolidated its powers to take over and administer temples. Of course, this despicable intervention by Government applied only to Hindu Institutions.
Hindu Religious Endowments Board
Shri Krupananda Vaariar had undertaken to build the Vadalur Ramalinga Swami’s Sathya Gnana Sabha in the 1940s and had gone around Tamil Nadu collecting funds from devotees and spending such collection with great care. The Hindu Religious Board, of which one Chinnaiah Pillai was president, intervened in the selfless work of Shri Vaariar and tried his best to scuttle it. Thanks to the just intervention of the then Chief Minister of Madras State, Omandur Ramaswamy Reddiar, his evil designs fell flat.
Omandur Reddiar also intervened to stop the unjust takeover of Chidambaram Sabhanayagar Temple in 1947. But Chinnaiah Pillai and his cronies in the HRE Board were not to give up.
The 1951 Act
Notwithstanding the clear directions of the Madras Government in 1947 to drop notification proceedings and the clear direction of the Hon’ble Madras High Court in 1939 that the Board cannot undertake notification process on frivolous grounds, the Board started the notification process of the Chidambaram Shri Sabhanayagar Temple in 1950 and the then Madras Government issued a Government Order (G.O.) Ms. 894, Rural Welfare Dept. dated 28-8-1951 published in the Fort St. George Gazette on 4-9-1951.
Meanwhile, India after gaining independence from British rule had become a Republic on 26 January 1950, with its Constitution guaranteeing certain fundamental rights to its citizens. Special religious and administrative rights were guaranteed to Religious Denominations or sections thereof.
The Board also tried to take over the famous Shri Guruvayurappan Temple in Guruvayur, Udupi Shri Krishna Temple under the management of Shri Shirur Mutt of Udupi and Shri Venkataramana Temple belonging to the sect of Gowd Saraswath Brahmins in Mulkipetta of South Kanara district.
All the above religious institutions challenged the takeover by the HRE Board. In the meantime, a new Hindu Religious Act was passed by the Madras Government, known as the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, 1951. The Board was now replaced by the Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments Department, headed by a Commissioner who was given vast powers under the Act.
The Government facing stiff opposition in the Kerala region against its order on Guruvayur temple withdrew the order. Shri Lakshmindra Thirtha Swamiar of the Shirur Mutt, the Podu Dikshitars of Shri Sabhanayagar Temple and Devaraja Shenoy representing the community of Gowd Saraswat Brahmins in Mulkipetta filed Civil Miscellaneous and Writ petitions challenging the Government Orders.