Chidambaram Temple and the Podu Dikshitars

Protectors of the Chidambaram Temple
The Podu Dikshitars have gone  through many ordeals and tribulations in protecting the essential properties of  the temple and the deities at various times. After the decline of the Chola  Empire, Chidambaram town and the temple suffered many invasions and occupations  at various times. The Podu Dikshitars were the body of persons who safely hid  the murtis of the main deities and safeguarded the valuables and jewels, even  at the cost of their lives. In 1597 CE, when a Vaishnava fanatic of the  Vijayanagara Empire proceeded to expand the Vishnu temple at the cost of the  Nataraja Temple in Chidambaram, more than twenty Dikshitars including women  gave up their lives protesting this transgression.

During the Anglo-French and other wars,  Podu Dikshitars took the Nataraja and other murtis away for safekeeping in  various places and reestablished Nataraja worship at Chidambaram after nearly  37 years.

The Podu Dikshitars protect the  temple jewels with a very elaborate and safe twenty-one custodian system. The  Hon’ble High Court of Madras and other institutions of merit like the Tamil  University have praised this system of protection. Even to this day, a team of  Podu Dikshitars regularly takes up watch and patrol duty at the temple every  night.

Religious Denomination of Podu Dikshitars
Article 26 of the Indian  Constitutions protects the religious and administrative rights of religious  denominations or sections thereof.

In 1951, when the HR & CE  Department and Government tried to take over the Chidambaram temple from the  Podu Dikshitars, the latter opposed the move on both merits and constitutional  grounds. The Government opposed the Dikshitars’ claim of protection under  Article 26.

The Division Bench of the Hon’ble  High Court of Madras held that it could be asserted that the Podu Dikshitars of  Chidambaram form and constitute a religious denomination. It also held that the  Podu Dikshitars in whom the management of the temple is vested are both the  Managers and the Archakas and they have a substantial beneficial interest in  the income of the temple, and the procedure to notify this temple encroached  upon the rights of the Dikshitars to manage the property belonging to the  denomination. The Government appealed to the Supreme Court challenging these  and other findings, but a Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court dismissed  the appeal.

Thus the denominational nature of  the Podu Dikshitars and the Chidambaram temple were decided in favour of the  Podu Dikshitars and the matter attained finality.

Though the matter attained finality,  we could still apply the three conditions to form a religious denomination  enumerated by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in subsequent judgments, including the  Shirur Mutt Case, on the Podu Dikshitars. These are:
•It is a collection of individuals  who have a system of beliefs which they regard as conducive to their spiritual  well-being; the Chidambaram Dikshitars are Vedic Brahmins who have a common  religious belief i.e. believe and worship Lord Nataraja as per the principles  of “Dhakaropasana” as expounded by the Upanishads.
•They have a common organisation and  the collective body of Podu Dikshitars is the common organisation of this  denomination.
•The collection of these individuals  has a distinctive name; this collective body has a common name, “Podu  Dikshitars”.

Indeed, the Chidambaram Podu  Dikshitars are the benchmark of religious denominations. They are even a closed  body with distinctive religious and cultural features.

It is to protect such unique micro  communities and minor denominations from the onslaught of the mighty and those  in power that the framers of the Indian Constitution mooted special rights and  protection under Article 26.

Due to various invasions and  autocratic actions of kings and rulers at various periods and due to poverty,  the 3000 Chidambaram Brahmins have today dwindled to 360! But as a community  and as a religious and cultural identity they have so far survived.

Podu Dikshitars are great patriots.  They invested, from the temple’s gold reserve, the highest value ever invested  in Tamil Nadu, in the Government’s Gold Defense Bonds when India faced war with  China. The Chidambaram Temple is the first among temples which hoists the  National flag atop the main Eastern Gopura every Independence Day and Republic  Day.

Podu Dikshitars were also among the  first to open the temple to all castes of Hindus. This is probably the  only ancient temple in Tamil Nadu which permits non-Hindu devotees to have  darshan of the deities including the presiding deity Nataraja. In the two main  festivals celebrated every year, devotees of all communities are permitted to  participate with equal respect and prominence.

It is ironical that the Podu  Dikshitars who survived tremendous tribulations and ordeals under tyrannical  and totalitarian kings and regimes now face the threat of annihilation from the  mala fide actions of a democratically elected and ostensibly secular  government.

The author is a banking professional and research scholar on  Hindu religious affairs

Also read:
Facts on Chidambaram Temple -
Travel to Chidambaram Temple –
Why must State Governments control  Hindu temples -

Receive Site Updates