Hindu temples or fiefdoms of the state?

A Hindu temple is a consecrated sacred space built strictly in accordance with Agama Sastras. The ancient and medieval Hindu temples most of which are being managed today by various state governments under the pretext of poor administration by hereditary trustees were built with the view to develop and conserve shakti (cosmic energy) to raise the consciousness of the masses.

These temples were not just great centers that facilitated congregation, worship, learning, art, culture, music, and community service but also played a role in local administration, dispensation of justice, smooth conduct of trade and commerce, and the preservation of local environmental ecosystem. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that these temples were ‘strategic nodes’ in the larger superstructure of Indian civilization.

Given that these temples were important centers of— native learning, knowledge, wealth, art & culture, and civilization itself— famous for their riches, it comes as no surprise that foreign invaders came here with the aim to thicken their coffers with loot & plunder from these rich temples after they had thoroughly satiated their hunger for bloodshed and destruction by preying upon the lives of thousands and thousands of hapless Hindu men, women, and children. Our temples had been invaded, plundered, and destroyed repeatedly throughout the medieval period. It is sad to note that this rape and plunder has continued unabated in post-colonial India as well.

In this article we intend to discuss how government intervention and control has robbed our great temples of not just their grandeur, resources, and wealth but also completely delimited the scope and scale of temple activities. Hindu Temples must give Income Tax on all donations received; finances are controlled by the government. The government, by law, is free to interfere in management of educational institutions run by Hindu religious bodies. Practitioners of Hinduism in their temples do not have a say by law in the management of temples. It is however curious to note that religious institutions of the so-called minorities are free from all these predatory interventions.

The government strangulation of Hindu temples has led to disastrous consequences. Some of them have been enlisted below.

  1. Only pooja activities can take place.
  2. Ved Pathshalas have disappeared.
  3. Ghoshalas have vanished.
  4. No arable land is left for most temples, much of it has already been appropriated by the government.
  5. No support for cultural functions of temples such as promotion of art, literature, music, and classical dance.
  6. No platform for intellectual discussion and dialogue for Hindu community.
  7. Government intervention has unsettled the ancestral lineage of priesthood.
  8. Poor emoluments to priests has made their survival impossible, no wonder most of these families are moving away from their ancestral profession.

Given the emasculated state of our temples and communities traditionally associated with them, one might be tempted to ask – What happens to the crores and crores of donation that still comes to these temples from the Hindu devotees?

The hundis are generally opened once every two months; the officials responsible for documentation of collection swindle away most of the high denomination notes and gold and silver pieces often with the complicity of the local politicians without documenting them. From the official documented collections, the government takes away a cut as administration and audit fee. Here are some figures from different states to this effect –  Tamil Nadu (12%), Andhra Pradesh (14%), Karnataka (10%). Add to this the proceeds from the temple lands and other properties in rent and lease. As per government’s own audit report for 2010-11, the total collection from 30 acres of prime property within corporate limits is worth around 2,700 cores. However, the actual rent documented is a paltry amount of average Rs. 7, 080 for a ten-year period. The Thiruvannamalai temple land in Chennai, makes for a curious case, where only 0.00002 % of the total value of the land is shown in rent.

According to an estimate, of the total temple revenue, 66% goes to salaries of admins appointed by government, 20% government appropriation, 9% in temple related activities, and less than 5% on Pooja expenses. Thus, of the total revenue only 14% is allocated for temple activities.

The data produced above makes it very clear that the government has completely emasculated our important temples. The disastrous consequences of this policy have already been discussed. What makes this daylight robbery even more sinister is that a huge portion of temple revenue appropriated by the government is used to promote the religious interests of other religious communities.

  1. In Karnataka, Rs. 79 crores were collected from about two lakh temples in 2010-11 and from that, temples received merely seven crores for their maintenance. Out of which Rs 59 crore were allotted for madrassahs and Haj subsidy, and churches got about Rs 13 crore.

2. In Kerala funds from the Guruvayur Temple are diverted to other government projects denying improvement to 45 Hindu temples. Land belonging to the Ayyappa Temple, apparently has been grabbed and Church encroaches are occupying huge areas of forest land, running into thousands of acres, near Sabarimala.

3. In 2010, the Orissa government sold 500 acres belonging to the Jagannatha Puri temple at a throw away price of 1 lakh per acre to the Vedanta foundation. Its efforts to sell another 1000 acres were aborted by the High Court.

For more data on this phenomenon please check the link below.


What does the constitution say? Is government intervention legal?

The article 26 of the constitution of India says –

“Subject to public order, morality, and health, every religious denomination or any section thereof shall have the right –

  1. To establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes.;
  2. To manage its own affairs in matters of religion;

Regardless of the guarantee that the constitution provides, the government has found a way to intervene in the affairs of the temples. What is even more sinister is that the government discriminates against Hindus alone and never with others.

This practice started with the enactment of “Madras Hindu Religious Endowments Act” in 1923 (During British Rule), which became “Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act XXII” in 1959, and since then it has been used by several states in India in different forms, but the core idea remained same i.e. the government control.  (Some term it as “Nationalization of Temples).

As per this law, all the revenues generated by the temple (including Hundi funds) will go to the Govt (not the temple priests/heads) and it is the prerogative of the Govt to decide how much of this revenue will be returned to the temples for their maintenance.

Even though the intervention of the government in temple affairs is clearly in violation of the Article 26, nonetheless this has been the norm post – independence. Who is really to be blamed? The government of course. But, Hindu community could hardly escape censure. Hindus are perhaps the most apathetic people on earth when it comes to taking responsibility of their own religious and cultural affairs. Not only a vast majority of Hindus is totally ignorant about their own culture, religion, and challenges that confront the Hindu people today, but also they are totally incapable of responding to these threats because they lack social institutions that could enable them to take collective stand and thereof action on issues such as this one.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SatyaVijayi