Credit: Swarajya Magazine
Most non-Hindus and even many Hindus have a limited understanding of Hindu temples and their role in society.
Hindu temples are not just ‘houses of worship’ as they are known in Abrahamic religions. They are in their basic element embodiment of divine spirit, the structure and the deities consecrated respectively by Kumbabishekam and Prana Prathista.
But besides this, they also played a critical role in the South Asian cultures – as hubs that sustained and propagated Sanatana Dharma and Dharmic Living in those communities, maintained the heritage of those cultures and passed them on to future generations. Today these same temples are under attack from two key sources:
- Left and Abrahamic religions, and
- Secular governments that have come to depend on the financial resources of the company
If we go back many centuries, most kingdoms in South Asia supported erecting local temples and endowing them with resources and land to sustain a Dharmic life in their respective kingdoms. The kings gave large grants of lands to these temples as indicated by some examples below:
Sundaravarda Temple in Uttiramerur in Kanchipuram
Sundaravarda Temple in Uttiramerur in Kanchipuram has inscriptions about the administration of local assembly and governance of local school and bodies of higher education.
‘The Beautiful Tree’ by Dharmapal addresses Pre-British education system in India in details about how temples had schools attached to it and provided universal education. This role must be restored to the local temples.
11th Century Choza temples:
‘The Educational Heritage of Ancient India‘ by Sahana Singh states inscriptions in temples during 11th century Choza period that lay out endowments given for the boarding and tuition of 340 students studying at a Vedic college. The college was given 45 Velis (300 acres) of land to support this college. In fact, the inscriptions even state how much allowance the students were given based on the level of study with students studying Vedanta, Mimamsa, and Vyakarana getting 66% more.
Temples in Ennayiram:
Azhagiya Narasimha Perumal temple in Ennayiram, especially has inscriptions that has some valuable inscriptions that throw light on the administrative arrangements that existed then; and there is one record that gives us valuable details about a Vedic College and a hostel run in the campus of the temple.
The precious resources bequeathed to future generations by the Dharmic rulers were taken over by the corrupt British administration and made worse by The Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment Act of 1951 (See here). Encroachment of the secular governments to usurp those resources have reduced Hindu temples today as mere places of worship, some barely able to keep the lamps burning and do barely one puja a day, let alone 6-times a day as they used to be.
Often secular governments, leftists and more alarmingly Abrahamics bring up prevention of corruption in temple management as an excuse to maintain government control of temples. Some naïve Hindus even buy that argument and support continued government control over temples. Addressing this hypocrisy is whole another matter – considering that churches and mosques have no transparency and government hardly bothers with what happens there. We will reserve it for another day.
If Hindus are going to move forward in this struggle to free Hindu temples from government control, it is up to us to propose a framework that will serve as an alternative to government control. We will present a broad outline of something like that here.
Any proposal for management of temples should ensure:
- The structure will cater to Hindus worldwide with strong base in India
- Transparent processes that ensure Dharmic management of the temples
- Management with representatives from Dharmic Hindus irrespective of language, regional and other identifications
- Focus on primary goal of serving the society by sustaining Sanatana Dharma and Hindu cultural heritage including arts
- Rediscovery of Indic systems of science, math, medicine, economics, and management and ensure it is passed on to future generations
Sanatana Dharma is not a monotheistic entity and neither it supports a single religious authority like Vatican. So, the proposed structure should be federal to ensure consistency in pursuit of basic goals while providing autonomy to regional entities to cater to various regional priorities.
What a multi-level structure could look like:
- Local bodies: Manages temples that cater to a local community
- Hubs temples: Every large temple will serve as a ‘Hub’ to various local communities and temples in those communities
- Regional committees: Composed of hubs formed by large temples in the region
- National body: Formed from representatives from regional bodies and partner with Sanatana Dharmic organizations around the world
Function: These are the most critical elements of this structure. They must cater to the needs of the community and be relevant to achieve the broader goals. At a very basic level this will involve:
- Maintenance of temples, Kumbabhishekams and similar activities
- Imparting Dharmic education
- Running Goshalas
- Patronage for local arts, music
- Celebrate locally relevant festivals
Temples in this model will once again support schools and colleges. That will impart everything from primary education in Mother Tongue based on the Indic framework to multi-discipline higher education centers including specializations.
The temples will be renovated not by philistines but those well educated in traditional temple architecture, agama rules and Dharmic concepts. We have been bequeathed treasures by our ancestors and least we can do is maintain them.
Management: The local bodies must be managed by two groups: full time operational employees composed of Dharmic Hindus and a volunteer management committee with supervisory and guidance role. This committee formed from the local communities with representation across the community irrespective of caste or economic strata.
However only Dharmic Hindus who actively participate in data to day activities in the temple and the community should have the opportunity to be involved in management to avoid situations where people look at the roles as status symbols. These management committee will have to be chosen through a form of election inside the temple where only dharmic Hindus participate and choose their management representatives. Term limits will prevent the role from becoming power centers within the community.
Once a month in a gathering at the temple the committee must share with the devotees updates on Financials and Dharmic activities the local body undertook. For example, the number of students educated in the Ved patshala, renovations done to the temple. It will also give the community a chance to present their points of view and address needs of the community not yet met by the activities of the local body.
Function: Larger temples will cater to the needs of local bodies from surrounding areas. The large temples will devote a portion of the resources to meet the needs of the local bodies not met from local temple resources. The committee that manages this body will also be elected and composed of representatives from surrounding communities. These bodies will also ensure transparency by sharing operational updates, temple income and expenditure in pursuit of dharmic activities in the form of bi-monthly meetings from any one from surrounding communities can participate.
For example, Brihadeshwara temple will serve as the hub for temples in Thanjavur district.
Function: The regional bodies will represent various temples in the region of the country with commonalities such as geographical attributes, cultural affinity etc. These regional bodies will set broad priorities for the region in consultation with both the national body and local bodies. Like local bodies operational updates, financial updates and report of dharmic activities undertaken will be presented on quarterly basis.
The regional bodies will also oversee audit of the local bodies by using randomly assigned audit teams from a pool of dharmic Hindus well qualified to do the same. And the same team won’t be assigned in consecutive years.
The national body will serve as the entity that will set broad priorities for the Dharmic society in consultation with regional bodies and using input from local communities. The national body will also correspond with Hindu temples across the world to ensure that global Dharmic priorities are maximized and Hindu Temples across the world have a connection with the Spiritual Home – Bharat.
More power under local bodies to administer to the needs of the local dharmic communities with regional and national bodies only involved in broad goal setting, auditing and ensuring consistency will ensure balkanization of the Dharmic bodies.
First, we need to limit further damage to the temples and Dharmic society. The government bodies that are managing temples must provide to the community an account of temple resources and how they are managed. Non-Hindus able to either guide activities or have operational impact on temples must be replaced with Dharmic Hindus.
Second, a Hindu Mahasabha must be called that will include selected Dharmic representatives to meet for extended time, debate the ideas and formulate the Charter for Dharmic Temple Management. This charter must be ratified to be effective and this charter alone must guide all aspects of temple management.
Finally, before the Dharmic body takes over, the government must hand over all resources including temple lands and resources illegally occupied by others. With a clean slate the Dharmic body can start administering.