Temples and the State in India: A Historical Overview


Temples and the State in India: A Historical Overview

This is the first of a new comprehensive series on Hindu Temples, their conception, history,…

This is the first of a new comprehensive series on Hindu Temples, their conception, history, heritage and legacy authored by M.D. Srinivas.  


India indeed is a land of temples. Indian civilisation comprehends the entire creation to be a manifestation of the divine. It also understands that the Paramatma can manifest in the world as avatarafor the establishment of dharma from time to time. The places associated with the avataras as also the holy rivers, mountains, forests and other places sanctified by the presence of great rishis, bhaktas, and acharyas, are the great tirtha-kshetras, places which sanctify everyone. Further the Paramatma, out of infinite mercy for all beings, has made Himself accessible as archa vigraha, worshippable deity in various temples. This archa murthy can be either svayambhu, self-manifest or consecrated by great saints, devotees or acharyas.

Unlike a Church or Masjid, which are merely places of congregation and worship, the Temple insanatana dharma, i.e. Devalaya, Devasthana, Devayatana or Koil, is the sacred palace of the Deity who is a Sovereign Person.

Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati

The role of temples in Indian civilisation has been explained by the Paramacharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Pitham, Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Swamigal in an interview in 1959:1

Our temples are not organised as places for meditation, nor for congregational worship. The purpose of a temple is different. We enjoy the goods of life, such as house, food clothing, ornaments, music, dance, etc. We pay a tribute in the form of taxes to the King – now the Government – for making it possible for us to enjoy them by giving us their protection. The King Protector is provided with a palace and other paraphernalia of royalty. Even as we render homage to the kings for the enjoyment of these things, we are bound to tender our gratitude to God who has primarily given us the good things of life. We offer a part of these good things as a token of our gratitude to Him in the temple. We first offer to Him all that he has given to us, in the shape of food, clothing, jewels, music, flowers, lights, incense, and so on with the grateful consciousness that they are His gifts to us; and we receive them back from Him as His prasada. The temple is the place where these offerings are made on behalf of the collective community where it is situated. Even if people do not go to the temple, it is enough that these offerings are made to God on behalf of the community. The duty of the people at the place is to see that these offerings are made in a proper manner. There have been people who would not take a day’s meal till the temple bell announced that the offering to God of food for the day had been made. Then only do they take their meal as God’s prasada.

In another context, the Paramacharya has also noted that:2

If Hinduism has survived so long it must be due to some quality unique to it, something that gives it support and keeps it going. No other religion is known to have lasted so long. When I think of our religion I am reminded of our temples. They are not kept as clean as the churches or mosques…. Our sanctuaries are different because they are built of granite. Their foundations laid thousands of years ago still remain sturdy. … These temples still stand as great monuments to our civilization in spite of our neglect of them and our indifference. It is not easy to pull them down. Perhaps it is more difficult to demolish these edifices than it must have been to build them. Our religion, to repeat, is like these temples. It is being supported by something that we do not seem to know, something that is not present in other faiths… This something is varnashrama dharma.

The large number of temples in India:

Around 1820, when the British Government asked the collectors in various districts of the Madras Presidency to report on the number of religious institutions in their districts and their condition, it was reported that the twenty districts of the Presidency had over one lakh temples, chatrams and mathams. 3Most of the districts were reported to have about 300 to 400 major temples.

Adi Kumbeshwara temple – Kumbakonam

The Government at Madras reported in 1833 that 7,600 temples were directly administered by the Government, and that may be taken as the number of major temples in the Madras Presidency at that time.

We obtain similar estimates if we consider more contemporary reports on the number of temples in different states. The 2005-6 budget report of the Government of Tamil Nadu notes that there are 38, 409 Hindu and Jain religious institutions under its management. The Andhra Pradesh Endowment Department has 33,575 religious and charitable establishments under its management. There are similarly large numbers of temples under government management in several states.

There is another way of estimating the number of temples, by considering the number of localities. It is common knowledge that every locality in India has at least one temple, often several. From ancient times, the classical texts of India have enjoined that one should not stay in a place which is not sanctified by the presence of a deity.


The ancient great cities of Ayodhya, Mathura, Haridwar, Kasi, Kanchi and Ujjayani had (and most of them continue to have) several thousands of temples.

We can have some idea of how many temples there were in an average Indian locality in the eighteenth century by using the data of the survey of over 2000 villages in the Chengalpattu region around Madras, conducted by the British during 1767-1774.

The original Tamil records of the survey list the name, location and area of every temple in a locality. Unfortunately the data is not available for all the villages. In the available data, we do come across localities like Perunagar, near Kanchipuram, which had 33 temples. We find that each locality had four to five temples on an average.4

Though there would be enormous regional and sub-regional variations, it would be perhaps not too wrong if we estimate that on the average a locality in India would have four or five temples. And that would place the number of temples in the country to be more than two millions.

According to the 2001 census5 there are about 2.40 million “Census houses” which are classed as “places of worship” in the country. In 1991 this number was only 1.78 million and there has been a growth of 34.5% in the number of such places. It is not clear what the above growth represents. The census does not give the number of Temples, Churches, Mosques etc., separately.6

To be continued.

V.Raghavan, The Jagadguru, Madras 1965, p.48-9. Raghaven has reproduced the version of the interviewer, Arthur Koestler, as he published it in The Lotus and the Robot, London, 1960, p.54-63. Koestler says that he brought up the issue of “din and noise in Indian temples.” He then wanted to know whether this was the “reason why Indians with a meditative disposition had to resort to the solitude of the mountains or bury themselves in lonely caves.” The Paramacharya begins his answer by saying, “The case is just the reverse. Because solitude and a secluded spot have been prescribed from the oldest times, for contemplation, the temples do not have to serve that purpose.” The Acharya then goes on to explain the role of temples in Indian civilisation.

2 Hindu Dharma : The Universal way of Life, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai 1995, p.660

3 Incidentally the number of Roman Catholic Churches in 1842 in the Madras Presidency was reported to be 847, of which 204 were in Madras city, 253 in the district of Madurai and 190 in Thanjavur.

4 It may be noted that a survey conducted by the Centre for Policy Studies in 1995, in about a hundred localities of the Chengalpattu district, found that the total number of temples had actually increased from what was recorded in the 1770 survey by more than 30%.

5 Census of India 2001, Tables on Houses, Household Amenities and Assets, H-1: Census Houses and the uses to which they are put.

6 According to a Christian missionary source, there were about 100,000 churches in India in 1987 which number has gone up to 350,000 by 2002 (http://www.mnnonline.org/article/5282) . Another source claims: “The number of churches in India has grown from 150,000, 20 years ago to some 400,000 today. That vast expansion means that there are more churches in India today than in the United States of America.” (Martin Robinson & Dwight Smith, Invading Secular Space: Strategies for Tomorrow’s Church , Monarch 2003, p.204). Incidentally the number of churches in the United States of America is estimated around 350,000. Islamic sources estimate the number of waqf properties in India to be around 300,000 in number. (Awkaf Experiences in South Asia, edited by Khalid Rashid, Indian Institute of Objective Studies 2002, page 124). However, it is not clear whether this gives any reasonable estimate of the number of Masjids and Dargahs in India.

Dr. M.D. Srinivas is Chairman of Centre Policy Studies, Member of the ICHR, Physicist, Sanskrit scholar, and author of numerous books including the widely-acclaimed Annam Bahukurvita and Indian Demographics.
Hampi Narasimha
Temples and the State in the Indian Tradition

The second part of the series on Hindu Temples, their conception, history, heritage and legacy authored…

The second part of the series on Hindu Temples, their conception, history, heritage and legacy authored by M.D. Srinivas.

Kings were the premier sevakas of the Deity

In recent times, the Vijayanagara Samrajya was a major effort at re-establishing sanatana dharma in Bharatavarsha. The Telugu chronicle on the Vijayanagara Samrajya, Rayakavachamu, begins with the following account of the daily routine of King Viranarasimharaya (the elder brother of Krishnadevaraya who ruled from 1505 to 1509), which clearly portrays the Indian ideal of a king functioning as the premier devotee and protector of temples:7

Sri Krishna Devaraya

Statue of Krishna Devaraya

In the city of Vidyanagara, Viranarasimharaya [the elder brother of Krishna-devaraya who ruled from 1505 to 1509] …called the Great Court to assemble and then seated himself there. Sacred water and prasadam were brought from the 108 Tirupatis [temples of Vishnu] and sacred ash, scents and prasadam brought from the seventy-two temples of Siva.

The king rose and stepped forward, folded his hands in reverence and accepted the offerings. Then he raised his head again to greet the priests of Vishnu and Siva temples who had come from those distant places, requesting them to make themselves comfortable on seats befitting their honoured positions.

When the king asked the priests of the Vishnu temples if all was well and in order at the eight svayambhu kshetras of Srirangam, Srimushnam, Venkatachalam, Salagramam, Totadri, Naimisharanyam and Pushkara-kshetram, they replied that thanks to his lordships boundless majesty, the young officers appointed to assist the priests at the various temples were running matters so well that nothing further was needed and that, at the 108 Vishnu temples, all the daily rituals were being properly carried out.

The Siva temple priests reported that at the Panchabhuta Kshetras, temples dedicated to Siva in his forms as the five elements, earth, water, fire, air and akasa, namely Ekamranatha, Jambunatha, Arunachalesvara, Kalahastisvara and Chidambaram, as well as in the rest of the seventy-two temples of Siva and at the eighteen Devi Kshetras, all was prosperous, and the daily rituals were being carried out as they should be. When he heard this the king was greatly pleased and so he presented the priests with gifts of land.

Next he summoned Dharmasanam Dharmayya, the minister of religious gifts, who accordingly came forward and stood before the king. While the king listened Dharmayya reported: ‘In perfect accordance with your lordship’s orders, no one has caused either problem or misfortune for the residents of the brahmana villages in the Dravidadesa, Andhradesa, the Hayananadu, Morasanadu, Melnadu, Karnataka, Ghattamsima, Chera, Chola, Pandya, Magadha, Malayala and the other various localities. The inhabitants of these brahmana villages are devoted to the performance of the daily rituals; to the recitation of the four vedas; to the study of the six sastras; to the regular performance of the pancha mahayajnas; and to showing hospitality to guests. Fully devoted to their scholarly study, they are living comfortably in their villages’.

Next the king summoned his military commanders…

Virupaksha Temple

According to traditional Indian accounts, the kings Harihara and Bukka, the co-founders of the Vijayanagara Samrajya, are said to have handed over their kingdom, through Acharya Vidyaranya, to the deity Virupaksha at Vidyanagara (Hampi) and subsequently ruled their kingdom on the deity’s behalf. The same is recorded of the Gajapati kings of Orissa, at least from the time of Anangabhimadeva in the 12th Century, who referred to their kingdom asPurushottama Samrajya and themselves asPurushottama-sevakas, the servants of Sri Jagannatha. The Rajas of Thiruvanantapuram have traditionally called themselves asPadmanabha-dasas, the primary servants of the deity Padmanabhaswami at Thiruvanathapuram. On 3rd January 1750, Raja Martanda Varma made a public avowal of this relation when he made the celebrated Thrippati Danam of the entire kingdom in favour of in favour Sri Padmanabha Perumal.8

The duty of the kings with respect to temples: Dana (Gift) and Palana (Protection)

The main function of the kings or the state in the Indian tradition, in relation to temples and other religious institutions, was dana, making gifts and endowments, and palana, protection. Dana was not anything special to the kings, the records show that a large cross section of society made lavish donations to the temples, mathams and chatrams.

The dharmasastras lay down that that a king, whenever he makes a gift, should make a sasana, a written record, for the benefit of future kings. Thus, it is no wonder that most of the epigraphs and other records that have come down to us from ancient times are indeed records of such gifts made by kings and others for temples and other religious and charitable purposes. These have served as one of the major sources of historical information on state and society in India.

A majority of the gifts made by the kings are the so called “grants of lands” and even “grants of entire villages”. Here it is important to realise that kings in Indian tradition have only the right to receive revenue from the land in return for rendering protection; and when a king donates some land or even an entire village, what is being gifted away is only this revenue due to him and nothing else.

If a king wanted to confer ownership of some land on an individual or an institution, he had to first buy the land. The commentary Mitakshara on Yajnavalkya Smriti mentions9 krayena labhdhva. So do several inscriptions which mention how the king first purchased the given property and then gifted it away.10

The glory of Dana: Rajaraja’s endowments to the Great Temple at Thanjavur (c.1010)

The great Chola king Rajaraja I who ruled from 985 to 1014 AD, constructed the magnificent Rajarajeswvra or Brihadisvara temple at Thanjavur. The construction was begun in 1003, and thekumbhabhishekam performed on the on the 275th day in 25th year of his reign which is said to correspond to April 22, 1010 AD. The temple is built in a rectangular area 750 feet in length and 400 feet in breadth. The vimana of the main shrine rises to nearly 200 feet and is built on a square base of about 100 feet, is amongst the grandest such structures in India. During the period 1010-14, Rajaraja also made substantial gifts and endowments to the temple to ensure that it functioned as one of the richest and most magnificent temples of the period.

There are 107 inscriptions in the temple; nearly 64 of them pertain to the period of Rajaraja, which were published, with translation in 1891, as the second volume of the series South Indian Inscriptions11 . They give an idea of the grand economy of the temple as supported by the munificence of Rajaraja, his elder sister Kunthavai, his queens and other prominent persons of the period.

Carved figures on the walls of the Brihadeeshwara Temple

Rajaraja himself presented 41,559 kalanju (at 70 grains per kalanju, this would be over 500 lbs.) of golden articles, gold jewels worth 5100 kalanju(about 60 lbs.) and silver ware of 51,600 kalanju(about 600 lbs). His sister Kundavai gifted over 10,000 kalanju of gold (about 120 lbs.) and utensils of 9000 kalanju in gold (about 105 lbs.).

To ensure a regular income for the temples, Rajaraja assigned revenue from various villages of his empire. The inscriptions give details of the revenue assignments in 40 villages in Cholamandalam and 16 villages distributed over the empire, from Thondaimandalam, to Ilamandalam (Sri Lanka). Rajaraja’s inscriptions clearly mention the extent of lands in each village, the lands which were already exempt from paying any revenue such as habitats, flower gardens, tanks, channels, cremation grounds etc., the extent of the balance land and the revenue demand on it. The average revenue claimed is about 100 kalams of paddy per veli of land. Incidentally this implies a very high productivity of about 15 tons per hectare, if we note that 1 veli is about 6.5 acres and 1 Thanjavur kalam is about 60 kg of paddy and take the rate of revenue (as stated by the Chola kings in various places) to be one-sixth of the produce.

The total revenues assigned by Rajaraja to the great temple at Thanjavur, as recorded by these inscriptions, add to 144,500 kalams of paddy and 2800 kalanju of gold (which was roughly the cost of 11,200 kalams of paddy at that time). 12 The total revenue thus assigned amounts to about 9350 tons of paddy.

The inscriptions also describe grants made by Rajaraja to a host of shepherds for maintaining 4124, cows, 6924 eves and 30 buffaloes.13 In return for maintaining 16 buffaloes or 48 cows or 96 eves, the shepherds were required to supply I ulakku of ghee each day to the temple. In this way the temple received 158ulakku of ghee per day adequate to keep to keep 158 lamps burning.

Apart from this the inscriptions record that Rajaraja put together a large temple establishment and made assignments for their emoluments. The annual allocation to these temple functionaries is mostly stated in units of a pangu or share; each share is an assignment of 1 veli of land which yields a revenue of 100kalams of paddy per year. In all, the inscriptions mention 1001 functionaries14 and the annual allocations for these functionaries vary from a minimum of 0.4 share to a maximum of 2 shares.

One inscription gives details of 196 functionaries along with the names of the 144 villages from which they were drawn, and who were to pay for these functionaries. Among these are 174 brahamacharis (for temple paricharya) who were to get 1 padakku of paddy each day (amounting to 61 kalams a year) and 4 kalams each at the end of the year. This inscription also mentions 4 treasurers, 6 senior accountants who were to get 2 shares each and 12 accountants at 0.75 share each. Another inscription records 48Thiruppadiyam singers and 2 drummers who were to get 3 kurunis of paddy each daily (about 91 kalams a year) from the city treasury.

Another inscription records the name of 131 villages from which 143 tirumeykappu (protectors of the temple, the watch and ward) were to be drawn; they were to get 1 share each, which was to be provided for from the revenues of the respective villages.

Murals in the Brihadeeswara Temple

Another inscription records the allowances to be paid to 612 functionaries. Of these 400 aretallicceri pendugal (devadasis) who were to get a house and receive 1 share each. Their names, the names of the 69 temples where they were serving, are also mentioned along with the location of the house allotted. These houses were located along two long streets. Apart from these 212 other functionaries are mentioned who are to receive 180 shares in all. These included 6 dance masters (2 share each), 5 singers (1.5 share each), 7 nagaswaram players (1.5 share each), 16 musicians (0.75 share each), 66 drummers (0.5 share each), 1 master carpenter (1.5 share), 4 carpenters (0.75 share each), 1 master potter (1 share), 10 potters (0.5 share each), 7 lamp lighters (0.5 share each) and 10 parasol bearers (0.4 share each).

Further, the inscription also notes:

Instead of those among these share holders who would die or emigrate, the nearest relations of such persons were to receive that allowance and do the work. If the nearest relations were not qualified themselves, they were to select other qualified persons to do the work and receive the allowance. If there were no relations the other incumbents of such appointments were to select qualified persons from those fit for such appointments and the person selected was to receive the allowance.

Palana takes precedence over Dana

Though dana or making gifts for religious and charitable institutions, was a very important dharma or duty of the kings and every householder, and earned them great punya or merit, it was palana, protection, which was considered the supreme duty of the kings. In the sixteenth century, when the Pandyan King Abhirama Pandya assembled all the learned in his kingdom and asked them that between gift and protection which was greater, he was told:15

Palanam paramam loke danat pandyamahipate danat svargamavapnoti palanat acyutam padam iti pauranikassarve palanam paramam viduh asmanmatamidam deva palanam kuru pavanam

[Protection, O Pandya King, is superior in this world than gift. By gifts one attains heaven, but by protection the imperishable state. Thus all men versed in the Puranas have declared protection to be superior. This, O King, is our view. Render thou protection which is purifying.]

Palana or protection meant the protection of all the properties, and income, especially the endowments of revenue and lands made to the temples and its functionaries by the earlier kings and devotees, and more importantly, ensuring the functioning of the temple as per its sampradaya, customs and traditions.

All the sasanas, copper plate and stone inscriptions and other records of these endowments, declare that the endowment is to last as long as the Sun and Moon shine (achandrarka) and cite, in the end, a number of verses from the smritis (dharmasastras and puranas) which emphasise the importance of palana and the terrible sin that would befall one who violates this dharma. P.V.Kane gives over 40 verses some of which invariably appear at the end of every inscription.16 We may cite a few here:

svadattat dvigunam punyam paradattanupalanam
paradattapaharena svadattam nisphalam bhavet
svadattam paradattam va yo hareta vasundharam
sastivarsasahasrani vistayam jayate krimih

The primary duty of the king is protection of Dharma

In order to understand the primary responsibility of the state in relation to the Temples, it is important to understand the essentials of rajadharma in relation to society and its institutions.17 Palana, or protection is indeed the primary duty of state in India. Yajnavalkya states that:18

Pradhanam ksatriye karma prajanam paripalanam

[The primary duty of a kshatriya is to protect the people. ]

Protection of the people is to guard them against two sorts of dangers, those which come from outside and those that may arise in his kingdom. A King has to protect the people against the aggressive inclinations of his neighbouring or other states. Secondly, it is the protection offered against perils that threaten them within the kingdom. He should offer protection to individuals and institutions against thieves and oppressors and especially offer protection to the weak against the strong. Palana further includes protection of varta, the basic economic activity of agriculture, animal husbandry and trade, and ensuring livelihood for all.

Palana also implies protection of harmonious social order. All the classical Indian texts are unanimous that the role of state in relation to the society and its various institutions is not one of control, regulation, legislation or reform. It is essentially the protection of dharma.

To be continued in the next part of the series.

7  P.B.Wagoner, Tidings of the King, Honolulu 1993, p. 77-8.

8. In 1949, when the then Maharaja Chithira Thirunal was to take over as the Rajapramukh of the State of Travancore-Cochin, he informed the Government of India that it would not be possible for him to take the usual oath of office as the head of state as he had all the time been ruling on behalf of and as the servant of Sri Padmanabha Swamy. Finally a new precedent was created, where a letter was addressed by the Maharaja to the Government of India that he would give a solemn assurance (not an oath) that he would do his best to protect, preserve and defend the State of Travancore-Cochin, and this letter was read out by the Chief Justice in the presence of the Maharaja at the time of inauguration of the Union in 1949.

9 Vijnanesvara’s Mitakshara on Yajnavalkya II.17

10 Kane gives several instances of inscriptions, from the time of Ushvadatta (1st century AD), and later of the period of the Guptas etc., of the Kings having bought the lands which they donated (P.V.Kane, Historyof Dharmasastra, Vol. 2, Poona, 1974, p.856,864)

Dr. M.D. Srinivas is Chairman of Centre Policy Studies, Member of the ICHR, Physicist, Sanskrit scholar, and author of numerous books including the widely-acclaimed Annam Bahukurvita and Indian Demographics.
Jagannatha Temple
Temples and the State in the Indian Tradition: Part 3

The third part of the series on Hindu Temples, their conception, history, heritage and legacy authored by…

The third part of the series on Hindu Temples, their conception, history, heritage and legacy authored by M.D. Srinivas.

The state in India had no power to define or legislate what is dharma. On the other hand, the Brihadaranyaka Upanishat states that:19

Kshatrasya kshatram yaddharmah
Dharma is the sovereignty of sovereignty

Dharma, in its universal aspect, refers to rta or the natural order and harmony amongst all aspects of creation. There is also the dharma, of every constituent unit of society, the kulas or families, thegramas or localities, jatis or communities, srenis or professions, sampradayas or religious fraternities etc., which include the time-honoured customs and traditions, samaya, achara and vyavahara of these groups.


Dharma in its universal aspect is the very principle of creation, and the state had no role in defining it. It was the great rishis and acharyas who served as the interpreters of this dharma which issanatana, eternal. As Manu states:20

Vedo’khilo dharmamulam tadvidanca smrtisile

Dharma as the achara and vyavahara of various groups was to be determined by the groups themselves and the State had no role in legislating them either. The primary duty of the King in India was to ensure protection to every group to follow their svadharma. As Manu states:21

jatijanapadan dharman srenidharmansca dharmavit samikshya kuladharmansca svadharmam paripalayet

Further, the kings in India were enjoined to protect and follow the desa-dharmas even in conquered countries. As Yajnavalkya states:22

Yasmin dese ya acaro vyavaharah kulasthitih
Tatghaiva paripalyo’sau yada vasam upagatah

When a new territory comes under one’s rule, the King should meticulously follow the achara, vyavaharaand kula-sthiti, the customs and practices of that region and the relevant group.

As regards settlement of disputes, the classical Indian position is that they are to be basically settled by the various component groups themselves. The role of the state is mostly as an arbiter for disputes between groups. The duty of the king to protect the dharma of every unit of society, kula, grama , sreni, etc., was equally valid even in respect of deviant groups such as pakhandis etc. As Yajnyavalkya states:23

sreninaigamapakhandigananampyayam vidhih bhedam caisam nrpo rakset purvavrttim ca palayet

Further, it is not only the major groups such as grama (locality), sreni (guild) etc., but all groups in general were entitled to settle disputes as per their time-honoured dharma. A famous injunction of Brihaspati is that:24

Kinasah karuka mallah kusidasreninartakah linginastaskarascaiva svenadharmena nirnayah

If the state had no role in legislating what is dharma of various groups and if its role in settling disputes was fairly limited, then what is the nature of rajasasana, the orders of the King? The classical Indian texts do consider this question in detail. Essentially, what emerges from such discussions as also from the examples available from the vast corpus of inscriptions, is that most of these rajasasanas are in the nature of vyavasthas or decisions of arbitration which are made in the context of settlement of particular disputes. It is very important to keep this highly circumscribed role of the state in India in mind, while we look at the relation between the state and the religious institutions.

Acarascaiva sadhunam atmanastustirevaca

The temples were managed by local bodies following established traditions.

From classical Indian position as regards the role of state, outlined above, it should be clear that the main duty of the King with respect to temples and religious institutions, namely palana or protection, in no sense implied any control or involvement with the administration of the institution or its endowments. He was to ensure that the properties and endowments to the temple or the religious institution and its functionaries were protected and that there were no obstacles in the way of the temple functioning as per the established customs and traditions.

Therefore, in the large corpus of dharmasastra literature, there is very little said on how temples and their endowments are to be administered and there is almost no discussion of how worship is to be organised. Such issues are sometimes discussed in the large number of sthala-puranas and other chronicles of various temples, the traditional histories of different sampradayas, and of course the various agamas which deal specifically with worship.

Kautilya in his Arthasastra states that the temple properties are to be managed by the elders of the locality:25

Baladrvyam gramavrddhah vardhayeyuh…devadravyanca

The large corpus of inscriptions which has survived in many of the temples clearly shows that, from ancient times, the management of temples has been invariably vested with a “local body” of Sthanikas, Sthanattar or Sthalattar. During the Chola times, they are referred to as the Variya-perumakkal (the elected or chosen elders). It is this body which accepted all the grants and gifts to the temple, administered the properties of the temple, appointed various temple functionaries and also participated in the deliberations on occasions when the king or his representatives arbitrated on disputes between different groups regarding the functioning of the temple.

We can have some idea of the composition of this local body of Sthanattar from an important inscription in Sri Venkatesvara temple at Tirumala. This inscription of 1390, while describing the share of the prasadams to be given to the Sthanattar, gives the following composition of this body:26

4 nirvaham for the Tirupati Srivaishnavas
3 nirvaham for the Sabhaiyar (Councillors) of Thirucchanur
1 nirvaham for the Nambimar (Archakas of the Temple)
2 nirvaham for the Kovil Kelkum Jiyars (the Periya and Chinna Jeeyar Swamis)
2 nirvaham for the Kovil Kanakku (Temple Accountants)

Tirupathi Temple.

It is important to note that this body ofSthanattars (comprising twelve members, as is stated in several other inscriptions also) had representation from the Sabha(council or assembly) of the locality, major temple functionaries (archakas and accountants), the religious leaders of the denomination associated with the temple (Jeeyar Swamis) as well as the local devotees (Tirupati Srivaishnavas). Most of the Indian temples have been closely associated with one denomination or other and the above composition is indeed a fair representative of the local committee of management in the case of most temples.

A study of the corpus of temple inscriptions and also of the sthala -puranas and other temple chronicles would show how the management of the finances, overall administration and organisation of worship at the temples, were supervised by the local body of Sthanikas in collaboration with other locality, community and denominational organisations and how the state’s role was essentially one of facilitating these bodies in their functioning and arbitrating in some of the disputes either between these bodies or with outside individuals and institutions. There was no authority for the state to interfere in the management of temple finances or in its administration or in the conduct of worship there. As regards the royal decisions regarding the settlement of disputes, such decisions were to be communicated to and implemented by the Sthanattars. Also the decisions were arrived at in the presence of and with the concurrence of the Sthanattars.

One scholarly study on temples and the state in pre-British India concludes that:27

Hindu kings …thus had two sorts of relationships to temple deities: endowment and protection. The latter aspect of their role, however, did not connote a capacity to legislate in the modern Western sense, nor did it imply centralised bureaucratic management of temple affairs. The effective bearers of royal commands, and thus of the “protective” function, were local, generally sectarian groups and leaders. Without endowment, the king would cease to place himself in an active relationship with the…deity and thus would fail to acquire the honour consecutive of sovereignty. Without protection, that is, without the authoritative royal ratification of local regulations by royal edicts (rajasasanam), the king would have abnegated his fundamental duty towards his subjects.

The inviolability of local traditions of worship

When the state has no direct role in the management of the temple and is duty-bound to protect the time-honoured traditions of the institution, there is indeed no question of the state having any say in matters of worship. The principle that no one from outside, however powerful or revered he may be, can seriously interfere in the established traditions of worship, is illustrated by a famous anecdote concerning the great Srivaishnava Acharya, Sri Ramanuja in relation to Jagannatha temple at Puri. This anecdote is mentioned in the traditional accounts of the life of the Acharya such as Ramanuja Champu, Prapannamritam and  Ramanuja Divya Charitai.

Prapannamrita recounts28 that the Acharya, while on his way back from Saradapitha in Kashmira, visited Purushottama Kshetra (Puri) to have darsana of Jagannatha. He tried to persuade the archakas there to follow the Pancharatra mode of worship, as that was to give akshaya-phala, everlasting merit, and was the sure way to moksha. The archakas sought the refuge of Sri Jagannatha and obtained abhaya from him that their ancient mode of worship will not be disturbed.

Lord Baladeva, Goddess Subhadra and Lord Jagannatha.

Sri Jagannatha pleaded with the Acharya that: “O Jagadguru, I have made several divya kshetras follow your precepts, so let me have my way here. Let me freely enjoy myself here along with these people”. Still the Acharya thought within himself that he would somehow establish the Pancharatra mode of worship in this Purushottama Kshetra also. Sri Jagannatha, who felt that the Acharya would succeed in his endeavour and that would lead to immeasurable grief for his devotees, had no option but to employ his yogamaya to transport the Acharya to Srikurma Kshetra (Sri Kurmam in Andhra Pradesh) in the night while he was asleep.

It is important to note that this anecdote of the unsuccessful attempt by the Acharya to bring about a change in the mode of worship at the Jagannatha temple is presented in the traditional biographies of the Acharya, which describe his life and work with great respect and devotion. A somewhat abridged account of the same anecdote is also given in Madala Panji, the chronicle of the Jagannatha temple, where Sri Ramanujacharya is merely referred to as the “Acharya”. It is indeed of great significance that such authentic traditional accounts record that even great Acharyas and Bhaktas have no authority to alter the time-honoured traditional modes of worship. Such is the sanctity accorded to the dharma-vyavasthas of temples in the Indian tradition.

To be continued in the next part of the series.

19 Brihadaranyakopanishat, I.14

20 Manusmriti I.6

21 Manusmriti, VIII.41

22 Yajnavalkya I.343

23 Yajnavalkyasmriti, II.192

24 Brihaspati cited in Vyavaharanirnaya, p.1

25 Kautiliya Arthasastram, 2.1

26 Tirupati Devasthanam Inscriptions, Vol. I, p.173-176

27 Appadurai, Worship and conflict under Colonial Rule, Cambridge 1981, p.71.

28 Prapannamritam, Ed. S.Krishnaswamy Iyengar, Puttur Vol. I, 1983, p.378 -85

29 Sita Ram Goel et al, Hindu Temples: What Happened to Them, Vols.I, II, New Delhi 1990, 1991. The list is contained in Vol.I, p.62-182.

Dr. M.D. Srinivas is Chairman of Centre Policy Studies, Member of the ICHR, Physicist, Sanskrit scholar, and author of numerous books including the widely-acclaimed Annam Bahukurvita and Indian Demographics.
Temples and the State in the Indian Tradition: Part 4

The fourth part of the series on Hindu Temples, their conception, history, heritage and legacy authored…

The fourth part of the series on Hindu Temples, their conception, history, heritage and legacy authored by M.D. Srinivas.

Over history, the Indian temples have received great patronage and protection from the Indian Kings, they have also withstood great onslaughts. While nothing much is known about the way some of the earlier invaders, starting from the Persians to the Greeks, Sakas and Hunas treated the Indian temples, the Islamic invasion of India from the middle of seventh century singularly targeted the Indian temples for attack. This subject has been discussed at some length in a well-known study29, which also gives a list of about 2,000 Muslim monuments of today, which stand on the sites of deliberately demolished temples and in the construction of which materials from the demolished temples have been used.

What is perhaps noteworthy is that nearly 600 entries in the above list (30% of the total) happen to be located in the three southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, regions which are commonly supposed to have largely escaped from the Islamic invasion and conquest. Another important point which is noteworthy is that, it is not the so called Hindu temples alone which got destroyed in this onslaught.

Hiuen Tsiang

As has been noted in the above study, in the first half of seventh century, Hiuen Tsiang visited about 95 Buddhist centres in India each of which had between 50 to 500 Sangharamas and 1,000 to 10,000 Monks. The destruction of perhaps 50,000 or more Buddhist Viharas is also co-terminus with the destruction of the large number of Hindu temples in India.

Many temples however did survive the Islamic invasion and rule.The resurgence of sanatana dharma in the Vijayanagara Samrajaya and its successors in south India from the 14thcentury onwards, and later under the Hindavi Svarajya of Chatrapati Shivaji in the seventeenth century, and the rise of many regional kingdoms in north India which led to the end of Mughal rule in the eighteenth century, did restore the functioning and to some extent even the glory of our temples in many parts of India. This is borne out by several accounts in the eighteenth century of the functioning of our temples in various regions prior to the establishment of British rule there. We shall here present a few instances of the manner of functioning of our temples prior to the onset of British rule.

Integrating the regional polity: The great temples of Chengalpattu (c.1770)

A detailed picture of the way the temples and other cultural and religious institutions were maintained in the pre-British Indian polity in the 18th century is available from the detailed records of the survey conducted by the British, during 1767-74, of over 2000 localities in the Chengalpattu region, around the city of Madras.30 The survey records show that for the upkeep of various services and functions essential to the polity two kinds of arrangements were made. Firstly, a part of the cultivated lands of the locality, amounting to nearly a quarter of the cultivated lands, was assigned asmaniyam, lands whose revenue was assigned to the support of various functions and services. A more significant arrangement involved the allocation from the grain produce, which were known asswatantrams and merais, which together amounted to a third of the total produce.

In this way most of the services and functions were provided for and arranged at the locality level itself. Apart from the local temples and the cultural and religious establishment which received a share in the grain produce from their locality, there were a number of major religious and cultural institutions of the region which received a share of produce from several localities.

These allocations were in the form of merais. There were about 25 great cultural institutions which received a share of grain produce from more than 30 localities. The greatest of such institutions was the Varadaraja Perumal Temple at Kanchipuram which received a share from over 1,250 localities.

Temples were not the only cultural centres maintained thus. There were great Mathams such as “Kubhakonam Chikkodeyar”, Jagadguru Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Pitham then residing at Kumbhakonam, who received shares from over 300 localities. There were Muslim places like that of the Santhome Pirjada who received a share in the produce of over 100 localities. The Choultry at Tiruvottriyur received a share form nearly 50 localities. Thus the localities, while functioning as “self-sufficient autonomous republics”, were knitted together into a larger polity through the great cultural and religious institutions, apart from other administrative and military mechanisms.

The way the merais were received by these great temples is indicated by the following statement of a later Collector of Chengalpattu in 1840s:31

When the villages were originally assigned for the support of the institutions that which was given was, merely the proportion of the grain, or its equivalent in money which would accrue to the Government revenue, and … the collection of the revenue was then left in the hands of the persons controlling the affair of the temples &c …

While this could have been the situation at the time of the Chengalpattu survey around 1770, the situation changed drastically soon. The British Government as a matter of deliberate policy did not allow the great regional institutions of Chengalpattu polity to continue any direct dealings with the various localities of the region. The first Collector of Chengalpattu, Lionel Place, noted in his Report of 1799 that, soon after he became the Collector, he took over the “management of the funds of all the celebrated pagodas” into his own hands and allotted the expanses of the temples for their festivals and maintenance. By 1801, these were converted to “fixed money allowances” under a “permanent settlement”.32 Incidentally, as per Places accounts, the total merei was about 35%, and the temple mereiabout 4%, of the government share of the produce. They were estimated to be about 13.5% and 1.5% of the total or gross produce of the district.

Supporting a Great Establishment: Sri Ranganathaswami Temple (c.1818)

In response to the instructions of the Madras Board of Revenue, the Collector of Trichnopoly, Mr. C.M.Lushington sent a report33 in 1818, on the temples in his district, in which he included a detailed statement on the income and establishments of the “three principal temples”, Ranganathaswami temple at Srirangam, Jambukesvaraswami Temple at Tiruvanaikkaval and Tauyumanavaswami temple at the Rock Fort. As regards the importance of the Ranganathaswami temple, the Collector noted that Srirangam is held by the Hindus as a most holy place and that over a million persons assemble during the major festivals.

The Collector gave an inventory of the “property and articles” (jewels and other valuables) belonging to the temple whose value, he noted, “is estimated at the immense sum of SPs 2,21,664 – 4 – 3”. The collector’s report also includes a list of “persons employed in performing the ceremonies”. The total number of these temple functionaries adds up to 820 for the Sri Ranganathaswami temple, 201 for the Jambukeswaraswami temple and 146 for the Tayumanvaswami temple.

The list for Ranganathaswami temple includes 6 Sthalattars, 20 Archakas, 20 Adhyapakas, 20 Veda Parayanadars, 54 Sattanians, 20 Accountants, 80 Devadasis, 27 Musicians, 7 Potters, 5 Masons, 10 Sweepers and 90 “Brahmins attending in the pagoda”.

The Dharmasastra texts declare that the annadana, the Indian discipline of feeding anyone who happens to come at ones door is sadavrata, an observance, which is to be undertaken at all times and places

Unfortunately the report does not include any statement on the endowments or payments made to these temple functionaries. Such information is available for some of the smaller temples in the Baramahal area (later Salem District) at the time of British take over in the 1790’s. For instance, in the case of the Kshireshvaraswami temple in Palakkodu (in the present day Dharmapuri District), the Baramahal Records34 mention that the total income of the temple in 1793 was Chakrams 166-6-0, of which 46-6-0 were utilised for temple ceremonies. The rest were utilised towards emoluments of about 35 functionaries, which varied from about ½ chakram received by each of the four “masalgies” and 1 chakram which was received by each of the six “porters”, to 6 chakrams received by the “parpattegar” and by each of the two archakas.

Ensuring that no surplus remains: Sadavrat at Kedaranath (c.1800)

The Dharmasastra texts declare that the annadana, the Indian discipline of feeding anyone who happens to come at ones door is sadavrata, an observance, which is to be undertaken at all times and places. Thetitrtha-kshetras, the pilgrimage centres widely dispersed all over India, had large public endowments for the purpose of sadavrata, for free distribution of food to everyone. In the great kshetras of Badarinath and Kedaranath it was the Kings of Nepal who had made large sadavrat endowments in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

One of the Sasanas of Maharajah Rama Bahadur Saha35 in 1797 grants the entire revenues of the Pargana of Mahasuri for sadavrata at Kedarnath and for the requirements of the daily worship at the temple. It stipulates 12 chittaks of rice, 2 chittaks of dhal, and 2 tolas each of salt and ghee are to be given to each of the about 25,000 pilgrims who visited Kedarnath every year.

One of the important features of the aboveSasana is that it specifically lays down that any surplus which remained after defraying the above expenses was to be accumulated annually and spent in the Kumbhamela (at Hardwar) which takes place every twelfth year. This is based on the classical Indian principle that the state or public institutions were not to accumulate surpluses and ought to periodically distribute the entire accumulations away. We are in this connection reminded of the great Mokshaceremony performed by Raja Harshavardhana in the dana-kshetra of Prayaga, in which the entire royal treasury was distributed amongst people as charity.

Thriving on offerings by devotees from all over India: Tirupati Temple (c. 1800)

The wealth of the Sri Tirumala & Tirupati Devasthanams has always been legendary. This temple had somehow escaped Mohammeden invasion till mid-17th century. Around that period, the region came under the rule of Golkonda kings. It has been noted by Manucci, the contemporary Italian observer, that even Aurangzeb did not dare attack the temple in 1687 because he feared a widespread popular reaction.36

The fabulous riches of Tirupati temple, especially the wealth of gifts and offerings made to it by all class of devotees from all over India, was widely noted by European observers in the 16th and 17thcenturies. The account of Gaspar Correa of his visit in 1534, notes the large congregation at the temple during an utsavam:37

I have seen this festival (of the full moon of August) and the fair that is held on that day, this pagode-house being located in a large field, where people begin to gather with their bundles of goods fifteen days in advance, where three or four million people assemble, amongst whom there would be three hundred or four hundred thousand on horse, where one can find all the nations of people in the world, and as many goods as one can name from peoples mouths, in which I affirm that all the things in the world, nay in the universe can be found, and of each thing as much as one is searching for. I will write of only one thing here as the greatest achievement that I can relate, and it is this. When these peoples go to do their adoration at the pagode, they go washed and perfumed with sandal, dressed in their fine clothes, and arrayed with their gold jewellery, and the men shave their heads with a razor, leaving no more than a long thin tuft…And since there are so many people, as I have said, there are enough barbers to suffice for them, who are all set apart below some large trees, and they shave one head for only one copper coin which is called caixa [kasu]

There is a Jesuit account of the Goanese ambassador being received by King Venkatapatiraya in Tirupati in 1602:38

The King was at Trepeti, which is a city two leagues from Chandegri, very beautiful and large and like another Rome for this Gentility [Hindus], on account of a greatly venerated pagoda that is there, where from this entire Orient there gather innumerable people, who come with great devotion and offerings to visit this demon which they call Permal…

There is the more detailed account of Abraham Rogerius, the Dutch Missionary at Pulicat in the 1640s:39

Some day’s journey from Paliacattta [Pulicat] is the very famous Pagode Tripeti, which has three festivals yearly. One is in September; at which time there is a great confluence there-wards from all directions, particularly of the Soudraes [Sudras], or common folk; who all come with gifts. The second is in December. At which time one finds for the most part Bramines with their gifts. The time of the third festival I am unable to ascertain. So that since, Tripeti has so many visits, it must necessarily have many incomes. It is also said that this Pagode yearly would have an income of 60, 70, 80 thousand pagodas all of which result from the gifts and offerings that are brought here. Since these Heathens do not come there with empty hands, but to discharge by means of gifts the promises they have made to the Pagode, on the occasion of recovering their good health, or to give thanks for some other benefit received, so that this Pagode has become extremely powerful and rich….the Kings used to allow the Pagodes to keep these, and nothing was taken out of the treasury, unless it were needed for the upkeep of the Pagode…

The Tirupati region passed on to the rule of the Nawabs of Arcot in the first half of 18th century. According to the British records compiled around 1800, the Mohammedan rulers started the system of blackmail, known as “renting out” the temple in “return” to the protection offered to the institution. This led to the introduction of various types of pilgrim taxes and fees for “sevas” in the temple. Apart from this, the devotees continued to shower Sri Venkatesvara with kanikais or offerings.

On the death of Nawab Anwaruddin in 1749, the British extended support to Muhammad Ali Wallajah for being installed the Nawab of Arcot and, in return, he assigned the revenues of Tirupati, estimated to be around 2.5 lakh rupees, to the British. The offerings of the devotees to the temple continued to be a major source of revenue for the British for nearly hundred years.

The Tirupati area came under direct British rule after the death of Mohammad Ali’s son in 1801. It was made a part of the North Arcot District and the temple came under the direct management of the Collector. One of the accounts of that time mentions that the temple owned 187 villages of which 40 belonged to the various temple functionaries and 124 were under the management of palayakkarars.40 A detailed report on the temple and its finances was submitted by the Collector Stratton in 1803, wherein he also noted:41

Three principal Gopurams or portals are erected on the slant of the hill on the road leading to the pagoda which Hindoos only are allowed to visit, all other castes being restricted from passing the portal which is erected near the foot of the hill about half a mile distant from the village of Tripatty. In such veneration is even the hill held that pilgrims resorting to the pagoda prostrate themselves on the ground on first getting a sight of the range of hills connected with it…

The pagoda in which this famous idol is placed must no doubt be of great antiquity, but not being allowed to visit it, the only information I have derived on this subject appears in some degree fabulous – the Bramins of the pagoda asserting that its erection took place at the commencement of the Caliyug… of which 4903 years have elapsed. It being generally understood as written in the Bhaveesheottarum Poorana that the worship of Vishnoo will cease at the completion of 5000 years from the commencement of Caliyug, should the prophecy be fulfilled, we may in about a century more expect a material decrease in the revenue of the Tripatty pagoda.

… during the Hindoo Government the whole of the collections from the pagoda, were disbursed in religious ceremonies and that only since the commencement of the of the Mahommadan Government in the Carnatic have those charges had a limit and the surplus net revenue been conveyed into the coffers of the state.

The first and the principal source of revenue at the Tripatty pagoda is from the Canukulu [Kanika] or oblations…These oblations are frequently sent by the inhabitants residing north of the Tombudra [Tungabhadra], by means of Ghoseyns [Gosayis], but people from the rest of the peninsula either attend with their oblations in person or send them by means of relations or friends. The names of 21 Ghoseyns are registered at the pagoda who obtain flags from the idol which they carry to their different countries and which they expose for 2 or 3 months before the annual festival, when those who are desirous of accompanying them in the pilgrimage assemble in crowds round the banners of each leader and those who cannot attend in person, trust them with their oblations…

During 1823-32, the average annual income of the Temple was Rs. 181, 341, of which Rs. 108,580 was from the kanikais or offerings of the devotees, and Rs. 28, 523 was the “tasdik” allowance from the government in lieu of the resumed maniyams and merais. The average annual expenditure on the Temple was Rs. 31, 256. Excluding the other expenses also, the average net annual income to the government from the Temple was stated to be Rs. 108,167. 42

To be continued in the next part of the series.

36 Niccolao Manucci, Storia do Mogor, or Mogul India (1653-1708), 4 vols., rep New Delhi 1990, Vol. 3, p. 135-9

37 Gaspar Correa, Lendas, cited from Sanjay Subramanyam, An Eastern El Dorado: The Tirumala -Tirupati Temple Complex in Early European Views and Ambitions, 1534-1660, in D.Shullman Ed., Syllables of Sky, Oxford 1995, p.338-390.

38 Cited in Sanjay Subramanyam, 1995, cited earlier.

39 Abraham Rogerius: De Open-Deure tot het Verborgen Heydendom, cited from Sanjay Subramanyam, 1995, cited above.

40 Mackenzie Manuscripts, Vol. XVI, p.476 to 476-dt, cited in N.Ramesan, The Tirumala Temple, Tirupati 1981, p.462-464.

41 Report of G.Eo.Stratton dated 31.1.1803 to the Board of Revenue (Reprinted in, N.Ramesan, 1981, cited earlier, p.495-503).

42 K.T.Viraraghavacharya, History of Tirupati, Vol. II, Tirupati , 1954, p.927-8

Jagannath Ratha Yatra
Temples and the State in the Indian Tradition: Part 5

Continuing the series on Hindu Temples, their conception, history, heritage and legacy authored by M.D. Srinivas….

Continuing the series on Hindu Temples, their conception, history, heritage and legacy authored by M.D. Srinivas.


Temples managed by the Collectors and the Board of Revenue

Whenever any area came under the administration of the British, the management of the major temples was immediately taken over by the local administrative authority. After the constitution of the Board of Revenue in Madras in 1789, the management of religious institutions began to be vested under its overall scrutiny with the Collectors functioning as the local authority. In 1796, the Government at Madras decided to take over the collection and distribution of all temple revenues in the territories under British control.43

A system of fixed compensatory payments was initiated for all the contributions, in the form of maniyamsand merais from various localities that were traditionally collected by the temples.

Location of Madras Presidency

The Madras Presidency in 1913

By 1800, the British were in control of most of the areas that were administered for the next 150 years as the Madras Presidency, and the Board of Revenue was instructed to adopt the same procedure for taking charge of the temples and their endowments in the new areas that came under British control. This system was formalised by the Regulation VII of 1817. The ostensible purpose of the regulation was set forth in its preamble:

Considerable endowments have been granted in money, or by assignments of land or of the produce of the land by the former Governments of this country as well as by the British Government, and by individuals for the support of mosques, Hindu temples, colleges and choultries, and for other pious and beneficial purposes; and … endowments [are] in many instances appropriated, contrary to the intentions of the donors, to the personal use of the individuals in immediate charge and possession of such endowments; and… it is the duty of the government to provide that such endowments be applied according to the real intent and will of the granter.

In fact, the first such Regulation was Regulation XIX of Bengal passed in 1810; and a similar Regulation was passed in Bombay later, in 1827. The Madras regulation was stated to be “compiled from the Regulation XIX of 1810 of the Bengal Code”. It clearly vested with the Board of Revenue and the District Collectors “general superintendence of all the endowments in land or money” made “for the support of Mosques, Hindu Temples, Colleges and other public purposes, for the maintenance and repair of Bridges, Choultries or Chatrams and other public Buildings and for the custody and disposal of escheats”. 44

In practical terms the Board, based on the recommendations of the District Collectors, appointed and supervised the work of the temple trustees. If it was “discovered” that the temple endowments were “misused”, the collectors had the powers to “take over” the temple management. And the cost of all this “administration” was the first charge on the endowments made to the temples in each district.

The overall policy was clearly articulated in an article by the then collector of North Arcot on the Tirupati temple which appeared in the Asiatic Journal in 1831:45

The whole of the revenue of the temple, from whatever source derived are under the management of and appropriated by the circar or Government. A regular establishment is entertained paid by salaries…

Passing through the Bagalu vakili or silver porch the pilgrims are admitted into a rather confined part and are introduced to the God in front of whom are two vessels, one called the Gangalam or vase, the other Kopra or large cup and into these things the votaries drop their respective offerings and making their obeisance pass through another door. At the close of the day, the guards, both peons and sepoys round these vessels are searched. Without examination of any sort offerings are thrown into bags and are sealed…after which the bag is sent down to the cutcherry below the hill Govindarauz pettai. At the end of the month, these bags are transmitted to our cutcherry… and there they are opened, sorted, valued and finally sold at auction. However during the Brahmotsavam either the collector or a subordinate must be on the spot due to the value of the offerings…

And on this duty I was bound when I wrote from Chandragiri. I have little more to add except the average revenue of the last ten years. The annual net proceed from this source is about 87,000 rupees. In 1822 collections were 142,000 and odd, but this is exclusive of expenses, wherewith 20,000 may be deducted. In 1820 or fusli 1230, the collections were 102,000.

You may perhaps start at such organised system of religious, or rather you will say profane, plunder on the part of the government…as an admirable specimen of what, with other things, should draw down vengeance of heaven on us. The fact is this: we find that the resources of the pagoda were legitimately enjoyed by the mussalman government, for services earned with blood and presence, and that at the risk of losing our trade on the coramandel coast. One of the first rewards, or rather poor payment was this revenue; and it has been paid unremittingly ever since…

It was a strange but determined piece of policy when throughout the country the pagoda lands were resumed by the company and tustik allowances were granted in their place…Now let us contemplate the result of this plan. From one end of the country to the other, the pagodas are ruined, unmaintained…The revenues of Triptty are on a gradual decline and will die in the lapse of years a natural death. Some of the most celebrated temples in the country are worse off. But there are still, alas, many more strongholds of the devil.

In 1833 the Board of Revenue instructed the Collectors to prepare a consolidated statement, in a given format, giving the total income and disbursements made for the religious institutions, for the ten year period from 1823 to 1832. The Collectors were asked to specify the net revenue of the religious institutions both from lands and other sources, separately for the temples which were under the immediate management of the Government, and for those which were managed by the temple managements. They were also required to state the fixed allowances paid by the Government.

Further they were asked to give the total revenue collected by the government, total disbursements made and the balance with the Government. These details were to be given, wherever available, separately for the Hindu temples, chatrams, mathams, waterpandals, nandavanams (flower gardens), schools, brahmadeyams and other maniyams, yeomiahs (pensions), langarkhanas etc., and mosques.

It was found that the total income received by these institutions was about Rs. 40.56 lakhs and the total disbursements were about Rs. 38.83 lakhs. The largest income and disbursement, to the tune of nearly Rs. 10 lakhs, were in Thanjavur. There was a large balance of over Rs. 1.18 lakhs in the case of North Arcot because of the “surplus” generated by Tirupati temple. The total balance amount of about Rs. 1.74 lakhs pertained to all the religious charitable institutions, those managed by the Government as well as those privately managed. It was noted that the income of the Government managed temples was about 60% of the income of all the temples, though the number of temples under Government management were only about 7600 in the entire Presidency. This shows that most of the major temples were under the direct management of the Government.

The debate on a Christian state administering heathen institutions

The above review of the total disbursements made to the temples was undertaken at the behest of the Government of India, in the context of the instructions from London that the Government should “withdraw” from the administration of Hindu religious institutions. The policy decided upon by the Board of Governors, and communicated by the by the Court of Directors in London to the Governor General on 20 February, 1833 was that:

Toleration and civil protection of [Hindu] religion must on no account be converted into patronage of what is at variance with precepts and practices of Christianity.

The new policy statement also included a declaration of “withdrawal” from the management of Hindu religious institutions:

In all matters relating to their temples, their worship, their festivals, their religious practices, their ceremonial observances, our native subjects [shall] be left entirely to themselves.

The Lion Gate of Jagannatha Temple in Puri from the Archaeological Survey of India Collections: India Office Series (volume 24: ‘a’ numbers), taken by William Henry Cornish around 1868.

This policy was arrived at after three to four decades of heated debate in England. Starting in the 1790’s and more intensely from the first decade of the nineteenth century, the involvement of the State in the administration of Hindu temples came under vocal attacks by groups in England on the grounds that it amounted to support by Christian government of practices offensive to Christianity. The celebrated temple of Jagannatha at Puri was one of the main targets of the missionary attack.

After the British take over of Orissa in 1803, the British Government passed Regulation IV of 1806 taking over the supervision of the celebrated Jagannatha temple at Puri. Soon, there were mounting objections to the involvement of the Government with the administration of the temple. In a famous speech before the Cambridge University on July 1st, 1810, the Missionary Claudius Buchanan declared:46

I resolved …to visit the chief seat of Hindoo religion, for which purpose I made a journey to the great temple of Juggernaut which is to the Hindoos what Mecca is to the Mohammadans, the stronghold and fountain-head of their idolatry…Many of the pilgrims die by the way, and their bodies remain unburied, so that the road to Juggernaut may be known, at least for fifty miles, by human bones which are stewed in the way. On the great day the idol was brought out…It had the character of crudelity and impurity. Men and women devoted themselves before the Moloch. I myself beheld the libations of human blood. I give you this record because I witnessed the fact.

In view of such propaganda, the Court of Directors of the East India Company wanted to initiate moves to dissociate the Bengal Government from the direct administration of the temple, especially from the collection of the “pilgrim tax”. But the real authority which controlled all Indian affairs, the Board of Commissioners for the affairs of India, did not concur with the proposal at this stage.

Jagannatha’s Rathayatra again figured prominently in the famous speech of William Wilberforce in the debate in the British House of Commons during June-July 1813:47

A gentleman of the highest integrity, and better qualified than almost anyone else to form a correct judgement in this instance; I mean Dr. Carey, the missionary, has calculated that, taking in all the modes and forms of destruction connected with the worship at the temple of Jaggernaut in Orissa, the lives of 100,000 human beings are annually expended in the service of that single idol.

William wilberforce.jpg

William Wilberforce

Because of the effort of the group of Evangelicals led by Wilberforce, the British Parliament resolved that Christianisation of India was the solemn duty of the British Government. This led to the unrestricted “opening” up of India to missionaries with full freedom to condemn and malign Hindu religious practices and institutions. It also led to the setting up of the Ecclesiastic Department as a part of the Government of India. There was no move however to dissociate from the administration of temples and the management of their large resources. These were in fact formalised by the various regulations such as the Madras Regulation of 1817.

Public attention in England continued to be focused on the Government’s patronage of all that is offensive in Hindu religion as evidenced by the State collecting taxes and making allowances for the running of Hindu temples and more so by the involvement and visible presence of Government officials in the Hindu festivals. Various Christian memorialists in Britain and India charged the governors and administrators of being “The Dry Nurse of Vishnu”, “The Churchwarden of Juggernaut”, etc.

The rathayatras in some of the great South Indian temples also involved a large scale involvement of the Collectors, starting from the recruitment of persons needed to pull the car to the supervision of these festivals where a large number of pilgrims gathered. For instance, it was reported in 1830 that the celebrated ratha of the Thyagarajaswami Temple at Tiruvarur, in Thanjavur District, required about 12,000 persons to draw it – the largest of the six ropes used for the purpose being 1260 feet long.48 In 1828, Robert Nelson, Sub-Collector at Thanjavur, wrote to the Collector Nathaniel Kinderslay attacking the “evils “ of the recruitment system and pressing for the Company’s total withdrawal from any involvement in recruitment operations. In reply, the Collector agreed that the system did entail loss of revenue to the Government and hardship to the officials. While agreeing that idolatry was undeniably an evil, and that its support should be deprecated he argued at some length that the Company could not afford to lose the goodwill of the people by withdrawing its support for these festivals. He confessed his belief that the “progress of Christianity in the East” seemed to depend upon the “permanency of British empire in India”, and that therefore “even the most zealous Christians” should be careful not to do anything “which may tend to weaken the efficacy of this apparently chosen instrument.”49

It was under such pressure, both from subordinates in India and from the ruling establishment in England that the Court of Directors, in February 1833, notified the Government of India of the policy of generally withdrawing from the association Hindu ceremonies and institutions.

Still there was seemingly no change in the all round involvement of the Government in temple administration and ceremonies. This led to further protests in England and India. On February 1, 1838 the Commander-in-Chief at Madras, Sir Peregrine Maitland sent his resignation protesting against the orders from London issued the previous year that none of the customary salutes or marks of respect to “Native” festivals be discontinued at any of the Presidencies.

While Maitland’s resignation created a major sensation, there were other resignations as well in 1838, like that of Robert Nelson, the former Sub-Collector of Tanjore, who contended that he could no longer serve two masters – the East India Company, which required civil servants to “to assist and uphold idolatrous worship in India” and the Lord Jesus Christ, who instructed him to “flee from idolatry”.50

The situation was serious and the President of the Board of Control, Sir John Hobhouse had to give an undertaking to the House of Commons, in early August 1838, that the Government would take urgent action. On August 8, 1838, the Court of Directors transmitted the following instruction, explicitly drafted by the Board to the Governor General (along with Maitland’s letter of resignation):51

You should accomplish, with as little delay as may be practicable, the arrangements which we believe to be already in progress for abolishing the pilgrim tax, and for discontinuing the connection of the Government with the management of all funds which may be assigned for the support of the religious institutions in India. We more particularly desire that the management of all temples and other places of religious resort, together with the revenues derived therefrom, be resigned into the hands of the natives; and that the interference of the public authorities in the religious ceremonies of the people be regulated by the instructions conveyed in the 62ndparagraph of our despatch of 20th February, 1833.

It may be noted that both the despatches of 1833 and 1838 were sent under protest by the Court of Directors, as per the directives of the Board of Commissioners which was the supreme body for deciding on the policies concerning India.

Summarising the debate in England, one scholar has remarked:52

The problem of the connections between of the Company with religious institutions in India became mainly a matter of dispute between home politicians and high officials of the Company in India on the one side and administrators of the East India Company on the other side. Whereas the latter justified the support of the religious institutions like the Jagannatha temple with pragmatic political arguments…the former strongly opposed these links with moral and Christian missionary arguments and condemned it as state sanction of idolatry.At the heart of this reforming enthusiasm lay the doctrines of liberalism and evangelicalism. Though radically different in origin – the one a movement of religious revival, the other a doctrine of defiant secularism – [when it came to decrying Hinduism] evangelism and liberalism had much in common.

A few years later, in 1843, the authorities in London were very angry with the Governor General of India, Lord Ellenborough, for bringing back the gates of the Somanatha temple from Ghazni to India. Strongly condemning the act of the Governor General in the British Parliament, Thomas Babbington Macaulay stated:53

Somnath temple, 1869

It is lamentable to think how long after our power was firmly established in Bengal, we grossly neglecting the first and plainest duty of the civil magistrate, suffered the practices of infanticide and Suttee to continue unchecked. We decorated the temples of the false gods. We provided the dancing girls. We gilded and painted the images to which our ignorant subjects bowed down. We repaired and embellished the car under the wheels of which crazy devotees flung themselves at every festival to be crushed to death. We sent guards of honour to escort pilgrims to the places of worship. We actually made oblations at the shrines of idols. All this was considered and still considered, by some …as profound policy. I believe that there never was so shallow, so senseless policy. We gained nothing by it. We lowered ourselves in the eyes of those whom we meant to flatter. We led them to believe that we attached no importance to the difference between Christianity and heathenism. Yet how vast the difference is! I altogether abstain from alluding to topics which belong to divines. I speak merely as a politician anxious for the morality and temporal well being of society. And, so speaking, I say that to countenance Brahminical idolatry, and to discountenance that religion which has done so much to promote justice, and mercy, and freedom, and arts, and sciences, and good government, and domestic happiness, which has struck off the chains of the slave, which has mitigated the horrors of war, which has women from servants and playthings into companions and friends, is to commit high treason against humanity and civilisation.

Gradually a better system was introduced. A great man…Lord Wellesley led the way. He prohibited the immolation of female children…In the year 1813 parliament gave new facilities to persons who were desirous to proceed to India as missionaries. Lord William Bentinck abolished the Suttee. Shortly afterwards, the Home Government sent a despatch to Calcutta…That despatch Lord Glenelg [Lord Chas Grant] wrote – I was then at the Board of Commissioners, and can attest the fact – with his own hand…That was in February, 1833. In the year 1838 another despatch was sent…Again in the year 1841, precise orders were sent out on the same subject…The orders were, distinctly and positively, that the British authorities in India shall not decorate these temples, shall not pay any military honour to these temple. Now Sir, the first charge which I bring against Lord Ellenborough is that he has been guilty of an act of gross disobedience…

He ought to have known, without any instructions from home, that it was his duty not to take part in disputes among the false religions of the East…But…he has selected as his object of his homage the very worst and most degrading of these religions and as the object of his insult the best and purest of them. The homage was paid to Lingamism. The insult was offered to Mahometanism. Lingamism is not mere idolatry, but idolatry in its most pernicious form…

The duty of our Government is as I said, to take no part in the disputes between Mohametans and idolaters. But, if our Government does take a part, there cannot be a doubt that Mohametanism is entitled to the preference. Lord Ellenborough is of a different opinion. He takes away the gates from a Mohametans mosque and solemnly offers it as a gift to a Pagan temple. Morally this is crime, politically this is blunder. No body who knows anything of the Mahometans in India can doubt that this affront to their faith will excite their fiercest indignation…Remember what happened at Vellore in 1806, and more recently in what happened at Bangalore. The mutiny at Vellore was caused by a slight shown to Mahometan turban; the mutiny of Bangalore by disrespect said to have been shown to a Mahometan place of worship. If a Governor General had been induced by his zeal for Christianity to offer any affront to a mosque held in high veneration by Mussalmans I should think that he had been guilty of indiscretion such as proved him to be unfit for his post.But, to affront a mosque of peculiar dignity, not from zeal for Christianity, but for the sake of this loathsome God of destruction, is nothing short of madness.

Temples and the State in the Indian Tradition: Part 6

Continuing the series on Hindu Temples, their conception, history, heritage and legacy authored by M.D. Srinivas….

Continuing the series on Hindu Temples, their conception, history, heritage and legacy authored by M.D. Srinivas.

Administering the temples through judiciary (1863-1925) 

In 1841, the Governor of Madras, Elphinstone, had emphasised that the policy of withdrawal did not mean that the Government was giving up its “duty” of ensuring that the endowments were “protected from misuse and embezzlement.” He cited the communication from the London Court of Directors to explain the British policy on this issue:54

Sir Mount Stuart Elphinstone

The Court of Directors manifestly intend that ample protection shall be given to native religious institutions… for they declare that such protection is to be given through the medium of the Courts of Justice at the same time that they desire that that Pagoda Funds shall not be managed or appropriated by Government officers.

This was reiterated by the Government of India while laying down the policy withdrawal, cited above, when they declared that the management of native religious institutions “should be left to those best qualified and belonging to the same faith, and these officials together with their subordinates were to be responsible to the Court of Justice for any breach of duty or trust.55

While the policy was clear, it had still to be given effect through a new regulation replacing the Act VII of 1817. The Act XX of 1863, which came on the statute book on March 10, 1863, divided public religious endowments to two classes, which later came to be known as the “non-hereditary” and “hereditary” temples. In the case of the first

category of institutions the nomination of the trustees, managers and other administrators were vested in the Government. For the superintendence of these institutions, the Government were to appoint once and for all local committees of three or more persons (in each district) to take the place and exercise the power of the Board of Revenue under the earlier Act of 1817. Appointment to the local committees could be effected through election. After the committees had been formed the Board of Revenue and the local agents (collectors) were to transfer to them the properties of the endowments in their possession or under their supervision.

For the “hereditary temples”, the management and properties were to be left in the hands of the trustees or managers who, though free from the control of the local committees, were liable to be sued in the Courts by any person interested in them for any breach of trust or neglect of duty.

This brings us to the crucial second tier of control set up by Act XX of 1863, namely the jurisdiction of the Courts. Sections 14 and 15 of the Act stipulated:56

  1. Any person or persons interested in any mosque, temple or religious establishment, or in the performance of the worship or of the serviced thereof, may…sue before the Civil Court the trustee, manager or superintendent of such … religious establishment or the member of any committee …for misfeasance, breach of trust or neglect of duty…and the Civil Court may direct the specific performance of any act by such trustee, manager, superintendent or member of committee, and may also direct the removal of such trustee, manager, superintendent, or member of a committee.
  1. The interest required in order to entitle a person to sue under the last preceding section need not be a pecuniary, or a direct or immediate interest or such an interest as would entitle a person suing to take any part in the management or superintendence of trusts. Any person having the right of attendance, or having been in the habit of attending, at the performance of the worship or service at any mosque, temple or religious establishment, or of partaking in the benefits of any distribution of alms, shall be deemed to be a person interested within the meaning of the last preceding section.

So, to start with, any person “interested” in the religious establishment as per the above stipulation could initiate a suit. To make the Courts the central agency of the State for the control of religious institutions, a new Section, Section 539, was added into the Civil Procedure Code in 1877, under which the Attorney General, acting on his own initiative, was empowered to bring suit to “prevent mismanagement” in both hereditary and non-hereditary temples.

As one scholar has remarked:57

The most significant feature of Section 539 dealt with what were called temple “schemes”. A court was empowered to settle a “scheme of administration” on a temple if the Court deemed that no other short range remedy was possible.

This step had far reaching implications. A “scheme” typically prescribed the in detail the way in which a temple was to be administered. It could specify the respective duties and privileges of different temple functionaries, the use to which temple funds were to be put, and even the kinds of rituals to be conducted. The court was effectively in a position to chart a temple’s future development, economically administratively and religiously…there were few, if any limits, to judicial jurisdiction.

Section 539 was further revised into Sections 92 and 93 of the Civil Procedure Code in 1908. Incidentally it may be noted that the above Section was directly modelled on a particular portion of the English Charities Procedure Act of 1812, popularly known as Sir Romilly’s Act, which was meant to provide a summary remedy for mismanagement of English trusts.

Sri Bhaskara Setupati, the Raja of Ramanathapuram

As an illustration of the way “custom” and “tradition” were decided, fixed and enforced by the judiciary, we may consider the dispute between Sri Bhaskara Setupati, the Raja of Ramanathapuram, and the Nadar community in late nineteenth century in relation to the rights of worship at the Minakshi Sundareswarar Temple at Kamuthi. There was a dispute at that time between the Maravars and Nadars about their relative status, and consequently the Nadars were being denied honours at this temple managed by the Maravar community. After an incident in May 1898, when a group of Nadars “forcibly entered” the temple and demanded honours, the Raja as the “hereditary trustee” filed a case that disgrace had been brought both to the temple and its community of devotees. The further proceedings may be recounted as described in a recent study:58

The Judge in the original suit of 1898 was astute and methodical in elucidating most aspects of transactions in South India. But although he was puzzled that witnesses did not refer to the Nadars as polluting, he nowhere seems to have understood the place of temple-honours and the relationship of the Setupati to them in determining relations between communities. After amassing an impressive body of information, he determined that it was the custom in the Kanmuthi temple to exclude Nadars from worship. The case then went to the High Court, and subsequently to the Privy Council.

Of particular interest in light of the Judge’s determination that Nadars had customarily been excluded from the temple was an attempted compromise in the year 1901. The Nadars and Setupati announced their proposed agreement. The Setupati agreed to allow Nadars to worship in the temple, with one qualification.

They were to worship “in the same manner and to the same extent as the Vellala, Chetty and other Sudra sects of the Hindu community.”…

Having considered the joint proposals of the Nadars and the Setupati, the Judge concluded that it was unacceptable. The lower court judge had found that the prevailing custom at the Kamuthi temple had been to exclude Nadars from worship therein. In light of this custom therefore, the Setupati, according to the High Court Judge, did not have the power to enter into a compromise which would “alter the fundamental character and uses of the temple as ascertained by judicial authority.” Seven years after this proposal of compromise, the decision of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council sustained the decision of both lower courts.

One scholar has summarised the developments during the period 1878-1925 as follows:59

The decisions of the Anglo-Indian judicial system in respect to the Hindu Temples after 1877 were guided by the…Act XX of 1863 and the Civil Procedure Code of 1877, 1882 and 1908. In the period between 1878 to 1925 an immense body of case law was generated all over India, which defined the scope of every clause of these sections, refined their applicability, explicated their interrelationship… [They] provided the framework as well as the impetus for a vast body of pan-Indian litigation in the period between 1878 and 1925, which provoked judicial codification of a large variety of rights, wrongs and rules concerning “public” aspect of conflicts in Indian temples…

He has also presented an incisive contrast between the management of the temples under the Hindu Kings and the system evolved by the British:60

Because the activities of the Indian kings in respect to temples were ‘administrative’ and not ‘legislative’ and because their resolutions were context specific and not absorbed into a general body of evolving case law, it is no surprise that a ‘law of endowments’ had not developed; instead, only an inscriptional record of specific instances of royal intervention and arbitration existed. But this seeming gap was rapidly filled by the British impulse to legislate and codify….royal orders and judgements in respect of temples were not legislative, in so far as they were always addressed to specific groups and individuals, were not of general applicability, were subject to alteration or repeal according to the current needs of kingship, and could not fix the law or even strictly serve as illustration…

..unlike their Hindu predecessors who preferred to leave the day-to-day control of temples in local hands but did not hesitate to arbitrate of whatever sort, the British gradually expanded their day-to-day involvement in the temples, but grew increasingly reluctant to resolve temple disputes. The institutional separation, under British rule of ‘executive’ from ‘judiciary’ created ambiguities in the arbitration of temple disputes. Such ambiguities did not exist in the previous royal context…Given the contrast between the context-bound nature of Hindu royal orders made to resolve temple disputes and the generalising tendencies of the case law of the British courts (which grew immensely important after 1870), it is no surprise that the temple and the Anglo-Indian judiciary grew entangled in a growing cycle of interactions, which resolved little but provoked much new conflict.

Restoring bureaucratic control: The HRE Act (Act II of 1927)

Edwin Samuel Montagu was Secretary of State for India

The Government of India Act 1919 ( what is otherwise known as the Montegue-Chelmsford Reforms) provided for elected provincial councils, with jurisdiction over specified areas. Among the powers “transferred” to elected Indian representatives was the authority over religious endowments.

The Justice Party dominated Government in Madras with the Raja of Panagal as the Chief Minister, appointed a Committee in 1921 with Raja of Ramnad as the Chairman to draft a bill. At the instance of Sir Mohammed Habibullah the Muslim endowments (which had been included in the purview of the 1863 Act) were excluded from the scope of  the contemplated bill.

When the issue of exclusion of the Mohammedan endowments was criticised by members who wondered whether the Government believed that the Mohammedan religious endowments were better managed than the Hindu ones, the Raja of Panagal replied that:62

I have no doubt that Honourable member will readily agree that the Khilafat question still disturbing the minds of the Islamic communities, the time is not quite suitable for undertaking legislation in regard to Mohammedan religious endowments.

As soon as the bill of 12  of 1922 was passed in 1923 and sent to the Governor for assent, several protests, memorials and presentations were addressed to the Governor asking him to withhold assent.  A sammelana was organized by the Paramacharya Chandrasekhara Sarawati of Kachi Kamakotipeetham in Jambukeshwara in 1923, and another meeting of Dharmacharyas was held in Udupi. The Acharyas declared that the bill strongly violates the religious neutrality of the Government, guaranteed in the proclamation of queen Victoria in 1858 and reaffirmed in the Montegue-Chelmsford Report as also in the various statements of the British Viceroys. They pointed out that Mathams were not trusts, nor the Mathadhipatis trustees, and they should not be subject to any higher Government control than what exists in ordinary law and usage. They expressed their total disapproval of the new scheme of control of temples by a Board of paid commissioners and to the provisions which permit diversion of surplus funds towards secular objects such as education and similar purposes.63

During the debate in the Legislative Council in 1926, several features and clauses of the Bill were hotly debated. Many who had earlier supported an expanded state role in the administration of temples backed off, as they foresaw that the actual effect could be to further the Justice Party’s view of Hinduism.

Sri S. Satyamurti, the leading spokesman of the opposition Congress Party, vehemently criticised, what he referred to as the “extraordinary” provision of the bill vesting authority on the dhittams (or dittam – Anglo-Indian legalese for thittam or vyavastha, which in this context means the allocation made by the temple for daily worship and festivals) with the secular authority of the Board:64

This is the crux of my objection to this section. According to modern notions, to the committees and to the Board it will seem a wastage for instance to have a thousand plantains on the head of the deity or two thousand coconuts. But we believe that by offering these rich and varied offerings to the deities in the temples we are doing something meritorious. ..Are you going to vest in all these committees and the Board, without any test [of their faith] whatever, the right to determine the dhittam?

Opposing the provision of the bill empowering the Board to deploy “surplus income” of the temples, an authority which was so far vested in the Courts, based on the so called cy pres principle, Sri Satyamurty argued that the Board might well manipulate temple budgets to create artificial surpluses. But the main objection of Sri Satyamurthy was against the policy of Government control of religious institutions. He declared:65

…the complaint in this country is against over Government and against the initiative of the people and their capacity for local self-government being impaired. In this bill, even with regard to the most sacred right, we are asked to rely upon and look to the Government. The result will be…that just as the blighting hand of over Government has set upon our administration, the blighting hand of this Government will also fall tight on our temples and maths …

Sri Mayasaya, one of the bill’s most forceful opponents, tellingly referred to the difference between the Indian state in the former times and the Government of the day which sought to justify the provisions of the bill on the ground that kings in former times intervened in temple affairs:67

It has been said that the kings in the past interfered with the religious endowments and why then do you now object to the interference of the State as now constituted? The very constitution of the State will show the difference. Our kings in the olden days, the Hindu kings endowed properties for the temples and maths. They appointed trustees and constituted themselves as trustees. That is how they exercised their kingly duty of interfering with temple properties. But what is the case now? The Government which has got an ecclesiastical department for itself has nothing to do with the endowments of properties of the Hindus, yet wants to interfere with the religious institutions.

One interesting feature which emerged during the debate on the bill was that with such a draconian legislation of control coming into force, many communities and regions started making the claim that the temples of their area or community were not “Hindu” at all. A member from South Canara argued that the temples in his area were not “Hindu temples” but belonged to separate and independent “communities”. A representative from Malabar pointed out that in his area, perhaps with the exception of Palaghat, there were no villages, but only tarawads and the temples of tarawads were not public temples.68

Notwithstanding all this opposition, the Hindu Religious Endowments (HRE) bill was first passed as Act I of 1925 and later as Act II of 1927. The Act provided a machinery of supervision and administration, involving the Board of Commissioners, the Temple Committees and the Trustees and servants of the institutions. Under the Act, the religious institutions were divided into excepted temples, maths and non-excepted temples. The Board of Commissioners had direct jurisdiction over the excepted temples and maths and the Temple Committees exercised general superintendence over non-excepted temples.

To be continued in the next part of the series.

54 Letter of Elphinstone, dated 12.2.1841, in G.O. 210, Public 2.3.1841, cited from F.A. Pressler, Religionunder Bureaucracy, Cambridge 1987, cited earlier, p.2

55 Tamil Nadu State Archives, Revenue Consultations, 15. 6.1841, p.4318.

56 cited from A.Appadurai, Worship and Conflict Under Colonial Rule, Cambridge 1981, p.170.

57 A. Pressler 1987, cited above, p.25-6.

58 Carol Appadurai Beckinridge, From Protector to Litigant – Changing Relations between Hindu Temples and the Raja of Ramanad, in South Indian temple: An Analytical Reconsideration, Ed. Burton Stein, New Delhi 1978, p.102-3.

59 Appadurai, 1981, cited earlier, p.175.

60 Appadurai, 1981, cited earlier, p.169-170, 214-5.

61 Notes on Letter 1892, L & M dated 18.10.1922, cited in C.Mudaliar, The State and Religious Endowments in Madras, Madras 1976, p. 65.

62 Proc. of Madras legislative Council, 19.12.1922, Vol.10, p.1006, cited from C.Mudaliar 1976, cited above, p.72.

Temples Uttar Pradesh
Temples and the State in the Indian Tradition: Part 7

Continuing the series on Hindu Temples, their conception, history, heritage and legacy authored by M.D. Srinivas….

Continuing the series on Hindu Temples, their conception, history, heritage and legacy authored by M.D. Srinivas.


The Constitution of India does not offer any protection to Sanatana Dharma

Indian independence was the result of a determined struggle by almost all sections of the Indian people with the hope that it will lead to the establishment of a polity that is informed by the fundamental principles of sanatana dharma, known to all Indians by the term Ramarajya. Such a polity would have been based on the traditional Indian view of state and society and their relationship, a polity where great emphasis would have been placed on the role of the state as the protector of dharma as we noted earlier.

Sardar Patel, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, Baldev Singh and others signing the Indian Constitution.

However, when India achieved its Independence, the task of preparing its Constitution was essentially handed over to lawyers and administrators, experts in western constitutional jurisprudence and its application to India under the British rule. The resulting document was a reworking of the 1935 Government of India Act. Even if it drew no inspiration from the traditional Indian view on society and polity, the Constitution could still have recognised the social reality of India, the crucial role played by its organic units such as the locality, the communities based on kinship, profession or religious affiliations, and the traditional institutions all of which play a major role in Indian public life. By refusing to recognise their role in Indian public polity, the Constitution also turned a blind eye to the primary duty that was enjoined on any state in Indian tradition, namely the of protection of dharma – which in this context meant warding off all obstacles in the way of the constituent units of Indian society and their institutions functioning as per their time-honoured traditions.

Instead, the Indian Constitution guaranteed certain fundamental rights to individuals and groups, rights which were at the same time heavily circumscribed for “reasons of state”. For our purposes, we only need to consider those provisions of the Constitution which pertain to the right to equality, right to freedom of religion and the cultural and educational rights, which are reproduced below:

Right to Equality

  1. Equality before law.—The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India. 
  1. Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. 

(1) The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.

(2) No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them, be subject to any disability, liability, restriction or condition with regard to— access to shops, public restaurants, hotels and places of public entertainment; or the use of wells, tanks, bathing ghats, roads and places of public resort maintained wholly or partly out of State funds or dedicated to the use of the general public.

  • Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for women and children.
  • Nothing in this article or in clause (2) of article 29 shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes

Right to Freedom of Religion

  1. Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion.(1) Subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of this Part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion.

(2) Nothing in this article shall affect the operation of any existing law or prevent the State from making any law—

(a) regulating or restricting any economic, financial, political or other secular activity which may be associated with religious practice;

(b) providing for social welfare and reform or the throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus.

Explanation I.The wearing and carrying of kirpansshall be deemed to be included in the profession of the Sikh religion.

Explanation II.In sub -clause (b) of clause (2), the reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jaina or Buddhist religion, and the reference to Hindu religious institutions shall be construed accordingly.

  1. Freedom to manage religious affairs.—Subject to public order, morality and health, every religious denomination or any section thereof shall have the right—

(a) to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes;

(b) to manage its own affairs in matters of religion;

(c) to own and acquire movable and immovable property; and (d) to administer such property in accordance with law.

  1. Freedom as to payment of taxes for promotion of any particular religion.—No person shall be compelled to pay any taxes, the proceeds of which are specifically appropriated in payment of expenses for the promotion or maintenance of any particular religion or religious denomination. 
  1. Freedom as to attendance at religious instruction or religious worship in certain educational institutions.—(1) No religious instruction shall be provided in any educational institution wholly maintained out of State funds.
  • Nothing in clause (1) shall apply to an educational institution which is administered by the State but has been established under any endowment or trust which requires that religious instruction shall be imparted in such institution.
  • No person attending any educational institution recognised by the State or receiving aid out of State funds shall be required to take part in any religious instruction that may be imparted in such institution or to attend any religious worship that may be conducted in such institution or in any premises attached thereto unless such person or, if such person is a minor, his guardian has given his consent thereto.

Cultural and Educational Rights

  1. Protection of interests of minorities.—(1) Any section of the citizens residing in the territory of India or any part thereof having a distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have the right to conserve the same.

(2) No citizen shall be denied admission into any educational institution maintained by the State or receiving aid out of State funds on grounds only of religion, race, caste, language or any of them.

  1. Right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions. — (1) All minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.

(1A) In making any law providing for the compulsory acquisition of any property of an educational institution established and administered by a minority, referred to in clause (1), the State shall ensure that the amount fixed by or determined under such law for the acquisition of such property is such as would not restrict or abrogate the right guaranteed under that clause.

(2) The State shall not, in granting aid to educational institutions, discriminate against any educational institution on the ground that it is under the management of a minority, whether based on religion or language.

That these provisions do not ensure any meaningful freedom or protection to the Hindus in the practice of their religion, or to their religious and cultural institutions to function as per time-honoured traditions, has been brought out succinctly in a recent study of the Indian Constitution from which the following is extracted: 71

The makers of the constitution also seem to have believed, along with the colonial British administrators, that India is not one nation, it is a conglomerate of numerous minorities placed alongside an uncaring and orthodoxy-ridden caste-Hindu majority. Therefore there was a deep concern to provide extraordinary constitutional protections for the minorities on the one hand and on the other hand to give powers to the state to act in order to “reform” the Hindu majority…

Provisions concerning the minorities

Every self-confident nation makes provisions for the protection of minority groups. Such protection is accorded so that the diverse cultural, linguistic and other capabilities of minority groups may contribute to and thus enrich the national mainstream, which naturally is constituted of the majority. Section 29 of the Constitution that guarantees protection of the minorities, however, almost invites diverse groups to claim special rights in the name of their distinct language, script or culture. The other provision regarding minorities, Article 30, gives the minorities the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice and thus creates an invidious distinction against the majority. The right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice is a natural right of all communities, whether constituting a minority or a majority. The article does not in fact give any special right to the minorities, but takes away a valuable natural right from the majority.

The current provisions of Article 25 instead of granting religious freedom have the effect of taking away the right of the Hindus to run their own religious institutions and affairs.

These two articles together have created a premium upon various groups to break away from the national mainstream. Groups that would have been happy and proud of being distinct yet inseparable parts of the mainstream have therefore begun to discover and claim separate identities. These constitutional provisions, instead of providing protection to the minorities, have had the effect of creating new minorities and vitiating the integrity and depth of the national mainstream.

There is an urgent need to seriously review both these provisions. The minorities of course must be provided guarantees of protection. But such guarantees must be such as not to create pressures on diverse groups to separate from the mainstream. Article 29 certainly needs redrafting. And, the protection of Article 30 needs to be equitably extended to all people of India.

Provisions concerning freedom of religion

Article 25 grants “freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion.” Freedom to profess and practice the religion of their choice is of course a natural right of all citizens in a secular state. But, the freedom to “propagate” that has been included in this clause is highly unusual. No secular state guarantees the freedom to propagate and convert people from other faiths.

Conversion in India.

This freedom has been fortuitously circumscribed by the judicial interpretations of the term “propagate”, which have held that “propagation” does not mean “conversion”. But the phrasing of the original clause leaves much scope for intense proselytising activity on behalf of various religions and sects.

The second clause of the Article makes two provisos to the freedom of religion. The first proviso gives the State the authority to regulate or restrict “secular activities” associated with religious practice, and the second proviso vests in the State the power to make laws for “social welfare and reform” of Hindu religious institutions.

The first of these provisos is applicable to all religions, but in practice has been used to control and regulate the functioning of only the Hindu institutions. The second proviso is specifically aimed at Hindus and their institutions alone. Judicial interpretations of these provisos have so extended the definition of “secular activities associated with religious practice” as to allow the State to take over control of all aspects of the Hindu religious institutions, and directly interfere with the established rituals and customs…

This certainly amounts to invidious interference in the religious affairs of the majority of the Indian people. Religion is at the core of Indian civilisation. Provisions concerning religious freedom in the Indian constitution should therefore be the ideal for the world. India ought not to restrict or control the religious practice of any group, whether that of the majority or minority. The first clause of Article 25 already makes the freedom of religious practice subject to public order, morality and health. The only other proviso we need to add is that such practice may not interfere with the security and integrity of the nation; and that the religious affairs and religious institutions of no religion in India may be subject to foreign control or domination.72 The right to freedom of religious practice ought not to be circumscribed by any other provisos. People of India ought to be left free to organise, institutionalise and practise their religious affairs themselves, neither the State in India nor any foreign agencies or bodies need have any say in it.

The current provisions of Article 25 instead of granting religious freedom have the effect of taking away the right of the Hindus to run their own religious institutions and affairs. These also give the State the right to aggressively interfere with the custom, rituals and beliefs of the Hindus in the name of social reform. This article therefore needs to be reviewed seriously.

Continued in the next part of the series.

69 O.1878 E&PH 5.5.1941, cited from F.A. Pressler 1987, cited earlier, p.52.

70 Mudaliar 1976, cited earlier, p.194-5.

71 J.K.Bajaj, Towards a Review of the Indian Constitution, Centre for Policy Studies, July 2000.

72 Incidentally, Article 36 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China (1982) makes just such provisions regarding religious freedom.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s