Ruined Temples

published on October 27, 2009

Thanks to the correspondent T.Muruganandam and “The New Indian Express” for this important report.
Our Pranams to Sri A.M.Rajagopalan and Sri Narayanaswami.


Seventy-Eight percent of the temples under the control of the HR & CE Department are in shambles. According to activists, its time the government hands over the control of the temples to an independent, politically neutral body. – T.Muruganandam reports: –


Some years ago, a devotee tried to reno vate the ancient temple of Lord Ran ganatha at Thirumalpadi near Van davasi. The temple that sits on a hill ock was totally dilapidated. The devo tee went from door to door and begged for money and toiled day and night to get the temple renovated. The kumbhabhishekham was slated to take place in 2007.

But a local politician interfered and stopped the kumbhabhishekham for his own reasons. Though the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR & CE) department took action against the politician, he was later let off because of his closeness to top lead ers in Chennai. Rers in Chennai.

RECALLING this incident, A M Rajagopalan (86), editor of Kumudham Jothidam weekly, who was instrumental in the renovation of many ancient temples for the past few decades, says the government and local politicians instead of acting as force multipliers try to put a spoke in people’s initiative. Individual initiative to renovate temples runs into a virtual wall of government procedural formalities and clearances, testing their will and patience and wasting lots of time, he says.

Kings built most of the temples, but they never intervened in the traditional worship there. Even the Britishers never interfered in the administration of temples, he points out, strongly arguing for handing over temple administration to a non-political independent body.

According to him, there are 381 temples that are 1,000 years old, 72 of which are very important for their architectural splendor.

After Independence, various political parties started influencing the administration of Hindu temples. Since India was declared as a secular country, people expected the government to stay off religion and religious institutions. But the opposite has happened.

Rajagopalan says that the HR & CE department does not have infrastructure to renovate and manage all the ancient temples. “Many temples are being run as if they are government offices…. In all fairness, the Hindu society should be allowed to run the temples according to Agama Sastras and traditional values.”

Veteran journalist R S Narayanaswami, who has been researching on temples for over four decades, lays the blame squarely on the successive governments for impoverishing the temples, resulting in their poor upkeep.

Under the pretext of land reforms, the State drastically reduced the income of temples over a period of time. In 1953, through a legislation, the ratio of the net produce from the temple lands to be shared between the temples and its tenants was fixed at 60:40. After the DMK assumed office, the ratio came down to 25:75. Even this low share is not being realized by many temples.

Narayanaswami describes the government’s efforts to renovate 48 ancient temples as grossly insufficient. “There is a need for a major scheme for renovating ancient temples as they are the cultural heritage of our State.”

In figures 38,465 temples in the State are controlled by the HR&CE dept that comes under the State government.

Under the pre text of land reforms, the State government drastically reduced the income of the temples over a period of time — NARAYANASWAMI

30,000 temples are getting less than Rs 5,000 as annual income. Of these many are in dilapidated state and need funds for renovation, according to the HR & CE dept’s policy note.

A M Rajagopalan says that there are 381 temples in the State that are 1,000 years old, 72 of which are very important for their architectural splendor.

“Most of the funds for temple kumbhabhishekham are raised by devotees and not the govt.So, why shouldn’t they be allowed to run the temples themselves?”

T Muruganandam

EIGHTY-four years after the government took over the administration of Hindu temples in the State on grounds of poor management and misappropriation of funds by the then dharmakartas (trustees), the maintenance of many temples continues to be poor, prompting the call for handing over the administration to an independent body.

The Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR & CE) Department, through which the State government manages the temples, admits that over 30,000 temples “are getting less than Rs 5,000 as annual income. Among these temples, many of them are very dilapidated, requiring huge money for renovation.” In all, the HR & CE department controls 38,465 temples.

In other words, over 78 per cent temples under government control are in a shambles. Reason enough for the temple protection activists to demand that the administration of Hindu temples be handed over to an independent board comprising retired judges, heads of religious organisations and others. According to an estimate, of the 30,000 dilapidated temples in the State, at least 500 are ancient and have historical importance. The Pandiyas, Pallavas and kings of the Vijayanagar Empire built most of them.

According to activists, it’s time the government hands over control of the temples to an independent, politically neutral body.The activists point out that the government has done precious little to clear vast swathes of temple lands that are under encroachment by individuals. Land is meant to generate wealth; encroachment chokes the revenue stream. Also, though temples own lakhs of acres of land and other property, major functions like kumbhabhishekham (consecration) and periodic renovation take place mostly through donations by devotees. “If the devotees need to raise funds them selves, why shouldn’t they be allowed to run the temples themselves? It’s time the government handed over the administration to an independent body,” the activists assert.

At present, 4,78,681 acres of dry, wet and manavari lands, 22,599 buildings and 33,627 sites belonging to religious institutions are under the control of the HR &CE department. Agricultural lands owned by the temples and mutts are under occupation by 1,23,729 lessees. All the buildings and sites are occupied by tenants.

Besides, cases of temple break-ins resulting in idol theft or breaking of hundis (fund collection boxes) and killing of temple watchmen have gone up manifold over the years, exposing the government’s total ineptitude, they say.

Temples came under government control in 1925 after a recommendation to that effect by a commission in 1921.

HR and CE Minister KR Periyakaruppan could not be contacted for his comments.


T HE DMK regime in 1989 consti uted a five-member committee headed by Kundrakudi Adigalar for recommending measures for better administration of the temples in Tamil Nadu. The panel included former Justice Krishnaswamy Reddiyar.

The panel submitted its report in 1990 but the government never made its recommendations public. The AIADMK regime that followed also did not do anything on the report.


The government should avoid acquiring temple lands even for public purposes. Only when the government is unable to get sufficient lands from other sources, temple lands that are not of any use to the temples can be acquired by paying the prevailing market value The committee is of the view that the funds of the temples should not be spent or diverted to non-religious works either directly or indirectly Administration of each temple should display the list of movable and immovable assets of that particular temple In general, the income through the temple lands is very meagre and that too is being paid to the government in the form of land tax, water tax, etc. Hence, it would not be proper for the government to extend the income tax applicable to the individuals to the tem ples also as they are, in fact, assets of society. As such, the temples should be exempted from income tax Long-term leases (more than 10 years) should be cancelled so that the income of the temples goes up considerably.

The temple lands in urban areas should not be sold out under any circumstance.
Such lands could be used for constructing houses, marriage halls and shopping complexes through Tamil Nadu Housing Board so that the income of the temples could be increased A special scheme for renovating all historically important temples, visited by saints should be drawn up and all these temples should be renovated within a five-year time frame

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