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Friday, March 24, 2023

Church accused of collecting rent for shops set up on beach for temple festival

A church in Kanyakumari has been collecting rent for setting up shops on the beach during a temple festival. It has also reportedly illegally rented out municipal property. Hindu activists have brought it to the notice of authorities and sought action against the church.

The Masi(Tamil month) festival in Mandaikadu Bhagavathi temple attracts a huge number of devotees from both states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala as it is located near the border. Devotees take bath in the sea near the temple and avail the shops set up in the beach for necessities. Hindu activists have exposed that St.Louisa’s Church which is also near the beach collects rent from those who set up shop on the beach during the festival.

It has leased the contract to someone who has allegedly paid lakhs to get the tender. The shopkeepers are asked to pay Rs 500 as “Mahimai Kattanam” literally meaning “Glory Fee” along the lines of tithe. Hindu Munnani which had taken up the issue says that the man had been renting out land belonging to the municipality as well which is illegal. Hindu Munnani activists revealed that the Christians who set up shop on the beach have to pay “Mahimai Kattanam” and the same is followed for the festival as well.

The Mahimai Kattanam (Glory Fee) receipt issued by the church contractor

It is curious that the church would collect rent for using a public property like a beach. It doesn’t appear to be a private beach as the Puthoor beach is a famous sunset view point freely accessible to the public. If anyone can collect money to allow accessibility to the beach it should be the Municipality. The church is not only renting out a public property, but is illegally using Municipality property as well to earn more money.

Hindu Munnani has taken the issue to the President of the Municipality who has assured that action will be taken against the church for illegally renting out government property. Mandaikadu Municipality Executive Officer told Dinamalar that after checking old records she discovered that till 2004 Municipality collected rent from the shops but after that the church has been collecting the rent. She sent a notice to the church and assured of escalating the matter to the district collector once the church replies.

Google Maps shows that the sea is closer to the temple as it is only 350m away from the beach while the church is at a 450m distance

St Lucia’s church representative has said that they only collect money from fishermen and Hindu outfits are trying to foment trouble. It is flabbergasting that people should pay to the church for even fishing from the sea and selling it on the beach. 

The Mandaikadu Bhagavathi Amman temple was built by king Marthanda Varma and is centuries old. The legend of the temple says that sage Adi Shankara’s disciple came to the village with a Sri Chakra and started meditating. As time went by an ant hill grew around him and the Sri Chakra and the king built a temple around it. The temple is known as women’s Sabarimala as women undertake 41 days of vrata and bring puja items and ingredients for Pongal tied as Irumudi much like men who take Ayyappa Deeksha.

This happens during the festival held at the temple in the Tamil month of Masi (mid February to mid March). Lakhs of devotees throng the temple and women cook Pongal in the open space as an offering to the deity. As such, the temple and the festival are a great source of revenue during this time period. Yet it is the church that earns from Hindus only to poke their eyes with their own fingers.

Mandaikadu is a communally sensitive area as the riots in 1982 during the same Masi festival saw Christians clash with Hindu devotees. After what started as a war of loudspeakers, Christians went on a rampage burning and looting Hindu properties around the temple attacking innocent devotees. As a result police had to resort to firing in which 6 Christian fishermen were killed. But the St Louisa’s church, the same one mentioned above, claimed victimhood saying that the fishermen were only praying when police opened fire. 

After the riot a commission headed by retired judge Venugopal was set up. The commission’s report suggested that no new religious structures should be allowed to come up near one another. But this is blatantly violated till today and Christians have a free run planting churches all over the district. One should remember what George Ponnaiah, a Catholic priest who abused Bhuma Devi and Bharat Mata said.

“We have already grown in Kanyakumari from 42% to 62% and are in majority now. We’ll grow to 70% in a few days and we will continue to grow. You cannot stop us. I want to issue this as a warning to our Hindu brethren. You cannot pluck even a single hair”, he said. That is exactly what is happening with the church encroaching education, business and now even public properties.

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