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Saturday, March 25, 2023

The perils of ignoring Sampradaya

When atrocities against followers of Hindu dharma such as attacking, vandalising and destroying our temples begin to resurface, this time in contemporary mutations,  it is time to pause and reflect about the implications of ignoring sampradaya or time honoured  traditions, customs and practices

Recently, Hindu temples in Andhra Pradesh have been in the limelight  for bearing the brunt of vandalism and desecration.

  • January 21, 2020: Some unknown miscreants desecrated murtis of several Hindu Devis and Devtas and flex banners in Pithapuram city in East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh.
  • February 5, 2020: Murtis at Sri Venu Gopala Swamy temple were destroyed and Sri Ganesh murti was stolen by some miscreants in Rompicharla village, Guntur district.
  • February 13, 2020: A chariot of the Prasanna Venkateswara temple at Kondabitragunta village, Bogol mandal in Nellore district, was completely burnt down at midnight.
  • March 28,  2020:  Two ancient Hindu temples in Suryaraopeta, Kakinada rural mandal of East Godavari district were demolished by a church pastor using a JCB machine who then took away the antique murtis of the  Goddess.
  • September 5 & 6, 2020: In the temple town of Antarvedi in East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, the 62-year-old chariot (ratha) of Sri  Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy was ablaze despite absence of evidence of self-combustion due to electrical short circuit or lamps being lit in the 50 feet space where the 40 feet chariot was stationed.

Investigating officials faced several perplexing questions that eluded easy answers. For instance, many CCTV cameras in the temple premises  that monitored  the chariot were under repair since the last month.  Hence in the absence of concrete evidence to nail the miscreants, authorities concerned are playing a guessing game and had even taken into a custody a mentally challenged person found near the temple premises. The case is currently being investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

Spearheading a campaign to address such misdeeds and take proactive steps to prevent such actions and ensure the safety, security and protection of Hindu temples, Temple movement activist  Dr. Shri  C.S. Rangarajan, hereditary trustee, Chilkur Balaji temple, Hyderabad, and Convenor, Temple Protection Movement,  is forthright about the need to stem this trend.

According to him, devotees are not prepared to be persuaded by fairy tale fantasies such as a freak fire accident caused by honey hunters who lit small fire torches to scare away bees in the vicinity! Besides, devotees are distressed and disappointed at the apathy of the  authorities concerned such as law enforcement and the Religious Endowment department to unravel the mystery behind the vandalism. The Government of Andhra  Pradesh has  begun reconstructing a new chariot for the temple. However, the two are not equivalent.

Chilkur Balaji temple priest C.S. Rangarajan

Iconoclasm or the  intentional desecration and destruction of Hindu temples and ‘idolatry’ or the worship of ‘idols’  are regarded as  cardinal sins in the Abrahamic tradition. That these have fuelled and fanned centuries of imperial and evangelical  invasions and  conquest of Bharat is only too well known.

Sita Ram Goel in Hindu temples: What happened to them writes eloquently  about the impact of conquest and foreign invasion on the Hindu psyche.

“Hindus have lived under very trying circumstances for many centuries and during this time their psyche suffered much damage. Short term tyranny may prove a challenge but long term sustained tyranny tends to benumb and dehumanize. Under continued military and ideological attack, many Hindus lost initiative or originality; they lost naturalness and self-confidence; they lost pride in themselves, pride in their past and in their history and in their nation.

They learnt to live a sort of underground life , furtively and apologetically.  Some tried to save their self-respect by identifying themselves with the thoughts and sentiments of the rulers. They even adopted the rulers’ contempt for their own people. These attitudes imbibed over a long period have become our second nature, and they have acquired an independence and dynamism of their own. We have begun to look at ourselves through the eyes of our rulers. One would have thought that all this would change after Independence, but this did not happen.  It shows that to throw off an intellectual  and cultural yoke is  far  more difficult than to throw off a political yoke.”

Shri Goel’s words of wisdom ring eerily true in  current times.  Interestingly, his views have been reiterated by Dr. Rangarajan who is concerned about the rampant sacrilege and destruction of Hindu temples, especially in Andhra Pradesh. He highlights that this is a systemic flaw  ingrained and institutionalised  in the modern (so-called) secular Indian state.

In the late 1950s, Dravidian ideologue  Shri EVR Periyar,  broke the murti of Shri Ganesha (made of mud) in public  with an intent to   outrage  and offend the religious sentiments of the followers of Hindu dharma. In response to this brazen act of sacrilege and denigration  of religious sentiments, S. Veerabhadran filed a complaint against the offender.

Interestingly, Section 295  of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) holds that  ” any object held sacred by any class of  persons are of  general import and cannot be limited to idols in temples  or  idols carried on festival occasions. Not merely idols or  sacred books, but any other object which is regarded as sacred  by any  class of persons, whether actually worshipped  or not, fall within the description.”

Ironically, the complainant’s petition was dismissed by the Magisterial Court and the High Court  as it held that the Ganesha murti was not an object of worship since it was not housed in  a temple. The case dragged on for five years and finally, even the Supreme Court  condoned the act  with a warning to the offender not to repeat such “foolish”  acts in future.

“This is how Constitutional bodies respect religious sentiments of Hindu dharma. According to them, if a murti is not inside a temple, and therefore has not been sanctified (prana prathisthana) it is not considered sacred.  Dharma, however, cannot be defined in legal terms. As a result, our sampradaya (religious and cultural heritage) is not protected and therefore regarded as sacrosanct. We, followers of Hindu dharma, ourselves, have erased sampradaya from our memory! We forget the primary purpose of visiting temples. Its certainly not for enjoying the ladoos!  We have allowed establishments such as the religious  endowment departments to be set up and endowed them every right to administer our  temples. Often these are people who don’t know the difference even between Pournami (Full Moon) and Ekadasi and Dwadasi! For instance, the Antarvedi chariot was insured  for Rs. 85 lakhs and a premium of Rs 3 lakhs paid in this connection! These certainly don’t align with sampradaya,” says Dr. Rangarajan with passion and precision.

Dr. Rangarajan advocates the formation of dharmika parishad or a representative body of people from the community to control and administer temples.   “The main focus needs to be the Deity Rights Movement  through which Hindu deities are recognised as Citizens so that no atheistic government nor judiciary  can ignore the rights of Hindu deities in such a manner in future. Currently, the Deity does not have any rights over  His temple. Article 26  Rights need to  be conferred in the Deity so that His customs, traditions and practices (sampradaya) are protected and cherished,” says Dr. Rangarajan.

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Dr. Nandini Murali
Dr. Nandini Murali
Dr. Nandini Murali is a communications professional,  author and researcher in Indic Studies.  She is a Contributing Editor with the HinduPost. She loves to wander in the forests with her camera. 


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