The Madras High Court has declared a decades-old Hindu temple as a ‘Buddhist shrine’ and ordered it to be handed over to the Buddhists. The court has directed that the Hindu worship should be stopped in the temple and that ASI should take it over and preserve it. However, locals strongly believe that the murti is a Hindu deity and want to continue offering worship in the Hindu way.
The Thalaivetti Muniyappan (Headless Muni) temple in Salem has created much uproar owing to the recent verdict from Madras HC. Anti-Hindus, in the garb of liberals and ‘Dalit activists’ have been celebrating this verdict and calling for all temples they think were originally Buddhist to be converted to Buddhist shrines. Ranganathan, a ‘Dalit activist’ had filed a petition in 2008 seeking to examine the murti of the temple and hand it over to Buddhists.
He had contended that the sculpture is of Buddha and that Buddhists were offering worship until it was named Thalaivetti Muniyappan and turned into a Hindu temple. The court observed that it doesn’t have the jurisdiction to decide whether the sculpture was of Buddha or a Hindu deity and directed the Tamil Nadu Archeological department officials to investigate the matter and submit a report. The sculpture’s head was allegedly joined with the rest of the sculpture using some metal and its nose is also said to have been altered.
The Principal Secretary of the Archeological department submitted a detailed report which said, “the sculpture was made of hard stone. The figure was in seated position known as “ardha padmasana” on a lotus pedestal. The hands are posed in “dhyana mudra”. The figure were a sagati. The head shows lakshanas of the Buddha such as curly hair, ushnisha and elongated earlobe”.
The court observed that the Archeological department, “after inspecting the premises and after carefully analyzing the sculpture has come to a categorical conclusion that the sculpture depicts the mahalakshanas of the Buddha”. Justice Anand Venkatesh who heard the case felt that “after having received such a report, it will not be appropriate to permit the HR & CE Department to continue to treat this sculpture as Thalaivetti Muniappan”.
Ruling that permitting the HRCE Department to continue to treat the sculpture as Thalaivetti Muniappan, will not be appropriate and that it will go against the very tenets of Buddhism, he directed the archeological department to take over the temple and stop performing Hindu rituals. So-called ‘Dalit activists’ have been celebrating this verdict and are looking forward to contending the origin of many other famous temples in TN.
Shalin Maria Lawrence, a self acclaimed ‘Dalit activist’, tweeted in glee, “This is a very remarkable judgement and hope we redeem and restore all the Buddist temples”. She had previously proposed that “Conversion is the only way to arrest the growth of BJP in TN”. She said that BJP would use atheism as a weapon to further its growth, indirectly implying that atheists, instead of using that garb, should outright convert. It is to be noted that she claims to be an atheist.
Coming back to the issue at hand, many from all over the country reacted to her tweet about the case and called for temples like Somnath, Pandharpur, and Puri Jagannath to be ‘retrieved’ in this manner. Some also felt proud that TN has shown the way for a ‘revolution’. But they conveniently forgot that they had opposed the Ram Mandir verdict, which was also based on hard historical and archeological evidence.
They also forgot to look for the judge’s caste as is their norm whenever a judgment confirming Hindus’ rights is delivered. But Tamils were having none of it and reminded them that the Santhome Church was built on the original Kapaleeswarar temple after demolishing it. To this day, inscriptions from the temple are seen in the church.
One might wonder why a converted Christian would rejoice a judgment in favour of Buddhism, which is one of the Indic faiths. Dravidianists peddle a theory that the Tamil society was casteless and religionless before the Sangam era. They say that Tamil ancestors didn’t follow any religion 2500 years ago and that the way of life they followed was Buddhism. Even though they like to use some parts of the teachings of Buddha as part of the ‘Buddhism’ they describe, they claim that there was a religion called ‘Tamil Buddhism’, the first religion followed by Tamils. In their minds, this religion had no god, no rituals, and no caste hierarchy, and was in total contrast to how Hindu Dharma works.
But the Buddhist scripture Dhammapada has dedicated an entire chapter to talk about the virtues of Brahmins, whom Ambedkarites and Dravidianists accuse of stealing from Buddhist principles and establishing Hindu Dharma. It also says that all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas were born in Brahmin and Kshatriya castes. It says both castes are chief and deserve respect. It recognises the 4 varna system as well.
Dravidianists and Ambedkarites reject all these but fight for the same Buddha’s sculpture. Muneeswaran, Aiyyanar, and Sastha are the predominant village deities of Tamil culture. Neo-Buddhists claim that these deities were originally Buddha and absorbed into Hindu Dharma after it ‘destroyed’ Buddhism in Tamil country of the past. They base this argument on the approach used by Ayodhidasa Pandithar, a ‘Dalit reformer’. Neo-Buddhists think that he “imagined an alternative history of Dalits based on Buddhism”
Stalin Rajangam, who wrote in detail about the Thalaivetti Muniyappan temple and other Buddha statues believed to have been converted into Hindu deities, launched Tamil Buddha Araichi Palli, reportedly a research organisation in 2019. He said, “Iyothee Thass Pandithar, through various examples, tells us how history gets distorted over time because of retelling by the powers that be and how it can be traced back by carefully analysing traditions, rituals and even names”. The research platform launched by him hopes to “look at history through an alternative lens without just relying on texts and other tangible evidence”.
Dravidianist historians like Seeni Venkatasamy use the same method. They put forward a theory and try to fit it in using contested or negligible historical details. Such people have been writing books saying all the ancient Shaivite and Vaishnavite temples in TN were Buddhist vihars. One might remember DMK ally VCK’s chief Thirumavalavan calling for demolishing Chidambaram Nataraja, Madurai Meenakshi and Srirangam Ranganatha Swamy temples saying that they were originally Buddhist shrines.
While these people on one hand, claim that Tamils’ original history was destroyed by the Vedic religion and try to find their roots in Buddhism, Tamil Hindus in Srilanka are oppressed by Sinhalese Buddhists. Dravidianists and Ambedkarites in TN cry that Buddha statues under trees were replaced with Ganesha murtis by sanatanis. But they are mum on Ganesha murtis uprooted and replaced by Buddha statues in Srilanka to suppress the religious freedom of Srilankan Tamils.
Their fantasy stories about a casteless, godless Tamil society following Buddhism have a sinister agenda. IBC Tamil, a Srilankan media service hijacked by missionaries and Dravidianists, posted a video titled “Buddha was not a god, the history of Buddha, the revolutionary”. It is the belief of the Neo-Buddhists as well. In the name of bringing back the lost glory of Tamils and finding a religion of ‘social justice and equality’, they indirectly try to impose atheism on the unsuspecting Hindus. The end of the tunnel will be converting to one of the Abrahamic faiths after being unsatisfied with such a godless and non-ritualistic religion.
In that sense, while declaring Thalaivetti Muniyappan as Buddha based on historical details might help Hindus recover Hindu temples encroached by Abrahamics, the neo-Buddhists should not be taken lightly. With a favourable government in power and international support, they might as well succeed in executing their plans.