It is no surprise that Hindus – lock, stock and barrel – are shamelessly indifferent to the fact that rank corruption and deliberate mismanagement is prevalent and burgeoning in one of their holiest Temples. In Tamil Nadu, it has been so for generations. So what happens if one brave Hindu amongst this docile and subservient lot chooses to act differently – by not only refusing to be a sycophant like his brethren, but also daring to question the corrupt practices of the Atheist Officer of the Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department and his partners in crime in Srirangam.
Srirangam is a holy town situate between the rivers Cauvery and Coleroon, near the city of Tiruchirapalli, popularly known as Trichy. It can rightly be called the centre of Tamil Nadu.
In Srirangam lies the holiest temple of Vaishnavas, Sri Ranganatha Swamy Temple. It is a huge temple complex with beautiful temple towers, fine architecture, murals and inscriptions, besides the finest icons and statuary. Its main temple tower is the highest temple tower in all Asia. It also has enormous properties, endowments, jewellery and valuables, buildings, vacant sites and huge hundi and other incomes running into crores of rupees. When a temple has such endowed weath and riches, would the rogue HR&CE be far away?
Like most holy and important temples in Tamil Nadu, this temple too falls under the viselike grip of the Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments Department – the custodian and de facto administrator of temples, which is accepted blindly by the multitudes of devotees but highly despised and deplored by those who know better.
[See HR &CE, Rogue Department of Government of Tamil Nadu
There used to be a fine system of management in the Srirangam temple with selection of one person of merit from three different denominations to form the management committee. Like all good systems of hereditary trusteeship in temple management, this system too was diluted by successive atheist Tamil Nadu Governments and the nefarious HR & CE Department. For the last few decades, the trustee appointments in Srirangam temple had more political and unethical grounds of appointment than merits. This, sadly, is true for most of the important temples in Tamil Nadu. The Tamil Nadu Government and HR&CE Department appoint politicians and sycophants as Temple Trustees so that their misdeeds in Hindu temples and endowments would remain unquestioned.
Unlike the Andhra Pradesh Endowments Act, the Tamil Nadu Act does not even have a sham section prescribing basic qualifications and merits for persons who can be appointed as Temple Trustees. All that is required in the Tamil Nadu Act is that the Trustee so appointed should ‘profess’ Hindu religion and should not be insane or insolvent. He can even be a criminal. So much so, soon after the exit of the DMK government in 2011, one of the Trustees appointed to the Srirangam Temple by the DMK Government found himself cooling his heels in jail, arrested on land grabbing and other charges and detained under the famous Goondas Act.
Atheist Agenda in Tamil Nadu Temples
For many years now, the Dravidar Kazhagam – an atheist party, supported by its follower and protector, the DMK party, has been carrying out its anti-Hindu activities in the heart of temples. It has done so with the covert and overt support of Christian missionaries, Naxalites and atheist (read anti-Hindu) groups. For Christian Missionaries whose intent is to undermine Hindu icons, customs and rituals wherever they are revered, no tool can serve them better as an anti-Hindu agency than the Dravidar Kazhagam.
Since a very large number of Hindus in Tamil Nadu and especially women regularly visit temples and offer worship, it is in the scheme of things of these anti-Hindu outfits to create tension and foment enmity in the temples, and thereby undermine the rituals as well. One famous example is the then Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi passing a ‘Government Order’ permitting unqualified members of the public to ‘sing in Tamil’ in the Pooja area very near to the Sanctum of the famous Chidambaram Temple in March 2008.
The hooligans who rushed to the temple the very next day – fully protected by the Police – to “adhere” to the Government Order consisted of Naxalites, atheists in the garb of Hindus, Christians and a few Muslims. Not one sincere devotee was to be found among that group of reprobates. A melee ensued and the picaroon government arrested ten priests and trustees and put them in jail on Sivaratri day.
A former truck-cleaner (or was he a tea-shop assistant?), an uneducated and uncouth fellow, was propped up as a Saiva sant and minstrel and asked to “sing in Tamil” as per Government Orders. He mumbled a few inaudible words and Government claimed that ‘History’ was made in the temple by permitting Tamil to be sung. Government, their media allies and Christian propaganda conveniently hid the fact that Tamil was always held in high esteem in that temple and the priests who carry a two thousand year legacy themselves sing in Tamil!!! Today that charlatan is paid Rs.3000/- per month for his ‘service to Tamil’ by the Government.
Having thus wreaked havoc in the holiest of Siva Temples, which was not even under their administrative control, would these knaves be far away from the holiest of Vaishnava temples, Srirangam Sri Ranganatha Swamy temple which unfortunately falls under the sway of the despicable HR&CE department?
Brahma Ratham in Srirangam Temple
Servitorship and honouring the devotees of Lord Vishnu is an important part of Sri Vaishnavism. In fact, more honour and glory is due to His devotees than the Lord himself on certain occasions. The Lord has ordained this many a time and many sants have recorded this important aspect of Vaishnavism in their sayings and works.
One such ritual observance is the ‘Brahma Ratham’ ritual in the Srirangam Temple, where one of the descendants of the original Parasara Bhattar and Vedavyasa Bhattar is honoured before Lord Ranganatha with temple honours twice a year, and then carried on a palanquin from the temple precincts to his home near the temple. Similarly, for having rendered Azhwars’ hymns, a descendant of Arayar family is honoured by taking him in a palanquin once a year. It is the religious belief of Ranganatha’s devotees that these honours were ordained on those devotees and their descendants by the Lord Himself. The atheists around Srirangam who have no positive role to play in the temple and who have never once worshipped Ranganatha as sincere devotees, started ‘poster campaigns’ against the ritual decrying that a man could be carried in a palanquin by other men in this 21st century.
The Executive Officer of Srirangam is of the rank of Joint Commissioner in the HR&CE Department. The current Executive Officer of the Srirangam Temple is said to be an atheist. This has been inferred from his non-acceptance of ‘theertha prasadam’ of the Lord, his action of keeping away from the sacred Gayatri Mandap of the temple and his anti-Hindu and anti-temple activities.
He has instructed the priests of this temple many a time to do the food offering to the Lord at various poojas of the day at one go in the morning pooja itself, so that no time is ‘wasted’ in allowing devotees for darshan. Devotees are made to cough up anywhere between Rs. 50 and Rs. 250 for ‘special’ darshan. He has also stopped on many days the ritual of Viswaroopa Darshan held in the mornings when the crowd of devotees is expected to swell to accommodate darshan for ‘paying’ devotees. It is to be noted that even in Tirupati temple where an average of hundred thousand devotees visit in a day, these violations are never done.
One of the daily morning rituals in Srirangam and many important temples in Tamil Nadu is the reading of the almanac before the presiding Deity. This takes between 5 and 10 minutes and is an important part of the temple ritual. The Executive Officer wanted to do away with this since he loses out making money for these 5 or 10 minutes.
He wanted to assign this to an employee of the Temple who has no right to read the Almanac and passed an arbitrary dismissal order on Vedavyasa Bhattar who was rendering this hereditary service of reading the almanac, citing superannuation as the reason for dismissal.
When the poor priest challenged this order in the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court, the Executive Officer avowed that he had the right to dismiss the service-holder on the ground that he is an “employee” of the temple. Now what did this ‘gem of an officer’ of this Rogue Department cite to show that the dismissed person is an employee? The honorarium of Rs. 1.60 per month fixed nearly a century ago that was payable to this hereditary priest and claimed to have been paid by this shameless department every month.
The judge who heard this writ petition was shocked to learn that Rs.1.60 is the salary per month for an “employee” of a rich temple like Srirangam temple. He stayed the arbitrary and unholy order of the Executive Officer.
When this very Vedavyasa Bhattar was the person who is entitled to the palanquin honour, would the Executive Officer keep quiet? The attendants and porters working in Srirangam temple passed a resolution “condemning” this ritual and gave a petition to the temple administration to stop this practice forthwith.
Since it is only a body of devotees of Srirangam temple clad in customary clothes and observing solemn rites who carry the Lord’s devotee on a palanquin, these employees who are fully controlled by the Executive Officer have no locus standi to pass such a resolution. Yet based on this irrelevant resolution of base employees, the centuries-old religious ritual was ordered to be stopped by the Executive Officer. It should be remembered that any Executive Officer or Trustee has no authority to make any changes in religious rituals as per the Tamil Nadu Temple Entry Authorization Act of 1947.
Shri A. Krishnamachari settled in Srirangam town after a distinguished service in Indian Oil Corporation. His academic accomplishments are impressive – a Degree in Chemistry, three Post Graduate Degrees in Tamil, in Public Administration and in Sociology. Above all, his knowledge of Vaishnava literature and tenets is extraordinary and he is a recognised expert on the Srirangam temple, its history, tradition and architecture. Indeed, he has written an 18-volume magnum opus on the temple, running into over 7100 pages. An upright person who never hesitated to defend the temple and its traditions, Shri Krishnamachari has opposed anyone who violates them, however high the violator may be placed.
Shri Krishnamachari filed a criminal complaint against the Executive Officer and his cronies for stopping a religious ritual. He filed RTI applications with the Commissioner regarding the Brahma Ratham ritual and got a reply stating that the Commissioner never approved the Executive Officer’s request to stop the Brahma Ratham. Soon the Information Officer of the deceitful Department changed her stand and said the earlier information given under RTI was incorrect!
Shri Krishnamachari appealed to the State Information Commissioner and after hearing both sides, the State Information Commissioner issued a show-cause notice to the Information Officer of the deceitful HR&CE Department as to why action under the RTI Act should not be taken against her for misinformation. Needless to say, this show-cause notice is pending action like the criminal complaint filed earlier. Shri Krishnamachari has also filed a Writ Petition in Madras High Court challenging the HR&CE’s unholy and unlawful decision to construct a huge modern structure in one of the ancient temples in Srirangam.
Enter the Christian reporter
As Krishnamachari proved to be a thorn in the flesh of the Executive Officer who was faithfully carrying out the evil designs of atheists and Christian zealots in the holiest Vaishnava temple town, help was extended to the Executive Officer from foul anti-Hindu quarters.
A Christian reporter of The Times of India approached Krishnamachari, lauding his services in protecting the temple, and spent many hours interviewing him and learning about his RTI and other initiatives. The unsuspecting veteran gave the reporter all details, thinking this would expose all the violations in the temple (TOI had earlier exposed the damage done to the Brahadeeswara temple, a World Heritage site).
The reporter went to the Executive Officer, ostensibly to hear his ‘version’, and then followed a news item in Times of India on Jan 12 on Brahma Ratham. It waxed eloquent how the Executive Officer had ‘discovered by digging deep’ into temple archives that this custom was self-imposed in 1824 CE and how he had to stop it because it is an evil custom like ‘Sati’ or ‘Child Marriage’.
Shri Krishnamachari had given proofs to the reporter that this is an age-old custom carried out for centuries, but the TOI reporter hid the truth. He also did not interview true devotees of Srirangam temple or the Parasara / Vedavyasa Bhattar families and elicit their views. It would only occur to a man planted by the Church to describe an anti-Hindu atheist as a God-sent-person, which is how this Christian reporter described the Executive Officer while ending the article with unabashed glee.
Shri Krishnamachari sent a riposte to The Times of India clearly establishing how the Jan 12 article teemed with lies and fabrications. Yet the Christian reporter was allowed to furnish another article on Jan 15 swarming with more untruths and concoctions and accusing Shri Krishnamachari of violations in the temple! These white lies served dual purposes by maligning the good name of Shri Krishnamachari and shamelessly praising the miscreant Executive Officer. This time there was no pretense of hearing the other side.
Shri Krishnamachari again sent a letter to The Times of India, supported by proofs and documents, that exposed the lies in both. After more than ten days, the newspaper deigned to print a short version of his rejoinder (legal action is now being contemplated).
Yet Hindus in and around Srirangam carry on unaware and blissfully ignorant, and if aware, shamelessly indifferent to the shenanigans of the Church, the anti-Hindus and the corrupt HR&CE Department… There are none so deaf as those who will not hear!
The author is a banking professional and research scholar on Hindu religious affairs