Hindus consider going on a pilgrimage to the Char-Dhaam, Gaya, Varanasi, Tirupati, Rameshwaram, etc. something that they should do at least once in their lifetime. In fact in many houses aged parents wait for their eldest son to take them on such a pilgrimage. To go on such a pilgrimage, the lady of the house keeps a ‘hundi’ in the ‘Puja Sthaan’ and puts her meager savings into the Hundi as and when possible. When that much awaited day arrives, she collects all the money from the Hundi and at every Temple she visits on the way of her pilgrimage, she puts a small amount from this bundle, into the Temple Hundi. It is the Gruh-Lakshmi’s way of thanking God and returning a small portion of money to God, from the limitless blessings that her family got from God all these years. What do you think she expects from God in return? Nothing. Why does she put that money in the collection box? It is because she feels that however inconsequential her amount may be, this amount will be used for the benefit of society. It is her share of charity to those even more unfortunate than her.
Lakhs of people put their hard-earned monies in the temple hundis all over India and abroad. They do this in the belief that this amount will be used to help other poor Hindus and to improve the facilities in the temples in India. Now let us see what actually happens:
Salaries of Priests:
All over India, probably it is the priests who are paid the least after more than 15 years of job-specific education. The priests especially in established temples have to have learnt Sanskrit & should know all the rituals associated with the temple. Even in the biggest of temples, these priests are paid a pittance every month, sometimes a sum lower than clerks. Also in many temples they don’t even get a fixed salary. For eg. in Karnataka those working in ‘A’ grade temples get about Rs.8000/month & those in ‘C’ grade temples get only Rs.500/month. There is now a proposal to increase their salaries by about Rs.2000/month. In the famed Ananthapadmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruananthapuram, Kerala, the salaries start from Rs.12,500/month. When it was suggested that the Chief priests should get Rs.5,00,000/month, a lot of eyebrows were raised. But people do not understand that in this temple, the priests who work in the inner sanctum have to stay away from their families, have to observe the vow of celibacy and live with the utmost discipline for that period of time. It is a very difficult life to lead. In Andra Pradesh too, priests have been demanding that their salaries be raised because presently they are receiving a pittance. Gujarat’s famed Ambaji temple declared a couple of years ago that they have paid Rs.49.5 lakhs as salaries to priests in that year but failed to mention how many priests were there. If one would make a guess, probably every priest received just about a lakh per annum.
Now readers please tell me why when you go to temples, the Pandas or priests keep asking for Dakshina. Before blaming the priests, just think what is their source of income? How will they look after their families with the ongoing inflation level if after so many years of study they get such a pittance? As for them getting jobs elsewhere, do remember where they stand on the Reservation chart.
On another note, in 2012, the government of West Bengal announced that Imams will be “give a monthly honorarium of Rs. 2,500” and “homeless, landless Imams” will be given land to build homes, with the government footing the bill for “construction expenditure” too.
Upkeep of Temples:
Ideally every temple is supposed to keep its surroundings clean, have the inner sanctum washed every day, have a Gou-shala where cows are looked after, teach children Sanskrit, have Paathshalas for training of priests, feed the poor and the pilgrims without charging them anything (Annadaana), observe festivals and rituals and conduct rituals for the pious as per their needs. But a look around any temple will tell one what the ground reality is.
Goushalas and Gurukuls have disappeared or are disappearing from most of the temples. The temples have neither the funds nor the infrastructure to continue with them.
Disbursements to temples in Karnataka for renovation and maintenance between the period ’97-’98 to ’02-’03 fell (more than halved) from Rs 16.5 crores to Rs 7.1 crores even as revenues collected from temples rose from Rs 58.63 crores to Rs 79 crores! An estimated 50,000 temples have shut down during the last five years in Karnataka due to lack of resources. In my own village in Kumta, Karnataka, our Gram Devata temple had to be renovated with only collections from the people originating from the village. In fact when some of the temple trees were cut for making the new roofs & pillars, the temple trustees were slapped with sanctions for cutting trees.
Many magnificent ancient temples are crumbling and even the daily ritual of cleaning and purifying the precincts is not happening. Some temples don’t even have oil for their lamps because the paltry rupees the government promised when it took over the temple seldom comes on time. It is not a secret how thousands of idols, ornate doors, antique vessels of temple kitchens, etc. are being looted and land up on shores abroad.
Under the openly Christian evangelical regime of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y. Samuel Rajsekar Reddy, in March 2006, the government demolished a centuries old, 1000 pillar Mantapam in the Tirumala complex. In the Siddhivinayak Temple in Mumbai, government appointed trustees of this temple spent over Rs. 24 lakhs of the temple’s money in two days on a lavish marketing event held at a seven star hotel to discuss how to promote temples as tourist attractions! In Tirupati there are plans to build a ropeway to the hills to make it a more appealing commercial tourist attraction. Are these pilgrim destinations or picnic spots? Is this the manner reverence for temples are to be shown – by vulgar expenditure of this nature, of a pilgrim’s hard earned wealth?
Where does the Money Disappear to?
In Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam, an inquiry in July 2008 by the Vigilance Department of TTD resulted in the suspension of several officials but the findings were never made public.
In 2006, A probe conducted by the Justice Tipnis committee on disbursal of surplus funds by Siddhivinayak Temple noted in its report, “the most shocking aspect..is that there is no method or principle followed for particular institutions. The only criteria for selection was recommendation or reference by trustees or the minister or a political heavy-weight, generally belonging to ruling party“ The famous Siddhi Vinayak Temple in Mumbai was “nationalized”, i.e. the State Government took over its previously independent board of trustees, in 1981. It is believed that various political and government appointees have siphoned off crores of rupees out of the temple’s coffers. Some of this money is given out as ‘donations’ -- of Rs. 50 lakhs or more -- to other non-profit institutions, selected on the basis of political connections. These organizations may not serve Hinduism or Hindu devotees at all. Such donations continued even after the Bombay High Court issued a prohibitory order stopping them.
In 2002, from the 2,07,000 temples in Karnataka the government took in revenues of Rs. 72 crores, returned Rs. 10 crores for temple maintenance, and granted Rs. 50 crores for madrasas, and Rs. 10 crores for churches. This has continued till today.
85% percent of revenues from the TTD, which collects over Rs. 4000 crores every year as the richest temple in India, are transferred to the state exchequer. The non-temple use of this colossal amount of money is not fully accounted for by the government. Temple watchdog groups have alleged that the government has allocated Rs. 7.6 crores of TTD money towards repairs and renovations of mosques and churches in recent years. JRG Wealth Management Limited, a Christian owned organization, was given a lucrative contract to procure materials for the Prasadam that is given to temple devotees. In fact on one occasion, Shri Y Samuel Rajshekhar Reddy, the then Chief Minister announced the sponsorship, using TTD money, of a hockey tournament in his parents’ name.
Even though this Guruvayur Devasom Board gets atleast Rs. 250 crores every year in income, it is almost bankrupt today, after years of government diversion of funds. Money goes from the Temples in Kerala to the State Exchequer, which otherwise would show a loss every year. Rs 24 crores from the Guruvayoor Devasvom have been spent on a drinking water project in ten nearby Panchayats, which include 40 Churches and Mosques. This would not have been seen as something wrong if it were not for the fact that none of these 40 Churches and Mosques contributed even a Rupee for this purpose. It is an ironical fact that when an RTI query was put asking about the money distributed to the temples, the State Government mentioned that it is they who are actually giving Rs.80 lakhs to the temples from their coffers. They conveniently forgot to mention the amount the State treasury receives from these temples. This amount is now quoted by Muslim bodies when any argument takes place.
What about the Land that these Temples Own?
Investigation is on regarding the sale of several hundreds of acres of land belonging to Jagannath Puri temple to Vedanta Foundation at throw-away prices, by the State Government of Orissa.
In Tamil Nadu, an audit in 2007 of the ancient Parthasarathi Temple in Chennai, managed by the government, revealed that records of seventeen temple grounds (~41000 sq. ft.) in T.Nagar were missing; In addition 11 other grounds had incomplete records and lacked clear titles. It was also noticed that these properties were let out to non-existing tenants & those that were sold were apparently sold on an ad-hoc basis.
In 2006, Acharya Kishore Kunal, the Religious Trust Administrator in Bihar mentioned that “government control over the temples..has resulted in loss of temple properties worth Rs. 2000 crore”. He went on to point out “the alienation of property” that had taken place via “sale, lease and forcible occupation by persons with criminal antecedents” and how “ several temples, mutts and trusts…(had) slipped into the hands of criminals masquerading as priests and swamis.“
In Andhra Pradesh, out of 420,028 acres owned by temples in Vishakhapatnam, Kakinada, Guntur, Kurnool, Warangal, and Hyderabad, 60,843 acres were allowed to be occupied illegally by professional land grabbers. The State Government did nothing to prevent these incursions, even though it has a staff of over 77,000 people (paid from a 15% charge on temple revenues) to look after temple interests. In August 2005, the State also decided to sell 100,000 acres of the Sri Narasimha Swamy Temple in Simhachalam and other nearby temples. On March 14, 2006, the Government auctioned 3,000 acres of temple lands in East Godavari district. As per reports, 884 acres of endowment lands of the famous Sri Rama temple at Bhadrachalam have been allocated to Christian institutions. In Simhachalam, 300 acres belonging to the temple have been allocated for churches and convent schools, who even exercise an illegal authority to stop devotees from visiting the temple atop the hill! In 2003, 120 acres of land belonging to the Kodanda Rama Swamy temple in Chittoor was offered to the Ayurvedic giant Dabur for a monthly lease of Rs 5,833”, by the Government of Andhra Pradesh. Please note that proceeds from these sales or leases rarely reach the temples.
In Sabarimala, the forested hill with the famous temple of Lord Ayyappa in Kerala, 2,500 acres of temple property have been sold by the Communist government controlled Travancore Devasvom Board to a non-Hindu group.
In 2012 the Tamil Nadu government proposed amendments to a 1959 act governing temples seeking to bring ‘samadhis’ and ‘brindavans’ under its ambit for effective control” because “ (these) samadhis and brindavan..are being worshipped as a place of public religious institution..and..own vast property..(these) are not being controlled effectively.
Readers should give attention to the fact that Government interference does not occur with Churches, Masjids, Mosques or Gurudwaras or any other places of worship. They are allowed to own and operate their institutions autonomously, without state interference. In ‘secular’ India, only Hindu temples are singled out for Government control and (mis)management. Why? Are we Hindus not capable of managing our own Temples and Gurukuls? The Government can be there as a watch-body to prevent any corruption or misuse of funds, but to say that the funds collected from Temple Hundis will go to the State Treasury and not be used for the expenses and upkeep of these very Temples and other charitable bodies of their choice, is WRONG. In a time when Hinduism itself is being hunted down by missionaries and zealots of other religions, why should our Temples, which are the last refuge for Hindus, be raped and plundered in this manner? Is this what a ‘secular’ Nation is all about? Let there be a change in the management of Hindu Temples. Let Government Interference STOP. Jai Hind !!!
…With inputs from various articles on the Internet