- 20 May 2021
In India Hindu Temples are strictly administered by the government, both the central and the state. From time to time, the government authorities had not only used the funds of the temples for government schemes (which even include schemes related to minorities alone), they have also interfered in temple rituals more often than we can hardly imagine. In such darkness, a ray of light in form of Freedom of the famous Lingaraja Temple is setting precedent for rest of the India.
It is no secret that Kerala Dewasom boards had been the worst managed temple committees which had always been in picture due to government interference and protest by devout Hindus against the interference. Even there was a time when Hindu’s of Kerala had to protest against new amendments by Kerala govt. which aimed at recruiting non-Hindu persons as employees in Dewasom board, including the much controversial proposed appointment for the seat of commissioner of the board. Ex Travancore Dewasom Board (TDB) Chief had to literally file a
against Kerala govt’s decision.
Similarly, in an audit done in 2018, it was revealed that more than 1,200 idols had been stolen over past 25 years in Tamil Nadu that were under the govt. administration. In 1978, rare idols of Ram, Lakhsman and Sita were stolen from Rajagopalaswamy temple at Ananthamangalam in Nagapattinam district, Tamil Nadu. These idols were later recovered from London in November 2020. On other hand, Puri’s Jagannath Temple owns more than 60,426 acres of land in Odisha out of which 25,623 acres of land had been encroached due to govt.’s incapability of managing the properties. In simple words, though govt. claims that it manages temples with efficiency, it is evident from the facts that these are nowhere near to be called good management and administration. Besides, if India is a secular country, then why only Hindu temples are governed by the government while mosques, churches, gurudwaras, etc are free from government control ? Not only this, the state governments even give direct financial aid to non-Hindu religious shrines as a token of gift. For example, in 2019 Telangana govt. gifted Rs 1 lakh each to 200 churches on the eve of Christmas.
The Orissa Hindu Religious Endowment Act 1951 puts all Hindu religious shrines of Odisha under the direct control of the state government. As such, the major rituals as well as the daily to daily rituals of the temples are acutely administered by the government and often, there have been reports of government interference in the management. However, this has been a matter of concern and often the priests of Lingaraj temple had asked for a separate act for the temple just like the Sri Jagannatha Temple Act 1954, which would lead to better management of the 11th century Lingaraj temple without unnecessary hassle from the government authorities.
The 12th century Jagannath Temple is the only shrine which has a special legislation dedicated to it. Back in 2011, Lingaraj Temple’s executive officer Sri Abani Pattanayak had appealed to the state government of Odisha to formulate a separate independent act for the Lingaraj Temple. This demand however, remained unheard for a long part of time. The demand to bring the ancient temple under temple act has been raging for last 30-years.
The servitors, historians and prominent personalities had appealed to the government tirelessly to bring the 11th Century temple under a special act, following which the then law minister Raghunath Mohanty had held discussions with senior officials. An affirmation was moved in 2012 to bring Lingaraj Temple under Special Temple Act. However, it took 8-long years to see the light of the day, and the monumental neglect has finally ended.
The current city of Bhubaneswar was once home to more than 7000 temples grouped under 1200 temple complexes of various magnitude, size and importance. In current days, more than 800 temple complexes that still stand distinctively are of utmost importance and have the historical value to draw tourists from different corners of the world. Bhubaneswar is often referred as Ekamra Kshetra, due to the ancient name bestowed upon it by the religious scriptures. Ekamra Kshetra is a series of ancient sandstone temples, heritage ponds and water tanks; its wealth of monuments is testament to an ancient continuous architectural and historical heritage covering over 2,000 years from the 3rd century BC to the 15th century AD.
This site has been enlisted in the proposed World Heritage Site of the UNESCO back in 2014. Currently, the Odisha government is aiming at bagging the tag of World Heritage Site and has undertaken various development-drive to modernize the region within one year so as to attract more tourists. The Ekamra Kshetra development project covers an area of 1126 acre with an outer core of 476 acre, intermediate core of 504 acre and inner core of 145 acre. The first phase of the project includes outer access road development, Lingaraj entry plaza, Bindusagar revival plan, parking space, heritage complex, development of amenities for Kedar Gouri- Mukteswar complex, e-auto project, relocation project and a state-of-the-art interpretation centre. As Bindusagar is a major attraction, work has started on its holistic development and beautification.
All construction between Lingaraj Temple and Bindusagar will be dismantled (demolished) so that pilgrims can also visit the Bindhyabasini, Bhabanishankar, Sukashari and Mohini temples without any problem. Till around 350 years back, there was no construction between Lingaraj Temple and Bindusagar except temples. The same thing will be restored in the Ekamra Kshetra project.
This is where the things became tangy during the development project. As with any development project, Ekamra Kshetra development drive too had to see demolition of existing constructions that deemed untidy for a World Heritage Site. However, demolition wasn’t an easy process and it faced a wide variety of protests :-
1. Local residents like Janmejay Kar filed petition in court against Odisha govt.’s attempt to demolish his house. High Court had issued a stay on the demolition drive.
2. Local traders had gheraoed Lingaraj Police Station and staged a massive demonstration protesting against the eviction.
3. In another case, local people sat on dharna when a bulldozer was sent to demolish a small temple called Tarini temple. The temple was not on illegal land and the locals had even rebuilt the temple after it sustained damage during cyclone Fani. People argued that since the temple wasn’t constructed illegally and since it doesn’t block the traffic, it would be unjust to demolish the temple.
Meanwhile, ASI too had revealed its dissatisfaction with the work being done by the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC) and Odisha Bridge Construction Corporation (OBCC) without their permission. Also, there was initial uproar regarding the land acquisition process for the development project which was finally calmed down after each affected family had been offered Rs. 1 lakh each and a monthly aid of Rs. 15,000 per month for next 15 months of their rehabilitation. In simple words, the Ekamra Kshetra Development Project is a big ambition of the state government and it wants to complete it smoothly.
This was the exact right time to again reignite the demand of separate act for the Lingaraj temple. The Odisha government doesn’t want anymore hassle in Ekamra Kshetra Development Project and when representatives of sevayats and priests again initiated the demand of separate act, it acted fast enough to bring Lord Shree Lingaraj Temple Act ordinance to settle the matter once and for all.
Image File : Locals celebrate and decorate the Temple to welcome the Freedom ordinance, lit 10000 lamps
The special act will help immensely in regulating the daily affairs of the Lingaraj shrine. Moreover, due to the absence of such special legislation, land assets and other properties of Lord Lingaraj are being encroached since a long time. As claimed by Ratnakar Garabadhu, a servitor in the temple, “The temple has around 1500 acres of land in various parts of the state and a significant chunk of the landmass is under encroachment. According to servitors like Kashinath Pujapanda, since the temple in not under Temple Act it has not received a single pie from State government for better administration and governance”.
Currently, due to the absence of Temple Act, the temple only receives small donations and alms of the pilgrims. According to the former “Lord Lingaraj Temple Trust Board” Executive Officer Manoranjan Panigrahi, the income of the temple on an average touches hardly Rs 4 lakh a day, and during special festivals like the Prabhu Lingaraj’s annual car festival the income hardly suffices the expenditure. Due to this, the temple administration hardly finds any resources to develop the shrine to its true grandeur or have a major say in the temple affairs. Also, because of the absence of Temple Act and having no record of right ( Satwalipi ), few unruly sevayats’ activities cause mismanagement and delays of rituals almost every day. The ordinance will put up an act that would soon formulate record of rights for the sevayats for better management. Since it is expected that more pilgrims and tourists would storm the temple after the completion of Ekamra Project, govt. also wants to bring new act so that the temple management would be hassle free and ready for more number of visitors in future.
The legislation bestows all the properties situated within the premises of the Lingaraj temple along with other temples, sacred places and mutts in the Ekamra Kshetra to the 15-member Lingaraj temple committee. An administrator will be appointed to look after the day-to-day affairs of the management of the temple.
The new law will ensure better facilities for the pilgrims, devotees and visitors. Besides, the committee will be empowered to safeguard the properties of the temple. Detailed provisions have been made in the Ordinance covering all relevant aspects, such as constitution of the managing committee, appointment of the administrator, their responsibilities and powers and management of temple funds. The legislation also has provisions to streamline the budgeting, accounting and auditing of the temple funds.
Presently, the management of Lingaraj Temple is governed under the Odisha Hindu Religious Endowment Act, 1952. With the enactment of the new law, the temple administration will be further empowered and strengthened to more effectively execute the elaborate rituals and seva puja. Various development works of the temple and its periphery covering safety, security and beautification aspects will also be expedited.
Welcoming the Odisha govt’s decision of bringing an ordinance for separate act for Lingaraj temple, the priests and sevayats of the temple had lit 10,000 earthen lamps in its premises making the environment go divinely mermerizing. Let us hope this light keeps showing us the path to free our temples nation wide.