The need to free Hindu temples from government control has been met with opposition from those who think Hindu samaj has no framework to manage them.
Due to the recent Supreme Court verdict on the Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple management issue, which restored the rights of the Travancore Royal family, and the adverse judgement of the Uttarakhand High Court on the Uttarakhand Char Dham Act, the topic of State management of Hindu places of worship has received renewed interest from concerned Hindus. Over the past 6 years, this topic has been one of great hope for many devout Hindus who were looking forward to the liberation of temples and education from the clutches of Government control.
In a strange twist of fate, the opposition to these decidedly pro-Hindu measures is increasingly coming from the supporters of the Government! Given the fact that the action by the present dispensation towards these two Hindu causes has been minimal (if any), the loyal supporters find it necessary to defend the inaction. And routinely, ample justification is given for the non-liberation of these critical institutions with inevitably the issue of caste and community dragged into the mix in order to “strengthen” the argument against granting freedom. So for example, the justification against school reform and removal of RTE is that it may adversely impact people of backward communities. Similarly, the argument against freedom of temples is on two counts – (a) That this may revive the practice of untouchability (b) That there is a lack of any alternative mechanism.
Both of these concerns are, of course, fact-free and driven by ignorance on the matter.
Untouchability has been abolished by the Constitution itself and cannot be practised in any form irrespective of the nature of the institution. Even if a public temple is managed privately by individuals, the practice of untouchability and denial of entry will invite the wrath of the executive and judiciary as it constitutes a serious crime. Furthermore, there is simply no data to prove that there is currently a practice of untouchability in the thousands of temples managed outside of Government control even today.
The second part about there being no alternative to government control is also not true due to several reasons. As mentioned above, there do exist numerous temples in India today that are *not* under the control of the Government. They are running, and in most cases running well. So there is some reference framework at least. Secondly, the fact that an alternate model has not been given complete shape is not a barrier for doing the right thing which is to free the temples from Government control. Freedom from Government control needs to happen irrespective of the shortcomings because it is the single biggest barrier to the prosperity of Hindu Samaj. The question of ‘what next’ would be automatically handled once the ball starts rolling. However, it has indeed become a convenient point of resistance.
Hence, in this write-up, an attempt is made to provide a basic framework for the management of temples and associated institutions by Hindus on their own. The laying out of this model in the public domain will hopefully trigger a debate on this topic leading to further refinement of the proposals and we can then hope to have a strong alternate in place eventually.
Many ideas in the proposal below have been made by many stalwart Hindu activists on various forums. I have borrowed, and in many cases been inspired from, their thoughts and ideas. I hope none of them will take objection to the consolidation of their thoughts in this format.
Categorization of Temples
The first step towards the self-management of temples is to recognize the condition of each temple and classify them accordingly. This will help bring focus on what the goals of any particular temple should be. Many state governments have classified temples under control into three broad categories – A, B, and C. The same classification can be carried forward as there is no serious flaw in such recognition.
• Category A temples enjoy a higher inflow of devotees thereby translating into higher revenue and financial strength. So a temple could be classified if its annual income exceeds say, 50 lakh rupees.
• Category B temples enjoy a mid-level inflow of devotees and these are broadly self-sufficient temples with perhaps some excess income. A temple with annual income exceeding 12 lakhs but below 50 lakhs rupees could be considered under this category.
• The majority of temples in this country would count as Category C temples. These are temples with meagre resources and are barely able to sustain themselves today. Their annual income is below 12 lakhs rupees.
Focus of temples
– Category A temples command vast resources. Their goal needs to be beyond merely running their particular institutions and should encompass wider aspects of growth within Sanatana Dharma. Therefore, the stated goals of each and every Category A temple needs to include: i) dharmic and general education of Hindus, ii) the building of hospitals and caring centres, iii) establishing and running Vedic institutions such as Vidyapeeths, Sanskrit schools and colleges, iv) publishing religious and dharmic books, v) providing scholarships to vidwans and seekers of dharma, vi) funding additional temples and religious institutions, vii) building new temples where required, viii) propagating Vedic culture and rituals such as yagnas, havanas, etc and other such activities.
– Category B temples should aim to focus on at least a few additional dharmic activities beyond just running the temple. Focus on running dharmic and generic educational institutions could be a very good additional goal for such temples.
– Category C temples should focus completely on sustenance and, as much as possible, increase dharmic activities in the temple itself. Ensuring timely and proper conduct of rituals, festivals and other events in the temple, and being self-sufficient in terms of financial resources should be the main goal of such temples.
Management structure of temples
Every Category C temple needs to have a well-identified patron base. In a village temple, all households attached to the temple would constitute such a patron base. Each such patron would carry a “vote”. Once every six years, all the patrons of a temple would elect a temple committee comprising of 30 members.
Out of these 30 members, a management committee comprising of ten members would be chosen. This committee shall bear the entire responsibility of running all the affairs of the temple for a period of two years. Such a committee would have well-identified representation from women, SCs, STs, and other relevant communities. If the temple has traditional archakas or sevayats, they would automatically become part of the management committee (in addition to the ten members).
Such a management team shall hold office for two years. Therefore, over a period of six years, all members of the committee of 30 shall hold office and contribute to the smooth running of the temple.
Category A and B temples will have a very similar structure and election mechanism, except that the committee shall comprise of 45 members and the management team shall have 15 members for two years.
Dharma Prasaran Committees
Every Category A or B temple shall, in addition to the management team, have a Dharma Prasaran Committee. The members of this committee shall be chosen by the overall temple committee and can have guest members invited. The stated goal of this committee is to work towards ensuring the contribution of the temple towards the propagation of Dharma. The areas, such as education, health, Vedic knowledge, and others that constitute areas of focus have already been detailed in the previous section.
The extent of the foray of these Prasaran committees and thereby the temples will be subject to the financial condition of the temple.
District Dharma Prasaran Board
Every district shall have a Dharma Prasaran Board. This board shall comprise of up to 15 members belonging to the district and shall include Mathadishas, vidwans, scholars, temple experts, and Hindu philanthropists. These boards shall not have any representation from politicians or any legislative body.
Each temple in the district shall report to this Dharma Prasaran Board. The temple shall promptly submit an annual report of its activities comprising of financial statements and the extent of Dharma Prasaran work undertaken. Such reports will be compulsorily made public.
The Board shall have the authority to offer guidance and direction to the temple management committees. The Board shall ensure that every Category A and B temple mandatorily spends a certain percentage of its excess income towards the propagation of Dharma beyond just the running of the particular temple. In case of irregularities of any form being noticed, the Board shall have the authority to initiate appropriate legal action against the temple committee.
State Dharma Prasaran Board
The district Dharma Prasaran Boards shall fold into a state-level Board. Such a Board shall be constituted with the state’s stalwart Dharma Gurus, Swamijis, Mathadishas, and Dharmics. Needless to say, all members in all of the above committees and Boards shall be Hindus.
The members of the district level and state level Boards shall be elected once every six years.
Roles and Responsibilities
The district-level Boards shall ensure that any Category C temple undergoing difficulties in running the temple shall be supported. The said support could be financial or in the form of appointment of the management or staff.
The district-level Boards shall ensure that each Category A and B temple commits to undertake dharma prasaran activities every year and that a certain fixed percentage of excess income is allocated for the same. The percentage allocated for such activities shall be higher in Category A temples than Category B temples.
Amongst all dharma prasaran activities, the district and state-level Boards shall provide special emphasis and encouragement for the establishment and running of dharmic and general schools for the first 20 years. Towards achieving this goal, the Government of India shall make necessary amendments to relevant Education laws such as the RTE and exempt schools and colleges started by temples from the purview of such laws.
Every temple shall come up with a Constitution of its own, upon moving to this new model of self-administration. The Constitution shall be drawn up through the concurrent vote of 4/5ths of its members and shall constitute details of the rituals, procedures, poojas, festivals, and other important pieces of information related to the temple. The Constitution shall also record any unique traditions, customs, or rituals associated with the temple. The Constitution shall also record the hereditary nature of appointments of archakas and other sevayats as applicable.
The said Constitution shall be registered with the district Dharma Prasaran Board. Any changes to the Constitution, which shall be binding on the management of the temple, will be allowed only with the concurrent vote of 4/5ths of the members of the temple committee.
Every temple that shall foray into the area of dharmic and general education shall do so through an affiliated trust. Financial contributions to such trusts shall be exempted, by the Government of India, from income tax up to a limit of Rs 50,000 per person per year. It is expected that such an exemption shall encourage a large number of contributions from Hindus towards the purpose of education.
It is very much possible for Hindus to administer and manage temples on their own. Through such a move, a great benefit shall accrue to the Hindu society and in fact, such a move can act as a harbinger of the revival of Hindu Samaj. In this article, an initial outline of the possible framework under which temples can be administered has been given.
It is no doubt possible to refine and improve this framework. It is the sincere hope of the author that the present framework can trigger a healthy debate amongst concerned Hindus leading to a concrete proposal for self-management of our precious temples.