The Hindu is rising. After centuries of being told neither their messages arrived straight from the heaven nor did they have gods documented in books of history, a truncated landmass a Europeanised group of politicians received from an imperial power did not uphold the community’s right to practise their faith and lead their way of life either. But gone are the days when the Hindu would take it lying down. Along the lines of efforts of various think-tanks to turn the discourse around comes Kshetrayanam. Pragyata, in association with Indic Collective, Upword and People for Dharma, organised a one-day conclave Kshetrayanam II at the Rasika Ranjani Sabha, Mylapore, Chennai to reclaim the territories lost: on the physical map, in the mental landscape and in policymaking.
The aim of the event organised on 19 January was to critically analyse the threats faced by the Hindu sacred spaces and to envisage a pragmatic strategy to protect the places of worship from hostile forces and societal apathy. Speakers from different cultural backgrounds delivered in-depth analyses on diverse topics to accentuate the repercussions of government control of Hindu temples.
Kshetrayanam: Demolition of Puri Mutt
Prof Anil Dhir focussed on the government apathy towards living traditions and destructions of mutts in the name of development. He said every sampradaya of Hinduism, namely Advaita, Dvaita, Gaudiya Vaishnavism, Sikhism, etc, has left a footprint in the form of a mutt in Puri.
Along with other mutts, the Sikh Mutt established by Guru Nanak, too, is facing the axe in the name of development. As a concluding note, the speaker drew an analogy between government control of temples and the Mughals and British who had desecrated the Jagannatha idols.
Kshetrayanam: Hindu temples and charitable endowments
Ravilochan Iyengar delved into the centuries-old practice of utilising temple lands to build chhattrams (community buildings for resting during travel), and annadanam (distributing sanctified food as a service for free) as near as 200 years ago. The Tamil Nadu HRCE board controls the leasing of these lands which run into the tune of 1 lakh ac. The income generated from these lands were mentioned as to be a paltry Rs 2000 per acre.
Interestingly, the government office, bus stand of Kanyakumari is claimed to be standing on temple lands of the presiding deity of Kanyakumari town.
The speaker urged the Hindu community to assert their voice to make the government accountable and thereby ensure the freedom of the temples at the earliest. In spite of government controlling the temple resources, the hostility the Hindu society faces for their inability to uplift the downtrodden portrays the anti-Hindu sentiment prevailing across the system, Iyengar said.
Kshetrayanam: Temple reclamation movement in Kerala
Anjali George, a crusader of #ReadytoWait movement for defending the traditions of Sabarimala, described the temple desecrations and forced conversions to Islam by Tipu Sultan and his ravaging army of the 18th century in Malappuram district, Kerala. The descendants of these converted Muslims further vandalised a number of Hindu temples during the Moplah riots of 1921. Incidents such as the planned murder of a rich Muslim family in the year 1947, which wanted to go back to its Hindu roots by reviving a Narasimha temple at their real estate, and further acquittal at Madras High Court for lack of evidence were mentioned.
The audience appreciated the narration of the revival of the four desecrated temples one each of Sri Rama, Bharata, Lakshmana and Shatrughna by Hindus in minority, through sheer perseverance in spite of adverse economic situation apart from the opposition from the then communist government.
Further, the speaker cited the untiring efforts of K Kelappan to revive the desecrated temples by establishing Malabar Kshetra Samrakshna Samiti. The Samiti has been instrumental in reviving the ransacked temples across North Kerala.
Hindu charter of princely states
In this part of Kshetrayanam II, lawyer J Sai Deepak, from Indic Collective, conveyed a distinct perspective where he proposed that the constitution of India had to be seen through a pro-Hindu prism by weeding out the ethnocentrism over English language.
Sai Deepak’s message resonated with the attendees of Kshetrayanam. Listen in:
Kalau Ashvamedha: Ma’s autumnal homecoming in Bengal
Noted scholar Prabal Roy Chowdhury detailed the modes of Durga Puja in Bengal regions. Corroborating the assertion, Chowdhury furnished evidence in the form of paintings, sculptures, photographs apart from the literary citations.
The pictures of pandals, the history of Dhakeshwari idol from Dhaka, which was transported to Kolkatta during the riots of Direct Action Day, was featured in the presentation.
Tulunadu: Devagrha of Bharatabhumi
Focussing on the deity possessions, Hariprasad Nellitirtha, an IT professional, detailed in this session of Kshetrayanam the traditions of the Tulunadu in addition to drawing parallels of similar traditions existing in Tamilnadu, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Mauritius.
The speaker enlightened the audience about the active participation of the Tulunadu devotees in the day-to-day temple affairs that averted the government interference in their region
Sabarimala temple and its traditions
Aravind Subramaniam, a popular orator giving discourses on Dharma-Shastha worship, noted that Sabarimala was a kaavu (temple present in the dense forest region) and not a kshetram. A kaavu is a consecrated space which is usually active for a month or once a year. However, the Travancore Devaswom Board has allowed the Sabarimala practices to be altered by allowing pilgrims every month.
The visit by the then President VV Giri to the Sabarimala as a tourist through a shorter Pampa route, the permission to a movie maker for shooting a film in the 1980s has set a wrong precedent in the history of Sabarimala.
Subramaniam added that by lending credence to the stories of Lord Ayyappa’s association with a Muslim Vavar a popular myth peddled by certain sections of the society, installation of a concrete dhwajastambha which was never present in the temple, the Dewaswom has emerged as an epitome of cultural illiteracy.
How govts, courts alienated temples from Hindus
TR Ramesh, a passionate lawyer-activist fighting for freeing Hindu temples, briefed the consequences of government interference as no ordinary citizen or erudite scholar can ever be a trustee of Srirangam, Pazhani or Tirupati temple. With the Cochin and Trivandrum Devaswom boards having no control over the annexed temple lands, the Hindu community is in jeopardy due to the absence of land and other resources.
Land mafia, ably supported by vested interests in the state, has successfully managed to grab the land by hook or crook. It has further undermined the Hindu cause. The lands on which Hindu institutions like schools, hospitals, more Indic centres of learning should have been built is currently not under the control of practising Hindus.
Dharma, ecology, future of pilgrimage: Ashish Dhar
Co-founder of Pragyata and Upword Ashish Dhar pointed out the need for community living, as the scattering of community leads to the loss of culture, and eventually the loss of kshetram. He related the plight of temples in Kashmir, among examples, as a result of the lack of community living, in addition to other factors such as invasions, forced conversions and loss of territory.
Dhar cited the commercialisation of Kedarnath by promoting the sacred place as a tourist spot as an indicator of the loss of ecology. He emphasised the need to control the inflow of pilgrims visiting sanctified kshetras through a proper mechanism by looking into the legal aspects. He reminded that protection of ecology is the protection of Panchabhutas (five elements) and is the cornerstone of temple preservation and dharma.
Kshetrayanam acts as a catalyst for bringing about awareness among the Hindus that their culture and civilisation are at stake. The need to build institutions, which can handle the legal, cultural and social aspects of administration, requires establishment of autonomy that the Hindu society can implement. The organisers believe that the conclave will grow year after year.
With inputs from Vishnu R and TC Vishalakshy