A template to manage temples
In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court has held that the erstwhile Travancore royal family is the “human ministrant” or the shebait (manager) of the properties belonging to Sri Padmanabha, chief deity of the Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram.
The judgment also makes it clear that the temple is a public temple and needs to be administered with due consideration of the interests of the devotees. The Court has directed the setting up of an administrative committee and an advisory committee to carry out these functions.
Administration and management of temples in Kerala –
- In Kerala, Devaswom Boards, comprising members of both government and community, manage temples and their properties. The Padmanabhaswamy temple was kept outside the purview of the Travancore Devaswom Board as it was the family temple of the royal family.
- The Covenant of May 1949 and the Travancore-Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act, 1950, make it clear that the temple is “vested in trust”. This presupposes a beneficiary whose trust needs to be protected. In order to uphold the trust of the devotees, the temple administration is obliged to ensure that the rituals and ceremonies of the temple go on unimpeded.
- The Devaswom Boards, which are mandated to administer temples, have no scope to tinker with temple rituals or introduce ‘reforms’ with regard to temple rituals. However, they have the freedom to create facilities for the devotees.
Management by trustees –
- When India became a democratic Republic wedded to secular values, these boards or trusts became necessary for managing public religious institutions, without governments directly dabbling in their administration.
- They were conceived as arrangements of knowledgeable devotees who were expected to run the show with care. In many parts of India, there are highly prosperous private and public trusts that administer popular shrines and temples with remarkable professionalism.
- However, many public trusts and boards have often ignored the welfare of devotees. Arrogance and high-handedness have surfaced in many instances. When extraneous considerations like politics, ideology, power, wealth etc. creep in, the trust of devotees is betrayed.
Way forward – Lessons from judgement –
- The present judgment is an indicator that the coming together of individuals of integrity, devotion and professional commitment to administer places of worship could be a preferred mechanism. The order suggests a template for administrative probity and efficiency.
- Freedom from politics– Politics is an art of compromise; it has to accommodate diverse interests. Regardless of the contributions of such persons in other areas, their suitability to administer places of worship will often be doubtful as their choice is owing to political affiliations and not spiritual orientation. While such nominations are legally correct, they are often morally untenable.
- The Padmanabhaswamy temple verdict raises the need for moral cleansing, professionalising the administration of places of worship, and urges us to reinstall trust in the sanctum.
The mixing up of politics and other considerations with worship can be deleterious for both politics and faith and ominous for society at large.
Source – The Hindu
QUESTION – The Padmanabhaswamy Temple verdict provides a framework to settle temple management and administration disputes that arise from time to time. Discuss the issue in brief and suggest a way forward to strengthen the values of a secular India.