I have been visiting and spending time with my parents in Nagainallur , a remote graamam near Karur in Thiruchirapalli district of Tamil Nadu, since 2009. Every visit I diligently offer my prayers at our temples and go about with the rest of my stay. Thanks to the awareness created by several groups about the inefficiencies, corruption and blatant discrimination against Hindu temples by the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act (HR&CE), 1959 on social media, I arrived this time wanting to see if these issues existed in our graamam. Sadly, they do exist, and not just in my graamam, but the issue is rampant across the board in almost all temples controlled by HR&CE. Here are just three such examples of temples in Nagainallur.

Sri Pramarambika Sameta Sri Mallikarjuna Swamy

This 800-900 year old temple is nested at the end of Nagainallur Agraharam on the banks of the now dried up lake. Until 2010 the temple was in a dilapidated, barren condition with sheet coverings over the two presiding deities – Sri Pramarambika Ambal, Sri Mallikarjuna Shiva, as well as Nandeeswarar, Navagraha and other surrounding deities. Walls are blackened from weather conditions over centuries and weeds and grass grown all over.

A few dedicated private citizens of this agrahaaram collected the necessary funds needed to renovate and clean up the temple, build a compound wall, provide access to water and few other much needed upgrades. They finally performed the Kumbhabhishekam in 2010 which cost private citizens a little over Rs. 20,00,000 (20 lacs). Since then, more citizens have joined in and are helping keep the temple operating by sponsoring pujai as well as other needed improvements such as a leveled pradaskhina path around the temple.

Below are some before and after pictures of this temple.

Before Renovation by citizens

Sri Neelah Devi Sri Bhooma Devi Sameta Lakshminarayana Swamy

No one seems to know how long ago this temple was built. During Ekadasi a few days ago I noticed the pitiable conditions of all areas of this temple—garbha gruham walls were dirty with cobwebs all over, the pujai paatram-s were all poorly maintained and blackened, there were mounds of old, unused vessels, boxes and containers which have not been opened for ages dumped in the corner of the central area and the deity vastram-s were all hanging on a thin rope – soiled, well used and dull.

As I stepped out to perform the pradakshinam, the broken, uneven ground was filled with fallen foliage and weeds grown to my knees. In one corner by the well I noticed a beautiful moorti of ambal left standing by the wall. I got close to it and noticed the beautiful intricate details of this heavy, stone carved moorti with a conical base that still had dirt on it. Incidentally my eyes fell on another moorti few feet away, fallen to the ground, face down. With the help of another temple devotee we lifted it up to stand against the tree. And who did we see? It was another exquisite, heavy, stone carved moorti of Perumal.

While I was shocked to see these abandoned so callously it didn’t seem to bother the others present there. Perhaps they’d given up and had been conditioned over time to simply pass by such gross atrocities. I was casually told that these moortis were replaced with the current moorti from the Garbha Gruham in 2006 during the Kumbhabhishekam. This deity, Shri Varadrajan (hence many had this name in the Agraharam) and Ambal were eventually tossed outside as they had a few broken parts. Upon examining them one can see that these parts were easily attachable and could have been respectfully installed somewhere on the small but sufficient temple grounds for worship.

Some people from Nagainallut are currently working on raising funds to build a madapalli (kitchen) so neivedhyam can be prepared on-site by observing all the necessary hygiene and rituals for Perumal and his consorts.

In the neighboring graamam of Ailur are two temples for Shiva – Vrudha Vaaleeswara (elderly Vaaleseswara) temple where Vaali of Ramayana worshipped Shiva on these banks of the river Kaveri. Beautifully placed between a large, old aala maram (Banyan tree) and the calm waters of Kaveri this temple’s location is simply stunning.

At a few minutes walk from this temple is another Vaaleeswara temple. I had a chance to visit both coincidentally and was brought to tears at the sight of the condition of these very ancient temples. With broken temple walls, doors that were falling apart, grounds with trash and abandoned construction materials, heavily chipped, cracked and precariously standing outdoor moortis…I wanted to leave as my heart was heavy, yet I also wanted to continue to see more.

The visuals tell us a story one cannot ignore—one of connections with ancient Bharatiya itihaasam, Hindu  spirituality, architecture and traditions being abandoned and callously neglected while structures of other religions enjoy lavish, grand buildings attracting tourists and funding from all over the world.

One elder in the graamam whose family has served at the temple for seven generations now had tears in his eyes. His only dying wish is to see this temple renovated and brought back to its glory.

Why? Why these unequal conditions for one religion versus all the other religions in a country that is based on the fundamental rights for ‘all’ religions—which by the way would not exist in the Indian  Constitution if not for the efforts by the 68th Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham, His Holiness Shri Chandrshekharendra Saraswathi Swamigal

For hundreds of generations Hindu temples have traditionally been patronized by kings who donated lands to temples. These lands were used for agricultural production and the proceeds would be shared with the respective owner temples to help pay for the various critical social and religious functions that temples performed—education, food for the poor, arts, medical, care for seniors….the list is endless. So, what happened to all these lands?

The Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment ( HR & CE ) Act was enacted in 1959 to manage (control) the operations and resources of public Hindu temples  –  “consolidate the law relating to the administration and governance of Hindu Religious and Charitable Institutions and Endowments in the State of Tamil Nadu ( http://www.bareactslive.com/TN/tn520.htm).

Temple lands were gradually leased out or auctioned off by the government to private parties at very low and paltry prices. These new ‘owners’ have been enjoying these practically free lands for their personal gains with near zero contributions to the temples which the lands rightfully belong to.

Sri Mallikarjuna, Sri Lakshminarayana and Sri Keerzh Pazhani (not covered in this article) temples are supposed to be owners of 72 acres of lands. The current owners to whom these lands were auctioned off, however, do not pay the fair share of the proceeds of these lands  to the temples for upkeep and operations. As if this is not enough, HR & CE pays a paltry salary in the range of Rs. 500 per month to priests of these temples. Since these temples do not bring in any income (which should be coming from the current owners)  the priests receive such indignant amounts of money in exchange for their services.

As far back as residents can remember, funds appropriated towards daily costs such as oil, wicks, flowers, prasadam etc for pujais have never reached the temples of Nagainallur. They have never been accounted for by those trusted with this responsibility.

Author at the Vaaleeswarar Temple, Ailur

I can now answer a question my kids have often asked me on their visits to Bharat: why are churches and mosques prettier and grander than Hindu temples?

It is because the government, through HR&CE, has given away lands of the rightful owners, the temples, causing loss of revenue and leaving no money for upkeep, maintenance and preservation of buildings, grounds and moorti-s. The Executive Officers for each area rarely visit the temples to assess the situations and needs and simply expects private citizens to do the job of care and upkeep of temples that HR&CE is supposed to be doing. The poor priests have long given up and have made their choice between using the paltry salaries for their family or for the temple operational costs.

Will HR&CE ever be brought to justice? Only time will tell. As my friend once said, we may not be in this situation if Kshatriyas managed our temples instead of Brahmins. Perhaps that may be the change we need to make. Until that happens it is up to private citizens like those from graamams like Nagainallur to step up and take care of what our ancestors strived to build and hand down to us.

All images by author, and copyright of author.

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Last modified: March 10, 2021