February 01, 2018

In defence of tradition


S. Prabhu

FEBRUARY 01, 2018 16:19 IST

UPDATED: FEBRUARY 01, 2018 16:19 IST

T.N. Ramesh is a relentless crusader against violations and irregular practices in temple administration

It is four years since the landmark judgment was passed in favour of Pothu Dikshithars of the Chidambaram Sabanayakar temple. The man behind the case has been a crusader for the preservation of heritage structures, especially temples. T.N. Ramesh has taken on the HR & CE Department in several temples and on several issues across Tamil Nadu. A promise he gave Sri Dayananda Saraswati a month before his passing that he would dedicate his life to the protection of Hindu temples and architecture gives him the strength.

The Chidambaram verdict was Ramesh’s first big success in his battle against the HR & CE Department. While the verdict was being pronounced that morning at the Supreme Court, Ramesh was at the Ayodhya Mandapam, in West Mambalam, stalling efforts by the HR & CE Department to take over the Samajam and within an hour of the Supreme Court verdict, the Madras HC had provided a stay to HR & CE Department’s attempted takeover. It was a dual victory for Ramesh that day. In the Chidambaram temple case, Ramesh had to contend with the defence of Subramanian Swamy. So it involved research and investigation spanning over five years.

Selfless service

Says 80-year old M.N. Sivaraja Dikshithar, scholar in multiple languages and who has been with the temple for seven decades: “The families of hundreds of Pothu Dikshithars are grateful to Ramesh, who got back their rights. Many of them went into depression after the 2009 verdict. The selfless service he renders for the cause of temples is rare among those, who expect rewards and glory for even a small achievement.”

Ramesh has since successfully stopped the takeover of five ancient temples in Tamil Nadu including Lakshmi Narasimha Perumal Temple, Chromepet, Kandhaswamy Temple, Kandhakottam and Aiyyapan Temple, Kodungaiyur. He also got a stay on the construction of the Raja Gopuram at the Padalathri temple in Singaperumal Koil and is currently fighting the construction of a new modern Raja Gopuram at the over 1,000-year old Krupapureeswarar temple in Tiruvennainallur near Villupuram. He is confident that the planned construction of the new Raja Gopuram at the Tiruvellarai Divya Desam near Srirangam too will be stopped.

What triggered Ramesh’s battle against organisation? In 2009, the High Court handed over the administration of the Chidambaram temple to HR & CE Department. Soon hundis sprang up at several places within the campus, to the dismay of the Dikshitars. Also what was sold as prasadam inside the temple was food prepared outside. The last straw was when the Dikshitars were asked to register themselves so that a few among them could be chosen as archakas.

Invoking the RTI Act, Ramesh collected information about the HR & CE Department administered temples and found a number of violations in the administration of temples. In 2015, he filed five writ petitions questioning the appointment and presence of Executive Officers in five of the big temples and another one challenging the appointment of HR & CE Department staff as Fit Persons. A few months ago, he issued notices to the Commissioner relating to 17 temples where there were no orders of appointment of EOs. It was after his writ that the department framed the rules for the appointment of EOs under the HR & CE department Act for the first time in 55 years. His case on improper civil works in temples in the name of Tiruppani has now been clubbed with the suo motu heritage case at the Madras High Court.

Ramesh says that he will be relentless in issues relating to the department’s interference in religious matters, non-protection of temple properties and non-realisation of income, auctioning of stalls, diversion of temple funds to non-temple purposes and the demolition of ancient sculptures and heritage in the name of renovation. He is currently in the process of filing a Writ of Mandamus seeking direction that HR & CE Department should publicise all the information relating to the temples under section 4 of the RTI Act and another writ against the transfer of temple funds for non-temple purposes.

Ramesh’s hands have been strengthened by the support of the Temple Worshippers Society, which is funding his initiatives. The trustees of various temples seek his counsel to keep the department at bay. One of his aims is to restore rights to trustees, wherever they have been taken away from them.

Finding a stage erected in front of a shrine for a cultural festival at the Kapaliswarar temple, Mylapore, recently Ramesh had it dismantled. He felt vindicated when hundreds of devotees thanked him for removing the eyesore. After the incident devotees of the temple have formed a Temple Worshippers Forum in Mylapore to address such issues

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