In a controversial move, the Dravidian Model government has disrupted the scheduled consecration of the Annur Karivaradharaja Perumal Temple, adding another layer to the ongoing debate on religious practices. The interruption occurred as preliminary poojas, such as conducting yagnams, were underway, casting a shadow over the grand event’s preparations.
The temple, dedicated to the 400-year-old deity Kari Varadharaja Perumal along with consorts SreeDevi and Bhoo Devi, had been undergoing preparations for its consecration, including renovation, construction of a front entrance, creation of 12 sannadhis for alwars, erection of a flag mast, and widening of the inside praharam.
According to agamas, the consecration must be performed once every 12 years, and the last ritual was carried out 14 years ago. The local devotees, taking matters into their own hands, formed a committee and initiated the renovation work at an estimated cost of Rs. 2.5 crores. The Yagasala poojas, consisting of homams conducted by Vedic pundits, commenced on November 29th, with the main consecration event scheduled for December 1 at the auspicious time of 7.45 am.
The temple, under the jurisdiction of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR and CE) department, witnessed an unexpected intervention from HR and CE official Ramesh on November 30th. Without providing any reasons, Ramesh issued an order to halt the consecration by 5 pm, creating chaos among the devotees who had gathered for the event. Furthermore, he threatened to order the police to arrest the hundreds of devotees present at the temple premises.
Devotees expressed their discontent, highlighting that the sudden cancellation not only caused mental agony but also led to the waste of their contributions to the event. Criticism was directed towards the HR and CE department, alleging that they merely added their name to the invitations without contributing financially or providing any assistance in the coordination of the event.
அன்னூர் கரிவரதராஜர் கோவிலில் ₹2.5 கோடி மதிப்பில் பக்தர்கள் நன்கொடையில் திருப்பணிகள் செய்யபட்டு நாளை 01.12.23 காலை 7.45க்கு கும்பாபிஷேகம் நடப்பதாக இருந்தது.
நேற்று 29.11.23அதிகாலை 5.00 முதல் யாகசாலை பூஜைகள் தொடங்கின.
ஆனால், அறநிலையத்துறை அதிகாரி ரமேஷ் கிடைக்க வேண்டிய 30%… pic.twitter.com/lMDgCDPjf8
— Selva Kumar (மோடியின் குடும்பம்) (@Selvakumar_IN) November 30, 2023
Allegations of corruption surfaced, as some locals, wishing to remain anonymous, claimed that HR and CE official Ramesh demanded a 30% commission on the total estimated cost to allow the consecration to proceed. This purported practice of demanding commissions, known as “mamool” or protection money, has been alleged to be a norm during the Dravidian rule, extending from temples to local party functionaries and higher-ups within the government.
Hindu Munnani, an organisation that took up the cause, emphasised that the local community had decided to renovate and repair the temple independently after thwarting attempts five years ago to conceal the temple amid valuable properties. They accused the HR and CE department of obstructing the sacred ritual, raising concerns about the freedom of religious practices and autonomy of temples under their control.
Devotees and Hindu Munnani functionaries expressed disbelief over the last-minute cancellation, stating that it is unheard of for a temple consecration to be stopped due to a failure to pay commission. The Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR and CE) department, responsible for the interference, has faced accusations of audacity in halting the event just before its scheduled commencement.
Questions have been raised regarding the fairness of such an action, with devotees questioning whether this is a response to the Hindu voters who supported the DMK in recent elections. The motive behind the decision is being scrutinised, with suggestions that it could be an attempt to appease minorities or to fill the coffers of the DMK’s first family.
Critics argue against the control of Hindu temples by atheist and iconoclast Dravidian parties like the DMK, advocating for the temples to be freed, similar to churches and mosques. Recent incidents, such as the increase in temple entry and darshan fees, are seen as indications of an agenda to undermine Hindu spiritual beliefs and customs in favour of appeasing Abrahamic forces.
The HR and CE officials further escalated the situation by locking the temple premises to prevent devotees from proceeding with the consecration. This move, seen as a calculated effort to ensure the event’s obstruction at any cost, has intensified the condemnation of the highhandedness of the HR and CE and the DMK government.
In a strong show of dissent, local traders have called for a down-shutter protest from 6 am to 6 pm in and around the Annur panchayat union. Various groups, including Hindu Munnani, BJP, Sangh Parivars, Indu Makkal Katchi, and locals, have expressed their support for the protest, emphasising their disapproval of the government’s interference in religious affairs.
Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s recent allegations of irregularities within the HR & CE department added fuel to the fire. In response, TN Minister Sekarbabu defended the department, highlighting its establishment in 1955 to protect temples from hereditary trustees accused of looting them. He asserted that the DMK government, since coming to power in 2021, had increased funds for temple development, including festivals, renovation, and conservation.
The minister launched a scathing attack on those spreading what he referred to as “canards” against the department, attributing the accusations to lies circulated on social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp. He asserted that such misinformation aimed to tarnish the image of the DMK government led by M K Stalin, which, according to him, had been the most proactive in temple-related initiatives in the state.
Reacting to these statements, TN BJP Chief Annamalai challenged the minister’s claims, questioning the actual contribution of the HR and CE in the consecration of over 1000 temples. Annamalai argued that the funds for these efforts were raised from local communities and devotees, with the HR and CE merely adding their names to invitations without financial contributions. He demanded transparency in the form of a white paper detailing the department’s actions, including property redemptions, the recovery of stolen idols, and actions taken against encroachments.
As the controversy deepens, the clash between religious autonomy and government oversight takes centre stage, leaving the fate of the Annur Karivaradharaja Perumal Temple consecration hanging in the balance.