Union Minister Prahlad Singh Patel’s recent announcement about bringing around 7,000 temples of Tamil Nadu — which are more than a century old — under the control of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), has triggered an uproar in the state.
Opposing the move, DMK president MK Stalin alleged the minister’s announcement has a hidden agenda and that the temples, which are already under ASI, are not being maintained properly.
“Temples in Tamil Nadu are managed by Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) department. There is a separate archaeological department in the state to conserve the heritage monuments,” he said.
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“When most of the monuments and temples under ASI are being maintained badly, the Centre’s plan to take over other monuments is an injustice,” the DMK chief added.
He recalled how his father and former chief minister M Karunanidhi had opposed the ASI’s move of taking control of the Tiruvannamalai temple in 2002. The DMK patriarch had then termed it as a misconception that only ASI can maintain temples and monuments properly.
“By taking control of temples built during the Sangam Age and during the period of Pallavas, Pandyas, Cholas, Cheras and Nayaks, the Centre is trying to damage Tamil culture,” Stalin said.
It is interesting to note that while the state BJP is demanding the HR&CE to give up control over the temples, the Centre has been trying to bring them under the ASI.
A HR&CE official said the department is also not okay with the Centre’s plan of bringing the temples under ASI’s control.
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“According to the agamas (rules pertaining to a particular temple), poojas should be performed in the temples at least once a day. They have proposed this plan (of bringing them under ASI’s control) to convert the temples into tourist destinations like Mamallapuram,” the official said.
He said even for the maintenance of a temple, they have to seek permission from the ASI. “Many times, they don’t give permission for regular activities like cleaning. Even festive-time arrangements like setting up of lights have also become a difficult process,” he added.
However, Amarnath Ramakrishna, a senior ASI officer told The Federal the monuments will be maintained properly if they are taken over by the ASI.
“According to the ASI Act, 1958, if ASI takes control of a temple, it must maintain the status quo of the temple. If regular poojas are performed in the temple, then it must be followed. Likewise, if poojas are not performed in the temple, then it should not be entertained in the future as well,” he said.
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While it is expected the ASI can maintain the monuments well, Ramakrishna also pointed out some drawbacks. “If ASI takes a monument under its control, then one cannot build any other structure within 100 metres of the site, and buildings can be built within its 200 metres only after they are granted necessary permission,” added Ramakrishna.
Currently, 413 monuments in Tamil Nadu are under the control of the ASI.