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Hindu temples and associated museums

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Sriram Kompella
I am a PhD student at Politecnico di Milano in Italy. I graduated from IIT Madras with a BTech+MTech degree in Civil Engineering. I was also the Students' General Secretary in IIT Madras from 2018-19.

Samudra Vasane Devi Parvata Stana Mandale Vishnu Patni Namastubhyam Paadasparsham Kshamasvame​. Hindus start their day by chanting a shloka that begs for forgiveness from Mother Earth for having made their presence felt and for touching her with their feet. Such is the reverence of Hindus towards nature and so will be their conviction to not adversely affect nature in any way. As the day progresses, Hindus perform puja chanting: ​Akashat patitam toyam yatha gacchati sagaram, sarva deva namaskaram Keshavam prati gacchati.​ Meaning just like all water falling from the sky as rain reaches the sea through different rivers, all prayers of humans will reach the Supreme Being whichever prayer method one adopts. Such are the Hindu ideals of tolerance and respect for all religions.

On 9/11 of 1893, at the peak of the British colonisation of India, a ‘Hindu fundamentalist’ monk, Swamy Vivekananda addressed the First World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago as “​My dear brothers and sisters of America“​ showing the world that Hindus believe in ​Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam​ even in tumultuous times. Just because the western concept of religion doesn’t bode well with their governance, asking the entire world to give up religion from governance no matter what it teaches is yet another example of coloniality. What is worse is the unconstitutional government control and restriction on Hindu temples under the garb of a skewed western phenomenon of this secularism. It reeks of hatred for idolaters.

Hindu temples for generations before have been a beacon for development, cultural preservation and a socio-economic safety net for the Hindu society all the while being sacred places of worship. It is high time we reclaimed the temples and restored them to the status of such civilisational monuments. We see that lately the movement for freeing temples from government control has gained more momentum. A recent Supreme Court judgment in the case of Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple is a shot in the arm for all Hindus who wish to see the sanctity of temples and temple customs upheld. In this short essay, I wish to make the case for the freeing of Hindu temples from government control especially for the political Hindus and Hindutva-wadis not just the pilgrims.

The hunters win in all the stories until the lion starts narrating. We stop being victims in our history only when we start speaking up about the times when we won battle after battle, war after war and defended our culture and traditions from waves of malevolent alien invasions. Until we learn how Maharaja Suhaldev killed the Ghaznavid Salar Masud at Bahraich on the banks of Sarayu and protected the Ram Janmabhoomi at Ayodhya, we will only remember how Babur razed it to the ground. Until we learn how Sri Krishna Deva Raya saved southern India from Islamisation we can’t delete the pictures of the amputated trunk of Lord Ganesha idol at Hampi. Rewriting and correcting our history is the most important part of setting a civilisational narrative. This is in turn important for forming a vision for the future of the country and based on the potential of India, probably the whole world. However this change in the history curricula, when brought in abruptly would attract a lot of turbulence from the remnants of the invading communities. Fearing this turbulence as loss of electoral power, any dispensation would postpone this change in the history curricula as much as possible. In the meantime, free Hindu temples could play a huge role in this given the opportunity.

Anyone who visited the Tirumala Sri Venkateswara temple would observe inscriptions from before Sri Krishna Devaraya’s time. Based on Sri Sadhu Subrahmanya Sastry’s report, V Vijayaraghav Acharya collated 8 volumes of inscriptions deciphered from early 16th century AD. While this is one version of memorialising the history of the land, it might not be the most lucrative way for the current generation. The S V Museum maintained by the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam shows the invaluable ornaments offered by Sri Krishna Devaraya to the only Ruler in Kaliyuga, Sri Venkateswara. Shackled by the “secular” governments of Andhra Pradesh, the museum doesn’t do justice to the legend of Sri Krishna Devaraya to whom the credit of building and maintaining the temple is due. Similarly, scores of Hindu temples, developed and maintained by Hindu rulers, once free from government control, could host museums about the history of the place “sthala purana” and about the rulers responsible for the construction and maintenance of the temple. This would warm the pilgrims up to the idea of real history of this sacred land. This will show them how the curricula are skewed and will teach them to take pride in being a Hindu. Along similar lines, the development of museums encourages and sustains more research about the true history of the land providing us more material for when the curricula are ready. This effect on the pilgrims will also catalyse the unstoppable change in curricula and sweeten the pot for the governments.

In the same Padmanabhaswamy temple case mentioned earlier, the Kerala HC’s judgement, ultimately reversed by the supreme court, asked for the display of all the wealth accumulated in the temple vaults which is against the custom of the land. Care should be taken to ensure that such a reduction of the holiness of the temple to mere amusement of the public doesn’t happen. Well curated museums run by the temple administration about the rulers behind the establishment of the temple will not draw attention away from the deity but will add to the historical significance of the temple, of the region and a sense of belonging and pride in the mind of the pilgrim.

Hailing from the place where the Mahabharata was translated into Telugu, I can’t wait to see a museum about Raja Raja Narendra associated with one of the numerous temples along the banks of the Godavari river.

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Sriram Kompella
I am a PhD student at Politecnico di Milano in Italy. I graduated from IIT Madras with a BTech+MTech degree in Civil Engineering. I was also the Students' General Secretary in IIT Madras from 2018-19.
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