Tamil Nadu government takes control of centuries old Hindu shrine

February 3rd, 2009 - 2:49 pm ICT by IANS  

Chidambaram (Tamil Nadu), Feb 3 (IANS) Within 24 hours of the Madras High Court ordering that the Tamil Nadu government takeover the management of the 1,200-year-old Nataraja temple in Chidambaram town, K. Krishna Kumar began formally administering the shrine as its new executive officer Tuesday.”All devotees will be able to offer prayers inside the temple uninterrupted. We have served the government’s order, taken over the administration of the temple from the Dikshitars (priests) and are now in control,” Krishna Kumar told IANS.

“The Dikshitars have indicated that they will challenge the order after obtaining a copy of the judgement. We will follow the orders of the court,” added Krishna Kumar, who is also the deputy commissioner of the state government’s Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments department.

C. Navathandava Dikshitar, who heads a body of the priests, said: “The government took control without the judgement copy on the basis of a faxed order. As we are law abiding citizens, officials have been allowed entry and are running the administration. However, we will be challenging the orders shortly.”

“Our control goes back over 1,000 years and was sanctioned by divinity. Politicians with ulterior motives have now managed to wrest control of our historic temple and are attempting to snatch our livelihood,” he added.

Security at the shrine in Chidambaram, about 250 km south of Chennai, has been tightened to provide adequate protection to the devotees.

“Some 200 personnel have been pressed into duty to prevent untoward incidents. So far everything is peaceful and there are no signs of any trouble,” said Superintendent of Police Pradeep Kumar.

The court’s pronouncement was made after a 21-year-long litigation by U. Arumughasamy, a non-Brahmin Hindu holy man seeking permission to offer worship at the temple. To facilitate it, he prayed that the temple be administered by the government to accord equality to devotees.

The government alleged that the Dikshitars were mismanaging the temple. It cited absence of proper vouchers for expenses and prevention of the usage of Tamil in the sanctum sanctorum against the tenets of natural justice.

The Dikshitars had opposed the petition, claiming it to be interference into the rights of a minority sect with hereditary rights to control the temple and had obtained a stay against a government order issued in 1987 to facilitate the takeover.

Worship in the temple has been an emotional issue for centuries. Legend has it that Lord Shiva had chastised the Dikshitars for the prevention of the entry of a Hindu Dalit devotee Nandanar into the temple.

While temple accounts say that the devotee “merged with divinity” upon his entry into the shrine, rationalists aver that he was killed and burnt by the priests and the story of his uniting with the deity were floated to hide the fact.

In recent times, there has been a dispute following hindrance to the worship of another Hindu god Vishnu who also has a shrine inside the complex besides a fracas over recital of Tamil hymns in praise of Lord Shiva.

A section of the Dikshitars had opposed both the attempts, citing conventional practices leading to protests and brief arrests.

While the Nataraja temple is one of the five holiest symbols of the Shaivite faith, the Vishnu shrine inside its premises is also equally revered by the followers of Lord Vishnu.

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