SC frees Chidambaram Nataraja temple from rule of TN Govt 
Source: News Bharati English10 Jan 2014 17:49:16

Chidambaram Nataraja templeChennai, January 10: In a landmark judgement in the ‘Dikshitars of Nataraj temple at Chidambaram Vs Tamil Nadu State Government’ case, the Supreme Court has said that the State should return all usurped temples back to the rightful Hindu proprietors.

With the verdict stating that there cannot be super-session of administration in perpetuity in the temple and it is a temporary measure till the evil gets remedied, on 6 January, the Supreme Court has paved the way for all Hindu temples to get freed from the clutches of the State governments.

The Supreme Court maintained that the Podu Dikshitars (priests of Nataraj temple) had a right to administer the temple as a religious denomination. The famous Nataraja temple in Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu will be managed by priests and not by the state government, the Supreme Court on Monday ordered.

This SC verdict is significant in many ways; it is a big decision. The TN government took over unlawful possession of the temple management of the sacred Nataraj temple in 1951, citing a religious rights issue raised by the Dikshitars.

When the right of the Dikshitar was rejected by the Government, the Priests went to Court and get defeated since 1951. Lately when the Madras High Court dismissed petition of the Dikshitars in 2009 and uphold the takeover of the management by the TN government, the priest reached the Supreme Court with the help of Dr. Subramanian Swamy.

Podu Dikshitars (Priests of Nataraj temple) 

Dikshitars are a class of Vedic Brahmins whom legends say, were brought there here, from Mt. Kailas, by Saint Patanjali, specifically for the performance of the daily rituals and maintenance of the Chidambaram temple.

Podu DikshitarThese Deekshithars follow the Vedic rituals, unlike the Sivachariyars or Adhisaivars – who follow the agamic rituals for the worship of Lord Shiva. The rituals for the temple were collated from the Vedas and set b y Maharshi Patanjali, who is said to have inducted the Deekshithars into the worship of Lord Shiva as Nataraja.

Dikshitars have been the ‘archakas’ and trustees of the Chidambaram temple from time immemorial. They printed their temple constitution for the first time in 1849. A dikshitar gets the right to do sacramental service to lord Nataraj and participate in temple administration only after marriage. The community performs duty at the temple in groups of 20 and each batch stays for 20 days till each has in his turn performed the complete tour of puja at the different shrines of the temple where the daily pujas are held.

Interestingly, the Podu Dikshitars were among the first to open the temple to all castes of Hindus. Chidambaram is possibly the only ancient temple in Tamil Nadu which permits non-Hindu devotees to have darshan of the deities including the presiding deity Nataraj.

 A bench of justices B. S. Chauhan and S. Bobde set aside the order of the Madras High Court which had in 2009 transferred the administration of the 1500-year-old Lord Shiva (Nataraj) temple to the TN government.

Free Hindu temples from Govt control: Swamy tells Jayalalithaa 

In its clear-cut verdict, the SC says that a religious denomination or organization enjoys complete autonomy in the matter of deciding as to what rites and ceremonies are essential according to the tenets of the religion they hold and no outside authority has any jurisdiction to interfere with their decision in such matters.

The state government in 1987 had appointed an official to manage the endowments and considerable assets and property owned by the temple.

The apex court passed the order on appeals filed by the temple’s priests and BJP leader Subramanian Swamy. In his argument, Dr. Swamy contended that an attempt was made after Independence to bring the temple administration under State control in August 1951 but the Supreme Court had held that the Podu Dikshitars had a right to administer the temple as a religious denomination.

Referring to the provisions of Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act, Swamy had submitted, “Section 107 specifically bars the application of the Act to institutions coming under the purview of or enjoying the protection of Article 26 of the Constitution.”

He contended that if there were allegations of misappropriation of temple’s property then it should be dealt with under the provisions of Indian Penal Code and not by taking over the temple administration.

Notably the SC verdict has turned into a solace for the Chidambaram temple and the Dikshitars. This concrete verdict has also paved the way against the unlawful rule on the thousands of Hindu temples in the country who are struggling to get freed from the “arbitrary, illegal and unjust” control of the State governments.

Tamil Nadu is a classic example of curbing the religious rights of Hindu devotees and the traditional temple guardians.

Tamil Nadu’s Hindu Religious and Charity Endowments (HR&CE) department controls 36,425 temples; 56 mutts; 47 temples belonging to mutts; and 1721 specific endowments and 189 trusts.

In 1925, the Madras Hindu Religious Endowments Act, 1923 (Act I of 1925) was passed for better administration of certain religious endowments. It was challenged and repealed in 1927 and thereafter amended several times; the Act XII of 1935 empowered the board to notify (takeover) a temple after giving reasons for the same.

The first attempt to take over the Chidambaram Sabhanayagar temple in 1947 failed, but attempts continued to be made thereafter. Even though, the Indian Constitution of 1950 guaranteed certain special religious and administrative rights to religious denominations or sections thereof, the then Madras Government passed the Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments Act in 1951. This act provided wide ranging powers to the ‘Commissioner’. The HR&CE immediately engaged in litigation with several leading temples whose traditional trustees sought the return of the temple management.

This landmark judgement has opened a door of hope for all such Hindu Temples in the country which are controlled and being ruled by the State Governments without taking the traditional guardians and the devotees in consideration.