The Land back, Temple back movements & Gyanwapi issue

NewsBharati    06-Jun-2022 19:12:30 PM   
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nativeA native American temple 

The ancient cultures across the world have been connected to the environment by seeing divinity in every aspect of nature like rivers and mountains and animals too. The divinity that they saw in these places created the ancient sacred lands ... These ancient cultures have historical, geographical, cultural, and religious ties with the lands, rivers, mountains, and temples that mark these sacred sites.


The Eskimo, Inuit, Dakota, Lakota, Toltec, Mississippi, Maya, Aztec, Inca, and other cultures have inhabited the Americas since ancient times. Most of them were subsisting on hunting. The cultures living in the tropics also cultivated maize, soybean, potato, etc. Some of these cultures were highly developed. They had built cities like Teotihuacan which had a population of about 150,000. They had erected grand temples, built colossal pyramids, created accurate calendars, and developed irrigation systems, traditional medical systems, and writing systems too.

The Europeans called the people of these civilizations "Red Indians". They worshiped many deities and worshiped nature. Sun, wind, rains, rivers, forests, and sacred land were their gods. These people took care of the natural resources in their areas. They believed that every human being, animal, tree, river, and land had a soul. Each entity held a divine power. They considered many of the areas sacred and even used to worship them.


nativeAn Aboriginal temple in Australia 

Many ancient cultures have populated the continent island of Australia for at least forty thousand years. These people were engaged in hunting, farming, and fishing as well. From rainforests to arid deserts, they had successfully adapted to the harsh climate of Australia. Through their oral traditions, they maintained a vast collection of knowledge of nature. They have an in-depth knowledge of water sources, animals, flora, and fauna. For them, their land, its water resources, springs, rivers, mountains, forests, and trees are all highly revered and sacred.


European navigators discovered the Americas in the 15th century and Australia in the 17th century. Kings, merchants, and missionaries from Europe arrived in these lands that were untouched by the thought that “Natural resources are for the humanity to use and exploit”. With Colonization began the era of the destruction of many ancient cultures that flourished there. The people were massacred. Their lands were confiscated. Over time their languages disappeared, and their traditional knowledge diminished. Their traditional dances, fairs, and religious activities were banned. They lost control of the lands that were once revered and sanctified for them. Even in the 20th century, these people continued to be persecuted and treated as secondary citizens, by the First World countries that have considered themselves the proponents of Human Rights.


In the 21st century, the picture is beginning to change. The Red Indians in the US and Canada have launched the “Land Back Campaign”. Through this campaign, the Red Indians are struggling to reclaim the lands owned by their ancestors. They are trying to establish their own control over the sacred area. The campaign is now seeing some success. Some of these successes have made it to the news -

1. White people in Canada are transferring land to Indians through wills and trusts.

2. The city of Eureka in California transferred an island to the Wiyot community. [1]

3. The state of Massachusetts returned 300 acres of land to the Mashpee Wampanoag community in 2007. [2]

4. In 2019, the Methodist Church in Ohio transferred its territory to the Wyandotte Nation. [3]

5. The 18,800-acre Montana National Park, has been returned to the CSKT community. [4]

6. In 2020, the Esselen community purchased 1,200 acres of ancestral land in California, where they plan to set up their own cultural education center. [5]

7. The Australian government has handed over 3.9 lakh acres of rainforest to the indigenous community. [6]

8. The Queensland government of Australia, returned territory to the Darumbal community. [7]

This is the sentiment of the governments of America and Australia, their judiciary systems, and their common white people - our ancestors came here from Europe. They grabbed their land from the indigenous communities. Much injustice was done to them. Now is the time to correct the past mistakes. The land which the community considers sacred, the land which was a place of pilgrimage, must be transferred back to their descendants.


The situation of the Indian natives was not very different from that of the natives of America or Australia. The people following the Indic Dharmas have been living in the Indian subcontinent since time immemorial. The Sanatani or the Hindus too were nature worshiping people. The river sources, the river banks, the confluence of rivers, trees, forests, hills, mountains, peaks etc have been considered sacred by the Hindus. These sacred areas called Teertha-kshetras are marked with shrines and grand temples. Each temple has its own greatness and sanctity. Hindus, like the other nature-loving civilizations, took care of nature through their customs and traditions.

These traditions were first attacked by the Turks and Mughals; and later by the European invaders. The same catastrophe that befell the ancient civilizations of America and Australia befell upon the Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs of India.


nativeThe Gyanwapi Temple that was destroyed by Aurangazeb 

The Mughal, Turkish rule came to an end, European colonialism also reached its end. But the traditions that were broken during that period have not been revived. The temples that were demolished, desecrated and encroached upon during that period, have not been liberated. The taxes imposed on Hindu temples are still in force. The ancient temples which were handed over to Archaeological Society of India [ASI] by the British are still in their control not the devotees. These temples are now museums and monuments a shadow of its original sacred self. The deities are now artifacts to behold, not the original objects of worship. This wound hurts the sentiments of the Hindu natives of India for centuries.

Just as the Red Indians started a Land Back campaign, so the ancient Hindus of India want to have their shrines and temples back. It is natural to think that our deities should be consecrated in the magnificent temples built by our ancestors.

A sort of Temple Back Campaign is again gaining momentum in India. The Hindus are demanding that the encroached temples of – Kashi, Mathura, Dhara and elsewhere be handed back to them. Throughout India the Hindus are also asking for the control of their ancient temples so that they can be renovated, deities re-consecrated and looked after by devotees. The Hindus are also seeking that no government plays a part in temple management.


Today the governments, the judiciary and the common white people of the US, Canada and Australia are acknowledging that their ancestors oppressed the Natives. They have accepted that the Natives were wronged and they are now trying to correct the mistake of the past. In India, the so-called descendants of Mughals lack this wisdom. They refuse to accept that Mughals were invaders who oppressed and converted the native Hindus. That they confiscated their sacred lands and desecrated their temples.

There is also a section of woke Hindus who need know about their ancestors, their work and their philosophy. They need to learn from the Red-Indians to respect their ancestors. They need to become aware of their rights to their ancestral sacred lands and temples.

It is necessary that – the government, the judiciary and so-called descendants of Mughals of India learn that it is time to undo the wrong. They should understand that it is a duty to return the holy places, pilgrimage sites, temples etc. to its real owners.

Handing over the temples that were wrongly appropriated will help to correct the mistakes of the past to some extent. The feeling that justice has been delivered even if it is too little too late will still bring some peace. The bitter memories that are being carried by the native community will be calmed. This gesture will go a long way to serve as a foundation for better relations between communities, and pave the path of peaceful co-existence.

References -

1. Return of Indian Island - by Bob Doran and Gregg McVicar - “40 acres of land on Indian Island was returned from the city of Eureka to the Wiyot people.”

2. Indigenous people across the US want their land back -- and the movement is gaining momentum - Harmeet Kaur. CNN. 26 Nov 2020.

3. United Methodist Church gives historic mission site and land back to Wyandotte Nation - IndianCountry Today, 26 Nov 2020

4. Montana’s National Bison Range transferred to tribes - Rob Chaney - AP NEWS, 18 Jan 2021

5. Northern California Esselen tribe regains ancestral land after 250 years - The Guardian. 28 July 2020

6. A historic rainforest and other lands have been returned to Indigenous Australians - NPR 5 Oct 2021

7. Sacred land where 300 Indigenous Australians were massacred returned to Darumbal people - The Guardian, 21 Apr 2022

Deepali Patwadkar

Deepali Patwadkar is an Author and an Artist. She writes and comments on social issues. She is also interested in the Indian studies of the history and cultures, languages, and literature and as such is a part of a subset of Asian studies.