Secular invasion of Hindu temples : Rath Yatra is the latest target

Hindu temples have suffered countless Islamic invasions in last millennium. Indeed, there are hardly any temples older than 300 years in the plains of northern India. The British adopted a different policy. They sought to control the revenue of the temples and brought them under British control. But even they did not interfere with the Sanatan traditions of Hindu temples. In post independence the secular invasion of Hindu temples has done great harm to Hindu religion.

When the country got independence, the control of govt over temples did not end. Indeed, under the constitution of the republic, minority religious places were given autonomy and Hindu religious places were not given this right. Many orders by the government and judgements by the courts further restricted rights of Hindus to practice their religion.

This post will discuss issue of Puri Ratha Yatra, mention a few recent cases, analyse the reasons and also discuss the impacts of these steps.

Secular invasion of Hindu temples : examples

There have been many instances in last 70 years, where Hindu sensibilities were disregarded for secular purposes. One can start from efforts to derail construction of Somnath and discuss such issues as Ram Setu, handing over of Kashi Vishvanath, Mathura sites etc. However, we discuss only the recent events.

Puri Ratha Yatra ban

secular invasion of hindu temples : jagannath
Ratha Yatra in 2019. Pic credit : ANI

The Supreme Court has recently imposed a ban on conducting Puri Ratha Jatra{Yatra} this year. The reason given for this was the situation due to COVID.

It is no secret that Puri Jagannath is one of the holiest sites of Hindus in India. It is one of the Char Dhams. Puri also has a math established by Acarya Sankar. There is no caste difference in the temples and most of servitors are not Brahmins. Lord Jagannath was offered the Kingdom of Odisha by Gajapatis, while they accepted the position of His deputy. Lovers of history will remember a similar arrangement in Mewar where Eklingji ruled and Ranas were deputies. No wonder that both these Kingdoms resisted Muslim invasions for so long.

Odias have an emotional bond with Lord Jagannath for the reasons mentioned above. One can see teary eyed devotees hugging the garuda-dhvaja with deep familiarity in the main hall of temple. The traditions of the temple have been very strictly followed for centuries. For example, even today no non-Hindus are permitted in; no non-Indian vegetable{even potato} is used in the temple etc. Similarly, the Ratha Yatra has been a part of the tradition. Lord Jagannath goes on an annual visit to Gundicha temple and comes back in 9 days. The subsequent rituals depend on the Yatra. Except during the Islamic invasions, this has never been suspended.

There are many reasons why banning ratha yatra is a wrong decision for wrong reasons:-

  1. The state administration as well as temple management has made enough arrangements for a scaled down ratha yatra. It includes prohibition of public participation. They are also prepared to ensure, no one from even Puri city participates and the yatra goes on with only the servitors.
  2. The tradition is centuries or possibly thousands of years old. All the preparations have already been done. The rathas have been made while following the strictest procedures. To stop it at the last moment is not likely to go down well with people of Odisha. Will the court be willing to take responsibility for any large scale unrest?
  3. While Hindus were advised to celebrate Holi quietly, The festivals like Eid were  celebrated openly during the lockdown. The ban on ratha yatra is in such a series of judgements which restrict practices of Hinduism in an unjust and unequal manner.

Other recent cases

This is of course not the first secular invasion of Hindu temples. In recent years, similar orders infringing on religious practices of Hindus have been passed by the judiciary. Notable among these are order passed in cases of Shani Singnapur and Sabarimala. The Sabarimala case judgement was protested by almost all Hindus of Kerala and supported by Hindus elsewhere. As a result, a review petition for the same has been filed. This is an example of unimplementable judgement and lowers the dignity of the court itself. It is to be noted that the petition in all these cases has been filed by NGOs of dubious reputations.

It is not that only the courts are guilty of such infringements. Governments of all hues have left no stone unturned to establish and maintain control over Hindu temples. The openly Christian favouring govt of Jagan Mohan Reddy in Telangana has often been in news for using temple money from Tirupati for promoting Christianty, for selling temple lands etc. It is surprising that the BJP govt in Uttarakhand is also not far behind in taking such anti-Hindu steps! It has recently established a body for taking over the famous temples including Badrinath and Kedarnath and putting them under govt control.

Reasons for secular invasion of Hindu temples

There are multiple reasons for such decisions. Different actors are motivated by different factors. I have tried to mention a few below:-

  1. The Republic of India takes cues in a lot of matters from the past structures. In this area also, the legacy of English rule persists. English maintained control over religious places of Hindus so that they could control public opinion and appropriation of wealth of temples. The policy continues and wealth of temples is freely appropriated by govts in free India. Unfortunately, this money donated by devout Hindus is not used for upkeep of temples, payment to servitors or general upliftment of Hindu community, but for other purposes.
  2. Indian secularism is unique in the sense majority community has fewer constitutional-fundamental rights than minorities. This has led to a public perception that this is the correct way to be secular. This includes judges, ministers and govt officers. Thus often minority community gets preferential treatment while Hindu sensibilities are disregarded.
  3. Many unscrupulous NGOs, in a bid to attract fame, file such PILs. The Sabarimala petition was filed by ‘Indian Young Lawyers Association’, and the Ratha Yatra petition by ‘Odisha Vikash Samiti’. Not much is publically known about these, although they claim to be reputable NGOs. If an investigation is launched, many shocking things about their funding can come to light. It is not easy to hire top lawyers in Supreme Court and these poor NGOs, who constantly seek funds from govt., pay their hefty fees so easily. What is the catch?
  4. The judges and govts are disconnected with reality of the society. Many are blinded by ideology, and some are even motivated by their religion. This is often formulated as  Right to Equality, Freedom, Life {Art 14,19, 21 of the constitution} vs Right to Religion. The court gets to decide which part of tradition is essential to religion and thus protected. Protection is not provided to other traditions. However, this lofty principle is often not applied to other religions.  For example, there are only male priests in Christianty and Islam and many shrines are not open to women. Similarly, there is no legal prohibition on child marriage among Muslims in India. Apparantly, these issues are not very important.
  5. For the governments temple money is an easy source of revenue. They do not have to do anything to get free money. How convenient and irresistible! Of course, it also provides the much needed opportunity to abuse the servitors and priests of the temple as greedy Brahmins!

Impacts of secular invasion of Hindu temples

The impacts of this secular invasion are very profound. Acharyas have said “Rituals/traditions are the vessels of Dharma.” It is by traditions, that dharma is transmitted to next generation. This secular invasion on Hindu temples targets our ageless traditions. The impact is devastating:-

  1. It belittles the Hindu traditions as worthless. This is imbibed by a new generation of Hindus and soon, Dharma is alien to them. It is soon worthy to be laughed at in the stand up comedy shows.  
  2. As our temples and mathas are taken over and their revenues used for other purposes, they stop being forums for propagation of Hindu culture and religion. The Vedic Pathshalas are defunded, the training of new priests does not take place and soon enough the upkeep of temples suffers. Remember, Christian priests are still getting training and financial support for converting Hindus.
  3. The new generation, unaware of Hinduism, is ripe for conversion by Christians and Muslims. Whether you see notices in newspapers or documents at registrar’s offices, interfaith marriages of Hindus and others almost always result in conversion of Hindu{boy or girl}. Conversion using other tactics is also successful due to Hindus not being able to impart basic religious education to their children. You can see Sunday Schools at all churches for this purpose and Madarsas for Muslims. How many Gurukul Pathshalas have you seen? How many temples have money conduct weekly lessons on Hindu religion? Why?

What can be done?

All is not lost even now. Fortunately, many Hindu individuals and organisations are waking up. We should realize that this fight cannot be won only in the courts. It is important to pressurize the governments also. This build up of pressure should be in multiple areas: in media, by writing to your representatives, by writing blogs, by sharing articles about it, by rallies on the street{when it becomes safe to congregate} and by voting for those who support your demands.

During the British rule, Akali Movement by the Sikhs forced the British to surrender control of Gurudwara to Sikh bodies. A similar arrangement can be made for Hindu temples, where representatives of Hindu society manage these temples.

The attitude of courts towards Hindu traditions will take time to change. We should take inspiration from the legal battle for Ram temple and have belief that we can successfully use the courts to see reason.

These battles are for saving the very soul of Hinduism. We succeed or we perish!

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2 Replies to “Secular invasion of Hindu temples : Rath Yatra is the latest target”

  1. URGENT/UPVOTE for everyone’s attention: Sign the petition – https://www.change.org/JagannnathPuriRathYatra2020. We Bhartiya feel that Puri Jagannath Rath Yatra can be successfully organized using following guidelines:

    1. Use Motor/Elephant to pull Raths ( Chariots) instead of devotees.

    2. Impose Curfew in entire Puri during hours of Rath Yatra (only 4 hours on 2 days – 23rd June & 1st July)

    3. Barricade 3 km long straight road from Jagannath Mandir to Gundicha Mandir ( Refer Map here: https://yatradham.org/blog/jagannath-puri-rath-yatra-route/

    4. Limit Accompanying persons to Priests and workers who have been diligently working in isolation since last 2 months maintaining social distancing and have been found to be COVID negative.

    For more details: https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=176678240545333&id=105559437657214

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