SC Throws TN HR & CE Board Out Of Chidambaram Temple
On Monday, January 06, 2014, Supreme Court delivered a landmark judgment bringing a permanent end to the long drawn legal battle between the Tamil Nadu government and the Podhu Dikshithars. The SC’s verdict went in favour of the Dikshithars throwing the HR & CE Department out of the world famous Chidambaram Natarajar Temple confirming the “religious denomination” status of the Dikshithars and their “right” to manage the temple.
Confirmation of ‘religious denomination’ status
The most important aspect that the Dikshithars are a “religious denomination” has been ascertained many times in the past.
In 1891, the British authorities originally pronounced confirmation of ‘denomination status’ on the Chidambaram Temple (India Case Report 14, Madras, page 103)
In December 1951, Justices Satyanarayana Rao and Rajagopalan of Madras High Court in their order confirmed the ‘denomination status’ of the Dikshithars and quashed the government’s notifications (Writ Petition 379 and 380 of 1951).
Terming the judgment of this Bench (1951) as a very significant and landmark, TR Ramesh, President of Chennai based Temple Worshippers Society says, “This verdict cleared all the issues related to the Chidambaram Temple and the Dikshithars community. That the TN government chose to ignore this clear verdict and continued its attempts to take control of the temple is nothing but a show of arrogance and total disregard to the judiciary and the law of the land.”
After delivering such a clear-cut verdict, the High Court Bench also certified that under Article 132 of the Constitution, the case was fit for appeal at the Supreme Court.
So, the Tamil Nadu government went for an appeal (Civil Appeal no: 39 of 1953) at the Supreme Court. The Union of India, State of Bombay, State of Travancore-Cochin and the State of Andhra also applied as interveners. The Rural Welfare Department of the Tamil Nadu government filed a Civil Miscellaneous Petition (CMP no: 49 of 1954) also praying for permission to urge additional grounds.
On February 09, 1954, a five judge bench headed by Chief Justice Mehr Chand Mahajan along with Justices Bijan Kumar Mukherjee, Sudi Rajan Das, Vivian Bose and Ghulam Hasan gave the following verdict:
“The appeal and the civil miscellaneous petitions above mentioned being called on for hearing before this court on the 9th day of February 1954, UPON hearing the Advocate General, Madras, on behalf of the appellants and counsel for the respondents and upon the said Advocate General appearing on behalf of the State of Madras agreeing to withdraw the notification G.O. Ms. No: 894 Rural Welfare Department dated 28-8-1951 published in Fort St. George Gazette dated 4-9-1951 in the matter of Sabanayagar Temple, Chidambaram, South Arcot District. This court doth order that the appeal and the civil miscellaneous petitions above-mentioned be and the same are hereby dismissed and this court doth further order that there shall be no order as to costs witness.” Hence, the 1951 verdict given by the Madras High Court was final and binding on the government.
In another instance, the Supreme Court, vide its verdict in the case between Mulkipetta Venkataramana Devaru Devasthanam and State of Mysore, (AIR 1958 SC 255—SC reporter 1958 p. 895), confirmed the denomination status of Chidambaram Temple as an off-shoot judgment.
State government’s utter disregard for ‘justice’
As agreed in the Supreme Court, the state government, vide GOMsNo: 1278 dated 21-5-1954, cancelled its notification dated (G.O.Ms.No: 894 28-8-1951). But, seemingly with a deliberate intention of twisting facts, the state pretended that the civil appeal was “withdrawn”, while actually the five judge bench of the SC had “dismissed” it. Again, when the state government tried to meddle with the temple, the Podhu Dikshithars filed a writ petition (WP 616/1981) with the Madras High Court. Hon’ble Justice Mohan in his order dated 20-1-1982, observed that the exercise of power by the HR & CE Commissioner is wholly without jurisdiction and is clearly against the statutory provision of Section 73 of the Act. Though his verdict went in favour of the Dikshithars, the honourable justice had also made an observation that “consequent to the cancellation of the notification appointing the executive officer the appeal before the Supreme Court was withdrawn.”
Notwithstanding the judgment delivered by Justice Mohan, the government again issued a notice (RC.No:52754/1982/B6 dated 20-7-1982) to Podhu Dikshithars alleging irregularities in the administration of the temple and its properties and the proposal to appoint an executive officer. The Podhu Dikshithars had to rush to the Madras HC again by filing yet another writ petition (WP 5638/1982). The High Court, through its judgment dated 9-8-1983, directed that the aforesaid notice would be treated only as a show cause notice and not as a decision, and that the Dikshithars could put forth their objections as per Section 45 of the HR & CE Act. Pursuant to the direction, the Dikshithars filed a reply on January 09, 1984.
Conducting an enquiry thereafter, the Commissioner passed an order on July 31, 1987, stating that the appointment of wxecutive officer was only to look after the administration of the temple and management of properties, and it would not mean interference with the rights of Dikshithars relating to religious practices in the temple.
As against this order, the Podhu Dikshithars again filed a writ petition (WP 7843/1987) before the HC, even while the EO assumed charge of the temple on August 10, 1987. The HC didn’t grant stay, but stayed only the ‘Clause 3’ (powers and duties of EO) and dismissed the petition on February 11, 1997. Even while dismissing the petition, Hon’ble Justice Venkatachalam made an observation (para 2 of judgment) that the Madras Division Bench’s judgment (December13, 1951) favouring the Dikshithars was “not upheld” by the SC, but was dismissed as withdrawn.
The Podhu Dikshithars again challenged the dismissal by filing a writ appeal (WA No: 145/1997) against which the HC directed them to file a revision petition under Section 114 of the HR & CE Act before the respondents and also ordered the continuation of the stay of ‘clause 3’.
The revision petition filed by the Dikshithars was rejected by the state government through a government order (GO. Ms. No: 168 dated 9 May 2006) and when it was challenged again, Hon’ble Justice Banumathi gave a verdict upholding the appointment of executive officer by the Hr & CE Department.
It was a sort of coup at Chidambaram on the afternoon of February 02, 2009, as the HR & CE officials took over the Nataraja Temple. The very fact that HR & CE Department officials and police were ready to enter the temple within a few hours of pronouncement of the judgment and attempted to do the same, gave rise to the suspicion that they were in the know of the coming verdict.
The first and foremost thing done by the department was to place a hundi inside the temple, exhibiting its greed for money while hitting strongly at the meagre earnings of the poor Dikshithar community. Within the next few months, the government placed three more hundis at strategic points inside the temple, which further hit the income of the poor Dikshithars. Apart from placing hundis, the government also had further commercialisation plans, such as construction of choultry, marriage hall, trade and commercial venues within and outside the temple premises and promoting Chidambaram Temple as a heritage tourist centre, along with the nearby Pitchavaram Lake as eco-tourist spot—a total disregard for religious tradition.
The Podhu Dikshithars again appealed to a Division Bench of Madras High Court comprising Justices Raviraja Pandian and Mr Janardhana Raja. Sr Advocate G Rajagopal represented the Podhu Dikdhithars and placed brilliant arguments. The bench adjourned the hearing for two weeks and Justice A Raja replaced Justice Janardhana Raja. Finally, the bench upheld the verdict given by Single Judge (Justice Banumathi).
Evil forces and their nefarious designs
From this sordid story one can understand the greed and arrogance of the state government and its total disregard for judiciary, constitution and the law of the land. Despite a flurry of judgments against its brazen attempts to take over the temple, the state government has not shown even an iota of remorse. The state government’s track record on this particular issue smacks of total contempt for law and judiciary, and utter disregard for morality, the majority community’s religious sentiments and timeless traditions.
As if this is not enough, Tamil extremist, Maoist and Atheist outfits indulged in repeated protest demonstrations making false allegations against the Dikshithars and their traditional practices. These outfits spread a canard that the Dikshithars practice untouchability inside the temple and that they were not allowing singing of Tamil Saivite Hymns like Thevaram, etc. Foreign funded NGOs, which always work with a hidden agenda of de-Hinduising this nation, also supported these extremist outfits in the name of secularism and human rights. These outfits also had Islamic and Christian fundamentalists as members.
A fake ‘Othuvar’ (one who recites Tamil Hymns) named Arumugasamy, was planted by these vested interests and keeping him as a front, they have been creating a ruckus inside the temple every now and then and acting against the Dikshithars, filing false complaints against them. The planting of this fake ‘Othuvar’ interfered with the centuries-old worshipping pattern of the temple, causing immense trauma for the Dikshithars and genuine devotees. The state government, for its part, encouraged these forces by turning a blind eye to all their sacrilegious actions. The TN government even went to the extent of paying Rs.3,000/- as monthly salary to the fake Othuvar and a famous senior advocate represented him at both the High Court and later in the Supreme Court! The fact that there is a conspiracy to undermine and destroy the religious tradition of the Tamil Hindus is evidenced by the support and backing given by the state government and other outfits and NGOs to the fake Othuvar.
But the truth is that the temple is open to all people cutting across caste, colour and creed. It is also a fact that the Tamil Hymns are a part of daily rituals and the Dikshithars are extremely proficient in singing them. With regards to ‘Othuvars’ and other persons who are proficient in singing Thevaram and other hymns, they can sing from Sitrambalam or Sitsaba, which is just under the Ponnambalam or Kanaka Saba. It is ages old tradition that only the Dikshithars can sing Tamil Hymns from Kanaka Saba. The famous and most respected Othuvar by name Sri.Swaminathan of Dharmapuram has recorded that the “Othuvars must respect the tradition of singing hymns from under the Kanaka Saba”. More importantly, during Utsavams, the Tamil Hymns get the top most priority as they are sung first and then only the Vedic Suktams follow.
However, the state government, Dravidian outfits, Maoists and Tamil extremists have hidden these facts and projected a wrong image about the temple and the Dikshithars, with the help of a section of the media.
Dr Swamy and his foes
Totally demoralised and disheartened by the High Court’s verdict and the subsequent activities carried out by the evil forces, the Dikshithars approached a section of social activists and intellectuals, who in turn took them to Dr Subramanian Swamy. Dr Swamy gave a patient hearing and agreed to help them regain the temple management. As committed, he impleaded himself in the case before the two judge bench of the HC. The writ appeal of Podhu Dikshthars (WP 181/182/183/2009) dated February 02, 2009 was listed on February 17, 2009 before the
Division Bench comprising Justices P K Mishra and K Chandru. Dr. Subramanian Swamy appeared in Court Hall: 3 to implead himself in the Chidambaram case. As the Sri Lankan Tamil issue was at its peak then, it came in handy for a section of lawyers to thwart Dr. Swamy’s attempt to implead himself, and also to spoil the admission of the writ appeal. The unruly lawyers physically attacked Dr Swamy and a few concerned persons, and though the division bench postponed the hearing to the 19th, it could not be conducted due to the unprecedented violence inside the High Court that day.
Since then, counsel representing the Dikshithars could not list the writ appeal for more than four months, for ‘obvious’ reasons! As the counsel’s inability, possibly due to backroom manoeuvers of the ‘powers’ that be, to proceed further caused a lot of trauma to the Dikshithars, they ultimately opted for change of counsel. Then came Sr Advocate Rajagopal and placed his effective arguments as mentioned above before Justices Raviraja Pandian and A Raja. However, the bench upheld the earlier order of the Single Judge Justice Banumathi.
Supreme Court’s decisive verdict
As the Podhu dikshithars went for an appeal at the SC, Dr Swamy impleaded himself in the case. Senior Advocates CS Vaidyanathan and R Venkataramani, ably assisted by junior advocates on Record Bindu Nair and Chandrasekar, represented the Dikshithars and TR Ramesh, President of Temple Worshippers Society ably supported Dr Subramanian Swamy. This team worked very hard for almost five years and won the case ultimately resulting in the Chidambaram Dikshithars regaining their Temple.
A lesson for Dravidian, Atheist and Tamil extremist forces
Branding ‘Non-Brahmins’ as ‘Tamil-Dravidians’ and ‘Brahmins’ as ‘Sanskrit-Aryans,’ the ‘stalwarts’ of the Dravidian Movement have been trying to separate the Tamil people from the ‘Hindu’ fold, to de-Hinduise the state.
One stalwart, poet Barath-idasan, wrote: “That day we demolish ‘Sriranganathan’ (Bhagwan Ranganatha of Srirangam) and ‘Thillai Natarajan’ (Bhagwan Nataraja of Chidambaram) with a Cannon, will be the golden day for us.” Other Dravidian leaders also propagated that evil intent.
However, the Supreme Court’s verdict has landed heavily on their heads and completely destroyed their evil intent.
A verdict that will liberate the temples
A close scrutiny of the recent Supreme Court verdict along with the previous judgments at various courts gives us a clear picture about the vexed issue of a secular government’s control over the worshipping places of only a particular religion. The judgments have made it clear that a secular government cannot take possession of temples. It has also made it clear that the constitution of Hindu Religious Endowment board itself is against the Constitution, as it violates the religious fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.
Hence, it will be only appropriate that the various state governments which have taken control over temples return them to the concerned denominations and trusts. Immediately after the Supreme Court ruling Dr Swamy had shot off a letter to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa urging her to de-notify all the 40,000 temples under the control of HR & CE department of the TN government. He has assured his cooperation, in his capacity as the Convener of the legal cell of the Hindu Dharma Acharya Saba, the apex body of the various Hindu traditions, for orderly freeing of the temples in a phased manner. He has also attached the copy of the SC’s verdict on Chidambaram Temple.
Now the onus of freeing the temples from government control lies with the Chief Minister. Will she, is a million dollar question!
By BR Haran from Chennai