N Vasu, president of Kerala’s largest temple board, today rejected claims by Sangh Parivar allied organizations that temple boards were reopening Hindu places of worship with an eye on money.
Hindu Aikya Vedi, which shares many of its leaders with other Sangh Parivar organizations, had yesterday strongly opposed the decision to reopen temples amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
RV Babu, secretary, said the move was aimed at generating money for the temple boards.
“There is no demand from the Hindu leaders to open the temples at a panic time like this. This decision is taken in haste to overcome the financial crisis of the temples owned by the Devaswom Board,” Babu said.
Babu further pointed out that most temples controlled by private trusts have decided not to reopen right now.
In Kerala, most of the big temples — which used to be under the control of the monarch prior to independence — are currently controlled by three government-controlled temple boards.
The temple boards also act as a wealth redistribution agency by redirecting some of the revenue from popular pilgrimage spots like Sabarimala and Pathmanabha Swamy Temple to hundreds of small nondescript shrines and temples that would otherwise find it difficult to continue operations.
The priests and other workers at these smaller temples are paid a monthly salary by the boards.
Since the big temples have been shut for over two months, this has affected the board’s ability to pay salaries to these priests.
Even during the best of years, the boards usually fall into deficits due to the rising number of minor temples and the associated staff.
If the big temples do not open and start generating money, the government will have to step in with grants to pay salaries to thousands of priests on the rolls of these temple boards.
In response to the controversy, N Vasu, President of Kerala’s biggest temple board, Travancore Devaswom Board, today said the body was open to keeping the big temples closed for longer.
He pointed out that it was the governments that had given permission to reopen, and that the temple boards did not petition it to do so.
The BJP-led central government had, a week ago, announced that places of worship would be allowed to open from today onwards.
“We are open to both [keeping them closed and keeping them open]” Vasu said today, denying that the temples are being reopened in view of any financial emergency. “We have no insistence that they have to be opened.”
While about half of the Muslim and Christian places of worship in Kerala are expected to reopen from tomorrow, the fate of Hindu temples continues to be somewhat unclear following the allegations.
It would be well within the rights of the temple boards to keep the places of worship closed, even after getting the nod from civic authorities to open them.
Some of the church and mosque managements and committees have already announced their intention to not exercise the option given by the government.
Meanwhile, in other states, Hindu priests have refused to accept some of state governments’ directions, such as the use of sanitizers, pointing out that the alcohol contained in sanitizers is an intoxicant.