Monday 7 January 2013

The temple maze

The first thing that strikes you about our country is the number of Hindu temples. These temples, to whichever God they are dedicated, can be recognised by their towers or gopuras.
In Hinduism, there are 33 crore gods (actually there is only one god and the rest are god like, according to Madhwacharya) and it can be safely assumed that there are temples for many of them. Though the exact number of temples cannot be counted, we can assume that there are several lakhs of temples in India. This is apart from Jain temples and cave temples.
In south India, the temples are massive and the architecture marvellous. The South has the maximum number of temples with
Tamil Nadu having 34,000 of them, Andhra Pradesh 43,000, Karnataka 34, 000 and Kerala 28,000 temples. This is the list compiled by the respective state Governments and they ass up to a lakh and eight thousand.
The list does not include private temples and those run by the trust. Thus, their numbers increase substantially. Apart from individual temples, boards such as Travancore and Cochin Development Board runs the Bagavathy temples and the have 1800 temples under their fold. The TTD too has many temples under its control as has the Mantralaya matha of Raghavendra Swamy.
Kanchi as a city has 108 ancient temples.  It also has some of the largest and richest temples of Tamil Nadu.
However, if you want to know the largest temple complex in India, the credit goes to Ranganatha in Srirangam. It is called the largest living temple in India and the second largest in the world after Angor Wat. However, the are no poojas at the Angor Wat and they are only a cluster of ruins.
The Srirangam temple occupies an area of 156 acres. After this comes Aksharadham in Delhi, Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu, Annamalai temple in Tiruvannamalai, Ekambeshwara temple in Kanchi, Jambukeshawa temple in Trichy, Meenakshi Temple in Madurai, all in Tamil Nadu.
However, if you take only the temple spread, the largest in India is the Annamalai in Tiruvannamalai and the largest temple complex including the temple, temple area and grounds according to Guiness Book of Records is the Akshardham in Delhi.
The tallest Gopura is that of Murudeshwara in Murudeshwar near Bhatkal near Karwar, Karnataka. It is 249 feet and this followed by Ranganatha temple of Srirargam (243 feet) and Annamalai temple in Thiruvvanamalai (216 feet).
The north has as many temples as the south but they are comparatively smaller. Even a small state like Himachal Pradesh has over 2,000 temples while the Brij area comprising places where Krishna lived, stayed and played-Agra, Mathura, Brindavan, Gokul, Ujjain-has 5,000 temples and most of them consecrated to Krishna.
In the West, Maharashtra seems to have taken the lead with 45,000 temples. Gujarat and Rajasthan follow closely behind. The Kurukshetra belt in Haryana has a large number of temples dedicated to the  Mahabharata heroes, Pandavas, Krishna, Vishnu and Shiva. The Gangetic belt of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh has a large number of temples and most of them are on the Ganges or its tributaries.
If a temple is to be measured by its riches, then the south outpaces all other regions. Considered the second richest temple in India, the Venkatesha or Srinivasa temple in Tirupathi has the highest number of footfalls for such a structure worldwide. It has an annual visitage of 40 million pilgrims.
The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) also holds the distinction of being the largest gold holder outside central banks in the world.
Infact, temples in India are beloved to hold much more gold  than  the Reserve Bank of India. India's official gold reserves is estimated to be around 750 tons. The TTD alone holds around 200 tons of gold in its vaults. On average, the temple receives 10 kg of gold every week. (Contrast this with the 800 tones of gold that India imported in 2012).
Lakhs of followers line up each day here just for view lasting barely a second and proffer their rich offering. It is not only Balaji who receives Gold. Many other temples like the Krishna temple in Udupi, the Raghavendra Swamy Temple in Mantralaya, the Sai Baba Mandir in Shirdi, Siddhi Vinayaka temple in Mumbai, Krishna temple in Guruyavoor, Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala, Vaishno Devi temple record massive inflow of gold, jewels and cash.
India’s temples collect so much of this stuff they don't know what to do with it. Some like the TTD mint gold coins and sell it back to the devotee. Others just keep on hoarding not knowing what to do. An example is the huge riches discovered in the Ananthapadmanabha swamy temple.
Though there is no dispute that the treasure, valued at over Rs. 1 lakh crores, belongs to the royal family of Trivandrum, nobody knows what to do with it. Unfortunately, it is only now that an inventory of the riches are being made. But what about the riches and jewels and temple belongings of others.
Raja Raja Chola, who is credited with having built the massive Brihadeshwara temple in Tanjavur, has inscribed on the temple walls all that he had given, including gold, jewels, ornaments, vessels. What happened to them. Where are they.
The Brihadeshwara temple is so large that he assigned 4,000 cows, 7,000 goats, and 30 buffalos just to supply the butter required for the lamps to be lit within the temple and the temple yard. Well, there is an inscription about this too in the temple.   
Raja Raja Chola and Rajendra chola meticulously mentioned the articles they had gifted to the temple. These records have stood the test of time but what about the items.
Similarly, Krishna Deva Raya, the Vijayanagar Emperor, gifted priceless articles to several temples including those at Tirupathi, Kalahasti an Vijayanagar itself. What happened to them. And  what about the riches of the Vijayanagar temples. Many of the temple were no doubt destroyed by the marauding Muslim armies of the Deccan in 1565 but what about the treasures they had. The temple jewels had been removed before the armies swept into Vijayanagar and till date there is no mention of them.    
The richest temple in India now is the Ananthapadmanabha Swamy in Tiruvananthapuram in Kerala. The second richest is Tirupathi followed by the Mahalakshmi temple of Kolhapur in Maharashtra.
By the way, the world’s largest Hindu temple project is coming up in East Champaran district in Bihar at Kathwalia on Chakia-Kesaria main road, just five km away from the tallest Buddhist stupa at Kesariya.
It is slated to look like the Angkor Wat temple of Cambodia. It will be a five-storey temple complex with a total built-up area of around 6 lakh square feet.
It will have 18 sanctum sanctorum and 18 shikhars (spires) and they will be constructed with Chunar stones which Emperor Ashoka had used in his inscriptions. The presiding deities will be Rama, Sita, Lav, Kush and Maharishi Valmiki.
This temple is expected to be taller than the Brihadeshwara Temple in Thanjavur and larger than the Akshardham Temple in Delhi.
So the one thing that we can see here is that people are constructing temples-one arger than the other, bigger and higher than the other. Well, what happens to the daily offerings that lakhs of devotees so liberally give in the temples. The maze of temples that are in India need to be restructed so that they can contribute to the good of society and also help reconstruct the locaity in which they are located.
Is is not time that the money that goes into the temples are channelised in a proper manner involving devotees. At present, there are only a handful of  temples which involve devotees in its management. 


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