Free the ‘Temples’ Movement; Sadhguru And M. Nageswara Rao leading from the front

The movement for freeing Hindu Temples from government control has received a major boost in recent weeks after Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev swore for the same. Not too long after, retired IPS officer M. Nageswara Rao joined the ‘Free the Temples’ movement as well.

However, there are different visions regarding how Temples ought to be managed after freeing them from government control. Such visions are often in conflict with each other but there is agreement among the proponents that state management of Hindu Temples is not feasible. Here, we shall discuss three visions that have manifested as a consequence of the anguish over Temple management.

There is a category of proposals that can be broadly classified under ‘community management’ of Hindu Temples. The earliest reference to this we are aware of was made by Rangesh Sridhar and Amar Govindarajan in an article on Swarajya Mag in July 2020. But their proposal is unique for the emphasis of Temple administration at the District level.

Sridhar and Govindarajan proposed a three-step mechanism for the management of Hindu Temples after they have been freed from Government control. First, they propose, the exclusive mandate of a Temple ought to be the propagation of the Hindu faith.

Second, the leadership of the Temple administration ought to be elected by Hindus in the district. However, they state that traditional custodians of the Temples would continue to preside over the religious affairs of the Temple.

“The point is not to show off egalitarian views but to ensure that leadership of temples is contested for, opening up space for discussion about how best to use temple resources and producing Hindu leaders who have the interests of the Hindus and temples at heart,” the authors said of the reason for elected leadership.

Third, the second tier leadership of the Temple would involve the major castes in the district. At the core of this proposal is the idea that “every Hindu in a district must be made a stakeholder in the temple.” The rest follows from that premise.

M. Nageswara Rao, who has been advocating for ‘inclusive management’ of Temples, appears to endorse the premise proposed by Sridhar and Govindarajan. Nageswarao Rao said in a statement following a controversy over a ‘private fiefdom of cliques’ comment, “If the entire Hindu demography of all castes is not included in this collective fight, how do we hope to achieve the purpose of freeing the Temples from Govt control to protect Dharma”

The former interim-director of the CBI continued, “We have to realise that times have changed. There are myriad existential threats to our civilisation. It is the responsibility of all Hindus to protect and propagate Hinduism, which requires all sections of Hindus become equal partners. Exclusion of any class of Hindus would be self-destructive.”

There are really only three broad visions for the management of Hindu Temples that we have highlighted here as a state appointed board of Saints and Scholars does not really fall under the purview of ‘Free the Temples’ movement. Thus, we will point out in short where the three proposals converge and where they diverge.

The ideas converge on the proposition that all castes should be represented in the management of Hindu Temples. However, that is arguably where the convergence ends.

The proposal by Sridhar and Govindarajan foresees management of Temples at the district level while the local management proposal lays emphasis on management by village committees and other localised entities. Furthermore, the former also proposes elected leadership in the management of Temples, an idea that is worthy of note due to its uniqueness itself. Nageswara Rao’s vision leans towards the former but does not advocate elected leadership.