How South India’s Somnath Temple Languishes On Neglect, Lack Of Income
In 1947, this temple owned close to 2, 250 acres of land. Today, it owns around 10. Out of these 10 acres, one acre was given by one of the lessees for the construction of a mosque.
In 1947, a businessman, A Pethaperumal Chettiyar, travelled from Devakottai in Tamil Nadu’s Sivaganga district to various pilgrim centres of Lord Shiva.
A businessman, who had lots of cash in hand and was accompanied by a 12-year-old assistant, Pethaperumal Chettiyar happened to visit the Sri Arul Somanathaswami (Lord Shiva) temple at Needur, five km from Mayiladuthurai in Tamil Nadu’s Nagapattinam district.
Finding the temple dilapidated, Pethaperumal Chettiyar took the initiative to reconstruct the main part of the temple. The Needur Shiva temple is considered to be South India’s Somnath temple.
Legend has it that when Lord Indra came to earth, he looked for a Shiva lingam to offer his morning prayers. Failing to sight one, he collected clay from the Cauvery river and made a Shivalingam to worship.
Indra also sang a melodious song invoking Lord Shiva then and prayed for darshan of a dancing Lord Shiva. Pleased with Indra’s efforts, Lord Shiva gave darshan to him in a dancing form, thus earning the name Sri Gana Nardhana Sankara (Lord Shiva who danced to a devotional song).
The Shiva lingam made of clay is the main deity at the Sri Arul Somanathaswami temple. The finger marks of Indra are still believed to be visible on the side of the lingam.
There is another legend attached to this temple . A demon, Thanmasudhan was born as a crab owing to a curse in his previous birth. Worried, Thanmasudan sought Sage Narada’s advice, who asked him to visit Needur and worship Lord Shiva there.
Thanmasudan came to Needur, bathed in river Cauvery and worshipped Lord Shiva, who blessed the crab and gave him salvation. Further, Lord Shiva absorbed the crab inside the lingam by making a hole. Today, the crab’s footprint and the hole at the rear of the Shiva lingam can be seen. In view of this, Lord Shiva is also known as “Sri Karkadeswarar” here.
The Needur Shiva temple is one of the 276 that figure in the hymns sung in praise of Lord Shiva in the Tamil Saivite Devotional poetry, Thevaram. The site also figures in ancient Tamil Sangam literature Agananooru with two of the 63 Nayanars ( staunch saintly devotees of Lord Shiva) - Thirunavukkarasar and Sundarar - mentioning the prosperity and wealth of this place.
Needur is also the birthplace of Munaiyaduvar, another Nayanar. Munaiyaduvar was a soldier who commanded an army and assisted many kings in their battles.
With the money that he earned by helping the kings, he carried out the maintenance of the Somanathaswami temple. Pleased with his act, Lord Shiva placed him among the 63 Nayanars.
Having coming to know all of this, Pethaperumal Chettiyar chose to retrieve and renovate the Sri Arul Somanathaswami temple, all those years ago.
Things seem to have come to a standstill, though, after this renovation.
The story of South India’s Somnath Temple today is one of total negligence.
“When I came here with (Pethaperumal) Chettiyar, the temple a owned 2,250 acres of land. It got reduced to less than 10 acres now,” says N Subramanian, who has accompanied the businessman as a 12-year old to Needur.
Aged 83 now, Subramanian says even out of this, one acre has been given away by one of the lessees, who was cultivating paddy, for the construction of a mosque called Nidur Masjid. The mosque now stands on the land, hardly a stone’s throw from the temple.
The total demography of the surroundings of the Needur Shiva temple has undergone a change with Muslim influx.
When Swarajya visited the temple on 21 March this year around six pm, the Somanathaswami temple was dark with a few oil lamps lit. At the same time, evening prayers being recited at the Nidur Masjid could be heard at the temple.
Details of the temple properties put up at the premises by the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department, which manages the temple administration in the State, show that the temple has three acres of wetlands and 6.81 acres of dry lands. Besides, the temple has let out 5.16 lakh square ft of land for houses and there are 700 buildings on which people reside.
Despite all these, the temple’s income is a meagre Rs 60,000 a year.
“The temple get nothing from all its land holdings or whatever it has,” says Sivasubramanian Sivachariar, priest of the temple priest. “Right now, we do the morning and evening poojas. The temple doesn’t get any income as offerings locally. If some outsider comes, then they donate some money to the temple,” says the priest.
Sivasubramaniam’s family has been traditionally performing the poojas. “My father, who passed away five years ago, got Rs 50 a month as salary. I got Rs 300 a month as salary when I joined here. Now, I get Rs 2,000 a month,” he says.
N Subramaniam, who keeps a watch over the temple, was given a house to reside in by Pethaperumal Chettiyar. However, a relative of his claimed it and the house has been lost. “I get Rs 1,200 a month to keep a watch here,” he says.
The temple has three types of Ganeshas - Mikapperiyar Chinthamani who is wise and elderly, Mikappazhayar Selvamaang Ganapathy who is experienced and Mihappanikar Sivaanantha Ganapathy who acts as an advisor.
The Sun God had also worshipped Lord Shiva here and his rays bathe the Shiva Lingam every year sometime in June. The temple has a shrine for Parvati Devi with Lord Shaneeswar (Saturn) facing east before her. This helps devotees to worship Parvathi Devi and Lord Shaneeswar at the same time.
They are housed in a separate building that was constructed by the Chola kings.
“Right now, the temple is managing to survive despite being ignored by the HR&CE Department. Nor is anyone bothered about the temple being in neglect,” says a local at Needur.
No one is sure what actually are the temple’s lands and properties despite the HR&CE putting up the details in the premises. “No one knows who owes what to the temple. Some of them have dues running into years,” says the local.
The details of the temple’s properties have been put up following a Madras High Court judgement. The judgement also asked the HR&CE Department to notify the defaulters of temple properties and lands. This is yet to be done.
In view of the temple’s poor income, its consecration has not been done for nearly 12 years now. The last consecration was done 5 April 2007. Before that, it had been done twice - July 4, 1985, and June 30, 1947 when Pethaperumal Chettiyar renovated it.
In Tamil, Needur means eternal place. This place has withstood many a deluge. Probably, that’s one reason why Sri Arul Somanathaswami Temple has still been able to survive despite the neglects, feels a local.
A HR&CE official, who did not wish to be identified, said the temple did not have records of the lands it had held previously. "We don't know where the records are," the official said, and added that the rent for the leases was raised three months ago so the temple's income would improve.
"It's three months since we got permission to raise the rent. We will get this done slowly. We expect the income of the temple to exceed over Rs 100,000 a year soon," the official said.
The official conceded that the temple had problems in getting the lease rent. "We had to struggle even to get Rs 4 or Rs 5 as rent from these people," the official said and added that efforts were on to recover long-pending dues from the lessees.
The official answered in the affirmative when asked if the actions followed a directive from the Madras High Court on the recovery of dues from defaulting lessors.
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