News Brief

In Tamil Nadu, Atheists Want To Consecrate A 1,000-Year-Old Temple With Slokas In Tamil Instead Of Sanskrit

Sri Brihadeeswara Temple in Thanjavur. (Nittavinoda/Wikipedia)

A controversy has broken out over the language of slokas that will be rendered during the consecration of the 1,000-year-old Sri Brihadeeswara Temple in Thanjavur, popularly known as the Big Temple, on 5 February this year.

Leading the pack in raking up the controversy is Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), a party that propagates atheism. The party’s president M K Stalin issued a statement last week demanding that the entire consecration of the temple be performed in Tamil.

Stating that the Sri Brihadeeswara Temple was “a testimony of Dravidian architecture”, he said the Thanjai Big Temple Rights Retrieval Committee wanted the consecration to be done in Tamil.

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The committee is holding a meeting in Trichy in support of its demand on Wednesday (22 January).

Tamil Nadu Minister for Tamil, Art, Culture and Archaeology has been quoted by the media as saying that the consecration will be held in both Tamil and Sanskrit.

However, the Thanjai Big Temple Rights Retrieval Committee organiser P Maniarasan, hitting out at the minister, said his organisation has sent a letter to the state Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, demanding the event be held in Tamil.

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Maniarasan said the committee’s demand has been supported by, apart from Stalin, Marumalarchi DMK founder Vaiko, Naam Tamilar Katchi founder Seeman and former HRCE minister V V Swaminathan.

Maniarasan is the founder of the Tamil National Movement, which espouses the cause of a separate Tamil nation. The organisation has been active in opposing the methane and hydro-carbon projects in Thanjavur.

The consecration of the Big Temple, constructed during the Chola rule, was last held almost 30 years ago, on 9 June 1997. The temple was maintained by Pandya, Naicker and Maratha empires before the Archaeological Survey of India took over its upkeep in 1922.

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One of the initial reactions to the statements of leaders such as Stalin and Vaiko, both sworn atheists, is whether they would have the courage to suggest holding of prayers in Tamil in other religious places, particularly mosques.

On social media, some wondered why atheists should be bothered in which languages the slokas are rendered in temples.

Another wondered how the temple was consecrated by Raja Raja Chola, during whose period it was built.

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Some wondered why consecrations during the DMK rule headed by the late Karunanidhi were not held in Tamil.

A few pointed out that “Dravidianism” was only half a century old and a couple of people remarked tongue-in-cheek if these atheists would come for the consecration and sport ash marks on their foreheads.

There were others who pointed out why people who spoke ill of temple architecture were concerned over the language of the slokas.

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While the language controversy dodges the run-up to the consecration or kumbabishekam of the temple, the last time when it has held a fire broke out in a thatched shed resulting in the death of 48 people.

The Big Temple was constructed in 1010 AD during the reign of Raja Raja Chola. It is among the tallest in the world and showcases ancient India’s architecture.

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