The Malabar Devaswom Board Wants To Stop Funding Temple Festivals, And Offerings To Deities And Priests
Temple priests have pointed out that these expenditures can never be called unnecessary, and are part of every temple ritual.
The Devaswom Department of the Kerala government has stated in an order to the Malabar Devaswom Board (MDB) that the expenditure for temple festivals, offerings to deities and priests (donations by devotees) are ‘unnecessary’, and ought to be reduced or stopped altogether.
The MDB was established by the state, and administers more than 1,000 temples across six districts in the northern Malabar region of Kerala.
This reference came in a government order (GO) issued by the Devaswom Department to the MDB to increase the salary of temple employees, a long pending demand.
The new MDB chairperson M R Murali, who assumed charge in January 2021, is a loyalist of former chief minister V S Achuthanandan. The MDB had been plagued by the protests of employees who have been demanding that their wage arrears be paid as well as their salaries be revised.
Murali has sought to resolve the impasse, which has resulted in the order increasing the salaries of temple employees.
However, the government has directed that in order to control expenses in the running of temples, the expenditure for temple festivals (ulsvams), offerings made to the deity (vazhippadu) and those made to the priests (tantradakshina) be limited or forgone.
This has resulted in a controversy with the priests’ associations pointing out that these expenditures can never be termed unnecessary, and are part of rituals of every temple. The ‘unnecessary expenditures’ include the core function of temples and they cannot be reduced at any cost according to them. The temple festivals are key social events of many regions and the directive has led to much furore on social media.
That the reference has come in a GO has led to much anxiety, with a worry over whether this directive will apply to other devaswom boards in the state as well such as Guruvayur Devaswom Board and Travancore Devaswom Board.
The ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) government in the state has been under fire for its antagonistic stand towards the interests of devotees on the Sabarimala issue as well as the amendment to the Travancore Devaswom Board Act permitting the appointment of non-Hindus as the devaswom commissioners.
The former had resulted in significant protests in the state, as well as an electoral loss for the ruling coalition, while the latter saw the intervention of the then state Bharatiya Janata Party president and now Mizoram Governor P S Sreedharan Pillai in the Kerala High Court, which directed that only Hindus be appointed to the post.
The new government order is likely to further sour the image of the LDF government, that has sought to rebuild its image with backpedalling on the Sabarimala issue. With the assembly elections in the state scheduled to be held in April/May 2021, this issue can play a spoiler for ruling party’s re-election efforts.
Ananth Krishna is a lawyer and graduate of NUALS, Kochi.
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