Desecration Of Sri Ram Murti In 1,500-Year-Old Andhra Pradesh Temple Leads To A Political Slugfest

by M R Subramani - Jan 5, 2021 05:01 AM
Desecration Of Sri Ram Murti In 1,500-Year-Old Andhra Pradesh Temple Leads To A Political SlugfestYS Jaganmohan Reddy and Chandrababu Naidu
Snapshot
  • The incident took place on the night of 28 December and the severed head of the murti was found inside the temple tank.

A murti (idol) of Sri Ram being vandalised at the Ramatheertham Sita Lakshmana Kodandarama temple, which is over 1,500 years old, in Vizianagaram district, Andhra Pradesh, has led to a political slugfest between the ruling YSR Congress Party (YSCRP) and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP).

Y S Jaganmohan Reddy, in an apparently swift reaction to the 'beheading' of the murti, has dismissed former Union minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju from the temple devasthanam (trust) chairman's post, but this is now being viewed as a diversionary tactic.

The Andhra Pradesh Revenue (Endowments-II) Department, in a notification dated 2 January, said he was sacked from the post for his “failure to discharge his legitimate duties, addressing issues relating to temple security aspects and preventing idol vandalisation”.

Besides, Raju has also been dismissed as chairman of the devasthanams of Pydithalli Ammavari Devasthanam in Vizianagaram and Mandeswara Swamy temple at Mandapalli in Rajahmundry district.

The existence of the Ramatheertham Sri Ram temple dates back to the third century. It is located on Bavikonda Hills with the river Champa flowing beneath it.

The idols in the temple are believed to have been installed by the Pandavas during their 12 years of exile.

Ramatheertham is also famous for its Buddhist monastery, besides Jain sites. Turtles with marks of Vishnu namam (marks) can be seen roaming in the temple premises.

Grabs of the temple priest crying over the desecration and commenting that “Bhagwan Sri Ram himself is not safe in this country” dominated social and electronic media.

Desecration Of Sri Ram Murti In 1,500-Year-Old Andhra Pradesh Temple Leads To A Political Slugfest

The incident took place on the night of 28 December and the severed head of the murti was found inside the temple tank.

In his memo, M Girija Shankar, Secretary to the Government of AP, said that Raju, who is the devasthanam founder-chairman, failed to discharge his legitimate duties.

The former Union minister, who belongs to the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), has been removed under the powers the State government has been conferred with by the Andhra Pradesh Charitable and Hindu Religious Institutions and Endowments Act.

The incident has led to demands for installing close circuit television cameras in all temples in the state and strengthening their security.

The YSRCP government has been criticised for the action on the grounds that Raju's dismissal without any inquiry was unfair.

The other reason for the criticism is that no one has been held responsible so far for earlier such attacks on Hindu temples in Andhra Pradesh.

Though the YSRCP government in the State is under attack, given a slew of incidents in which temples have been desecrated, the TDP is also being held responsible for its earlier policies.

The sacking of Raju is being viewed more as a TDP-versus-YSRCP battle, than as a step towards finding a real solution to the vexed issue dogging the State since Reddy ascended to power in May 2019.

On social media, temple activists charged the previous N Chandrababu Naidu government with destroying as many as 40 temples.

Some questioned the sacking of Raju, wondering, if he can be taken to task for the damage done to an idol in one temple, then who should be held responsible for the attacks on the others.

The Ramatheertham incident has also witnessed attempts by Naidu to attack Sanchaita Gajapathy, Raju’s niece.

Both of them have been at loggerheads, with the Reddy government appointing Sanchaita as the chairperson of the MANSAS trust founded in 1958 by her grandfather PVG Raju in memory of his father Alak Narayan.

Naidu, during his visit to Vizianagaram on 2 January, attacked Sanchaita and reportedly made derogatory remarks against her.

She alleged that the Ramatheertham Sri Ram idol was 'beheaded' by TDP, assuming that she had been already appointed the temple devasthanam chairman.

“You realised too late that Ashok Gajapathy Raju was still the chairman and he should be held responsible,” Sanchaita tweeted.

The desecration of the Sri Ram murti is the latest in a series of incidents that have marked the YSR Congress' tenure since it came to power in May 2019.

In early September last year, a 62-year-old wooden chariot of Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy temple was set on fire at Antarvedi town in East Godavari district.

Later that month, unidentified miscreants damaged the Nandi idol at a temple in Agara Mandalam village in Chittoor district.

In February last year, the chariot of Prasanna Venkateswara Temple in Nellore district was set afire.

The same month, murtis of the deities at the Sri Venu Gopala Swamy temple were destroyed in Rompicharla village in Guntur district. The idol of Sri Ganesha was reportedly stolen.

In January last year, unidentified miscreants desecrated many idols of Hindu gods and goddesses in Pithapuram city in East Godavari district. Banners with images of Hindu gods printed on them were also burnt.

In March 2019, two old Hindu temples in Suryaraopeta in Kakinada Rural of East Godavari district were demolished by the pastor of a nearby church, using a JCB machine. He also took away the antique idols of the presiding deity of the temple.

On 16 September 2019, three silver lion statues at Kanaka Durga temple in Vijayawada were stolen. On 17 September, an idol of Lord Hanuman in Yeleswaram in East Godavari district was vandalised.

Another murti of Lord Skanda was reportedly desecrated in East Godavari district, but the temple’s priest, who first alleged damage, later denied it.

M.R. Subramani is Executive Editor, Swarajya. He tweets @mrsubramani

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