The temple is supposed to be Karnataka’s richest, with an annual income of almost Rs 90 crore.
But it is also a place where unbridled commercial activity is killing its holy precincts.
Despite SC orders, a bar owned by a powerful politician is destroying the sanctity of the place.
Kukke Subramanya - This fabled temple town has been touted as the richest in South India after the Tirumala Tirupati temple of Andhra Pradesh, and rightly so. The income of Kukke Subramanya runs into an average of Rs. 90 crore per annum (as of April 2018, Rs. 89 crore). But visit the shrine website, and all that the reviews talk of is poor cleanliness and absence of good infrastructure.
For example, a review by Ratish had this to say: “Really nice calm place. But also very dirty. People come with devotion but fail to realize the necessity of not throwing the dirty clothes in dustbins, use toilets etc (sic.)”
With an average footfall of over 20,000 per day, and peaking at over 50,000 during holiday season, and highs of over 100,000 people during special festivals, the temple, known as a famous Rahu-Ketu sthala, is a sea of humanity during Nagapanchami and Champa Shashti. The temple is managed by the Muzrai department of the Karnataka government and more often, devotees and townspeople are heard telling the government to lay off what they feel is their baby. The government’s iron grip on this temple, only because it yields big money to the exchequer, however, is getting stronger by the year, but the development of Subramanya town is taking a back seat.
Subramanya has grown into a town of 25,000 inhabitants. Both its villages - Yenekal and Subramanya are still governed by a gram panchayat, which does not get matching grants from the government in return for revenue generated. The town has highly urban facilities including posh hotels, lodges and homestays.
It also has a bar and restaurant, which has upset many. “These facilities have come up around the temple and some of the buildings are twice as tall as the temple’s ‘Muguli’ or ‘Kalasha’ thus interfering with the vaastu of the shrine. The temple was built without steel and concrete, using laterite stone, granite stone, wood, bronze and copper. But, the buildings around, have been built with modern materials, which act as a counterforce to the traditional constitution of the temple.
To add to Subramanya’s woes, construction activities are going on without compunction, despite the ‘Asthamangala Prashne’ clearly revealing signs of disapproval, says Vedic scholar Prasad Bhat.
In addition, the sewage discharged by lodges, hotels, and restaurants in the area are not being treated and channelled properly. Some of these establishments even offload the sewage into fields and nearby vacant land parcels. What happens as a result is the untreated sewage then percolates into the groundwater, and pollutes the acquifers and other water sources beneath. A Sewage Treatment Plant (STP), which was put in place sometime ago, is lying in disuse for almost a year and neither the temple nor the panchayat has been given the rights to operate it for the welfare of the town.
According to civic activists in the area, the government should have taken steps to upgrade the administrative status of the town from that of a grama panchayat to that of a pattana panchayat, as the volume of tax collected from the temple or the local population of the town is extremely high.
According to the panchayat officials, Subramanya and Yenekal villages have a total of 25,000 residents, but the records of lodges, choultries, homestays and other boarding facilities indicate that close to 10,000 people reside in just 5 square kilometres on any given day. The panchayat has a total income of Rs 1 crore per annum.
“We do not know where the money is going. They say it is the richest temple in Karnataka and the second richest temple in South India, but the town does not even have a decent drinking water project, or a traffic management system in place. This is despite land availability with the government, on the southern side of the town. No steps so far have been taken to develop the area or add more parking space for commercial purposes.
Mahalinga Yarkadithaya, an elder of the town, says, “The common man is forced to park his vehicle almost a kilometre away from the shrine. During festival times, only VIP vehicles are allowed right up to the temple’s entrance. The government sadly does not allow visitors to get dropped off near the temple. Old people find it very inconvenient. Every day, there are altercations between visitors and the authorities over parking.”
Devotees of the temple who come from different parts of the country, mainly Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat complain that a crowd management system is totally absent.
“One cannot blame the temple authorities for that. Archakas, Purohits and other men connected with the Pooja Vidhanas are doing their jobs. It is purely highhandedness on part of government officials from the Muzrai department. The most disgusting sight is the presence of police personnel in Khakhi near the sanctum sanctorum, Sunil Pandit from Satara and his friend Ajit Vaidya, both regular visitors to the temple from Maharashtra, told Swarajya.
Cleanliness Is Godliness? Not For The Karnataka Government, It Seems
Chakravarthi Sulibele, a campaigner for cleanliness in temples, had carried out a “Clean Kumaradhara River” campaign recently. The river flows close to the Subramanya temple. His team called Yuva Brigade found tonnes of waste such as polythene bags, gutkha packets, cigarette packs, liquor bottles and even animal and chicken bones packed in bags and dumped in the water body. To makes things sound worse, human waste, oil and diesel residue (due to river water being used to wash vehicles) and condoms were also found.
“The trash found in the river means only one thing - the temple administration has not strictly enforced a code of moral conduct on visitors or locals in the area. We cannot blame visitors. The temple administration, which is directly under government control, must take steps to spread public awareness against pollution in the river. More than that, the state government should create facilities for visitors so that pollution in the river is minimised. But none of this has happened because the government does not care. It only wants money,” Sulibele told Swarajya.
Lure Of Liquor And Lucre In Temple Town
Religious activist Ramdas Naika says that a bar located near the temple has been responsible for the loss of sanctity of the shrine’s precincts. He says, “I still do not know how the government can allow a bar to function so close to the temple? After the Supreme Court order in 2017 stating that no bar should be allowed within 500 metres of a state highway or a temple or any other religious shrine, the bar in Subramanya village had shifted to a distant place. But shortly, it returned to its original place. This is a failure of the administration. I learnt that the bar belongs to the relative of a political leader who is currently in the state government. If the government does not respect our sentiments, we will whip up a campaign with the help of the people of the town and throw the bar out.”
Panchayat members, on condition of anonymity, told Swarajya that despite Subramanya town now teeming with commercial activity, the panchayat has no method of collecting trash and disposing of it in a scientific way. “The absence of a solid waste management system or STP is affecting the temple town severely. The first casualty of this negligence is the Kumaradhara river. Even if the government uses a small percentage of the taxes and Hundi money to develop the town, we are sure it will serve as a model for others. Some even wonder whether the funds generated by the temple are being diverted for other purposes?
State Government Should Lay Hands Off Temple Affairs: Nalin Kumar Kateel, MP
The MP of Dakshina Kannada district, Nalin Kumar Kateel, told Swarajya: “We had always opposed government interference in religious affairs. The job of the government is to govern and empower, and regulate if the need arises. It is not supposed to run religious institutions. Hindu temples belong to Hindus and the community has enough influence and manpower to run its own shrines. We are also opposed to the opaque way in which temple money is managed by governments. The government is duty-bound to re-plough a sizeable percentage of revenues received from a shrine, into its own development. That is not happening. The money seems to be getting diverted to shrines operated by those professing other faiths. This is akin to being stabbed in the back.”
Dr Charudutta Pingale, mentor of the Hindu Janajagruti Samithi, has declared in the recently-concluded Eighth All-India Hindu Convention in Goa, that the Samithi will start an all-India campaign to free Hindu temples from the grip of governments. He points out that the Supreme Court has on two occasions questioned why a government claiming to be “secular” should run temples. “We will run a campaign under the aegis of the Hindu Devasthana Sanskruti Rakshana Abhiyan to reclaim temples from government control and restore them to committees formed to take care of them.
Other Rivers Near Temples In Danger Of Pollution
Sulibele said, “The Kumaradhara is one grave case of religious tourism being abused. Thanks to government apathy, many other rivers, temple Kalyanis and tanks are being neglected. The Kapila, Nethravati, and Cauvery are others that we have cleaned up. In the Kapila, over 20,000 pieces of fabric, tonnes of plastic waste and many pollutants including animal organs, bones and liquor bottles have been removed. The worst kind of pollution was found at seven points alongside the Cauvery up to Srirangapatnam. Nobody will believe that the Cauvery has been relegated to this state. They should have seen the pollution at a place called Nellidi Kere. Likewise, the Bheema river and a temple Kalyani in Kundapura have been found to be in utter neglect. But the volunteers of Yuva Brigade have taken steps to revive them. We will soon take up work on the Lakshman Thirtha river near Hunsur and Koti Thirtha Kere in Gokarna.”