Chidambaram temple trustees approach apex court against takeover

Friday, November 27, 2009

NEW DELHI - The trustees of the Nataraja temple in Chidambaram town in Tamil Nadu in a lawsuit in the Supreme Court Friday challenged the state government’s reported move to take over the temple management. The court has asked the Tamil Nadu government for its reply.

A bench of Justice Altmas Kabir and Justice Cyriac Joseph sought the Tamil Nadu government’s reply on a lawsuit of the Podhu Dikshidars, the hereditary trustees managing the affairs of the temple.

Senior counsel Ashok Desai, appearing for the state government, sought to refute the allegation of takeover, saying the government was merely joining the management as per a statutory provision. It pleaded with the court not to pass an order stopping the government from “joining” the temple’s management.

But issuing notice to the government, one of the judges on the bench remarked with folded hands, “Who am I to decide to whom Lord Shiva gives his property?”

The Podhu Dikshidars said they belong to “a religious denomination with distinctive beliefs and social religious features, claiming divine origin and having strong belief that the Lord Nataraja, the presiding deity at the Chidambaram temple, is one among them and also their leader”.

They said all decisions regarding the management and affairs of the temple are taken by the Dikshidars as a collective unit, in a democratic fashion as per the Chidambaram Koil Shattam, an exhaustive set of rules concerning the management, upkeep, custody and maintenance of all moveable and immoveable properties associated with the temple.

The petitioners said the religious rules had been formulated and followed over centuries by them.

But Desai maintained that the Podhu Dikshidars had mismanaged the temple affairs, leading to a loss of over 200,000 gold coins and over 800 grams of gold from the temple coffer.

Desai said the government was justified in “joining” the administration under section 45 of the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Institutions and Endowments Act, 1959, which empowers the government to appoint a commissioner to manage temple affairs in case of mismanagement.

But the Podhu Dikshidars contended that the state legislation interfered with their Fundamental Right to profess and practice religion of their choice and administer their religious institutions as per their faith and belief.

They thus sought annulment of the legislation.

Filed under: Court, Immigration, Lawsuit

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