Always governance lacks on religionality to made it clear stand on policy makers apathy. In the case of Ahobilam too several lapses made and still the temples are not cleated to public offerings.
Ahobilam is a significant spiritual centre located in the Kurnool District of Andhra Pradesh, nestled among the beautiful Nallamala Hills.
Visitors come to the nine Narasimha temples in the temple town from all around the state and beyond.
The Sri Ahobila Math, a temple that follows the Srivaishnava tradition, is located in Ahobilam. The arithmetic and the Ahobilam temple are inseparably connected, with a history that spans more than six centuries.
The deity Sri Lakshmi Narasimha inducted Srimad Adivan Sadagopan, the first mathadhipati, or leader of the Ahobilam Math, into monasticism in Ahobilam in 1398 CE.
A Malola Lakshmi Narasimha idol was given to Sri Adivan Sadagopan by the deity, along with the directive to carry the idol from village to village and spread devotion to the Lord.
The Ahobilam temples’ management and finances were overseen for ages by the Math, who also served as their chief administrative and financial officer.
The Jeers of the Math, the monastic heirs to the first mathadhipati, held control over temple matters.
The Ahobilam temples and their customs have been protected by the Math for many years.
For instance, according to inscriptions discovered in the Ahobilam temple, the sixth jeer of the Ahobilam Math was able to repair the temple in 1579 CE after an Islamic invasion with the aid of the Vijayanagara king and the Telugu Chola chieftain.
The Math never had to deal with any governmental intrusion into its business over the decades that it oversaw the temple. The mathadhipati was asked by the Andhra Pradesh government in 1989 to name one of his disciples as the temple’s manager.
On the floor of the Legislative Assembly in 2001, Andhra Pradesh’s then-Endowments Minister, Dandu Sivaramaraju, asserted that it was illegal to appoint an executive officer above the mathadhipati in order to overrule his authority.
The math-appointed manager of the temple was elevated to executive officer status by the government in 2008.
It is unclear exactly when the government started appointing executive officers on its own initiative and without consulting the mathadhipati, but this practise eventually started.
It is debatable if the Andhra Pradesh Endowments Department’s involvement in the activities of the temple is legal in and of itself.
It is debatable whether the state government really officially took control of the shrine.
In order to uncover the answer to this ostensibly straightforward question, Kidambi Sethu Raman, a descendant of the first Ahobilam mathadhipati whose family has worked for the math for generations, submitted an RTI request to the Endowments Department.
Response from the government to an RTI inquiry about whether there is a rule that ties the matha and temple to the state government.
The Executive Officer of the temple responded with a startling statement: “There is no government order on file that certifies the temple falling under the government’s aegis.”
It appears that the state government unlawfully assumed control of the temple given the Endowments Minister’s admission in 2001 that there was no means to designate an Executive Officer above the mathadhipati.
In an interview, Kidambi mentioned that the mathadhipati would have had to turn over the temple’s assets, lands, and accounts in order for there to have been a formal transfer of power to the government.
He questioned how, in the absence of such a system, the Endowments Department could have taken ownership of the temple.
Additionally, Section 6a(ii) of the Andhra Pradesh Charitable and Hindu Religious Institutions and Endowments Act (Endowments Act), which expressly refers to “religious institutions and endowments other than math,” governs the temple’s current status.
According to a 2018 government investigation, “the entire management of the temple is under the authority and hold of the Peetadhipathi from the time immemorial.” The temple is essentially indistinguishable from the math.
The fact that sculptures on the walls of the Ahobilam temples really exhibit the Hamsa mudra, or swan emblem of the Ahobila Math, is a concrete illustration of the enduring connection between the Math and temple.
The Srivaishnava saint Nammalwar, whose name the temple is now maintained under, gave the symbol to the first mathadhipati.
It is somewhat unexpected that the government used this clause to seize ownership of the temple given the near indissolubility of math and the temple.
Examining the temple’s finances is crucial to getting a better understanding of the Endowments Department’s involvement in Ahobilam.
Kidambi claims that the mathadhipati is the primary account holder for the temple’s account at the Andhra Bank’s Ahobilam Branch, which is kept in the name of the deity.
The mathadhipati writes checks with the title “Sri Sadagopa Sri”—a reference to Nammalwar—in order to release funds from the account, demonstrating the unbroken connection the temple has to the math and to the Srivaishnava heritage.
The temple’s financial activities are governed by a yearly budget that is created by the Executive Officer and authorised by the Commissioner of Endowments.
Kidambi was able to secure copies of the temple’s budgets for 2016, 2017, and 2018 by submitting an RTI request. A detailed examination of the budget shows some startling information regarding how the money belonging to the deity Lord Narasimha was spent.
Amounts of Rs 18,50,000 were allocated in the 2016 budget for the annual Krishna Pushkarams festival, which takes place in 2016.
Temples along the Krishna River would have made extra arrangements to accommodate the devotees coming for the Pushkarams.
The surprising thing is, however, that Ahobilam is not located along the Krishna River — in fact, it’s nowhere close. (See the map above.) This certainly raises questions about why this amount was sanctioned.
Another area of concern is the budget allocation for Hindu Dharma Pracharam, or propagation of Hindu Dharma.
The amounts sanctioned for this purpose — Rs 8 lakh in 2016, and Rs 12 lakh in 2017 and 2018 — are certainly not trifling.
Kidambi notes that no pamphlets or other religious materials were issued by the temple in any of these three years.
Even though the 2017 and 2018 sanctioned amounts include money for Divya Darshanam (a programme to provide free darshan to SC, ST, BC, and economically backward pilgrims), it is still a surprise that no efforts in the vein of dharmic awareness were undertaken by the temple despite the sanctioned amount.
Furthermore, the charges for the Executive Officer’s car, which add up to almost Rs 9 lakh over three years, also raise alarm. Kidambi notes that with this amount, a new car could have been purchased for the devasthanam.
The issue of contributions from the temple treasury to the Endowments Department is also a cause for concern.
Under Section 65 of the Endowments Act, each temple needs to make a certain contribution annually to the Department for administrative purposes based on its annual income, which is determined through an audit.
The issue here, though, Kidambi points out, is that the last official audit carried out by the government was for the 2006-07 fiscal year.
He noted that though the math has been carrying out annual audits, the government has not been auditing the temple treasury on its end.
Kidambi questioned how the government could allocate Rs 40-50 lakh rupees per annum (as shown above) as contributions without a proper audit.
Lastly, the budget for all three years lists amounts under “miscellaneous charges,” which add up to Rs 20,50,000. After the preparation of such a detailed budget (it had 71 individual items in 2016), one can only wonder what other miscellaneous charges would require this mammoth expenditure.
All of these issues with the budget raise this question — why was the Commissioner of Endowments rubber-stamping the Executive Officer’s budget proposals without due examination?
The Commissioner should have certainly questioned the reasons for certain expenditures, such as the Krishna Pushkarams, before approving them.
It is chilling to imagine how these massive amounts of the Lord’s money were spent by the Executive Officer and other endowments officials.
In contrast, the mathadhipati and the Ahobila Math’s costs are not borne by the temple treasury, according to an RTI query filed by Sh. Kidambi.
As such, Sh. Kidambi noted that allegations that the mathadhipati is squandering the temple’s funds are completely disproven and baseless.
The temple appropriations proposed by the Executive Officer and approved by the Commissioner for these three years, Kidambi noted, were not approved by the mathadhipati.
Section 57 of the Endowments Act requires that the temple’s trustee prepare the annual budget and forward it to the Commissioner for approval.
As the Ahobilam devasthanam does not have a non-hereditary trust board, the power of trusteeship lies in the hands of the hereditary trustee, the mathadhipati.
However, Kidambi pointed out that the mathadhipati had not even received a courtesy copy of the annual budgets from the Endowments Department.
Instead, Kidambi explained, the Executive Officer routinely approached the Mathadhipati, requesting money for administration of the temple.
The Mathadhipati, who has the power to issue cheques, was forced to sanction the requested amount in order to facilitate the smooth running of the temple.
This practice by the Endowments Department, which completely cuts the mathadhipati out of the temple’s finances, is a flagrant violation of the law.
Not satisfying itself with financial affairs alone, the Endowments Department also began to poke its head into the temple’s religious affairs. Kidambi narrated the experience of his own uncle, who was working as a paricharika in the Ahobilam temple and received retirement orders from the Endowments Department.
The Executive Officer asserted that since religious employees were receiving pay under government PRC scales, they were under the control of the government.
The mathadhipati asserted, however, that religious employees were linked with the math and not the government, and therefore, the government had no authority to control them.
In February of 2019, the Endowments Department issued an order sanctioning the creation of a new post in the archaka (priest) cadre.
Kidambi, who wrote to the Commissioner voicing his strong objection to the government’s intervention in religious matters, questioned how the government was qualified to appoint priests when it had no knowledge of the traditions and customs of Ahobila Math.
The government also took a bold decision in 2014, when it attempted to remove the mathadhipati from his position as hereditary trustee of the temple by constituting a non-hereditary trust board.
After receiving strong pushback and being reminded that the decision was illegal under Supreme Court precedent, the government stepped back from its attempt to establish a trust board.
Another recent decision by the government was the removal of the prefix “Sri Ahobila Math Paramparadheena” from the name of the temple.
This prefix signified that the temple had an age-old association with the Ahobila Math.
Amending the temple’s name to “Sri Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy Devasthanam” is without doubt an attempt to isolate the Math from the temple and obliterate the centuries-long history the two institutions share. (The Endowments Department temple website continues to omit the prefix).
To The Courts
The government’s repeated attempts to usurp control of the Ahobila Math were condemned by the mathadhipati and math authorities, who sent repeated letters to the Commissioner expressing their concerns on various issues.
All of their pleas, however, fell on deaf ears, and no action was taken.
As a last resort, the mathadhipati resolved to file a case in the Andhra Pradesh High Court in April 2019 challenging the appointment of an Executive Officer to manage the Ahobilam temple.
In the same month, the High Court issued interim orders, which were further extended in June, giving the math control over the temple’s financial affairs.
As the case is heard in court, disciples of the Ahobila Math, such as Dr. MV Soundararajan of the Temple Protection Movement, have appealed to Chief Minister Hon. Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy to cease interfering in the operations of the Ahobilam temple.
So far, it seems that there has been no action based on these pleas to the government.
A Final Word
IIt is our responsibility as Hindus to stand up and defend our temples against intrusive government action.
We cannot remain silent and hide in the shadows when witnessing the injustice being done to a revered spiritual centre like the Ahobila Math.
If we don’t safeguard the Ahobilam temple right now, Kidambi remarked, “We can never safeguard any of our Hindu temples or institutions.”
We must keep in mind the proverbial saying, “Dharmo Rakshati RakshitaH,” which states that our dharma only protects us when it is protected. #hydnews #khabarlive #hydlive