Two weeks ahead of the consecration of the 1000-year-old Peruvudaiyar Koil aka Brihadeshwara Temple in Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu, a controversy has broken out over the custom that will be followed during the February 5 ceremony.
Thanjai Periya Koil Urimai Meetpu Kuzhu (Thanjavur Big Temple Rights Retrieval Committee), an organisation that aims to restore Tamil tradition in the Thanjavur temple, has decided to take out a rally on Wednesday demanding temple authorities to conduct consecration as per Tamil customs as opposed to the popular practice of performing in Sanskrit.
The rally has received the support of political leaders like MK Stalin, Vaiko, Seeman etc. DMK leader MK Stalin has urged the AIADMK government to conduct the Big Temple consecration as per Tamil tradition and customs.
“Thanjai Peruvudaiyar Koyil’s Dravidian style of architecture is been hailed across the world. Throughout history, one can sense how the Tamil customs and traditions were destroyed and other customs were imposed on the 1000-year-old Thanjavur temple. To change that and restore the Tamil customs, the Thanjai Periya Koil Urimai Meetpu Kuzhu insists that the Kudamuzhuku (consecration) be done in accordance with the Tamil tradition and customs. It’s a cultural struggle to establish Tamil worship and social justice in temples. The protests to restore the Tami identities have been taking place in different shapes, I wish the rally a huge success and I hope that the AIADMK government will accept the organisation’s demand,” Stalin said.
Minister for Tamil culture Mafoi K Pandiarajan said the DMK leader was trying to gain political mileage in every issue. “The consecration will be performed in both Tamil and Sanskrit. After we received the request from Tamil groups, a committee has been formed on behalf of the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department, they will find an amicable solution,” the minister said.
The renovation work at the temple, built by the great Chola king Raja Raja Cholan in the 11th century, began a month ago. District Collector M Govinda Rao and other senior Archeological Survey of India officials paid a visit to the temple last week ahead of the mega event.
Speaking to indianexpress.com, a senior historian, who worked extensively on the Thanjavur Big Temple said Tamil customs and tradition shouldn’t be confused with Agamas.
“In Tamil history, all the Shaiva temples, including the ones built by the Kings, follow all the rituals prescribed as per 28 Agamas. From selecting the land for the temple to the installation of Idols, maintaining the sanctum, administrating the temple, everything is mentioned in Agamas and it is present in Sanskrit only. The Thanjavur temple ritual procedures are based on Makutam Agama. In Tamil, there is Tevaram, which is sung with great devotion towards Lord Shiva. But Tevaram does not specify how the rituals should be performed. Agamas are classified under Kiriyai, this shouldn’t be confused with Tevaram. There is no historical reference that Kudamuzhuku or any other temple function has been performed in Tamil. So breaking the tradition and performing in Tamil for political gain or any other hidden agenda is not appreciable,” he said.
The historian further said that the ritual methods differ from one zone to another. “If you look at Kerala temples, they won’t follow Agamas, they have their ‘Tantrik’ method but even in that the poojas are performed only in Sanskrit. People should understand that Sanskrit is not anyone’s mother tongue, It’s a language of worship. All these temple functions are done using ‘Beejakshara Mantra’ present only in Sanskrit and it cannot be replicated in Tamil,” he said.
Suba Veerapandian, President, Dravida Iyakka Tamizhar Peravai, said Raja Raja Cholan was a Tamil leader. “Thanjavur is in Tamil Nadu, so why consecration to a Tamil temple can’t be performed in Tamil? I don’t know why AIADMK is playing safe by saying that the rituals can be performed in both Tamil and Sanskrit. They are a government for Tamil people and not for any other Sanskrit language,” he said.
Pe. Maniyarasan, the leader of Tamil Desiya Periyakkam and co-coordinator of Thanjai Periya Koil Urimai Meetpu Kuzhu, said Brahmins changed the way of rituals in temples and imposed Sanskrit ahead of Tamil.
“Sanskrit was not present earlier in Tamil history. Chola King Raja Raja Cholan restored Tevaram and appointed 48 Odhuvars (devotional singers) to perform the temple rituals in Tamil. Tolkaapiyam (ancient Tamil literature work) is a fine example of how rituals were performed in Temples in Tamil. Agamas apply for Tamils and constructed temples, it doesn’t apply to the Aryans who follow the Smiriti procedure. In 2015, the Supreme Court itself ruled out all these procedures by saying that members of all castes can become Archakars (temple priests) as per Agamas. The Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department also passed an ordinance where it allowed the rituals to be performed in Tamil inside the Garbhagriha,” he said.
Maniyarasan further said the TN government itself had published books containing Tamil Mantras for both Shaiva and Vaishnava procedures. “The government also has conducted training classes for Archakars and provided certificates and even one non-brahmin was appointed as a priest so using the Tamil language in rituals is not against the law or tradition, this is just a conspiracy by people who wish to impose Sanskrit in each and everything,” he added.
The historical temple has been marred by several controversies in the past too. In September 2010, when the temple turned 1,000 years, then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi allocated more than Rs 400 crore — a move that faced criticism even from some of his close confidants.In December 2018, the ASI came under the scanner for granting permission to a two-day event of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of living at the temple premises. Based on the PIL filed by one Venkatesan of Kumbakonam, the Madras HC stayed the event.
In April 2019, a video claiming Tamil language inscriptions in the heritage temple was being replaced with Hindi went viral on social media. The temple authorities brushed aside the allegations, saying the inscription shown in the video was Devanagari style Marathi script that had been present in the temple for decades.
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