Tamil Nadu: Idol inside temple found to be Buddhist, Madras HC stops Hindu rituals

People of the Periyari village in Salem district in western Tamil Nadu had been worshipping the deity ‘Thalavetti Muniappan’ as per Hindu rituals for ages.

N ChithraUpdated: Saturday, August 06, 2022, 10:01 PM IST
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Chennai: In a verdict that could have consequences for litigations over the original nature of a place of worship, the Madras High Court recently ordered immediate cessation of Hindu rituals at a temple where an ‘idol’ was found to be connected with Buddhism.

People of the Periyari village in Salem district in western Tamil Nadu had been worshipping the deity ‘Thalavetti Muniappan’ as per Hindu rituals for ages. However, over a decade ago a petitioner Ranganathan moved the High Court contending the temple, situated within the premises of Kottai Mariamman temple, is a Buddhist site. He wanted the temple to be handed over to the Buddha Trust in Salem. In 2017, the court had directed the Tamil Nadu Archaeological Department to inspect the temple and file a report. In the intervening period, the petition died but Justice N Anand Venkatesh, upon receipt of the report passed his verdict upholding that it was a Buddhist site. He directed that Hindu poojas should not be performed at the temple.

“The 6th respondent (Archaeological Department) after inspecting the premises and after carefully analysing the sculpture has come to a categorical conclusion that the sculpture depicts the mahalakshanas (traits) of the Buddha. After having received such a report, it will not be appropriate to permit the Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department to continue to treat this sculpture as ‘Thalaivetti Muniappan’. The mistaken identity cannot be allowed to continue after coming to a conclusion that the sculpture is that of Buddha. In view of the same, the original status must be restored and permitting the HR & CE Department, to continue to treat the sculpture as ‘Thalaivetti Muniappan’, will not be appropriate and it will go against the very tenets of Buddhism,” the judge held.

Justice Venkatesh directed the HR&CE Department to install a board inside the property by depicting the sculpture as Buddha. “The general public can be permitted to visit this place and it shall be ensured that no poojas or other ceremonies are allowed to be performed for the sculpture of Buddha,” he said in his order.

The petitioners had argued that though originally Lord Buddha was worshipped at the site, over a period of time the sculpture was converted into that of a Hindu deity and worshipped by the Hindus.

Acting on the court directions, the Archaeological Department, after inspecting the site, submitted that the hard stone structure was in a seated position known as “ardhapadmasana” on a lotus pedestal. “The hands are posed in “dhyana mudra”. The figure were a sagati. The head shows lakshanas of the Buddha such as curly hair, ushnisa and elongated earlobe. Urna is not visible on the forehead,” the report said.

The judge rejected the HR&CE Department’s contention that it would continue to treat the place as a temple. He said consequent to the Archaeological Department’s report confirming that the sculpture depicted Buddha, “it would not be appropriate to continue treating it as a temple.”

The court directed the Archaeological Department to take control of the site.

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