After batting for equal rights for women in places of worship, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) wants temples to drop ostentatious festivities and opt for cultural programmes based on Indian dance, music and other cultural art forms. It has asked temples to focus on philanthropy and support education and healthcare services, instead of spending on extravagances like firework displays.
The move has been precipitated by the Puttingal temple fire in Kerala’s Kollam, which was set off when sparks during a fireworks display fell on a stockpile of crackers, trapping devotees and killing over a 100 people.
The RSS is persuading temple management committees to stop spending huge sums of money on cultural programmes, which include magic shows, mimicry, film-based dances shows, fireworks and animal processions.
In the past, the Sangh, which is the ideological fount of the ruling BJP, had asked temple managing committees to remove “unfair traditions” of restricting the entry of women to the sanctum sanctorum of some temples, and campaigned for appointing priests from the so-called lower castes.
Aware, that its suggestion to temple management committees could be perceived as ‘interference’ and lead to a controversy, functionaries of the Sangh said, they are trying to usher in change though dialogue. “Change will not happen overnight, but we are trying to build consensus to bring in transformation. There cannot be a struggle or a clash to change things,” J Nandakumar, publicity-incharge of the RSS told Hindustan Times.
“In the name of cultural programmes there are magic and mimicry shows, these don’t suit the temple culture, besides lakhs of rupees are spent on them; this is also extravaganza. Cultural programmes should be in-keeping with the traditions of the temple, the local culture and there should be no vulgarity,” he said.
Nandakumar cited the example of Kairati-Kairta temple in Kerala’s Kannur where the temple management committee has decided to organise mass-weddings for the socially and economically weak instead of spending on fireworks and elephants. “Temples should be service centres for society,” he said.
A senior functionary of the Mahakaleshwar Temple in Ujjain welcomed the RSS’ suggestions. Requesting anonymity, he said: “A lot of money that is spent on organising devotional singing shows etc., can be used for funding a hospital in the area, but these changes will be effected only if the state administration is on board as well.”
The suggestion is expected to face resistance; after Puttingal fire tragedy, the Kerala High Court’s decision to ban fireworks between sunset and sunrise was opposed. The verdict had cast a shadow on state’s biggest cultural pageant Thrissur Pooram that was scheduled a week after the tragedy. Authorities were forced to sanction the use of 4000 kg of low-decibel fireworks. “Pooram is the cultural symbol of the state. We ensure proper safety and security before organising such an event,” said K Manoharan, an office-bearer of the Pooram festival committee.