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Odisha govt gives control of Govardhan Math to Puri’s Shankaracharya

Swami Nischalananda Saraswati has often argued that it is wrong for state governments to interfere with the day-to-day operations of Hindu temples and mutts.
Hindustan Times, Bhubaneswar | By Debabrata Mohanty
PUBLISHED ON OCT 21, 2019 11:21 PM IST
Puri’s Shankaracharya Swami Nischalananda Saraswati will now get the control of the Govardhan Math.(HT PHOTO)

The Odisha government late Monday evening decided to hand over the control of the Govardhan Math to Puri’s Shankaracharya Swami Nischalananda Saraswati by taking it out of the purview of the Orissa Hindu Religious Endowment Act, 1951.

“The state cabinet which met in the evening passed a proposal to exclude the Govardhan Matt from the Act considering the pre-eminence and unique place occupied by the Shankaracharya among Hindu religious institutions of State. The state cabinet resolution said an amendment in the Act will be made soon for better upkeep of the religious pre-eminence and importance of the institution, chief secretary Asit Tripathy said.

Saraswati was not available for comment on the State government’s decision.

The government control over 16000 temples and 450 Mutts (Hindu monasteries) in the state through the Odisha Hindu Religious Endowment Act. The government appoints trustees for each temple or Mahants for the mutts for day-to-day management and is the sole arbiter as regards to the sale of mutt properties.

The State government’s decision comes in the wake of controversies that began late August following the demolition of several ancient Mutts including the historic Emar Mutt and Languli Mutt by the State government citing security threat to the 12th century Jagannath temple in Puri. The government came under flak over the demolition of Emar Mutt that once saved people in Odisha during the famine of 1866.

After several Hindu seers knocked the doors of Supreme Court, the apex court earlier this month had asked the State government to seek suggestions from religious leaders like Shankaracharya and other stakeholders before demolishing such monasteries.

The Puri Shankaracharya who is also the permanent head of the Muktimandap of Jagannath temple by virtue of his position had expressed his unhappiness over not being consulted over the demolition drive and called it an “attack on the Hindu religion and traditions”.

Set up in 9th century, the Govardhan Matha is the oldest Mutt in Puri and is headed by the Shankaracharya. It became one of the four important ‘dhamas’ (places) of Hinduism because of the establishment of this Matha by the great Hindu saint Adi Shankaracharya. Though the other three Mutts in India headed by the Shankaracharyas (Dwarka, Shringeri and Joshimath) are independent of the Endowment Act, the Govardhan Mutt in Puri was put under it. According to the Act, Lord Jagannath is the owner of the Mutt’s properties. As Lord Jagannath is a perpetual minor in Odisha revenue records, the State government indirectly controls the oldest Mutt in Puri.

Saraswati has for long been advocating against state control of temples and mutts alleging that it resulted in their mismanagement and decline of Hindu religion. In several forums he has argued that it is wrong for state governments to interfere with the day-to-day operations of Hindu temples and mutts resulting in their mismanagement. “The bureaucrats managing the temples and mutts are involved in managing the temple finances which result in corruption,” he recently said.

Historian Anil Dhir said mutts like Govardhan Mutt that came up around the Jagannath temple influenced the Gajapati kings of Puri through their philosophical doctrines. “Many Hindu saints like Sant Ramanuja who had come to Puri to have darshan of Lord Jagannath established their monasteries like Emar Mutt on the lands donated to them by the kings and other wealthy persons. The Mutts continued preaching their respective doctrines and also performed certain ritual services in the Jagannath temple,” he said.

The State cabinet also approved an amount of Rs 3208 crore under the ABADHA (Augmentation of Basic Amenities and Development of Heritage and Architecture) scheme for development of Puri town over a period of three years. A major part of the funds will be used to make Puri a world-class heritage city.

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