In an old video widely circulated on social media, former Supreme Court Justice Indu Malhotra is told that communist governments want to take control of the temples with an eye on their income. His remarks were denied by the Democratic Left Front government of Kerala who also pointed to the aid that has been given to the temples under various temple councils in the state.
Who runs the temples in Kerala?
Kerala has temples run by state run temple councils, private temple councils or by community organizations such as Nair Service Society (NSS) and Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogam, Akhila Bharatha Ayyappa Seva Sangham , Gowda Saraswath Brahmin Sabha, Dheevara Sabha, Vishwakarma Sabha, Ayyapa Seva Samithi, pro-BJP Kerala Kshetra Samrakshana Samithi, outside families and trusts.
How many state run temples does Kerala have?
Kerala has five autonomous state-run Devaswom (temple) councils, which together run 3,058 temples in the state. These are Travancore Devaswom council (1,250 temples including the famous Sabarimala shrine), Cochin Devaswom council (406 temples), Malabar Devaswom council (1,357 temples), Guruvayur Devaswom council (11) and Koodalmanikyam (12). The state also has a Devaswom ministry with the portfolio of the current LDF government held by K Radhakrishnan.
How do these temple panels work?
Ruling parties nominate their candidates, who are also politicians, as president and members of the temple’s board. The role of these outfits includes administering temples, managing temple properties, and ensuring facilities and infrastructure for devotees. Meanwhile, the temples follow rituals according to tradition, regardless of the ruling party. The Travancore and Cochin councils also operate educational institutions, including government-subsidized colleges and schools. The councils also operate institutions to provide training in temple art forms.
How are staff recruited for the various temples?
Staff, including priests, are recruited by the respective councils. The former FDL regime set up a Devaswom recruitment board to streamline the process. In 2017, the board of Travancore first appointed Dalits as priests in various temples under it. Later, the Cochin board also appointed non-Brahmin priests. Recruitment to temples under the councils is done in accordance with the Hindu Religious Institutions Act 1951, except for posts which are traditionally bequeathed to a family member. As per the existing norm, SCs get 10% booking, while STs get 2% share in recruiting.
What about temple income?
Kerala temples do not share their revenue with the state government. Instead, the five councils of Devaswom receive an annual budget allocation from the state government. Between the fiscal years 2016-17 to 2019-2020, the state has allocated Rs 351 crore for various temples in Kerala. Apart from this allocation, the Travancore board secured additional aid of Rs 120 crore as 2018 flood relief and pandemic relief. Under similar crisis aid, the Cochin board received Rs 25 crore, while the Malabar board received Rs 20 crore and the Koodalmanikyam board got Rs 15 lakh. That aside, after the current DFL regime took office in May 2021, the Travancore board received a grant of Rs 20 crore and the Malabar board received Rs 44 crore.