Temple Destruction in India Causes Karnataka Religious Storm
Nanjanagudu is located in India’s ancient Mysuru (Mysore) district and is home to Srikanteshwara Temple, an ancient, important Hindu pilgrimage site. For this reason, the Nanjanagudu area is a holy and spiritual place for Indian Hindus, who term it the “Kashi of the South” or Dakshina Kashi. It is believed that the god Shiva drank snake’s poison here to save the Earth. Recently, Nanjanagudu has become a hotspot for “illegal” temple destruction in India. But the status of illegal here has two sides: illegal temple structures, and the illegal imposition of government politics on religion.
I condemn the demolition of an ancient Hindu temple by @BJP4Karnataka govt in Nanjanagudu, Mysuru.
The demolition is done without the consultation of the people in the region & has hurt the religious sentiments.
— Siddaramaiah (@siddaramaiah) September 11, 2021
Religious sentiments have been hurt by the government’s temple destruction in India and the ruling BJP party has not consulted the people in the area where the latest temple has been destroyed. (siddaramaiah)
Hindhu Temple Destruction in India: A Political Mess!
Karnataka’s two principal political parties, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Indian National Congress party (Congress), which are also the country’s two largest parties, have been involved in a slugfest war of words around the controversial temple destruction in India but especially in Karnataka, where nearly 60 structures have been demolished.
The authorities acted in response to a court order by the Karnataka High Court, which had demanded the removal or demolition of illegal and unauthorized religious structures constructed illegally on public land, reports The Indian Express.
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The southern Indian state of Karnataka has a rich and storied history and is a well-known center of Hindu religious fervor. Karnataka’s Chief Secretary, who is the topmost bureaucrat, shot a letter to Deputy Commissioners in July, stating that Karnataka has almost 6,400 unauthorized religious structures in public places. The same letter demanded the destruction of one illegal structure per week, per taluk or district, reports India Today.
“Shockingly, in this affidavit, it is reported that only five illegal religious structures out of 382 required to be demolished have been demolished so far. Out of 105 illegal religious structures which were to be relocated, not a single structure has been relocated,” the Karnataka High Court observed on August 12. “There is no reason stated why steps are not taken to relocate 105 illegal religious structures.”
Demolition of the Nanjanagudu Hindu temple in Mysuru, the most recent temple destruction in India site, has ignited passionate protests against India’s ruling BJP political party, which has been in power since 2014. (India Today)
Temple Politics in India
The area of Dakshina Kannada has close to 1,600 of these illegal structures, and Mysuru district officials claim that the most recently destroyed Nanjanagudu temple, which is only 12 years old, is not even on the map of the Archaeological Survey of India.
This has not stopped the principal opposition party, Congress, from hurling accusations of hurting religious sentiments at the right-wing national BJP party, which in the past has been notorious for mobilizing similar sentiments. Both parties seek to consolidate a huge voter base amongst the majority community, the Hindus, who play a vital role in deciding the political future of Karnataka state.
However, the problem of illegal religious structures is a long-standing one, and the authorities in the state have faced heat from the Karnataka High Court for failing to take action against illegal temples encroaching on public parks, civic amenity sites, roads, and other public places.
The recently destroyed temple structure, constructed in 2009, was encroaching upon a public road.
Temple destruction in India is a particularly sensitive topic, owing to its history of conquest by marauding tribes and conquerors from Western Asia, who in the medieval period, happened to be followers of Islam. They established short empires between the 11th and 15th centuries, before being deposed by the Mughals, who would establish a pan subcontinental empire right until the arrival of the British.
The period of the invaders, therefore, is associated with widespread temple destruction, the forceful conversion of native populaces to Islam, and the second-class treatment of those who did not convert. While all of these claims are widely contested, and historically inaccurate to a large extent, it has not stopped the political use of temple destruction in the history of independent India (since 1947).
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Political sloganeering has revolved loosely around the politics of, what is colloquially known in the Hindi language, as Mandir-Masjid politics, in reference to the alleged destruction of temples, which were replaced by masjids, i.e., the religious place of worship of those from the Muslim faith.
Indian history, which still carries the pain of the partition of India, into India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, continues to shape and influence public memory at large. And this has in the last few years been turned into a breeding ground for manipulative politics that do not seem to respect the religious freedoms of Hindus.
Top image: Mysuru- Kodagu MP Prathap Simha talking with locals concerned about temple destruction in Karnataka. Source: mysoorunews
By Sahir Pandey
ENS. 2021. Karnataka: Congress, BJP spar over govt’s move to demolish temple near Mysuru. Available at: https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/bangalore/karnataka-congress-bjp-spar-over-govts-move-to-demolish-temple-near-mysuru-7503746/.
ENS. 2021. HC orders force Karnataka officials to act against illegal religious structures. Available at: https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/bangalore/hc-orders-force-karnataka-officials-to-act-against-illegal-religious-structures-7503472/.
Pinto, N. 2021. Demolition of Nanjanagudu temple in Karnataka's Mysuru kicks off row between BJP, Congress. Available at: https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/demolition-of-nanjanagudu-hindu-temple-in-mysuru-starts-row-against-bjp-1851854-2021-09-12.