When it comes to religious tradition and the cultural heritage associated with it, our culture stands foremost in the world, with thousands of temples more than millennia old, a continuous legacy of pious worship by Hindus from across the world. Since ancient times, temples have been seats of learning. The temple tradition includes protection, preservation and progression of Vedas, agamas, literature, arts, architecture, gau samrakshana, music, fine arts and culture.
As we worship the deities installed inside the temple, we also worship the vrukshaas and theerthas associated with them. We also worship the vaahanaas of the deities. However, if there is one animal to which we give equal importance as that of the deity, it is the Cow. To no other animal in the Hindu pantheon does the Sanatana Dharma give so much of sanctity and importance.
In ancient times, each and every temple had its own nandavanam (garden) and goshala attached to it. Devotees visiting the temples would visit the goshala and offer worship to the cows and feed them. Products like milk, komiyum (cow urine) and cow dung cakes used for daily rituals like abhishekams and homams were all taken from the goshalas. Even the vibhuti (sacred ash) was prepared from cow dung.
Degeneration caused by political instability and governmental apathy
Even while our nation was oppressed by the invaders for a thousand years, our religious tradition and cultural heritage almost remained intact and continued, though practicing them was made difficult. Our worshipping pattern didn’t change at all. Our culture of worshipping the cow continued.
Although, the Hindu Religious Endowment was established during the British period itself in Madras, the temples of Tamil Nadu bore the brunt of loot and mismanagement only after the takeover of the endowments by the governments formed by the Dravidian parties. With the advent of the Dravidian governments since 1967, the temples have been systematically mismanaged and their wealth looted alternatively by the DMK and AIADMK governments. The Temple tanks, nandavanams and the goshalas became extinct due to total disregard. Even those left are not getting the required attention from the government.
High Court’s Direction
In the third week of August, the Madras High Court constituted a 3 member committee to investigate the status of goshalas attached with the temples under the purview of Tamil Nadu government’s Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment (HR&CE) Department and ordered the committee to submit its report within two months.
The High Court gave this order after hearing a petition (WP 28793 & 28794 of 2013) filed by writer and animal activist Radha Rajan. The petition said, “The Goshalas attached to the Temples under its purview are maintained by the HR&CE Department itself. However, more than a dozen cows died in the Goshala attached to the famous Thiruvannamalai Temple due to lack of sufficient food and improper maintenance”, and prayed for the constitution of a committee to look into the omissions and commissions with regards to the HR&CE Department’s maintenance of temple goshalas.
When the petition, submitted by advocate SathishParasaran, came up for hearing by the First Bench comprising Chief Justice Sanjay Kishen Kaul and Justice M Sathyanarayanan, Government Pleader S Kandaswami submitted that L AnanthaPadmanaban, Joint Director of Animal Husbandry Department, has been appointed to review the maintenance of Temple Goshalas. Accepting the submission of the government pleader, the High Court also included Dr Sumathi of the Animal Welfare Board of India and Radha Rajan in the committee and ordered them to submit a report within two months after investigating the temple goshalas. The case was adjourned for 27 October.
Background of the Case
In October 2013, the media reported sudden deaths of several cows at the goshala attached to the famous Annamalaiyar Temple in Thiruvannamalai. While donating the cows, the devotees also part with a decent amount for their maintenance; moreover, the revenue of the temple is huge, running into several crores of rupees. So, it is not difficult for the HR&CE department to manage the goshala. However, as several cows died within a short span of time, cadres of Hindu Munnani and animal lovers resorted to hunger strike in front of the temple. The district authorities pacified them and ordered an investigation by an organisation called Arunachala Animal Sanctuary and Rescue Center.
When the veterinary doctor and other officials from the center visited the goshala situated within the temple premises, there were a total of 105 cows in it. All were donated by devotees and local people who could no longer care for them. Many of them had given Rs.10,000 for the maintenance of the cows. After investigating the status of the goshalas and health of the cows the center gave the following report:
- Cows and Calves are seriously undernourished and have lost the ability to chew well
- The caretaking is inadequate. There is only one caretaker and an assistant for all the animals.
- They are fed twice a day. Each feeding in total consists of: 25 kg of oil cake, 25 kg of black gram covers, 25 kg of bran, and hay. (They never get green grass). That is enough food to sustain only 15 adult cows.
- There is adequate space, but no protection against rain.
- In case of acute illness, or injury, the Government Veterinary Hospital responds promptly.
While the temple revenue runs into crores, the HR&CE department appointed only two people to attend to 105 cows and cattle feed enough for only 15 adult cows! If this is the condition of the goshala, is there any surprise in the reported deaths of cows? If this is the condition of a goshala attached to such a big temple, imagine the status of goshalas in smaller temples.
In this background, Radha Rajan filed a writ petition requesting the High Court to order the government to submit a status report with details about the number of goshalas and cows maintained therein, the status with regards to the purchase and distribution of cattle feed, hygienic condition of the goshalas, etc. She prayed for constitution of a committee to investigate the goshalas. Thus, the HC constituted the three member panel.
Pathetic condition across the state
While devotees donate thousands of cows and calves in the belief that they would be taken care of well, the HR&CE department shows scant regard to their religious sentiments and to the welfare of the hapless animals. This pathetic state of affairs prevails across the state.
5000 Cows vanished from the Goshala of famous ThiruchendurMurugan Temple
A review by the department’s internal auditors in November 2012 showed that 5,389 cows have vanished without a trace from the goshala attached to the famous ThiruchendurMurugan Temple. They had been sent to private goshalas for maintenance, some of which exist only on paper! Neither the department had records, nor did officials have any answer!
When the number of cows donated by the devotees exceeds the limit and the goshala runs out of space, the department used to send them to private goshalas; this practice still prevails. However, it was found that the officials violated the norms, which resulted in thousands of cows missing. It was even suspected that the cows could have been sold to butchers by the officials themselves. (‘Dinamalar’, 30 November 2012)
The HR&CE department has “Integrated Goshalas” in places like Srirangam, Palani and Thiruchendur for maintenance of cows in large numbers, as most of the temple goshalas lack sufficient space. In October 2010, a building was constructed inside the integrated goshala premises at Thiruchendur for proper maintenance. Veterinary doctors were placed there for regular check up of the cattle. The department bought one Bolero jeep for inspection purposes. However, at present the integrated goshala is in a pathetic condition without even a single cow. The place stands abandoned with plants and bushes grown all over and frequented by anti-social elements. While the officials enjoy joy rides in the Bolero jeep, they didn’t bother to maintain the integrated goshala. The department wasted more than a crore of rupees on this “project”.
From Temple to Beef stalls – One way ticket for Cows in Srirangam
Hundreds of cows have vanished from the goshala of Sri Ranganathar Temple, Srirangam, which is the first Vaishnav DivyaKshetram and one of the most famous temples in the world. Tamil weekly ‘Kumudam Reporter’ (27-12-2007) ran a detailed ‘cover story’ with photographs exposing that,
As the number of cows donated by bhaktas keeps increasing, some are deliberately allowed to die without food. Then they are accounted as ‘death due to disease’ and sent for burial. They are cut into pieces at the burial ground and transported to beef stalls in and around Srirangam. On an average, two or three cows are transported in this fashion every day. Many cows do not find a place in the “death list” either!
The internal audit report noted the disappearance of 105 cows in a single year, thereby confirming the weekly’s cover story. This writer is given to understand that the sad story of cows’ death continues even now in Srirangam, the Chief Minister’s own constituency.
Mysterious Pazhani Goshala
Pazhani Murugan Temple is a famous temple bringing crores of rupees revenue for the Tamil Nadu government. In 2008, the HR&CE department established an “Integrated Goshala” here in 240-acres at Seemanampatti, 40 kms from Pazhani town. The main purpose was to bring cows from the various temples and maintain them with adequate food and water and vast grass lands. But, when this writer and his colleagues from Vedic Science Research Center visited the integrated goshala on 4 March 2014, there were only 9 cattle (3 bulls, 2 cows and 4 calves). Though there are 20 staff on the payroll to attend to the cattle, only one was present on the spot. The ‘Cattle Officer’ had gone out. We spent more than three hours there but the ‘Cattle Officer’ did not return.
The area suffered severe water scarcity and the locals said they couldn’t find water even at 1200 feet. We could find only two small tanks filled with water and only two mounds of haystack. There was no semblance of any other cattle feed. When asked, the available staff said that green grass and fruit skins (left over from fruits used for preparing the famous ‘Panchamrutham’) used to be brought from Pazhani, but we couldn’t see any of them.
An organisation called ‘Pazhani Temple Protection Council’ has taken up various issues concerning the temple with the concerned authorities. A member of the organisation said that hundreds of cows donated by devotees have died in the last two years. We were given to understand that the HR&CE charges Rs.1000/- for maintenance of each cow donated by devotees and that 300 cows were sent to Women Self Help Groups without proper official procedures like notification, government order, etc.
If temple authorities are sending cows donated by bhaktas to Self Help Groups, why should they charge the devotee Rs.1000/- for maintenance? Are there proper accounts of the money collected and for which other purpose is the money being used? What are self help groups doing with the cows – are they maintaining them or selling them? Does the department keep track of those cows? If the cows are being sold by the self help groups, why is the department giving the cows to them? Has the department taken any action against groups which have sold the cows?
So many questions arise! But there was no responsible official in that 240 acres integrated goshala to give proper answers. Ironically, the department spent Rs,1,39,27,176/- for this goshala between 2008 and 2011!
Blatant violation of rules
When the HR&CE department sends cows to private goshalas for proper maintenance, it is supposed to follow certain rules and regulations in this aspect:
- The department can send the cows to only goshalas which are recognized and approved by the Animal Welfare Board of India. Those private goshalas must take care of the cows properly.
- Each and every cow must be insured in the name of either the Joint Commissioner of the department or the Executive Officer of the concerned temple. If an insured cow meets with death, 70% of the insurance amount must be given to the goshala and the balance 30% to the temple.
- The concerned goshala must duly inform the Joint Commissioner and Executive Officer about the death of cows which are sent by the temple.
- HR&CE officials must inspect the cows at the concerned goshala at least once in two months.
These rules are violated at will. The officials knowingly send the cows to unrecognized private goshalas; they do not inspect the cows and goshalas, and do not maintain proper accounts. Thus, slaughter houses serve as the final destination of these poor cows. No wonder people allege that officials are making money out of such an evil practice.
Pathetic condition of cows in Rameshwaram Temple
At the following You Tube link one can see the pathetic condition of cows in the goshala of the famous Rameshwaram Temple, which shows the attitude of HR&CE officials for cow protection (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZDAbRDVHbX4)
In the first week of this month (Sept 2014) this writer visited goshalas in five famous temples in Thanjavur and Kumbakonam, and found all in sordid condition.
Thirunageswaram Shiva Temple: This is “RaaguStal”, one of the famous Navagraha temples. There were only 2 cows and the shelter was in a pathetic condition. One could not see any cattle feed or even an haystack!!! No staff was seen taking care of the cows, which were tied near the Annadhana Hall.
OppiliyappanVenkatachalapathi Temple: Only 3 cows seen in the vegetable garden, which had very little vegation. Only haystack was available in the badly maintained shelter. Here also no staff was seen taking care of the cows.
SarangapaniPerumal Temple: There were 20 Cows (14 Cows and 6 Calves) and the single shelter was not sufficient to hold them. Some masonry works were going on there. HR&CE has solicited donations for providing cattle deed through a Notice Board which states that the goshala has 32 Cows. Only one staff (Gopalan) was there to look after 20 Cows. The cows are not given bath on daily basis, but only on auspicious days or when he has time. Only haystack was seen and no other cattle feed. Though Gopalan said the cows were fed with other cattle feed such as oil cake and bran, he showed just a little quantity of oil cake which would not be enough for a single cow. The shelter was badly maintained.
PatteeswaramDurga Temple: Total 10 Cattle (6 Cows and 4 Calves) were there. The milk is being used for pujas and abishekams by the temple itself. The shelter is badly maintained. There is also space for nandavanam, which is not used for cultivation of green grass or other cattle feed. Two staff (Mohan and Gopal) are taking care of the cows, but only Mohan was there during the visit. One HR&CE staff was seen taking count of the Cows. Mohan said they take counts regularly and veterinary doctors visit regularly. He said the department doesn’t arrange any cattle feed apart from the haystack.
SwamimalaiMurugan Temple: Though I was given to understand that the famous SwamimalaiMurugan Temple has a goshala, I couldn’t find one when I visited. On enquiry, I learnt that a goshala functioned till two years back. When I visited the place where the nandavanam and goshala existed, I saw a lot of construction underway, such as toilets, hall for Annadhanam and kitchens. One building for lodging government staff was also there apart from Mobile toilets.
All these five temples are huge and famous and bring lots of revenue for the government. In spite of that, the cows and goshalas are badly maintained. This status of temple goshalas after the constitution of a panel by the High Court reveals the seriousness shown by the government and the HR&CE Department not only to cow protection, but also to the Judiciary.
Destruction of Cattle Wealth and government’s indifference
On one side, temple cows are allowed to die and sent to slaughter houses, on the other side lakhs of cattle are trafficked from and via Tamil Nadu for meat and leather. The Tamil Nadu government is the culprit on both counts. It can easily streamline the temple goshalas utilising the temple revenue and it can end cattle trafficking by instructing the authorities to strictly implement the transportation rules.
But the government is just not bothered and allows all sorts of violations to happen. It doesn’t seem to realize that depleting cattle wealth will have a lasting long-term negative impact upon our agriculture and environment.
Worse, there is not a single mention about cow protection in the HR&CE Department’s “Policy Note” for the year 2014-15 submitted under Demands (no:47) for grants in accordance with the budget. In fact, the word “Cow” is not to be found in the entire Policy Note! Even during her speech under Section 110 in the Assembly, the Chief Minister made no mention about Cow Protection and Temple Goshalas, while she waxed eloquent on things such as constitution of committees, appointment of trustees, regularising encroachments, and renovations, et al.
Court of Law is the last resort
In this kind of disgusting and dreadful scenario, it is heartening that the High Court understood the plight of the hapless animals and constituted a committee to investigate the temple goshalas and submit a report. It gives confidence that the High Court will give requisite directions and pronounce orders for the proper maintenance of goshalas with clear systems in place, thereby ensuring the welfare of cows. The onus lies on the government to respond positively to the High Court’s orders and directions.
- Tamil Weekly ‘Kumudam Reporter’ dated 27-12-2007
- http://tinyurl.com/prw8n72from www.vsrc.in
(First published in Vijayavani)