Sikh Gurdwaras are one of the best maintained places of worship among all religious places. Of course, one may say that nothing less than the best is to be expected from the Sikhs, and it is true that community’s ethos are a central factor that make Gurdwaras what they are.
But it was not always like that. There was a time when Gurdwaras had been taken over by the corrupt Mahants, and the community fought a long and hard battle to take them back. And what it did after taking its Gurdwaras back is what has made them the shining example of how to manage the religious places. It forced the then administration to pass a law so that the management of Gurdwaras is always vested in the Sikh community, and not with the persons in control of the Gurdwaras at any time. That law is The Sikh Gurdwaras Act 1925.
This law has worked very well, and has stood the test of time. It has fulfilled the Sikh aspiration of being in control of their Gurdwaras and managing them in accordance with community’s wishes, using the management best practices. The success of the law can also be gauged from the fact that the Gurdwara is the centre of life for individual Sikhs: a place not only of worship but also of shelter, food, community gatherings, marriages, etc. This is possible only because the Gurdwaras are so well managed, and they are so well managed chiefly because of this law.
In contrast, most of the Hindu temples are in disuse, misuse, disrepair, poorly maintained, and not the sacred places they should be. And the reason is obvious: Hindu temples are not under the control of Hindu community. Quite a few of the larger temples have been taken over–nationalised–by various governments, and the rest are in the control of hereditary priests who are not accountable to the community.
Therefore the “income,” the offerings by the devotees at the temples, either go into government treasury and become government revenue, or are retained by the priests in control of the temple. In both the cases, community has no say as to how the temple money, which is the property of the Hindu community, is to be spent.
The result is that Hindu temples are in most cases always in a dilapidated state. Most Hindus avoid visiting temples for this reason. Those who do visit temples, try to keep the temple visit as short as possible. This has given rise to a situation that Hindus have no community life, they do not meet, because temples do not host them. A temple is no more the centre of religious life for Hindus, unlike the followers of most of other religions. Hindus have thus become atomised, disconnected, and disoriented.
A society in which people connect with its other members in gatherings where most members assemble is typically the most progressive and healthy society. Religion provides an excellent common thread for such gatherings. But if the religion itself has lost its most potent symbol-the temple-to various interests, it can no longer bring people together. Therefore Hindu society is beset with various ills, as without collective will, reforms are not possible, and without gatherings in settings like temples, collective will is hard to crystallise.
To stop this continuing damage to their social and religious life, Hindus need to take their temples back in the control of community. And they do not have to look far for the models of community control on its own religious places. The Sikh Gurdwaras Act of 1925 is an excellent model. It can be adopted as such, with just a change of names of community and place of worship.
Of course Hindus must have one Act to govern temples all over India, with state, district, and tehsil level units of the single Central Body that the Act should constitute. The Sikh Gurdwaras Act has detailed procedures governing election of the members and office bearers of the Committee. The Central Body, and all of its provisions should be adopted.
The Act for Hindu temples should also specify how the earnings of the temples are to be spent, so that the temple earnings are used to maintain and construct temples, to run schools, hospitals, and orphanages. All the persons who wish to become members of a committee for a temple should be permitted to do so. Higher tiers, up to Central Body must then be elected directly or indirectly by these members.
The Sikh Gurdwaras Act has also dealt with the question of existing hereditary control of Gurdwaras and the same provisions can easily be adopted for the Hindu temples currently under hereditary control. All the details of the proposed Act need not be gone over here, as the linked Act of 1925 may be read for more details.
A society is an essential and central requirement for the existence of a people. Men cannot be a society if they do not meet, and religious places offer an excellent way to meet.
In many ways, the present decay of the Hindu society is directly linked to the decay of the Hindu temple. And this decay can be arrested and reversed only if Hindus take over their temples and transform them into centres of their community life.