Temples have been a central part of Dharmic societies and cultures since time immemorial. In fact, glorious temple legacies contribute to the liveliness and vivacity of all major ancient cities like Ujjain, Varanasi, Amrtisar, and Bodh Gaya among others. This is attributed to the role the temple plays in ensuring in keeping the local economy of the city and the region vibrant by providing livelihood to the various sections of the society. Besides being an energy source of spirituality, temples are traditionally also a place for practicing and worshiping various arts and crafts viz. construction, pottery, singing, dance and folk theatre. Temples also act as purifiers and help in enhancing moral values which guide a devotee while making any decisions. These choices/decisions could be special and major or common and casual. Given the tremendous importance of temples both in individual’s life as well as in contributing to the liveliness of the society at large, it is critical to ensure temples are being managed properly.
Question and sub-questions
This in turn triggers a bigger question: “What are the best practices of Temple Management?” The question then leads to smaller sub-questions. Does a temple need to be managed by a Priest? Does it need to be managed (or controlled) by a government? Does it need to be run by a private trustee?”
Management by priest (or priest’s family)
Undoubtedly, priests are the one who are closest to the temples- both physically and spiritually. While Priests are expected to fully devote themselves in ensuring regular rituals which includes daily prayers as well as special festivities, expecting Priests to manage material aspects of the Temple may not be ideal. First, Priests need to be fully focused on ensuring Temple’s spiritual sanctity by performing various rituals and religious practices. Second, it requires different set of skills and mindset to manage worldly affairs associated with Temple. Third, overall, Temple Management requires a team of people with expertise in various domains like public relations, accountancy, planning, fund raising, liaison with government bodies and communication with devotees, maintenance and repairs, expansion, disbursement to charities, safety measures/procedures etc. These responsibilities may be beyond the purview of a priest and/or his family.
Management/Control by Government
Some may argue that government control may help in bringing more transparency to temple affairs and thus can have more accountability in its management. While this may work well in few cases, this can also have certain limitations. For instance, if those who are in Government do not believe in Temples or do not have faith in any religious or spiritual beliefs, then it would be impractical to expect fair and efficient Temple Management from them. Besides, the Government’s usage of Temple’s properties or funds for any purpose other than Temple itself would be un-fair to the Temple devotees who have been donating or contributing towards the Temple. Also, it becomes highly objectionable and unethical if Government control Temples of one faith or religion but does not possess same control over the religious institutions of other religions. Government at best, can set some minimum standards viz. public declaration of accounts, transparency, safety measures etc which need to be applicable to all kind of religious institutions but the government should not interfere in the management of religious institutes.
Management by Private trustee
Given the challenges with Temple Management by Priests or Government authorities, management of Temples by private trustee becomes an obvious choice. This is also a typical model which is in place since centuries. Currently, there are some royal families or kings who act as patrons for temples. Big donors or other public representatives could be other types of trustees. However, the puzzle of Temple Management does not rest here rather it starts from here. This is because the role of trustees is to ensure and supervise the overall functioning of Temple, but they may not be able to act as the best resources to manage the Temple. They will also have to depend on various subject matter experts. This opens next bunch of questions like: who would be these experts? How many would we need? And so on and so forth.
Chasing a new frontier in Temple Management
Some Temples may have ample contributions from devotees. This triggers another set of questions like: how surplus funds can be used in Temple Management? Should the Temple give all to government for charity? Should it rather invest on medical care & education? Should Temples re-establish themselves as “Temple Communities” which can have “Gurukuls” which could act as learning, cultural, skill development and food centers among other things?
There are lot of open questions with regards to ideal Temple Management which need to be addressed to secure the role of Temples in transmitting knowledge and culture through generations and centuries. As we found with some ancient Temples with entire Ramayana carved on its walls & pillars while many others have dance forms and other artwork inscribed on its pillars and walls, passing on sacred knowledge to several generations.
There are various reasons why the subject of Temple Management is in a need of a dedicated research and study which would result in a “Standard Operation Procedure” for managing Temples.
Such study shall include but not limited to:
- The study of how big Temples like Badrinath, Shirdi, Harminder Sahib, Somnath, Kedarnath, Konark Sun Temple, Rameshwaram, Balaji, Guruvayoor, Vaishno Devi, Gangotri, Siddhi Vinayak and others are being managed currently.
- Challenges being faced by medium & small size Temples.
- Degree of control by various governments (state governments as well as control by central government) over the Temples and if there is any similar any control over other religious institutions.
- Management of other religious institutions
- Management of Hindu Temples around 1000s years ago. If any best practices for Temple Management were described in Vedic scriptures.
A temple should not be perceived as a solitary institution standing all by itself unconnected to society. Society at large can be better served if temples are clearly identified and recognized as engines of economic, social and religious/spiritual power. Effective and efficient management of these nerve centers will not only nourish the religious and spiritual needs of its devotees but also help in achieving developmental goals of a society at large. Just as Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have attempted to fill in the gap of governmental deficits across the world in the past few decades, temples can achieve similar goals of serving society and humanity at much larger scale through innovative and improved management policies, systems, and procedures – which in turn deserve more research and application. Former Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had called large dams as “Temples of Modern India”. With the best practices of Temple Management, Temples being an icon of our civilization’s religious and spiritual heritage can act as a “Bride between Ancient & Modern India”, where devotees can further enhance their skills in various areas while preserving & cherishing moral and cultural values.
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