Column: From Nehru’s temples to just temples

Aug 19 2013, 00:45 IST
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SummaryEven before Bhakra, Hindu kings relocated temples to allow development —contrast this with Niyamgiri

In 1924, during the glorious reign of Nallamudi (IV) Krishnaraja Wodeyar, an engineer named Mokshagundam Visvesvarayya designed and supervised the construction of a dam over the divine Kaveri river. In the process, the ancient village of Kannambadi was submerged. In Kannambadi were three temples, all holy to the villagers. One of them, the Venugopala temple, was a 700-year-old Hoysala structure. Our gracious Maharaja moved the villagers to a “new” Kannambadi village. The villagers removed icons and idols from their temples voluntarily and happily. Downstream on the Kaveri were dams like the Grand and the Little Anicuts, dating to Chola times (1,000 years earlier), during the construction of which several holy villages and temples were doubtless submerged.

In 1946, Sir Louis Dane, the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab, laid the foundation stone of a dam across the river Sutlej (its ancient Sanskrit name was Sutadhari) in a village named Bhakra. The construction of the dam started in 1948. Jawaharlal Nehru, the 59-year-old Prime Minister of a young nation, took great interest in this dam which he referred to as a “New temple of a resurgent India”. When the dam was completed, Nehru revealed his non-denominational spirit, when he said: “May you call it a temple or a gurudwara or a mosque, it inspires our admiration and reverence.” The Bhakra dam submerged the ancient town of Bilaspur, where there were many temples and sites, traditionally associated with Maharishi Vyas, the author of the Mahabharata.

Krishnaraja Wodeyar was a Hindu king of a Hindu kingdom. Neither he nor his subjects, the residents of Kannambadi, believed that Venugopala (Krishna with the divine flute) was confined to one village and that his temple could not be moved. Nehru was a rationalist, committed to the scientific spirit. Neither he nor his fellow-citizens, the residents of Bilaspur, believed that the submergence of Bilaspur’s holy sites were acts of sacrilege.

In 2013, the Supreme Court of India suggested that the Dongria Kondh residents of 12 villages, by majority vote, decide whether the Niyamgiri hills are, per their beliefs, the abode of the god Niyamraja and therefore not to be mined for bauxite. A new right has been conferred on the residents of these 12 villages, which was never thought of years ago for the residents of Kannambadi or Bilaspur. Krishnaraja Wodeyar, a devotee of the great goddess, would have agreed that the goddess was present in every particle of

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